Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding ourselves in the wilderness...

I have been meeting with a group of folks and sharing communion and life together. Our little ekklēsia (ek-klā-sē'-ä) has decided to begin reading the gospel of Mark together and discuss its implications as a community. Its kinda like open-source theology (open-source meaning anyone may contribute and theology meaning words about God).

It sounds easy enough, I've read and re-read the Gospels tons... But as always happens when you undertake a serious reading of scripture, and approach the text with an open mind, new things crop up that you have never seen before and they can lead to questions and doubts and hopefully, in the best of circumstances, new understandings about how God moves in our world.

This part of the story has really caught hold of me over the last week:

Mar 1:12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Mark uses a very active verb to describe what happened to Christ after his baptism in the Jordan.

Matthew and Luke both have Jesus being "led" by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark doesn't paint the picture as something gentle. Mark has the Spirit driving, thrusting, propelling Jesus into the desert, the wilderness, the barrenness.

Mark's statement "The Spirit immediately drove Him," makes it feel almost as if Christ went against His will...

Jesus story begins with a Divine affirmation, a reunion of the trinity, a granting of authority but immediately leads to an extended even forced stay in the wilderness. But we find historically He is in good company:

Abraham, wandered in the desert between the promise and the birth of Isaac.
Israel wandered between the liberation from Egypt and the entrance of the promised land.
David hid in desert caves between finding God's favor and stepping to the throne.
Elisha dwelt in the wilderness between receiving Elijah's spirit and bringing God's word to his people...

You get the point.

So what if bouts in the wilderness are an essential part of life in the Spirit?

Could the desert wilderness represent the barren and harsh places in our own lives?

Are they the places of trial and abandonment where we are forced to realize that we are not in control?

Is the wilderness a terrifying space where we are able to realize we are completely vulnerable and completely dependent?

Since we were banished from the Garden the wilderness has been a part of our journey.

But this doesn't fit with much of what we are told in Western Christianity, does it?

We are led to believe that "life in the Spirit" means constant joy, peace, happiness, and smugness (knowing all of the answers without even asking the questions). We are left to assume that any period of doubt, sadness, or just general unjoyfulness is the result of Satan's activity or OUR OWN sin's alienating power.

But what if that's not always the case?

What if there are seasons when the Spirit drives us out?

What if there is a Divine Wisdom in wilderness that can be learned nowhere else?

What if seasons in the desert are simply part of the path we are on following Jesus?

What if the wilderness is an essential part of life in the Spirit?

What if robust faith lives somewhere between absolute trust and deep doubt?

What does it look like to really embrace our wilderness, not just endure it, or pray to be out of it, but to accept it and allow it to shape us.

Where are the wilderness places in my journey, in your journey, in our manifestations of ekklēsia, in our world?

What does it mean for us to embrace them?

What do we have to learn from them?

And what might the spirit be preparing us for?

It's been a week of hard driving and penetrating questions for me as I wrestle my own theology and hope to see the word with new eyes and hear it with new ears...

Please share any thoughts, questions, or answers from your own journeys.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Are your prayers awe-full

I have spent a lot of time studying Jesus and teaching about the actions of this infamous rabbi and the unpredictable way he moved in this world. But in doing so I have neglected much...

Looking at the history of the human race reveals just how often we totally miss the point and mess everything up.

God gave Mankind a new creation and we couldn't handle it. We build structures and accumulated wealth and power by violence and oppression.

And each time God tried to help us, tried to show the human race a better way to live we managed to muck it up.

Take Noah, If anyone had a chance at moving us in the right direction it was this guy. He had a freshly power washed earth, he and his family were the only people around and he had a direct line to God (God spoke to him and he to God). And yet he dies drunk and naked.

The Israelites, having been rescued from slavery in Egypt, knew first hand the dark side of human power and how centralized human control can be corrupted. And yet they cried out for a human King. Eventually their kings used slave labor to build massive temples and palaces, horded 666 tons of gold (an interesting amount), and used their wealth and power to fortify citys and build armies to the point they were importing and exporting weapons (we would call them arms dealers).

And those are just the highlights!

So when God announces through his prophets that he is going to enter the world and help guide us we should take note...

And when He does show up in the flesh we should listen and do everything he says...

And so with-out further wasting words from me lets get on with the studying of what he said.

First lets look at His teachings on prayer (being that this may be the single most important spiritual discipline).

Mat 6:5
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

What is a hypocrite?

hypocrites - Greek for One who plays a part, The classical word for an actor.

Why would they stand?

If you were in a noisy room and want to get everyone's attention what would you do? You would probably raise your voice and maybe even stand up to make people look and see what you are doing. this is why they had the Reader of the scrolls stand in the synagogue...

Mat 6:6
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Most of the folks Jesus was teaching were poor fishermen and peasants (If you follow Jesus travels around on a map you will see he carefully avoided the shiny fancy city's and stuck almost exclusively to small poor villages). They mostly lived in small one or two room houses. The only interior door was to a small store room where they could lock away their family's most prized possessions. I imagine the most beautiful and tragic things happened in those closets...

Mat 6:7
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

The Romans considered Caesar a God. This is how they addressed him:

"Emperor Caesar Galerius Valerius Maximianus Invictus Augustus, Pontifex Maximum, Germanicus Maximus, Egyptiacus Maximus, Thebaicus Maximus, Sarmaticus Maximus (five times), Persicus Maximus (twice), Carpicus Maximus, Holder of Tribunician Authority for the twentieth time, Imperator for the nineteenth, Consul for the eighth, Pater Patriae, Proconsul."

This was done to impress Caesar and make him feel important. If you addressed him well he would more disposed to grant your request or show you mercy. But if you botched it or rushed through it it was not going to be a good day for you.

But Jesus says You can't impress God. He doesn't care about all your titles. This harmonizes with what the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests about appraoching god.

Ecc 5:1-7 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

So from 1-3 we see We should- listen, be patent,use few words... We should not- offer sacrifices, or speak with out thinking

Then in 4-6 we are warned against trying to make a vow (a bargain with God)

and in 7 the writer sums it up with the best way to approach communication with God "Stand in Awe"

And these attitudes also harmonize with Jesus parable on prayer.

Luk 18:10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Mat 6:8
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

What is 6:8 all about?

**Just a note I don't have a "prayer life." I have a life, and I pray. I reject any idea that the two should be seperate which is probably not what was meant when the phrase was first coined, but that is what it has become for many.**