Monday, August 27, 2012

August 19 - Snippet from Sunday - The Beginning of Wisdom

When we tell stories, we are telling others the sort of people we are. Better than our Social Insurance Numbers or a driver’s license or a resume, a story tells the people who hear it, “This is the kind of person I am. This is what I’ve done in the past. This is what I’ve been through. This is how I’ve changed. This is the sort of thing that’s important enough for me to remember.” When we hear someone’s stories, it’s usually not hard for us to figure out the sort of person they’ll be in the future.

Cindy and I were down visiting my family during the second week of August. My parents bought an old farmhouse fifteen or so years ago, and it seems that some part of it always needs repairing. This summer it was the north side of the roof.

While we were down there, the family retold some of our favorite stories. The one about my dad and I getting stuck out all night on the side of a mountain and how we made a makeshift tent to keep from freezing to death. The one about the hairy, muddy family Golden Retriever lying down and refusing to take another step halfway down a hike from a mountain peak, and how my brother carried that smelly, dirty dog in his arms the rest of the way down and then went straight to work.

If you listen to these stories my family tells long enough, you begin to hear a pattern. Usually someone’s on a trip or working on some project and things go frustratingly wrong, but then the family perseveres and somehow makes things work out. Usually we’re all laughing at our past hardships and frustrations. Time and time again, my family’s stories follow this pattern.

My point here is that once you’ve heard a few of my family’s stories, you have a pretty good idea of the sort of people we are. And, so, when hard times arise, you know how we’ll probably respond. I suspect that if I hear enough of each of your stories, I’ll get a good idea of the sort of people you are.

I believe that Scripture tells us something similar this morning. In Psalm 111, we hear that if we tell and listen to the stories about our God often enough and for long enough, we’ll learn what to expect from God in the future and how to live with this sort of God.. The last verse of Psalm 111 sings, The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom; good understanding have all who do [his commandments]. His song of praise continues for ever.

(Check out the whole sermon after the jump. . .)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Pull of Grace

A week or so ago a friend forwarded this video to me of Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber at the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was originally posted over at Rachel Held Evans' blog.

Quite a few of my friends found that her story really resonated with their own stories. In some ways, it's a familiar story of someone pushed to the margins by others and even by herself, and then finding herself unexpectedly and sometimes even without intending to do so finding God as a source of life and hope. Then, in an also familiar sequel, she finds that many in faith communities still view her as an outsider, but God with God's great sense of humor and justice, broadens and deepens the life of the faith community through the gift of this former-and-somewhat-continuing outsider's ministry.

I like this story. I especially like the way it describes the beautiful irony of grace (even while it shows up the tragic cliquishness of churches).

About 4 minutes 20 seconds in, Nadia says,
But when that happened, it didn't feel like I pulled myself up by my spiritual bootstraps. When that happened it felt like a completely rude interruption from God. I was on this path towards destroying myself, and it's like God reached down and plucked me up and went, 'That's adorable, but I'm going to put you over here.' Now I know what that is, that's the grace of God. At that point I didn't have that language. All I knew was that it was a gift that was given and that I didn't earn. And just tried to live in response to that gift.
I feel this great "Amen!" welling up in my heart when I hear these words, even while I know that this is nothing like my experience of God's grace.

Nadia's image of grace is being pulled out of something destructive. Our church-community the last few weeks has been listening to Pau's letter to the house church at Colossae. In 1.14, Paul says we've been rescued from the dominion of darkness and relocated to the kingdom of God's beloved Son. We were pulled out a world enthralled to the domineering rule of sin, destruction, and death. And we're given new life--inheritance, Paul says--as a gift.

In my own story, however, I've felt this more as pulling into something, a pulling deeper down into this same world to embody the hope that's rescued med. I think Nadia speaks to this further on in her talk.

Mission, it turns out, is also a gift, also a grace. Ever since my late teenage years, I've felt that having a purpose to live for is just as critical for me as being rescued from the self-defeating, self-destructive habits that would otherwise clothe my life. I think scripture often uses language of sending for this aspect of grace, like in Jn 20.

So the pull of grace is at least two way. Out of something, and deeper into something. Grace may pull in other ways as well. How have you felt the pull of grace in your story?
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