Archive for March, 2013

Fruit

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 

—Matthew 10:40-42

From our bedroom window, we have a sight that simply brings me joy.

We can see a peach tree, a tree belonging to our daughter having been a birthday present several years ago.  Each year, I know that spring has arrived when I see dozens of pink blossoms decorating its branches.  Every flower serves as the site of a small promise, a site where blossom exchanges with a golden, sweet fruit.  As the summer stretches towards autumn, we regularly go outside, stand under our tree, and count the peaches hanging from its branches, delighting in implied pledges of pie and ice cream and snacks.

Those peaches do not just carry in them something good to eat. While they do offer the hope of a nice summer’s snack, those peaches also carry much more with them. They carry with them a summer-worth of rain and sun; rich nutrients; and countless encounters with pollen-happy bees. They carry with them knowledge, the knowledge we gain as a family as we learn to care and tend to our tree. They carry with them joy, the joy we share as parents with child who gleefully count the blossoms and name the treats the fruit will make. They carry with them new connections, connections that we will make with yet-to-be-known friends and neighbors who will certainly share in a belly-warming cobbler sometime next autumn. They carry with them love, the ripening love from a friend to our child as a reminder that someone cares for us.

These little blossoms represent so much more than simply the site of this season’s fruit. These blossoms represent the efficiency of nature, the joy of eating, and the fruit of relationships had and to be had. They represent more than just themselves. They represent those who planted the tree, cultivated it, sold it, transported it, bought it, and replanted it. Presently, the fruit represents seemingly endless imaginings of who touched our tree in the past and whom its fruit will connect us to in the future.

Often times, it appears that what looks rather simple at first glance is much more complicated, more intricate that initially assumed.  A similar observation made of our peach tree can be made of Jesus’ sending of the disciples in Matthew’s gospel.

In this final section of chapter ten in Matthew’s gospel, we return with Bonhoeffer and the gospel writer to the theme that started the chapter: the command to send the disciples in Jesus’ name.  This “bookending” of the chapter with this repeated emphasis underlines the importance of the disciples’ being sent. Yet, not to be lost in this repeated emphasis is the reminder that when they go, the disciples do not travel alone. They take with them Christ, himself.

The disciples carry with them the plans of a kingdom, the hopes of a redefined world, the promises of new life. Yet, more than these three, the disciples carry with them the presence of Jesus and, in turn, a direct connection to God, the Creator of all things. It is this representative role that is so profound in the work and role of the disciples.

Here, Jesus reminds the disciples that the presence that they offer is not just simply their own, but that within them they carry the very essence of the kingdom, of Jesus, and, therefore, of God. The disciples do not stand on their own. They stand with and on behalf of many.

At times, such a corporate nature—representing many and carrying many with you—might serve as a great gift to the disciples, supporting and buoying them when the road they travel gets lonely. Discipleship can feel isolating and remembering that others and God stand with them will take them that one step further when additional steps seem too difficult to take. Yet, at other times, disciples need to remember that their actions do not just represent themselves but an entire community of people who have gone before, who currently witness to the same faith, and who are yet to come. Even more, disciples have to be reminded that they stand in for God, embodying the divine presence to the world in real and imagined ways.

Such a representative role may prove enlivening and encouraging yet burdensome and daunting. However, like our peach tree carrying new blooms each spring, in the discipleship’s representative role, while much is carried, much more is promised. Each carrier of the gospel bears the possibilities of the kingdom, a kingdom of transformative and life-altering love, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of common care and individual worth, a kingdom of tomorrow’s hopes sprouting in the promises of today.

A harvest of transformative love, peace, care, and hope . . . that sounds like pretty good fruit to me, fruit worth waiting for and working to cultivate.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

 

 

The Decision

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

—Matthew 10:34-39

 

In this passage from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does not pull any punches. The belligerent Prince of Peace is on a roll. Having called the Twelve, instructed the masses, he, now, commissions the disciples, charging them to go and spread the news of his radical and transformative kingdom. The message at the heart of that kingdom, Jesus realizes, will cause considerable controversy, controversy he seems happy to provoke having “come not to bring peace but a sword.” That sword is a challenge, a challenge to everything we hold dear and to every assumption we resist examining. To symbolize the very controversy and questioning rigor required of and caused by his message, Jesus marks that most precious of places as the very site of his message’s most certain affect—the family.

If anything would be assumed to be so sacred to be spared the tumult of his challenge, if anything would be assumed to be safe from ridicule and examination and question and evaluation, it is the family. After all, families seem to be the most fundamental of our relationships, the most sacred of our connections, the most certain of our foundations, the most precious of our possessions. However, it is precisely because of family’s fundamental nature and sacredness and certainty and preciousness that family serves as the perfect example and target of Jesus’ reordering message.

Family needs to be questioned because we often assume it is beyond reproach and beyond criticism and beyond examination because, after all, who is not in favor of family. Yet, Jesus understands his message to be precisely so penetrating and transformative that no assumptions are beyond reappraisal and reordering, especially those assumptions we assume need no reappraisal and reordering. In fact, it is precisely what we think we know definitively that needs the most reworking. And, Jesus recognizes that if we come to understand that even our most preciously held convictions and institutions are up for radical reworking as the very work of this coming kingdom, then nothing is off the table, nothing is too sacred to be ignored or protected or assumed or dismissed or taken for granted.

Faith, it turns out, is a completely penetrating, completely reevaluating, completely redefining, completely renewing practice. If family is on the table, what isn’t.

My assumptions—our assumptions—about family and sexuality and marriage and war and peace and faith and life and death and economics and creation and race and gender and propriety and impropriety and virtue and vice and friends and enemies and government and structures and certainties and uncertainties all seem to be on the table. How can they not be? How can I read the above text from Matthew and not assume that no assumptions are safe?

This certain of uncertainty might prove problematic.

Such regular, reflexive churning has the potential to bring about uncertainty and instability and chaos. Is such a potentiality defined by uncertainty, instability, and chaos commendable; is it even survivable?

Interestingly, that potentiality does not seem to concern the gospel writer. The writer appears less interested in the certainties of the moment than in a confidence in the transformative value of the journey. In the gospel, over and over again, the disciples and Jesus do not rest nor do they stay put for long. They are always on the move, always relocating. Moreover, there is urgency in their movements.

The one constant seems to be the lives and journey they share with each other. Their constancy is the fact that they stay connected to each other even while those connections evolve. The message of the kingdom is one of developing the skills necessary to always reexamine and relocate while maintaining connections that are fluid yet stable. Only with the well-practiced skills of adaptation and reevaluation will the disciples be capable of making the protracted and evolving journey required of the kingdom.

I regularly try to remind myself of this declaration by Jesus, to remind myself that there is nothing that is too sacred to be beyond both the reach and renewal of God’s faithful love. There is rarely an hour of a given day that I do not question a presumed certainty or internally challenge a personal conviction. (Sometimes, it can be hell to be in my head.) Recently, I had a conversation with someone who surmised that I was the most self-reflective person he had ever met, and I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Yet, he may be right. I do spend a lot of time in my head reappraising and reexamining. He gets no argument from me there.

However, such a practice, while potentially destabilizing, seems to be the very essence of what Matthew’s Jesus requires of us. The journey of faith always seems to be a willingness to walk away from one place to reach another, reassessing and reevaluating along the way. That might be what Jesus means when he says that “[t]hose who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We regularly need to lose ourselves in our pursuit of God, in our journey of faith. Such a willingness to be lost means gaining both a comfort with uncertainty and a humble willingness to assume we might not be right and to ask for help when we do not know where we are. Both those skills seem essential to faith that is filled with mystery and that includes a need to give up ourselves and our immovable convictions that might keep us stagnant and stuck while the band of the faithful have moved on to another point along the road of faith.

I am sure that is right. However, let me think it over. In the meantime, get moving. And, see you along the way.

The Apostles

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

—Matthew 10:1-4

 

Having finished his reflections on the Sermon on the Mount, Dietrich Bonhoeffer turns his attention to the disciples and their work as embodied representatives of the kingdom outlined in that Sermon.  The gospel writer mentions on several occasions that Jesus has identified and sent 12 disciples.  In the above passage, all 12 disciples are listed by name.  Importantly, in the four gospels, while the list of names of the 12 disciples differ from each other one thing remains the same—the number 12.

 

The fact that the number 12 repeats itself in the gospel iterations proves important because the disciples become a walking, living embodiment of the people of Israel, a people composed of 12 tribes.  This 12-fold people serve as the continuation of a task believed to have been started generations earlier.  And, of all the gospel writers, this role of continuation is most important for Matthew.

 

In Matthew’s estimation, Jesus takes up the task begun by Abraham, directly linking the work and role of Jesus to that begun by Abraham in the Genesis story.  Through this inclusion of Abraham as Jesus’ distant grandfather, Matthew’s gospel underscores that the work of Jesus is but a continuation of what was started once before.

 

And, just what had Abraham started?

 

Given the importance of highlighting Jesus’ Jewish roots and his task of identifying 12 disciples as a representative core of Israel, we might assume that Abraham’s work assumed by Jesus and his followers is a specifically Jewish task, directed toward a Jewish people for those people’s benefit.  Such an assumption would seemingly be apropos.  Yet, interestingly, such an assumption is entirely too limiting for Matthew’s message and Jesus’ task.

 

Rather than a specific work limited to one people, Matthew understands Jesus’ role and work to have universal ramifications . . . as did Abraham’s before him.  While looking limited in nature, Abraham’s work in Genesis is not just a work meant to set Israel aside to be God’s chosen people.  That fact of being set aside was just the first part of Abraham’s task when he and Sarah are chosen by God to leave Ur and travel to a new land. 

 

Israel was established through Abraham.  However, that establishment was for a greater purpose than simply setting aside one people.  We learn that Israel’s larger role is to serve the whole of humanity so that through those people “‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”*  In other words, Abraham has a specific task with a general purpose.

 

By deliberately linking the work of Jesus to the work of Abraham through both the reference to Abraham in Jesus’ genealogy and through the repeated use of the number 12 in the selection of the disciples, the gospel writer is intimating that Jesus’ work has import for the whole of the world. 

 

The breadth of Jesus’ work is reinforced in the listing not just of the number of disciples but by listing their names and offering some descriptions of their backgrounds, too.

 

The disciples fish, work for the government, are zealots, are beloved and betrayers.  The disciples seem to be not just representatives of all of God’s people with the implied responsibilities inherent of those people, but these people come from all corners of life’s social and relational iterations, confirming and expanding the representative work that the disciples fulfill.  Said in many different ways throughout the text, the disciples are doing God’s broad and all encompassing work.

 

This work is specific and general, public and private, reasonable and mystical, healing and confounding, separating and uniting.  The work of Abraham and of Jesus and of the disciples and, ultimately, of God is understood to be limitless and boundless and powerful and transformative, affecting powers understood and powers inexplicable.

Put another way, the life of faith is life itself.  There is not space into which God and faith do not stretch or a time at which they should not be assumed to have an effect.

 

Often, especially in our modern worlds, we tend to compartmentalize life into sacred and secular, holy and humane.  Yet, the message offered from Abraham and Jesus and taken up by the disciples is a reminder that all of life is embraced by God’s love and every moment a possibility to encounter the Divine. 

 

Importantly, this declaration has an inverse that should be remembered and appreciated. 

 

While faith has potential meaning and import for all aspects of life, faith and people of faith must not assume that the space we enter is unoccupied nor not to be shared with many other voices and ideas and positions and convictions.  (After all, if we enter the world, we should assume that the world will be there.)  To say that faith has a reach into everything assumes a concurrent claim that everything has a reach into faith—confounding, confronting, challenging, and complementing. 

 

Such a recognition requires an assumption of hospitality to make it manageable.  It seems no accident that following Jesus’ declaration of sending is an outlining in that same chapter of how to react and maneuver in the social complexities such sending and receiving assumes.  Such work mandates a willingness to receive and to be received, to share and to be shared, to risk and to be risked. 

 

So in a week on our campus when we return from our breaks to share our adventures and reflect on what was learned and experienced, we seek to rebuild our community anew, having been changed through the venture yet willing to be the same people if not slightly altered from the diversions of our resent courses. 

 

Receive each other well for the roads traveled are not always welcoming, easy, expected, or joyful.  Sometimes tragedy becomes a way station that requires traveling companions to help us endure.  Sometimes experiences alter us so significantly that we become barely recognizable to each other.  Sometimes gifts become burdens and burdens gifts.  Sometimes the only way forward will require a bit of rest before continuing the journey.  Sometimes hope becomes the beacon for a tomorrow that promises more than today.  Yet, as this gospel text reminds us, it is not a journey to be taken alone but with friends and mentors and fellow pilgrims and unexpected travelers who become a living reminder that the empowering Divinity of All Life walks with us into joyful or painful new towns and into anticipated or surprising places and into welcomed or uncertain tomorrows still unknown. 

 

That seems like good news to me.

 

Have a great week, share the journey, and see you along the way.