Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rebel Jesus Christmas Carol

I just stumbled on this over at Brian McLaren's blog. The juxtaposition of Xmas kitsch and the song speak to the spirit of this season of great anticipation, mourning, and hope. Enjoy a listen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Transforming Theology Blog Tour - Video Interview with Harvey Cox Courtesy of Homebrewed Crhistianity

As promised, video from an interview with Harvey Cox regarding some of the theses of The Future of Faith. What Cox expresses in the video manifests the same concerns I expressed in my review of chs 2 and 3 of the book.

Watch the video and let me know your response!

Homebrewed Christianity
» thinking » When I talked to Harvey Cox…

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Last night C. and I went downtown for a birthday celebration--dinner at a chic café, a free concert concluding in Beethoven's 3rd, and a birthday brownie purchased at Starbucks that we nibbled on the train back uptown. (NB: We're still holding out. No peppermint mochas until after Thanksgiving!) An all together good way to turn twenty-seven.

The train was crowded--droves of people stepped on board with us as the theatre district let out for the night. C. found a seat, and I started out standing next to her. But four or five stops later, a seat opened up, so I scooped it up and set to sipping my decaf and ignoring the bustle of people around me.

Specifically, I was attempting to ignore the man sitting next to me, but this took some work. He was fiddling with the headphones of his personal radio, and this was quite the task because he had only one arm. I wasn't exactly sure how to respond. Do I offer a helping hand?--I could already see that could be in bad taste. But wouldn't I want someone to help me untangle my headphones.

He broke the silence first. "I'm not getting off; I'm just switching radios. This one gets bad reception. My cell phone radio is better up here." I asked him about his cell phone, about pre-pay cell phones in general, and I eventually helped him untangle his earbuds.

We compared cell phones. I pulled out my beat-up freebie-with-sign-up model. He asked if I was a student. I told him I'm going to seminary. He asked how I'd decided to do that.

And the conversation seized up. How do I answer that on the train? I stumbled about a bit, gestured that it would be a long story, and spluttered something about wanting to tell people about Jesus. The guy nodded with a knowing look.

It was the kind of moment where you might think God is testing you. What do you really believe, Josh? Will you confess my name? Will you speak the good news even when it could get awkward?

We talked a bit more. He'd grown up in a ministry family in a very repressive Holiness church. Now he's an artist, a photographer--though he chose his words very carefully in telling me what he did. He'd walked away from church and found it hard to relate to the people at the church where he'd grown up. A lot of his friends had died.

He was headed further north than me. As we rolled into my stop, I gritted my teeth, my muscles tightened, and I told him why I'm in ministry. "Things look so hopeless right now. I want to tell people that there's hope, that when Jesus came back to life after dying on a cross it proved that God is with us and wants to bring us into his good life."

I stood to walk out into the night. "My name's I.," he said. "It's been good talking with you." He grasped my hand. I said I hoped to see him around sometime, and I walked out onto the platform.

Walking with God – Why Is It So Hard? « Godspace

Christine Sine posts a wonderful reflection on the importance of relationship in our lives of following Jesus. Here's an excerpt:

Christianity is all about relationships. God created humankind to live in relationship – with God, with each other and with God’s good creation. Primarily the Fall broke relationship – it disconnected us from God, distorted our mutually caring relationships with each other and destroyed our stewardship of the earth.

We live in a world that still has a very distorted idea of relationships and we often accept this without a murmur because our lives too are a series of tasks to accomplish rather than a relationship deepening experience.

Our world majors on disposable relationships. We move, we change jobs, or we change churches and we disconnect from the relationships that under girded our previous life. Even our involvement in issues of social justice become tasks to accomplish that result in few if any relationships. No wonder we can swing from passionate concern about tsunamis in Samoa to child trafficking in Thailand without any concern for the impact of our swinging concerns.

And it is easy for us to justify our disconnect… especially when our relationships are seen as tasks to accomplish rather than as opportunities to both experience and represent the God who cares so passionately for our world that he sent his son to live amongst us.

Walking with God – Why Is It So Hard? « Godspace

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kyria Blog: Twenty-One Things the World Will Say About Christians

Kyria Blog: Twenty-One Things the World Will Say About Christians

I stumbled across this over on Kyria Blog:

These are Lauren Winner's 21 characteristics that - if we all are faithful now - the world will say about Christians by the end of this century. In other words, she hopes that the average person on the street in the year 2092 might think of these qualities when asked what Christians are like.

By the end of the 21st century, Christians will...
1. Be peacemakers.
2. Be expected to be the first ones to show up when disaster strikes.
3. Rest, because they know they're not the ones in charge.
4. While resting, reconfigure their work.
5. Live well in their bodies, whether by their diet, their sex lives, or the clothes they wear.
6. Practice boredom. They will not succumb to the "fetish of the new or the cult of novelty" when it comes to their faith.

7. Be truth-tellers, even if the answer is "I don't know." Even "authenticity" and confession can be a pose.
8. Practice silence in small and big ways, including in solitude.
9. Live in communities where everyone has access to power, and everyone can and will share it with others.
10. Live in communities where women can do anything.
11. Go to church with the people they live near.
12. Persist in making Kingdom demands. This means taking the same request to God, over and over!
13. When we think about God, we think about what needs to change next. This is largely informed by Tozer: what we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about ourselves.
14. Eat fewer strawberries. We will tread lightly on the planet and not risk the energy and harm to our planet just so we can have strawberries in January.
15. See ourselves as small characters in a larger story. As Winner's colleagues at Duke suggest, a "saint" can fail in a way that a "hero" cannot, which opens the doors to ideas like forgiveness and new possibilities of God.
16. Lament. ("We don't do this well. Jews do it a bit better.")
17. Throw good parties. Afterall, we're here to practice for the heavenly banquet!
18. Not gossip. This means talking about someone who is not present. Period.
19. Have unity without obliterating diversity, and that's because of the Trinity.
20. Understand something about grace (despite our 19 wonderful attributes above).
21. Describe reality and the spiritual sacraments in such a way as to "make mouths water and hearts hunger."

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Church Is/Should Be . . .

I picked up this video from Eliacín's blog.

TransFORM: Missional Community Formation from TransFORM on Vimeo.

the 1930s all over again

A friend posted a link to this article on facebook. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Transforming Theology Blog Tour - Update: Other Bloggers to Check Out

Check out some of the other bloggers on the Transforming Theology blog tour:

Transforming Theology Blog Tour - The Holy and the Story - Particularity, Dialogue, and the Kingdom / Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith. Chs 2 and 3

AAR is coming up, and I hope you are looking forward to the Transforming Theology session at AAR this year. Stay tuned; I will be posting video from the session.

Thus far I've only worked through the first six chapters of The Future of Faith. But even only a third of the way into the text, I have a number of questions and reflections on Cox' project. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and to continue the conversation with me and with others on the blog tour.

the Jesus Manifesto » the least of these my brethren

the Jesus Manifesto » the least of these my brethren

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009


He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
-D. Bonhoeffer
This is something for me to chew on quite a bit. Quite a bit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Transforming Theology Blog Tour

During the next month, in sporadic fits and dashes, I'll be blogging through and about Harvey Cox's new The Future of Faith in conjunction with I've posted an introduction to the blog symposium/book tour below, and I'm looking forward to the conversation that will develop. Having worked my way all the way through the first half of the the first chapter of Cox's book, I can already tell this should be interesting. Check out some of the other theo-bloggers as they share their reflections, and be sure to check out and for more details about the tour.

Philip Clayton and Harvey Cox both have new books out and they are taking them out on tour. One of the blog tour stops will be here, but as you can see below they will be making their rounds over the next month until they wrap things up in Montreal at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting. There they will be joined by an illustrious panel including Eric Gregory, Bruce Sanguin, Serene Jones, Frank Tupper, and Andrew Sung Park to share a 'Big Idea' for the future of the Church. These 'Big Ideas' will be video tapped and shared, so be on the look out for live footage from the last night of the tour.

Philip's new book is Transforming Christian Theology for Church & Society and Harvey's is The Future of Faith. Both are worth checking out at one of the many tour stops. If you can't wait you can listen to them interview each other. Enjoy the blogging!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saying I Do

I've never joined a church before. Somehow I've managed these twenty-six (near twenty-seven) years without committing myself to a local community.

But I've had a change of heart. After three years' stubborn denial, I'm tying the knot, tying myself into this community, for richer or (usually) for poorer, for holiness and harmony and arguments and hurt feelings. I'm in the whole nine yards.

As part of the membership process at LWCC, I needed to write a "membership paper." I'm still not exactly sure what this is supposed to be, but below I've included one take on how I met Jesus and the route I've traveled to get from there to here.

Local church-communities are good. I've written a number of times that I think they are our witness to God's coming kingdom, the way we meet God now. Committing to one seems to be part and parcel of committing to follow Jesus. I'm glad to do that.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 30 - Jesus Brings Us Back from Exile

Living Water Community Church - August 30
Jeremiah 52 - “Jesus Brings Us Back from Exile”

Oh! How the city once full of people now sits all alone!
The city who was once a prominent lady among the nations has become a widow!
The princess who once ruled the provinces has become a forced laborer!
The city weeps bitterly at night; tears stream down her cheeks.
She has no one to comfort her among all her lovers.
All her friends betrayed her; they have become her enemies.
Judah has departed into exile under affliction and harsh oppression.
She lives among the nations; she has found no resting place.
All who pursued her overtook her in the middle of her distress.
The roads to the city of Zion mourn because no one travels to the festivals.
All her city gates are deserted; her priests groan.
Her virgins grieve; the city herself is in bitter anguish!
Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease.
For Yahweh afflicted her because of her many acts of rebellion.
Her children went away as captives before the enemy. (Lam 1.1-5)

It is not easy to talk about exile. Perhaps this is one reason why we avoid spending too much time in the parts of our Bible that narrate the exile of God’s people. Exile is a place where we are most lonely, where we are most vulnerable, where we are most without a home. Exile is the place where others take advantage of us, where they force us out of our homes, where they leave us hungry, threaten our lives, and kill our family members. Some of us stay away from these hard passages of scripture because we shudder at the reminder that this experience really could invade our comfortable lives. Some of us here today won’t read these parts of the Bible because they draw up memories that are very real and very painful.

When men with guns and bullets enter our homes, when children are stolen from the streets, when war occupies our cities, when our houses are taken away, when there is not enough food, when we have no option but to uproot our lives and move somewhere else--then all that is left us is to mourn, to lament, and to pray. The passage I read to begin this morning is from the book of Lamentations. It is the Jewish people’s lament over the destruction of their city and an appeal to Yahweh God to do something about it. When we experience exile, this is what we should do.

This morning I want to look at three things. First, we need to look at what happens in Jeremiah chapter 52. Then we’ll ask what this meant for God’s covenant people Israel then--why did this happen? Finally, we’ll talk about what this mean for us as God’s covenant people now.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hope and Refreshing

This morning I opened my book and read this:

But you, mountains of Israel, will grow your branches, and bear your fruit for my people Israel; for they will arrive soon. For indeed, I am on your side; I will turn to you, and you will be plowed and planted. I will multiply your people--the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities will be populated and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the numbers of people and animals on you; they will increase and be fruitful. I will cause you to be inhabited as in ancient times, and will do more good for you than at the beginning of your history. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I will lead people, my people Israel, across you; they will possess you and you will become their inheritance. No longer will you bereave them of their children. . . .

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and multiply it; I will not bring a famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the trees and the produce of the fields, so that you will never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

These are good words to read on a summer morning!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Reflections on Stories

I'm going to rephrase this whole question:

A few weeks ago I fell into a hole. It was a hole called Hulu (note the phonetic resonance between the two words). While Cindy was off retreating with many of the women from our church, I stayed up until two-thirty Saturday night (er. . . . Sunday morning) watching nearly all the first season of Arrested Development.

Arrested Development is a witty show, and I'm sad that it didn't get the ratings for Fox to keep it on air. It's textured, layered, multi-referential. Plus Ron Howard is the narrator. (The Oracle tells me that Arrested Development has been off the air for a few years--I don't really keep up with TV.)

Cindy got home that Sunday afternoon, and we've pounded out the second and third season during wild binges of TV watching during the last two or three weeks. End of story.

Well, not really. Another recent development: I spend a half hour or so sitting out on our fire escape, watching my little box of herbs and tomatoes and peppers grow, watching the birds that nervously nest in a crack in the brick in over our back stairs, watching the sky. I listen to the neighbors' air conditioners, to the quick voices of their children and the rise and fall of married couples screaming at one another. Sometimes I even talk to our next door neighbor as she waters her fire escape garden.

I try to pray while I sit there. At least I try to quiet down and listen for the Spirit's voice. And this is what I've been hearing: Arrested Development, Terry Pratchett novels, my own unfolding projects, dreams about what Cindy and I will do next. This is what I haven't been hearing: God's voice.

I am caught in so many stories, so many hopes and concerns competing for a piece of my attention, so many pieces already claimed by television or private dreams. God doesn't fill up my mind, my senses, because I've crowded him out with so many cheap thrills.

See, God has a story. Jesus has a story, a kingdom story. But instead of plunging my imagination into the yet unfolding drama of Jesus' resurrection life overcoming the weight of history, I check out pulp fiction from the library, stream reruns via Hulu, repeatedly check my Google Reader, and fidget with my iTunes.

So here's the question from last post (yes, I do really want answers): When and where and from whom have you heard kingdom stories that invade your imagination?

My list would include Tom and Christine Sine at Common Root '09. Check the video I posted a few months back of their presentation. I'm also a big fan of Tom's book The New Conspirators. The Sine's tell stories of God's kingdom come, tangible as sign and foretaste of the promise for God's life to overcome the world.

Who's on your list?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A snippet from Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way:

"This sacrificial-suffering-servant way of dealing with what is wrong in people, with what is wrong in the world, is so different from the ways to which our culture accustoms us. The standard operating procedures practiced outside the orbit of Scripture and Jesus attempt to get rid of, or at least minimize, whatever is wrong with the world primarily by means of teaching and making: teach people what is right, or make them do what is right. The professor and the policeman represent these two ways, education and law enforcement. We send people to school to teach them to live rightly and responsibly; if that doesn't work we make them do it through a system of rewards and punishments, even if it means locking them up in a cell.

"Neither way seems to make much difference. The way of teaching as given form in schools and universities is not flourishingly successful. Scoundrels and betrayers, thieves and cheats, suicides and abusers, flourish in the best of professions and businesses. As literacy abounds, sin does more abound. Neither does the way of coercion as given form in jails and prisons seem to make much difference. We remove a small percentage of wrongdoers from the streets for a time, but even then our prison population seems at times to rival our school attendance. We distribute guns and bombs to any and all who will agree to use them to serve 'God and country' and proceed to threaten or kill any who 'disturb the peace' whether at home or abroad. None of it seems to make much of a dent in diminishing the sheer quantity of wrong.

"Isaiah 53 is the final nail in the coffin that buries all the false expectations, all the devil's seductions, all the pious revisions of the biblical story that make Jesus and his followers into American success stories.

"Meanwhile that Golgotha pulpit still centers history. And that Preacher still speaks the only word that will save the world."

The Jesus Way, 180.

I still want to know your prophets, the voices you hear calling Christians to follow Jesus more faithfully. Who are you reading? Who are you holding conversations with? What are they saying?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

At School with the Prophets

Each morning for the last year, right after I set my tea-water to boil and read morning prayer, I open my bible to the prophets and transcribe a chapter longhand in my journal. I began in Isaiah last April, and I've walked my way through to Ezekiel, interspersing Isaiah and Jeremiah with Paul's prophetic and apostolic letters to young churches.

The prophets have profoundly changed what I understand to happen when the church gathers together. I grew up in a Montana bible church where a sermon was a lesson, a chance to understand what the text says and then learn how to apply it to our lives. These words--understand, learn, apply--speak a basic separation of God's story and our stories that can only be bridged by the intellect and the will. If the Spirit shows up, he comes as one who enlightens--another intellectual word.

But the prophets, they don't preach principles and applications. In Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Paul, the Spirit speaks directly to the audience. He busies himself with politics and the private idolatries of the residents of Jerusalem, he confronts the cheating business practices of those claiming to be Yahweh's people and derides the charlatan successes of local political powers. More, Yahweh tells his story in a way that swallows up the stories of Judah and Israel. The prophets tell the only story in town, they tell the truth.

That's what happens when the church gets together: If we listen--if we quiet down and listen--we hear the Spirit speaking in ways specific and salvific. In our prayers and liturgy, our passing of Jesus' peace, our sermons and sharings, God is ready to speak. If only we would let go of our stories, our plans and projects and needs and concerns, we would hear the Spirit's whisper of the coming kingdom and the resurrection life now filling the common cup, now filling our veins.

I've been reading a great book by Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way. I'm a big fan of his unfolding series on spiritual theology. (If you check the sidebar list of suggested books, you'll find Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the first book in the series.) In this volume, he mulls over the ways and means of following Jesus. Jesus does not ask us to follow him in any old way. God's new resurrection life has a particular shape, a Jesus shape. It's a good book.

Peterson spends a lot of time with the prophets--Moses, Elijah, Isaiah of Jerusalem and Isaiah of the Exile. They come out of the wilderness, they come out of the city, they live in exile, and they demand that Yahweh's people follow Yahweh in Yahweh's way. They denounce the imperial aspirations of kings, the commercial rapacity of merchants, the self-satisfied comfort of aristocrats, the panicked grasping for security that causes slave and landowner, beggar and king chase after Baal, god of the thunderclouds, and his consort Asherah, goddess of fertile fields and pregnant bellies.

It's not that the people didn't worship Yahweh. Beggar and king alike would identify themselves with the Yahweh cult (Peterson points to Ahab as a prime example). But their fears and their hopes take first place, and they begin to worship Yahweh in the way the people around them do, as one god among many, as one way to get things done.

I'm not going to list the ways that our hopes and our fears cause us to read the Jesus story, the ways that we write our own stories over God's story. We each can list the lies that rule in our hearts, that drowned out the Spirit's voice.

What I want to know is, "Who are the prophets of our generation?" Who is confronting your church in Chicago or Montana or Macedonia or Russia with God's life-swallowing story lived by Jesus? Let's make a list.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving to Nunavut

At certain times of year, I find myself fixated with maps. I'll spend hours examining the backroads and no-name towns in parts of the country I've never been to, or I'll plot out an elaborate route on Canadian highways to get from here in Chicago to the mountains in Montana.

One night, I'm not sure how many months ago, I was paging through a road atlas when I discovered a territory I'd never before noticed: Nunavut.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24 - There Are No Detours in Mission

Living Water Community Church - May 24
Acts 28 - “There are No Detours in Mission”

Seven months ago, Cindy and I left Living Water to go start a new church community in the suburb of Bolingbrook. We talked it over with a lot of people here at the church, we prayed together, we even had a goodbye party for Cindy and me. We went out with the church’s blessing. . . . And now we’re back.

I think our story is a little like Paul’s story in Acts 28. So I’m going to spend a few minutes this morning telling my story, a little time talking about Paul’s story, and then we’ll spend some time praying together about how it relates to our stories--what God is asking of us as a church-community and what God is asking of each of us personally.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 19 - Resignation Announcement

When I came to First Presbyterian Church of DuPage last September, I came pursuing God’s calling on my life to start Christian communities focused on discipleship, communities that focus on helping people follow Jesus with more and more of their lives. The new young adult ministry and the Five O’Clock Service that the church was planning to start offered a great place to grow the kind of community where personal relationships and whole-life discipleship would be the point.

We started this exciting project last December, and things have been going fairly well since then. But in early March, the rest of the church leadership began to think that we should change the focus of the Five O’Clock Service and the Young Adult Ministry here at the church. They appreciated what we’ve been doing so far--the focus on discipleship and community--but they felt that what the church really needs is something more of an outreach event.
So after a lot of prayer, conversations with wise, spiritual friends, and long discussions with the rest of the church leadership, I’ve decided to step out of the way so that the church leadership can lead the church where it needs to go.

This hasn’t been an easy decision for me or for Cindy. This church has become a home for us, and you have been a loving and welcoming family. But Cindy and I also feel that God wants us to start communities centered on discipleship, on learning to follow Jesus.
Next Sunday, the 26th, will by me last Sunday. If you have any questions or want to talk with me and Cindy, please pull us aside after church or send us an email. These transitions aren’t any fun, they’re rarely easy, but when we follow where Jesus leads, we become the church that God calls us to be.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How will churches respond to Recession?

It seems a few churches are responding by holding support groups for those who have lost jobs or are facing difficult economic times. This hasn't escaped NPR's astute reporting: give a read or a listen to their coverage of this development here. On a more local level, Knox Presbyterian in Naperville provides both a weekly encouragement gathering every Thursday morning and hosts a job connection database through its website. Check it out here.

I'm proud of churches responding to the New Economy in a tangible way. God does not address us just in our warm-fuzzy "spiritual" parts; he saves us in all our humanness, including the parts of us that need some weekly cash-flow to put food on a table and to have four walls and a floor for that table to stand on. When the church takes action to address our human needs, it's being the presence of God in the same way that Jesus was when he healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed the hungry.

But I also have some questions for our churches. First and foremost, why do we so often resort to spiritualizing comfort (I think James calls it blessing your brothers and sisters but turning them away hungry) or moralizing condemnations of the big, bad, dirty-rotten CEOs (Jeremiah definitely indicts both the rich and the oppressed poor as idolatrous participants in an anti-God system)? 

Halden from Inhabitatio Dei asks another difficult question:
But I do find it interesting how the church is intervening to put people back to work across America. I wonder also why we aren’t hearing of churches across America sharing their financial resources to care for those that are out of work, in addition to providing emotional support groups…
That churches are addressing this issue at all is great. It's high time we began to worry just as much about people's employment and standard of living as we do about their personal quiet times and tithe check. But we can't walk too far down this road before we realize that our responses continue to be inadequate, to fall fall short of the Thessalonian church's support of the Jerusalem congregations even while believers in Thessalonica struggled to cobble ends together.

An article from Mustard Seed Associates poses another question: Why didn't we see this coming? Some of us did (not me!). A little more than a week before the beginning of the Wall Street disintegration, on September 7, 2008, MSA hosted a recession preparedness seminar (read about it here and read the results of that brainstorming session here.) Our churches are so often find themselves reacting; maybe it's time for us to start looking down the road a bit farther than next week's potluck and this summer's VBS.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oscar Romero - d. March 24, 1980

Today marks the 29th anniversary of the death Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador. He was assassinated while performing the mass because he named the ways in which the gospel demanded that his society and its government change.

I value Mark Van Steenwyk's reflection: 
Instead of venerating him, let us be more like him. And instead of lifting up as some sort of patron saint of peace and justice, may his lingering prophetic voice, which still echoes through the halls of time, encourage to lift our own voices as we follow Jesus in our place and time.
Follow the (different yet rather similar) links below links below to read more reflections on Romero.

Remembering Romero and Resisting Abstraction - Jesus Manifesot

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22 - Jesus Is My Shepherd

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Ps 23 & Jer 23.1-6 & Mk 6.30-52 - Jesus Is My Shepherd

[After reading Ps 23 & Jer 23.1-6]

1. Jesus is the good shepherd. In the passage from Mark we are centering our time together on this evening, Jesus cares for the crowds who come to hear him and for his followers through actions that show what it means for him to be the good shepherd. We’ll see this when we look at it a bit later in the service.

In the passage from Jeremiah that we just heard, God is accusing the leaders of ancients Israel of being bad shepherds, of failing to care for the needs of the people and instead being concerned only with their own wants and desires. The Bible often uses the picture of shepherding to describe what a good ruler is supposed to do. Ezekiel, another prophet, blames Israel’s leaders for failing to care for the sheep. He accuses them: “You do not feed the sheep! You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them. They were scattered because they had no shepherd, and they became food for every wild beast.”

If we think about kings as shepherds, king David comes to mind pretty quickly. David is the most important king in the biblical imagination, a king who had a special relationship with God. He was not only a good shepherd to the people, but he had in fact started out tending actual sheep in the fields before he was anointed king.

God always maintains that he alone is the true ruler of Israel. The psalm we read tonight begins, Yahweh is my shepherd. The prophets often return to the idea that because Israel’s rulers have proved themselves to be poor shepherds, Yahweh, the true shepherd, is going to step in personally to care for his people, often by setting up a good king, a good ruler. In the passage we heard from Jeremiah, God says, “Then I myself will regather those of my sheep who are still alive from all the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their pasture. . . . I will install shepherds over them who will care for them. Then they will no longer need to fear or be terrified. None of them will turn up missing. . . . I, Yahweh, promise that the days are certainly coming when I will raise up for them a righteous Branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the land.”

We’re trying something a bit different tonight. After we sing another song and listen to the passage from Mark, we’re going to go over to the tables where some large sheets of paper are laid out. We’re going to process artistically the ways in which Jesus is our good shepherd. Then we’ll hang the artwork up here to surround us as we look forward to Easter. Then afterward, we’ll come back and sing, I’ll say a few things more directly about the passage from Mark, and then we’ll go into our prayer and sharing time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Suburbs

Jordan Peacock (a very cool guy) posted this insightful reflection on the challenges and opportunities of following Jesus when you live in the suburbs. This is pretty relevant to our community! 

Also check out the two books he refers to,  On The Side Of The Angels by Dr. Joseph D’Souza and Benedict Rogers and Justice In The Burbs by Will & Lisa Samson. I haven't read either yet, but they just made it on to my reading list!

The Suburbs

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15 - Our Mission

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 6.1-13, 30-32 & Ezek 2.1-5 - Our Mission

Jesus comes home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath, he goes to the synagogue and begins to teach the people that the time they’ve been waiting of is now here, that God’s about to set the world right, and that they must repent and begin to trust him if they are to be involved in the new world God is bringing. Jesus has preached this message all throughout the region of Galilee, and even briefly across the lake in the non-Jewish region of the Gerasenes. Now he’s brought it to the the town where he grew up, to Nazareth, where his mom and his brothers James, Joses, Judas and Simon live. He brings the message to the town where his sisters have married and are starting families of their own.

I don’t often get back to Montana, to Belgrade, the little town where I grew up. My parents still live in an old farmhouse a few miles north of town. I have a brother and a sister in college at Montana State and another little sister still in high school. When I go back to visit, however much I want things to be the same as they were when I was growing up, things are always a bit different. I’ve changed in my years away. I went to college in Ohio, got married, lived as a missionary in Eastern Europe, studied theology at a Catholic university here in Chicago, and now I’m part of a crazy little community that mets at five o’clock on Sunday nights. My family and high school friends are understanding; they realize that too much time away from the mountains will change a person. But when I start talking about my vision of what the church is called to be, of where God is calling us, of what it means to be a Jesus-follower, sometimes they squirm uncomfortably in their seat or they look bored or they nod and mutter something about “Josh, you have the strangest ideas, but we know you’ll grow out of them.”

That’s what Jesus experiences in Nazareth. “Where did you get these ideas?” they ask. “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters all here with us?” And what does the text go on to say? He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed because of their unbelief.

These people are evidence that some seed falls alongside the path and Satan swoops down and steals it away before it has any time to sprout. these people--Jesus’ in-laws and neighbors, his brothers and childhood friends--they don’t hear Jesus’ message. We might expect them to be the most receptive. After all, this is the religious synagogue Jesus attended as he grew up. But these people already think they know Jesus. So they scoff at his message in disbelief, unable to recognize the new thing that God is offering to them.

It’s in this context, right after this faithless and heartbreaking response from his hometown, that Jesus calls his twelve closest followers to himself and sends them out on a mission.

As I’ve prepared for tonight, I’ve wrestled with why Jesus chooses to send out his followers two-by-two just now. Wouldn’t it have been better to send them out when they were all pumped up, like last week after he raised the dead girl back to life or right after he calmed the storm on the lake? Why do it now? Then there’s a second, bigger question I’ve struggled to answer: What does this mean for our community that meets here on Sunday nights?

We are a community that Jesus has sent out on a mission. In fact, it’s more or less the same mission he sends the twelve on. Even though I pray that our time together on Sunday evenings is transforming our lives--even though I hope that when you get into a disagreement with a coworker, your first response is not to go gossip about them to someone else but to respond in the kindness and seemingly senseless love of God’s kingdom; even though I hope that when you get the bad news that a close family member is seriously ill, your response is not to bury yourself in the distraction of television or the Internet or to stare blankly in despairing fatalism but that instead, even through your tears, you pray to the God who save us, who is already healing the world and making all things new in the resurrection life of Jesus--personal transformation is not the only purpose or even the main purpose of our community. Why do we get together on Sunday nights?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inward/Outward Spirituality in USAmerica

Read this article by Mark Van Steenwyk from Jesus Manifesto. 

Inward/Outward Spirituality in USAmerica

During Lent, we're talking about how we can follow Jesus better. A second conversation that we should have, one that lies just under the surface of this one, talks about how our lives, the ways we understand our place in the world, need to change as we follow Jesus. The Inward/Outward spiritual disciplines Mark discusses in this article (and the counter-spirituality our culture insists upon) actively mold us into Jesus-shaped disciples.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8 - "Don't Be Afraid, Just Believe!"

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mark 5.21-43 - “Don’t Be Afraid, Just Believe!”

I don’t often tell stories about the months Cindy and I spent as missionaries in Macedonia. I’m not sure why, and I think should start telling more stories about the kids, the college students, and the newborn churches we worked with.

Cindy and I spent a lot of our time during our first three or four months there learning the language. In Macedonia they zboruvat makedonski, they speak Macedonian. So every Tuesday and Thursday night Cindy and I would ride the bus toward the center of the city, to a neighborhood called Novo Lisiche, and sit for an hour or two with our language teacher Richard learning vocabulary and grammar, how to ask for directions, how to buy a kilo of potatoes or oranges at the market.

One Thursday night, a few months into our time in Macedonia--probably in February--I was riding the bus back to our apartment. For some reason, Cindy wasn’t able to come to class that evening, so I was riding alone.

It gets cold in Macedonia in the winter. It’s about at the same latitude as Chicago, and it’s surrounded by mountains. This night there was snow on the ground. I was sitting in the back of the bus. The bus was pretty empty, just me, a few men riding home from a day at cafes watching soccer, and a Roma family riding up front, a father and mother, one son who looked about ten years old and a younger son who was probably four or five. The mother and especially the father looked too old to have such young children, but by this point in my time in Macedonia, I’d learned that in Roma families people often look much older than they are. The Roma are gypsies, the trash-pickers, the scrap-metal collectors, the people who build their homes in the city dump. They live hard lives, so a man who looks sixty may only be thirty and a woman who looks fifty-five may only be twenty-eight.

I looked up again at the family at the front of the bus as we bounced through another intersection. The father’s toes and heels were sticking out of his shoes. There was snow outside, cold air blowing in around the doors to the bus, and this man’s bare toes and exposed heels had nothing between them and elements.

I sat there, disturbed, unsure what to do. I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I knew that I had come to the country with two pairs of shoes and a pair of sandals besides and this man had nothing that passed for decent shoes on a cold February night. And I felt afraid. Should I give him my shoes, the shoes I was wearing that night, the same shoes I’m wearing tonight? I could make it fairly easily from the bus stop to my apartment just in my socks. But if I did, how would I speak to him? I could barely express myself in my broken Macedonian, and odds were that his own Macedonian was not that great; he would speak some Roma dialect. Would I offend him? Is it an insult to his character if I offer him a gift in front of his children?

I sat there feeling guilty and afraid until he and his family stepped out into the cold a few stops later. When the bus finally reached the end of the line, my stop, I thanked the driver, pulled my coat collar up, and walked to my apartment, feeling angry at my own fear and lack of action.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 1 - The Faithless Disciples and the Freed Demoniac (Notes)

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 4.35-5.20 & Lent - “The Faithless Disciples and the Freed Demoniac”

Note: I normally write my sermons out in manuscript form, composing each word and phrase. This week I made a go at working off only some notes. You can all be the judge of how successful I was (I'm open to constructive criticism!). Here are my notes for my talk on Lent and two scenes from Mark.

What have been your past experience of Lent? Do you have any Lenten traditions? When we talk about Lent, what thoughts do you think and how do you feel?

 We entered the season of Lent this week on Ash Wednesday. The church had a service where we officially marked the beginning of Lent by smearing a cross on our foreheads out of the ashes of last years Palm Sunday palm fronds. Lent stretches through the forty days leading up to Easter

Lent has been a part of the church calendar since the first centuries following Jesus’ resurrection. At first it wasn’t something the whole church participated. Only the catechumens, those people preparing to be baptized take part. A lot of churches liked to baptize new believers on Easter (even though it wasn’t called Easter yet). The catechumens would spend
 the forty days before their baptism in increased spiritual disciplines, like fasting and prayer, discerning the new way of life they were beginning at baptism and repenting, swearing off the old way of life they were leaving behind. The Didache, the earliest church handbook we have, spends a lot of time talking about the Two Ways, the way of life in Christ, following Jesus, and the way of life not in Christ. I’m going to read the first paragraph so you get an idea of what the early baptismal candidates were reflecting on.

The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and
 do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings. 
Didache, chapter 1.

I want to pose another question: What does baptism have to do with discipleship?

March 1 - The Disciples in Gethsemane: Quality Time

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.
Mark 14.32-50 - “The Disciples in Gethsemane: Quality Time”

Note: I had the great opportunity to preach at the Sunday morning services this week. The church, in good Presbyterian fashion, is going through a Lenten study series, this year on Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. Each week, a member of the pastoral staff has taken one of the love languages and sought to show how it is rooted in the gospel. Below is my meditation on Quality Time as a way of expressing love within the church community.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

During the season of Lent, we as a congregation are working through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. Our goal is to become better at communicating our love to other people. In Mark 12 verses 30 and 31, Jesus says God’s most important command to us is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second most important, he says, is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12.30-31). In John 15, Jesus puts it another way: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command (Jn 15.12-14). God cares a lot about the love we show to others in our daily lives.

So how do we love? Is it a skill that we practice like scales on the piano? Does it take hard work to learn like polevaulting? Are we liable to get bruised and sore along the way? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, love is a choice to change the way we behave, to change what we do. Sometimes we think of love as a feeling, but love that stays in our heart is about as useless as a drug that cures cancer locked up in a top secret pharmaceuticals laboratory.

Last week Pastor Mark talked about how we can show love through the words we use. This week I want to talk about how we can show love through the way we spend our time. We need to learn to use our time lovingly in our relationships, parents with kids, parents with adult children, husbands to wives, friend to friend, dating couples, coworkers and strangers. But I don’t want our time together this morning to become simply a how-to laundry list. Instead I want us to dig down into the deepest heart of what it means for us to love one another by spending quality time together.

Jesus has already pointed the way toward the heart of all love. In Mark 12, he says the greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Wherever we show love in our lives, in whatever relationships we’re in, underneath it all lies our obligation, unspoken, maybe unrecognized, to love God. If our love for anyone is to be true and real and good, it must spring from our loving relationship with God our Father.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More Lent Resources

Per Christum posted a link to daily Lenten readings from the Church Fathers. The early church writings continue to have a lot of wisdom for today. Both a full version of the readings and also a shorter, more manageable version are available. Check them out.

My good friend Mrs. W referred me to another great resource put together by a minister in NYC. This Lenten study that proceeds with Jesus toward the cross. Download it here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Entering Lent

This Wednesday we entered Lent. Lent is a season of listening for Jesus calling us to follow him, to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. A the bottom, Lent only makes sense as a time to get ready for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. But in between us and Jesus' victory over death is the road to Jerusalem, to rejection, at the end of which stands a lonely cross. That is the cross we need to take up.

The Five O'Clock Community is going to spend some time in the coming six weeks asking how Jesus is asking us to go with him to the cross. How can we become more faithful disciples? Lent began as a time to get ready for baptism. In the earliest days, the church made its practice to baptize people on Easter, highlighting the fact that by going down into the water we are dying with Jesus and that when we are raised out of the water we are raised into his resurrection life. Being raised into Jesus' life means a lot more than just a hope for a happy place to go when we die. Living in Jesus' life means living in the way Jesus lived, carrying out our lives as his disciples.

The church has often taken Lent as a time for fasting and repentance. This originated in the forty day period before baptism when people would consider the new way they were committing to live and the old way of living they were leaving behind. We take this period of fasting and repentance as a time to speak honestly to God about the ways in which we have failed in the last year to follow Jesus, to go where he goes. And in the leanness of soul, the singleness of purpose that the season brings with it, we pray again for God to enable to follow  his Son.

Below are some helpful resources for Lent. I will post more as I find more.

The first is Christine Sine's Lenten study A Journey Into Wholeness.  The study is available for download, but there is a suggested donation of $5. You can find it and other resources on her blog Check out some of her other posts for some other great resources for Lent.

The second is "Fasting with Jesus, Struggling with the Devil", an article by Mark Van Steenwyk posted on Jesus Manifesto that explores what our repentance during Lent is all about. Again, there's a lot more good resources on the site (like Mark's update about his "Facebook Fast" and articles by Jacque Elull).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Feb 22 - Dirt

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 4.1-34 - “Dirt”

When Jesus was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven.”
He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable? The sower sows the word.”

I am going to ask you to make a decision tonight. Jesus has some strong words for us, and they force us to a decision.

I rode the bus for the first year and a half of high school. Pretty early on my freshman year, I became good friends with a high school girl who also rode my bus. We both lived out in the sticks, so we’d be on the bus together at least a good forty-five minutes. We both liked to read the same science-fiction and fantasy books, so we’d talk about the books we read while we bounced down the dust, washboard roads. The beginning of sophomore year, we were still both riding the bus, and still really good friends. Or, I thought we were just good friends. She had secretly been considering other ideas. One day she worked up the courage to tell me that she really liked me, and not just as a friend. “Do you want to go out, Josh?” she asked. Here I am, blindsided by this confession (I was kinda an oblivious teenager!). What am I to do? Do I pretend I misheard? Do I ignore her? Do I say yes and figure out the consequences later? I am forced to do something. After a few minutes mumbling and backpedaling, I worked up the courage to tell her that I just wasn’t really ready to date anyone yet, and we got back to being good friends.

This is the way it is with Jesus’ message about God’s kingdom. It’s like he shows up and says, “I, uh, really like you.” Really, it’s more like he’s the guy who runs into the store yelling, “There’s a bomb! The door’s over here! Everyone get out while you still can!” These sort of things, a confession of love, a bomb warning, they force us to respond. Do we bolt toward the exit sign, to escape, to safety? Or are we the sort of people who get distracted by the fashion display or the Dollar Spot on our way to the door? Do I date my friend, do I let her down gently, or do I pretend she never said anything? Whatever we do we are responding.

We’ve heard and seen and got “wrapped up in” in three parables tonight. What is a parable? Some people assume that it’s all about symbolism and secret meanings. Other people go to the other extreme and just look for some sort of moral or feel-good principle. But these stories aren’t really either of those things. A bit closer is to call a parable a riddle, but the most useful definition of a parable I’ve heard is “a story with a point.” So what is the point of the parables we’ve heard tonight?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Common Root 2009: Tom and Christine Sine

Last weekend I attended The Common Root 2009 in Minneapolis. Jesus Manifesto, a blog associated with the community who hosted the conference, posted the first videos of some of the speakers. Follow the link below to check out two of the speakers I heard.

The Common Root 2009: Tom and Christine Sine

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Jason dreams of leaving home"

These are some of my favorite people in the world.  This is Jae and Rachel and their family.  You can find out a lot more about them on their blog.

They are going to Russia to work as missionaries.  They fly out in just a few days. I want to encourage all of you, especially those of you from the Five O'Clock Community, to pray for them. I know from experience that landing in a foreign country where one is going to live for the next however many months can be very challenging.  Pray for their accommodation to the new culture, for easy language learning, and, especially, for some close friends to walk and work and fellowship with them there.

Jae and I grew up together in Bozeman, Montana. We spent many early mornings sharing our faith and prayer with one another while drinking coffee at Perkins. We headed up attempts to get the Bible clubs on our high school campuses to work together to share Jesus' message with more people.  We even played in a band for a little bit. I am confident that God has amazing plans for Jae, his wife Rachel, and their daughters in Blagoveshchensk.
A few months ago, Jae and Rachel record an album of worship songs. They have it for free download on their blog here.  Download, and remember to pray for them whenever it plays.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Feb 8 - Conflict and Response

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 2.1-3.6 - “Conflict and Response”

I. Jesus returns from preaching throughout the area around the Sea of Galilee. He’s been proclaiming the good news that God’s kingdom is just about to arrive. He’s been casting out demons. He’s healed a leper. But now he’s back on his home turf, Capernaum the town he’s adopted, the town where Andrew and Peter and Peter’s mother-in-law live. And word gets out. Mark writes, Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was home. So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he preached the word to them.

From here on out things are going to get interesting. So far Jesus has met nothing but success. We saw him get baptized--the all-important revelation of who Jesus is that I warned you to keep clear in your heads. We heard God’s special message to him, “You are my beloved Son; I take great delight in you.” Then we saw the Spirit cast him out into the wilderness where he faced down the devil. Next, Jesus came into Galilee heralding the good news that God’s kingdom was just about to arrive. Those he called into his community came; the demons he cast out had to leave. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law, remedied all the ills of the crowds, preached all throughout Galilee, and cleansed a leper. He’s unstoppable--the devil can’t stand up to him. Sickness and disease, the things that plague us and break down our bodies, are no match for him. The demons have to acknowledge his authority, his power to destroy them, and run.

But here things change. Jesus comes home and finally runs into some roadblocks. It’s like Mark takes Jesus out on a test-drive in chapter one, saying, “Look, here’s what this guy can do! He really is God’s Son; he really does have all the power to undo the effects of sin and the authority to pronounce judgment on it.” But by chapter two we’ve bought into the story, put our money in on the ticket for the long haul, and now we get to see how Jesus handles the hard and stony hearts of people like us. Is Jesus still powerful? Of course. Is Jesus still God’s Son, still the one given authority to announce God’s kingdom, to cast out the devil, to heal the sick, and to pronounce judgment? Definitely. But if the story were to be all power and glory, we wouldn’t worship a messiah who got himself crucified.

Tonight we’re going to listen to five scenes in Mark’s story that go together, showing us how Jesus meets increasing opposition, not from Satan, but from us. It starts out small, just some critical thoughts, just some seemingly well-grounded disbelief, but ends up quite big, ugly, and murderous. Then we’re going to ask some questions about where this disbelief comes from and what this part of the story says to us, its audience.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Young Church? A New Community.

Some things make me happy. Like last Sunday night.

The church group I'm part of stakes its identity on the conviction that community--fellowship, koinonia--is a major part of Jesus' message about the new order of things God is bringing. Just like God frees us through Jesus' death and resurrection to be in his family (John's Gospel says to be "children of God"), so we're freed to be family to one another. This is something we're struggling to learn how to live, to move this from conviction to habit. I think some would call this "discipleship" or, maybe, "spiritual formation."

We've been trying out different ways to do this. We're plotting to begin home groups in the next months. We've already passed around sign up sheets for rotating dinners around each others dining room tables (or on each others living room floors). (If anyone still needs to sign up, email me.) Another way we've been training ourselves in the discipline of friendship is a common potluck after each service.

Last Sunday night, this looked like fifteen or so people, clustering around three or four tables, slurping bowls of white bean chili (a Cindy specialty), chomping garlic bread, and savoring some cake batter cookies (if you've never had these, your taste buds are missing an new world of delight). Even better than the food (which, let me repeat, was quite good), people were trading stories, getting to know one another. Some are old friends--some are old married couples. Some are quite new. Everyone was, perhaps unknowingly, showing what the new life Jesus promised looks like, how it listens and laughs, ask questions, passes the container of cookies. This makes me happy.

We started out calling our Sunday night gatherings "the Five O'Clock Service." I thought that was a generic enough, straight-forward enough. But after some reflection, some prayer, and a few conversations, we're changing the name. From this point forward, we'll be the Five O'Clock Community. I hope when we follow Jesus, it looks a lot more like sharing in a potluck than listening to a sermon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jan 25, 2009 - The Kingdom of God Is Near

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 1.14-34 - “The Kingdom of God Is Near”

Now after John was handed over, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the good news of God. He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Now we’re in it. We talked last week about how Mark was letting us in on the secret, laying it all out in front of us, explaining who Jesus really is. He showed us first in his title--The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. He showed us in the way he described John the Baptizer. He showed us through what happened after Jesus was baptized--the sky splitting apart, the Holy Spirit anointing him, God declaring, “You are my beloved Son, in you I take great delight.” But now Jesus comes back from down South where John was preaching by the river, he comes back form forty days in the desert, now he comes back proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God, the new world set right that God brings, is just now arriving--and we’re plunged into confusion. The light’s go out. We’re left with all sort of people--normal people, rich people, farmers and fishermen, beggars, prostitutes, and political power mongers--all debating and misunderstanding who Jesus is, what his message is about.

Last week I told you to hold on tightly to the clear, mountaintop glimpse of who Jesus is as we spend the next few months walking through the sometimes frantic, sometimes monotonous, sometimes lonely, sometimes harried, sometimes anonymous world where Mark tells the rest of hist story, the world that we live in.

“The time is fulfilled! The kingdom of God is just about to arrive!” Jesus announces. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s arriving right now, in Jesus, through what he does, what he says. But it’s not here all the way. We can even see that in our day. This world does not look like--does not feel like--the new world, the good world that God brings. And this is part of Mark’s and Jesus’ point. The new world cannot really begin until Jesus is handed over to the authorities, before he dies, before he is raised into the new life of God’s new world. The new world, God’s kingdom, is here and yet a lot of it is, even still, just about to arrive.
But what I’m saying here is too theological, too abstract. Jesus doesn’t come to meet us in our theology; we don’t live the new life of God’s world in our doctrinal statements. He meets us while we’re washing dishes after potluck, while we’re chasing down a rambunctious son or daughter, while we’re inputting number into a computer at work or trying to appease a cranky customer, while we’re having an awkward long distance phone conversation with a parent, when we crawl into bed and wish we weren’t quite so alone. God’s kingdom--the new world, God’s new life--is something that we need to find in our every day lives.

But what does it look like? We all know there are too many counterfeits out there! We tend to water it down to a “God is in all things,” to a hunt for the warm fuzzies or the silver lining. Or else we fixate on one part of it, turning “Love your neighbor as yourself” into a baptism for our failing attempts at world peace, or our unapologetic defense of our way of life. Sometimes we turn the promise of eternal life into a raspy-voice, finger-pointing tirade about hellfire and brimstone. But as much as I read the stories about Jesus in the New Testament, I never see him going around Galilee peddling tickets to heaven, his message was never about a washing machine in every home, a laptop for every child, or two cars in every garage. And he certainly never gave his support to the Roman government’s “peace”--their pax romana enforced by a military garrison in every major city, heavy taxes to house and feed their “peacekeepers,” and just enough entertainment--gladiators, festival days--to keep the poor too distracted to revolt. But if none of these are the new life Jesus brings, what is it? What does God’s kingdom look like?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jan 18, 2009 - Getting to Know the Jesus We Follow

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 1.1-13 - “Getting to Know the Jesus We Follow”

We talk a lot at the Five O’Clock about “following Jesus,” about living out the message Jesus preached, about living as the proof of God’s coming kingdom. Last week we brainstormed some ways that we can be living out Jesus’ message more faithfully, as a community of people whose lives are growing more and more closely together and as a community of people who want to help meet the needs of our neighbors as a picture of the sort of kingdom that Jesus brings. During the weeks of Advent, we talked a lot about how God’s people have longed and waited for the kingdom that Jesus announces, the kingdom he will one day finally bring.

My question tonight is “Why?” Why do we talk so much about “kingdom” and “gospel” and “Jesus”? There is a Sunday School answer to this question. When I was younger, a Sunday School teacher--a guy named Eric who I thought was so much cooler than all the other adults I knew--once laughingly said that no matter what question he asked in class, we’d be right if we answered with “Jesus.” In way, we could reply “Jesus” to the question tonight of why we talk about kingdom and gospel and, even, Jesus himself, at the Five O’Clock. But this answer would be true in ways and with a depth that a second grade or junior high Sunday School kid wouldn’t quite grasp. Honestly, it’s true in a way that most of us don’t pick up on initially.

What I have to say tonight is important because we who are becoming part of this Five O’Clock community are just beginning a process that will be hard work, that will be often uncomfortable, we’re beginning something that’s going to ask more of us than we think we have to give. But it’s just this answer of “Jesus”--who he is, what he announced, how he lived and died and, especially, how he lives again--that will gets us through.

We are together trying to faithfully live as the people of God, to be the church in a real and full sense, in an Acts 2 kind of way. This is going to mean getting to know one another better, becoming vulnerable as our live increasingly intersect, as we share our needs and try to help each other out in practical ways. It’s going to mean some awkwardness, as we make social missteps, as we bump into unfounded assumptions. It’s going to mean frustrations as we unfortunately sometimes let each other down, as we find places we disagree, as we unroot hidden prejudices. And it’s going to mean forgiving one another, just as God forgives us, just as we pray in Jesus’ prayer each week. Tonight, it’s going to mean some of us doing the chore of cooking pasta, setting out some plates and silverware, it’s going to be the sweat of washing up dishes afterward.

On our own, we’ll eventually run out. Our patience will wear thin and break, we’ll be tempted to pull out, to hole up in the isolated comforts of a couch and television programs instead coming to meet the raw reality of being together the loving, difficult people of God. And in this, it will be the person and presence of Jesus that sustains us, that refreshes us, that gives us the energy to have one more conversation, to wash one more plate, to drive out into the cold January night one more time.

This is all the reason why I want us to spend the next few months reading through the Gospel of Mark. Mark is a great place to meet Jesus, to get know him better, and to find out what his kingdom and gospel are about. Mark tells a story about Jesus that says so much more than we find on our first read through. The author’s a clever, skillful storyteller, and his book is more like epic poetry or even, perhaps, a riddle, than just a scientific, rigorously precise record of what Jesus said and did. For the longest time, I didn’t like Mark for just these reasons. I would read through it, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He starts off, as we’ll see in a few minutes, without any background story for Jesus. He also ends quite differently from other Gospels, mysteriously even. It wasn’t until I was part of leading a bible study through Mark in college, and I began to read through it over and over, that I began to understand how rich and how real-life, how gritty Mark’s story of Jesus is. I think this is just the sort of picture of Jesus we need as we set about the difficult project of becoming God’s people, something gritty but also something that requires commitment, dedication to bear fruit.

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