Most of the stories of Jesus in the gospels didn’t happen in a building—they happened in the streets and marketplaces. So we’re taking the ashes on the road! If you’d like to kick off lent with the imposition of ashes and a time of prayer, but can’t get up in time to come to a morning service, you can meet Dave in the parking lot of the Crestwood Shopping Center between 6:30 AM and 9:00 AM.
The phrase “social justice” scares a lot of people, because they imagine it means protesting or getting arrested (like these two Methodist bishops this weekend). While sometimes following Jesus means taking up a cross and suffering persecution, the fact is that most justice work is much more mundane.
The good news is that it’s actually easy to be a witness to God’s kingdom rule by simply speaking up. There are couple of ways you can take steps to do justice work right now.
First, educate yourself. There are some local and national issues that need your attention right now. (More on this below.)
Second, join or begin the conversation. You can sign petitions or use social media to keep yourself updated and spread the word. You can talk with your friends and family about the issues that are important to you.
People are often nervous about calling their legislators, thinking they’ll have to argue about something. But the fact is, your state senators and representatives are lonely and would love a phone call. Seriously, they do not often hear from their constituents—if they receive a dozen phone calls about an issue, it’s unusual. The other major voices in Montgomery are big-money lobbyists—and you’re all that stands between them and the people they want to exploit. So pick up the phone and call!
Here are some pressing issues in our state and city right now:
There are a host of other ways you can do justice in ways that directly touch your everyday life, in whatever area you are passionate about: bike advocacy, transportation reform, environmental justice, LGBTQ advocacy, racial and ethnic justice, immigration reform… wherever you see a difference between reality and God’s desired shalom (peace with justice) for the world.
If you’ve already done the three steps above, the next step is to put feet to your faith and actually organize with others. As our church grows and reaches more people, we will be expanding our justice work (along with our compassion work) in our community.
Finally, remember to pray: “Your kingdom come, Lord, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As I said this past Sunday, we pray this prayer not because we passively accept everything that happens as God’s will, but because we know the world is not yet as God wills it. You are part of that Kingdom work.
Thanks for all you do!
There are a lot of different ways we can talk about how one follows the Way of Jesus, but my favorite is this one.
Jesus says that there are two Great Commandments: Love God, and love our neighbors. But we love not only as individuals (showing devotion and serving others), but also as a church as a whole (worshiping in a community and doing justice in society).
So, small groups have often talked about making a covenant to pursue these four areas, often called “works of piety” and “works of mercy,” loving God and loving neighbors.
But there is a fifth area that often gets neglected among mainline Protestant churches: witness. Evangelism, which literally means “spreading the Good News,” touches all four of those areas.
The word “witness” means both observing and telling. In worship, we both observe what God is doing among us and tell about it. In devotion, we draw our attention to what God is teaching us and how God is growing us; we look for answers to prayer. In service and justice, we both tell the story of God’s liberating love and live it out by helping others. All of that stuff is “witness.” Adding this fifth area reminds us of the importance of learning to talk about the grace we see active in our lives and the world around us. We are not just telling the Good News—we’re being the Good News.
Adding “witness” also reminds us that both observing and telling are part of what we do as followers of the Way of Jesus. We name grace when we see it. We connect current events and our modern life stories to the stories of the Bible and our faith history. Witness is how we live our public and private life, the way we embody the gospel and speak it with our mouths. Witness is our existential relationship, our “way of being in the world.”
This is also why followers of Jesus need a church. Witness is part of how you live an authentic life in community. Most of us tend to favor one expression of faith: I can go off on a mountain and pray and feel spiritual in nature (devotion). I can serve others and feel good about the good work I’m doing (compassion). I can be an advocate or activist and hold right opinions (justice). I can raise my hands in worship and try to glide through life on a spiritual high (worship). I can even tell others about Jesus without knowing intimately what that grace looks like in my own life. Any of these areas isolated from the others can become toxic. But a church helps us balance them and bring them into focus. Witnessing means all of us, together, making worship, devotion, compassion, and justice an integral part of our identity.
Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: “How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.” A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us.
—from Merton’s Palace of Nowhere by James Finley
We begin a new series this week on prayer. We often talk about prayer as a petition made to a problem-solving God, a quick and miraculous fix to what ails us. But the most powerful work of prayer is subtle and deep, changing the pray-er, and eventually the world.
Join us this Sunday and experience the slow art and practice of prayer.
There’s a lot of stuff on the interwebz today about the Bill Nye and Ken Ham creationism debate. I didn’t tune in, because I do not believe that creationism represents anything approaching good Biblical scholarship, and I didn’t have the emotional energy to be embarrassed for someone else.
I just wanted to share with y’all my brief take:
There are two creation stories in Genesis. The Bible doesn’t contradict evolution—it contradicts itself, if it’s forced to be used as a science textbook. But it’s a misuse of scripture. The Bible is a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s a library of diverse theological opinions directed toward the glory of one God.
There’s an odd verse in the resurrection story in John. After Mary Mags comes running back to the disciples with news that the corpse of Jesus is missing, Peter and the B.D. (Beloved Disciple) sprint to the tomb. They both look at the grave clothes lying there.
Here’s the verse that’s crazy: “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9).
Now, if you’re religious, and you’ve heard this story before, you probably didn’t notice anything unusual in the sentence. But here’s the crazy thing:
What did the other disciple, the B.D., actually believe?
Most people respond, “the resurrection,” but nobody has told them that Jesus has been raised. The author tells us in the very next sentence they didn’t understand the scriptures or that Jesus must be raised. There is no content, no X that the B.D. can believe in. All they know is that someone has taken the body. There is no gospel, no angelic announcement, no one telling them that Jesus is alive. But the B.D. believes.
We so often assume that “believing” means “agreeing that such-and-such must be true,” but what we get here is something that precedes even knowing what it is you’re supposed to believe. The B.D. just looks at some folded laundry and believes. Something in him clicks, and he can’t even put his finger on what it is yet.
We use “believe” in this way when we talk about believing in yourself, believing in someone else, believing in a vision. “Believe” in this context doesn’t mean accepting a statement as a fact—it means this desperate, hopeful something at the core of our existence.
We do not yet know where God is taking us, but we are embarked on the journey, following where God leads.The invitation to believe is not about blind faith, but about trusting the one who leads us.
God speaks through the Bible—just not always in the way you expect.
I’m a preacher, and so I geek out about Bible stuff. But I have seldom been so blown away by what I’ve read as I have this week.
We’ve just started a series dealing with passages in which God seems violent and less than loving and grace-filled, called “Does God Have a Temper Problem?” In the words of Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, it’s real Old Testament, wrath of God-type stuff. Last week we dealt with Noah and the Flood (which will soon get the Hollywood treatment). You can watch the sermon or listen to the podcast here.
This week we’re looking at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a passage that has been used to justify violence and oppression against LGBTQ persons for centuries. If any story leads modern people to abandon the Bible altogether, it might be this one. But what I’ve learned this week after prayer and study has opened my eyes to a totally different way of reading the text, one that I think our world desperately needs to hear about the abusive ways we often treat each other, and how God acts through Jesus Christ to turn our violence upside-down. I’d tell you more, but it would spoil the surprise. Just know that it will BLOW YOUR MIND.
I hope you’ve had a great week, and that you get a glimpse of God’s shalom this weekend. Take some time to let God love you.
In the story of Noah, God destroys the world with a massive flood. In the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, God wipes out whole cities by raining fire from the sky. In the story of Joshua, God commands an invading army to utterly destroy entire cultures, including women and children.
No wonder some people prefer atheism!
What are we modern Christians to do with these stories? What were their authors driving at, and how do we understand them in light of our belief that “God is love?”
Join us this Sunday, January 19 at 4:30 PM in the gym of Girls, Inc. as we begin Plagues, Floods, and Ethnic Cleansing—Does God Have a Temper Problem?
You can read Dave’s post on Noah’s Nonexistent Nosy Neighbors here.
We’ll be starting a new small group on Wednesday nights beginning January 15 at 6:30 PM Dave’s house. This is a 7-week video-and-discussion group that uses a great collection of authors to talk about some big ideas in Christian faith. If you’re not already part of a small group at Saint Junia, this is good introduction!