Monday, February 26, 2007

Church Prayer Rug

To illustrate theology of glory, yesterday I gave the class a copy of this old blog. A little overdone and overdrawn, but I believe it makes the point!

In my mailbox this week I found what has become an Lenten annual, another blatant example of idolatry, another human attempt to create a god in its image, another slot-machine divinity of jumbo payoffs, a deity completely congruent with one of contemporary American society’s most brazenly unsubtle gods—consumerism. From a skinny envelope I unpacked purportedly a face of Jesus, sketchily represented crowned with a thorny tiara; four-color printing is the graphics industry standard, but this is a two-color likeness! In addition, nowhere in the mailing could I find either a web address nor an email address.

Next Sunday, continuing its journey through the liturgical year, the church reaches Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, city of prophets and in ages past, home to the Temple that for the Jews formed the axis mundi between earth and heaven—Jerusalem, the biblical City of God. Following the Revised Common Lectionary, the gospel chronicles the church reads during Lent consistently focus on Jesus’ going to Jerusalem and to the cross. Crucifixion Friday turns into Resurrection Sunday, with its astonishing empty grave: in God’s system you cannot have Easter unless Friday precedes it.

Returning to the Church Prayer Rug! Conceptually, it is closely related to the common contemporary practice of consumer-driven and marketing-modeled churches, as in “let’s study the location, the demographics, traffic flow, in-migration and even out-migration (likely I’ve missed a slew of necessary statistical assessments), and then decide what the people will be clamoring for and what consumer options they’ll be needing so our church can offer the right menu to meet their needs.” Is that biblical?! Martin Luther would call it an example of that humanly always-popular Theology of Glory! The designation Church Prayer Rug (contrasted with simply Prayer Rug, or other possibilities, such as Tribal Meditation Rug, Rya Prayer Rug, Dhurrie Prayer Rag, Acrylic Broadloom Whatever…) reveals a lot, too!

Jesus: friend of sinners, companion of outcasts, Son of God, Son of Humanity, liberator of women, freer of slaves, lifter-up of underdogs, putter-down of overdogs, political upstart and rouser of the rabble, challenger of the religious establishment, yet Servant, Lord of all creation, about a domesticated god, idolatry?! This one is offset printed, not even engraved, flattened onto a flimsy 11” x 16” sheet of not non-acid-free paper; due to the paper’s quality (not!) I doubt it would qualify as a kitchen god, since exposed to any light for any length of time, it would crumble and fade; not surprisingly, the legend on the B-side is phenomenally unbiblical:

“This Prayer Rug is soaked with the Power of Prayer for you. Use it immediately, then please return it with your Prayer Needs Checked on our letter to you.”

Tucked into the envelope with the rug itself there’s a list of testimonials citing Rugged Benefits. They include, “Blessed with $46,000.00 after using prayer rug...;” “God blessed me with over $5,000.00”; “Received $10,000 in a financial blessing...”; “I’ve gotten a new car and a job,...”; “...17 acres of land...;” “Big 6 room house...” To assuage doubters, the *they* who sent me the Church Prayer Rug even threw in a spiritual boon, “Praise God! it is so wonderful to know that my husband is saved...”

A pair of scripture verses justifies the Prayer Rug endeavor:
  • Evening, and morning, and at noon, I will pray and he shall hear my voice. Psalm 55:17
  • God can do anything. Mark 10:27
At the time I wrote this blog, my email signature included pleading lines from the hymn,

Make Our Church One Joyful Choir

1. Make our church one joyful choir on this glad and festive day
and by song invoke the fire that invites our hearts to pray:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.

2. Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
and to take the weight and bear love’s uncounted final cost:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.

3. Lift us up by song and prayer till the way we deal with loss
and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
Shape us, Christ, to bear your name.

4. Bend us, lift us, make us strong, send us out with wind and fire,
so the world may hear the song that we offer as your choir:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
Amen, amen, amen!

Thomas H. Troeger | © 1994 Oxford University Press, Inc.

“Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!” Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross; and to take the weight and bear love’s uncounted final cost…and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:

Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!

To bear the name of Jesus Christ! One of the greatest theologians of the cross insisted,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20a

For Jews in Jesus’ time, the Jerusalem temple formed a gathering place and holy space connecting earth and heaven; for us Christians, the cross of Jesus Christ is the axis mundi between humanity and divinity! Our baptism into the cross affirms our creation and re-creation in God’s image—that particular part of our Imago Dei is one of certified cross-bearers! Living and claiming all it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ means in us, the Church, Jesus still is friend of sinners, comforter of the sorrowful, liberator of the oppressed, companion along the way, forgiver of offenses; because of us, Jesus still is in this world, still carrying the cross. The Holy Spirit calls all of us who – in the words of the Apostle Paul – are “in Christ,” to become and to be cross-carriers; for everyone our lives touch, God calls us to span what often seems to be a very far distance between heaven and earth. Amen!

original blog on desert spirit's fire!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kinsperson Redeemer

Notes from research I did to supplement printed material for a study based on the book of Ruth, emphasizing the Kinsperson Redeemer concept. In the world of the Hebrew Bible as well as today in this "world of the earth" (as Job 37:12 reads in Hebrew), we constantly encounter and engage in real battles with forces not of this earth. Sometimes they're obvious and visible, though more often they're not; in my experience they tend to be conventional circumstances and commonplace situations, and in my extensive experience, they frequently need redeeming!

In the Jubilee text of Leviticus 25, regarding "untrimmed vines" and other matters, God commands:
You shall count off seven weeks of years—seven times seven years—so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month—the Day of Atonement—you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, neither shall you reap the aftergrowth or harvest the untrimmed vines, for it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you: you may only eat the growth direct from the field. . . . Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I the Lord am your God.

If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding, his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his kinsman has sold.
The nearest redeemer, closest kin had the responsibility of redeeming his kinsman's lost opportunities. Personal note: "lost opportunities," for whatever reason, is exactly what I need to get bought back!

Continuing with the topic: If a person was forced into slavery, his redeemer purchased his freedom. In the case of overwhelming debt, the kinsman stepped in to redeem his homestead and let the family live.

Another note from me: in Hebrew culture, "debt" and "Sin" essentially are synonymous.

More from the actual notes: If a family member died without an heir the kinsman married the widow and grew a son in order to hand down his name to future generations (Deuteronomy 25:5-6; Genesis 38:8; Ruth 3-4). In case of murder, the redeemer acted as blood avenger and pursued the killer (Numbers 35:12-34; Deuteronomy 19:1-3). Originally kinsman marriage applied only to brothers, but by Ruth's time it had extended to any close relative.

Another word: reclaim, get back, regain, retrieve, recover, repossess, recoup, rescue - notice all those "re" words, and they all have economic implications!

The Kinsperson Redeemer:
  • Had to be close kin, near relative to the one needing redemption.
  • Had to be able to pay the ransom or redemption price in full—to "possess the ability to redeem."
  • Had to be willing to redeem the fallen relative out of love and free will as an act of grace; he couldn't be coerced or forced.
  • Had to be free and unbounded himself
Here's a compendium of references I discovered in my research, coupled with margin notes from my old RSV:

The English words "kinsman" (Ruth 3:9) and "redeemer" (Job 19:25) both translate the Hebrew goel. The word means "to set free" and has two different meanings:
  1. To redeem or buy back what was lost.
  2. To require blood, to avenge—only someone near of kin could seek vengeance.
In Hebrew, Kofer means the redemption price; Goel described things consecrated to God (Leviticus 27:13-31), about God as redeeming humanity (Exodus 6:6; Isaiah 43:1; 44:22; 48:20; 49:7), and those persons redeemed by God (Isaiah 35:9; 51:10; Job 19:25). The right of redemption and the office of redeemer belonged to the nearest kinsman, or "near of kin, near relative" (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 3:12; 4:1, 6, 8, etc.). "I am the LORD . . . I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments" (Exodus 6:6).

Related to the familiar agora/town square/marketplace, the word agorazo means "to buy," or "to buy in the bazaar"; exagorazo means, "to buy out of the marketplace" with the intention the person so purchased might never return to such a state of slavery again, so that unbounded liberty became a permanent state of being: *delivered* from bondage into freedom.
  • Leviticus 25:25
  • Job 19:25 Though Job complained that no one came to redeem him, he still proclaimed Yahweh would be his Goel/Redeemer! "As for me, I know that my redeemer (kinsman) lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth" (Job 19:25).
  • Ruth 4:3-6 Boaz redeemed Ruth
Distribute; dispense = distribution; dispensation

Go on over to the groc store and redeem your cents-off (is that all you get?!) coupon!

Ransom; release; deliverance; liberation
# # #

Nature and Mission of the church | response

Here are my notes from our October, 2006 Faith, Order and Witness meeting; the following is my response to questions for our sub-committee.
1. Does this study document correctly identify our common ecclesiological convictions, as well as the issues which continue to divide us?
Notwithstanding this document's small size, it lines out well many of the historical and current concerns - especially regarding authority and apostolicity - between the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions and those Protestant church bodies who, while also considering themselves “Apostolic” view apostolic succession as happening in a different way, while (of course) being there all along. The more we read and discuss divergence and convergence in our FOW meetings, along with discussions in an online intentional community I recently joined, the more acutely aware I've become of how very Western - not simply Protestant - my perspective is. The church bodies in the Orthodox tradition bring to us and to the world at large a different way of being church, differing devotional practices and differently-focused theology that we need to consider and possibly integrate into our own.
2. Does this study document reflect an emerging convergence on the nature and mission of the Church?
Here's a personal answer: from The Nature and Mission of the Church, as well as other documents we've reviewed, it becomes clear that polity truly is an adiaphora. Nonetheless, I continue to be stuck in the Reformer's “Word and Sacrament” definition of church (possibly adding the Reformed insistence on ecclesiastical discipline), which means whenever I worship with a supposedly independent community that has no regular or well-defined sacramental practice, I have serious questions as to their status as the Body of Christ and in the Body of Christ! However, despite claiming sacraments as a Means of Grace, I find no reason to quibble with churches that have a sign of grace or effective sign of grace interpretation of the sacraments! Here I'll mention that churches that theologize about “means of grace” and “effective sign of grace” use the term sacrament while the “sign of grace” churches typically use ordinance. It's interesting the document doesn't discuss other ordinances some church bodies also officially consider sacraments. Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, who is huge on obedience, points out that in spite of their derivation from scripture, doctrine and theology are human constructs, but God's call to obedience is unequivocal.

Oh, “Does this study document reflect an emerging convergence…?” Short answer: yes!
3. Are there significant matters in which the concerns of your church are not adequately addressed?
I constantly wonder how to respond to the word church! Historically, “church” was reserved exclusively for the local called-out, gathered-in assembly of Believers in Christ and Followers of the Way and for the worldwide Body of Christ, with terms like synod, presbytery, conference and diocese used for intermediate entities, though currently we seem to consider judicatories expressions of the Church!? It sure does feel like it when we're worshiping together! So I'll respond from my current experiences, mainly within a pair of local churches in the theological tradition of Reformation (both are Formula of Agreement churches, too), and simply say both of them are struggling mightily with surviving into an uncertain future and with redefining their life and mission, while their pastors are hoping to find ways to help them faithfully be the exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the world, and especially to discover ways to draw their neighbors into the exciting, risk-filled adventure of ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ!

But to add a slightly glib denominational viewpoint, the current discussions and emerging divisions between the ELCA, UCC and PC(USA) among the headquarters (Chicago, Cleveland and Louisville), judicatories and local churches is confusing people in the pews and making them ask whatever happened to the old cultural Christianity they used to know and be comfortable with, though they don't use those words.
4. Insofar as this study document provides a helpful framework for further ecclesiological discussions among the churches:

How can this study document help your church, together with others, take concrete steps towards unity?
Ecumenical discussion remains among the mainline, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, which at least in our local Faith, Order and Witness committee includes church bodies such as the typically more conservative LC-MS and Church of the Nazarene. Among churches formed from the many 19th Century Restoration movements, only the Disciples of Christ ordinarily participates in ecumenical dialogue, and in fact has become a mighty ecumenical force. Again I'll ask, “What is my church?” and say I've discovered one of the best and most visible things I can do is to mention in passing to people that I recently worshiped in a church of a different tradition or style or I'll be attending an ecumenical worship service (always adding the sorrow of not being able to share Eucharist officially, since most of these liturgies are Service of the Word), or that I serve on an ecumenical committee, and sometimes I'll tell them snippets of our most recent discussions. Even from reasonably biblically and theologically informed people, I usually get a “Why?” reaction, or occasionally, “I don't know why we all can't just get together,” without the remotest awareness or appreciation of the historical, practical and theological reasons for separation.

It is striking that for the most part this document uses “Eucharist” for the Lord's Supper with “Holy Communion” now and then. Eucharist indeed has become the ecumenical word, just as it was the early church's, but Christians in the more conservative churches who don't participate in ecumenical dialogue won't say Eucharist, and in the churches of my current participation , “Holy Communion” is the terminology I always hear from people in the pews. When the pastors and I are discussing theology or liturgy, we say “Eucharist.”
What suggestions would you make for the future development of this text?
I like ¶ 81 about our participating actively in the ongoing restoration of creation in a way consistent with God's reconciling presence in the world, but throughout this document I'd far prefer more references to creation than simply to human beings/humanity and the world. The authors rightly claim there's never simply a single focus to human interpretation of God's ongoing sacramental activity in the world; I'll add the church needs to continue acting sacramentally in and for the world and for all creation.

Besides forming a bond among God and community, I'll say baptism also is a boundary defining the church's perimeter and parameters as well as excluding and in some ways forming a barrier against those who are not of the church in some sense. In and for the world becomes in the church, too - the Church and the churches become bounded containers for people and sacraments.

¶ 77 references social, economic, cultural (etc.) institutions that preserve human life; I'll include the church as a life-preserving and sustaining institution, too, as well as living organism. Again, baptismal relations and locations: events measurable in time and space, but located and interrelated with Christians in all ages and engaged with the world in all times and places.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

theology of the cross 1

Here's the handout the class will get on Sunday.

Theology of the Cross: what does this mean for the Church's and this congregation's life and mission?
Rise, Shine, You People!

1. Rise, shine, you people! Christ the Lord has entered
Our human story; God in him is centered.
He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,
With grace unbounded!

2. See how he sends the powers of evil reeling;
He brings us freedom, light and life and healing.
All men and women, who by guilt are driven,
Now are forgiven.

3. Come, celebrate, your banners high unfurling,
Your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling.
To all the world go out and tell the story
Of Jesus' glory.

4. Tell how the Father sent his Son to save us;
Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us.
Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation
The new creation.

Text: Ron A. Klug
1. Theology of glory vs. theology of the cross:

Theologians of glory build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like, inventing God to look something like themselves. Theologians of the cross build their theology in the light of God's own revelation of himself, particularly God's self-revelation in Christ crucified. In addition, the cross of Calvary forms a paradigm and model for God's characteristically hidden and paradoxical, sacramental presence in the commonest things, situations and people.
  • Domesticated gods: Egyptian imperial religion; Roman imperial religion; Jerusalem Temple; contemporary consumerism
  • Reign of death
  • God of the bible: dynamic, free and elusive; the God who raises the dead
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "God's unfathomable condescension!"
  • Martin Luther: "God without strange work is God without proper work."
  • Three uses of the law: Martin Luther and John Calvin
  • Law and Gospel
Heidelberg Disputation

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened [Romans 1:20].

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

2. Hebrew Bible roots/wellsprings

Especially look for God's hidden yet apparent presence and for "Types of Christ"

  • Genesis 9:12-16 Noah! God disarms
  • Exodus 6:6 - God redeems, frees, liberates us with an outstretched arm and judgment
  • Exodus 25:17 - a mercy seat, Gnadenstuhl - more Luther!
  • Amos 7: Plumb line in the city
  • Leviticus 25: 25 Ruth 3, 4 - Right of redemption; office of Redeemer
  • Exodus 19, 20 - Moses and the Sinai Covenant
  • Isaiah 45:15 - a hidden God
  • Job 19:25 - Job's Redeemer lives
  • Isaiah 43:1 - our Creator God becomes our Redeemer; a lot of redemption throughout 2nd Isaiah, the exilic Isaiah
3. Reading and interpreting scripture through a cruciform lensIn Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, and particularly in the cross of Calvary, we meet the definitive revelation of the Holy God who fills heaven and earth; for this Jesus, it's not primarily about spectacular signs and sensational miracles, but about the Sign of Jonah—death and resurrection. Separating out gospel, "What preaches Christ" from the rest of the text. Particularly in Mark's gospel, the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross is incessant and focused.
  • Matthew 17:1-9 - Transfiguration; sign of Jonah
  • Matthew 12:40; Luke 11:29 - Sign of Jonah
  • Romans 3:27-31 - the law still remains in its entirety; cross as both judgment and grace; God's Yes and God's No to the world.
  • Romans 8:1-4 - because of Jesus Christ, we no longer live under the Law's condemnation
  • Revelation 22:1-5 - the River of Life flows from the throne of God—from the cross
© Leah Chang 2007