The Story of A Mugging Victim and The Beatitudes

Yesterday we began looking at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in church by starting with the Beatitudes. It was actually our "informal night" we it was teaching instead of preaching. So we "exegeted" the text--looking at what Matthew intended when he wrote it and peeling away all the presuppositions and assumptions we bring to the text.

Recently a friend on Facebook shared a story that was on NPR a couple years ago about a victim who treated his mugger right. It's a story that should be coming out of the church more. Too often, the church's stories are like the rest of the world: sex scandals, embezzlement, divorce, abuse, hatred.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us we're supposed to be different. We're not just supposed to not murder--we're not to hate, because all people are created in God's image. More than not committing adultery, we're not to look lustfully at each other because people aren't objects and sex wasn't created to be the goal. We're not to take an-eye-for-an-eye, but to be merciful instead of vengeful--even loving our enemies. The Law isn't meant to be a checklist of dos and don'ts, but a guide to help us know how to love God and love each other.

The Beatitudes tell us that the way of the Kingdom is not the way of the world. The world lauds power, wealth, strength, hedonism and vengeful justice. The way of the Kingdom is to realize we need help, to mourn, to be humble, to show mercy, to be pure, to seek peace and to turn the other cheek. These aren't things we can do on our own; these sorts of actions require a dependence on the Holy Spirit. They are the fruit of a life transformed.

And like the mugger in the story, when others encounter a life lived out with Kingdom values, those we encounter are changed. Not only do the Beatitudes show us our blessings, but they show us how to bless others as well.


An Evening at the Fitzgerald and Church

My wife purchased tickets through one of those daily deal sites recently for seeing Garrison Keillor with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for a Winter Concert. I've been wanting to see Garrison in person for a while. Being an English major, I love that side of his humor. Being a farm kid, I love the Midwestern humor. And sometimes I just love the quaintness of a radio show. And while this wasn't A Prairie Home Companion show, it was still good. The evening was a montage of stories and song--and mostly stories through song. It was fun just to sit in the Fitzgerald Theater.

Sitting in semi-uncomfortable seats squished between my wife and some woman I didn't know, and as some of the songs were religious in nature (some of the words as well as music borrowed from old hymns) I was struck with some of the similarities and differences with the theater and some churches I've attended.

In some churches you're there to be ultimately entertained. You may even be in theater seats. You may be in a balcony like I was. Chances are you're sitting next to someone you don't know. You may never see them again. You probably didn't interact with them other than sharing a laugh at a joke. There may be people around you drinking wine (the Fitzgerald served some at least), but you don't share it together.

I currently attend a church where you know everyone. Any guests are introduced to the group in our gathering prayer time--and almost always we're aware they'll be coming before the worship service. We sit together, side-by-side. We serve each other communion. The table is a reminder of our calling together. And while worship may be "entertaining" it is more of an invitation to participation. We are gathered not for ourselves, but for God. He is the reason we are there together. What we do is supposed to be for Him--not for us.

Garrison said something in a song at one point about "not wanting to end up pissed / finding out I should have been an atheist." It was ultimately a prayer about wanting God [and Heaven] to be real. Sometimes we need the places like the theater to join with the masses in hoping God is real. Sometimes we need the reminder that others need God. We need the laughter and even the anonymity at times. We need the good-ness of what culture has to offer. But that is not church.

Despite the lateness on a school night (we'd had early mornings and late nights), we enjoyed the time. We laughed, we were wistful, we enjoyed the music. We were entertained. Plus, we got to enjoy Garrison in his red Adidas shoes and suit. No kids and good conversation while driving (plus the overall time with my wonderful bride)--that's a good date night. And those kind of nights are important to have.


On Preaching

I preached tonight at church. "Preach" is probably not the proper word. It was more of a first-person narrative. Sometimes I like to preach and make a clear point. Sometimes I like to tell the story and let the Spirit speak to each person. Tonight's text (Matthew 4:12-23) lent itself more to a narrative--I portrayed the disciple Andrew talking about Jesus' calling Him to be a disciple. Through it the first-century concept of discipleship was explained.

I'm enjoying being on the preaching team at church--though preaching was something I never thought I'd do too regularly. I don't even get that nervous beforehand. Part of preaching is studying the text. This is a good thing. I seldom take the time to really study a text in depth--reading the background on a passage and such. It also makes me interact with the text, listening to how it speaks to me, discerning how the active and living word is calling me to be transformed.

Part of what I like about using the lectionary each week is that I'm not coming at the sermon with my own agenda. Yes, interpret the text according to what I hear the text saying, so it's still my voice, but I think there's a stronger chance of the Spirit directing the message. I also love the rhythms of the church calendar and how we get to hear so much from the entirety of the Bible.

Sometimes I wish there was more space for feedback after the sermon (which, I guess I could of course make room for). I usually get some "That was good" or "I enjoyed that" or even some helpful comments on how I could have improved the message. Sometimes I run the risk of letting that stroke my ego--enjoying the praise. What I would like to hear is more about how the message spoke to individuals--how it is calling them to be transformed more into Christ's image.

I do appreciate that part of our preaching team meets together each week (the person who just preached, the person who will be preaching/teaching next and any others who are available to be there). We give each other feedback (including what we saw and heard from others), give input into the text for the next week (and how each week may be connected) and spend plenty of time in prayer (we also begin with the evening office of the Divine Hours). We all have different gifts and voices to bring to the table. It's a blessing to hear them all and to get to be a part of sharing as well.
*Photo by Tonya Toutge


The Witness of The Daily Office

We've been working on making the daily prayers a part of our lives. Our church uses Phyllis Tickle's compilations of The Divine Hours. We've come to appreciate the rhythms of praying them each day. We don't always get it in, but when we can we try to pray the morning, noon and vespers offices. In my schedule with the kids it usually works best to pray them after meals, together as a family. In the evening I try to get Anders to read a few of the prayers if he's interested. Once in a while Nils will even read some (if we can find short ones without big words).

We have two boys from the neighborhood who are often over at our house after school to play. They've been around at meal time before and know that we pray together. Tonight they left to head home when we sat down for supper, but showed up again before we had finished. I thought they might just go up to the boys' room to play while we finished up, but they hung around. So they ended up joining us for the Divine Hours after supper. One was interested in reading some, and they both joined in singing Our Father (we sing it every week at church, and the boys usually want to sing it at home, complete with actions).

I'm not sure where their families' are spiritually, but the kids at least have a sense of where we are. They know we go to church, have Chapter House (our small group) and pray before and after meals. I hope they've gotten a sense of our love, kindness, generosity and other aspects of our lives as we live out our faith. We haven't preached at them, but have provided a space to see what we live and hopefully find freedom to ask questions.


My Dream

I love hearing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech--not just today, but whenever it is aired. May he inspire us all to dream, and do what we can to make those dreams reality. Here's my dream:

I have a dream that one day no one will be judged based on outward appearances:
On the color of their skin
Or by their economic status
By the clothes they wear
Or by their ability to look like everyone else
I have a dream that city neighborhoods are not segregated by where our ancestors came from or how much money someone makes
But that we all might truly love our neighbor
Getting to know them
And if not liking them, at least trying to understand them
I have a dream that children can grow up without being forced to live in homes with verbal and physical abuse
Where they may have a bed to sleep on and food on their tables every day
Where they are not violated by family member, friend or the media
Where education begins at home and continues in top-notch classrooms
Where they are loved solely because of who they are
I have a dream that peace would be something we do, not something we hope for
That all could be seen as a child of God--not an enemy or an alien or a threat to our way of life
That we can sit and eat and talk together
That we can discuss politics or religion or other ideologies with an intent to understand and acknowledge each other's view points without fighting over them
I have a dream that my children and their children can know the beauty and mystery of the world God created
That we would do better as stewards instead of consumers
That we could see less of humanity's footprint and more of God's thumb print
That we would seek to redeem all that is fallen
I have a dream that one day the love of God would be known by all


Tiny Houses

Recently I came across the Tiny House Blog. It showcases what else but tiny houses. And by tiny we're talking small. Maybe 200 square feet. Maybe.

I enjoy just looking at the pictures of the intentionally small spaces people have created to live in. There's a lot of creativity. And, of course, a lot of simplicity. It's desirable to me. It's also undesirable.

Granted, it's not practical to live in a space that small when kids are in the house. But there could be a day a decade and a half from now when we could. Moving into a space that small means I'd have to get rid of things. A lot of things. All of my books wouldn't be practical for one--and I like my books. I like to read them and re-read them (that's why I own them rather than let the library house them). I like having games around to play. I like my music collection. And, admittedly, my Star Wars collection.

And we're thoroughly enjoying living in a house rather than an apartment. Still, there is something desirable about the simplicity that comes with living small. Yet, living small doesn't provide opportunities for hospitality very well. There's not really space for guests or having groups of people over. And I'd miss that. So, until I surprisingly inherit that unknown piece of land in the woods on a lake on which I can build a tiny house, I can practice simplicity where I live.

And I admit that's a struggle sometimes. I make things more complicated than they need to be. But I don't have to do it on my own. And of course simplicity, like many things, is a life-long learning process. It'll come. If I let it.


Loving Your Enemy Embodied

The new year started off with a blog that mentioned a bombing at a church in Egypt and the resulting anger between Christians and Muslims, Christians and police, and Muslims and government. The fall-out wasn't pretty.

The good news out of Egypt today is that yesterday, as Coptic Christians attended Christmas services in Egypt, Muslims were there protecting them as "human shields." Though there was momentary fighting in Alexandria on New Year's Eve (and I admit I painted a negative picture because of that news), apparently Christians and Muslims throughout Egypt have "united," for lack of a better word. They're taking a stand together against the extremists. Crosses and crescents started appearing together to show solidarity.

The Muslim community was there to protect their Christian neighbors as they went to church yesterday (January 6 is the day many Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ). They weren't even going to let extremist members of their religion harm "the infidel." It's a wonderful picture of loving your "enemies."

I wonder how many of us would be willing to do the same for our neighbors at a mosque or synagogue or other place of worship?


God Manifested


We mark the day with different events:
The birth of Christ
The adoration of the Magi
The baptism of Jesus
The miracle at the wedding in Cana

All events that reveal Christ:
The newborn King
Sought to be worshiped by Gentiles
God's Son in whom He is well-pleased
A miracle-working, party-goer

He has revealed Himself
To us throughout history;
He continues to reveal Himself
To us today (do we take the time
To watch and listen?)

There is a star that shines
Just for you to see
There is water of baptism
To reveal you as dearly loved
And chosen by God

There is wine poured out
Just for you to remember
What Christ did for you
As He invited you in
To the New Covenant

He reveals Himself in the daily:
In the sacredness of relationships
In the holiness of serving others
Through the love of a child
Through a much needed hug

He reveals Himself in the sacred:
Through corporate worship together
Through daily prayer and Scripture
Through confession and repentance
Through a still, small voice

Let us not forget the ways
He has revealed Himself to us
Let not our hearts be closed
To learning more and more
Of who Christ reveals Himself to be


Worship Leading & Communion

Pastor Jan has been out of town visiting her new grandson, so I had the opportunity to lead worship tonight (I didn't have to preach, but that'll come in a few weeks). It was mainly just "officiating" over communion as well as saying the opening prayer, the benediction and directing a few other things. It was actually a bit intimidating to do because our church is slightly different. We all sit in a circle around the table. We don't operate with ushers. We take communion in groups around the table. We're casual, but also very ancient-oriented in our practices. So it was intimidating just because it's different than all my other worship-leading experiences. That being said, all went fairly well. I know some areas I need to focus on or do differently if I every get to lead worship again, but I didn't forget anything major.

I loved the opportunity, though (I usually do). I love communion at our church, and it was a blessing to lead it. I always love leading communion (as well as participating in it), but I love the way we do it at Abbey Way.

After the words of institution and blessing of the elements, we are invited to gather around the table in small groups (six or seven people), with children interspersed between adults ( adult-child-adult-child as we say). The bread is passed around, each person serving the next. There is something special in being given the body of Christ by a young child (especially if it is your son). There are four servers: two with wine, two with grape juice. We take our bread and dip.

Two things make it special for me: 1) the intergenerational-ness of it and 2) the community-ness of it. All are welcome at the table--children don't have to have passed any specific rites of passage. We're all at different points on our faith journey. Children have things to teach adults, just as adults have things to teach children.

Our church has a strong community feel to it as it is, but gathering around the table together makes that sense all the stronger. It's different than just sitting in pews, even though we all still take communion together in that setting. It's bonding to journey to the table and serve one another. We all come together, united as members of one body. Christ gave His body and blood for each of individually, but He also died for the collective church that we may be One in Him. Each week we come to the table. Each week we participate "in remembrance." Each week we are reminded that our sins are forgiven, that we are under the new covenant. Each week we are reminded how much God loves us. Each and every one.


Happy New Year

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.
     - G.K. Chesterton


Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.
     - Benjamin Franklin


In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, never in want.
     - Irish toast


Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given;
While angels sing with tender mirth,
A glad new year to all the earth
     - Martin Luther

New Year's Day Bombing

The news today was of a suicide bombing at a Coptic church as worshipers were leaving a midnight mass. It's an horrendous way to ring in the new year. President Obama has denounced the bombing. The Pope chimed in, reminding us that today is supposed to be a World Day of Peace. He called for violence to end against Christians.

The bombing is terrible. 21 died because of hate. Such evens should be spoken out against. And I don't mean to diminish those deaths, but Christians did not show themselves to be any better than the bomber. Immediately, they started retaliating:

In the wake of the New Year's bombing, they [the Egyptian Christians] unleashed their rage at authorities.

"Now it's between Christians and the government, not between Muslims and Christians,'' shrieked one Christian woman as several hundred young men clashed with helmeted riot police in the street outside the targeted church hours after the blast. As the rioters threw stones and bottles, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them. Some of the protesters beat Muslim passers-by. (from the AP article as linked above)

Violence against Christians is expected (not condoned, of course, but Christ did warn us that we would be persecuted). Violence from Christians is inexcusable. We are called to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemy. Violence against us will never end if we keep paying "an eye for an eye."

Lest we point fingers at typical violence in the Middle East, let us ask ourselves how we would respond. Would we want vengeance or would we offer forgiveness. Consider how much violence Christians have caused throughout history--often in the name of Jesus.

May today not just be a day of world peace, but a day we offer prayer for peace in all the years to come. In this new year, may we keep one resolution: to be Jesus' disciple, to love God and love others.