Living the word

Wil Gafney 1-04-2018

THIS MONTH SEES several liturgical transitions. Epiphany, the season of light and revelation, comes to a close. Jesus’ transfiguration is its own epiphany. The church enters the season of Lent, beginning with a focus on human frailty and failure—and for many people an evening (or week) of indulgence in things that bring joy, pleasure, and sweetness. The light is still there, but we are peering more intently at the shadows.

The opening prayer for Ash Wednesday in The Book of Common Prayer begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.” The readings for the first week present the God whose power and splendor in creation is only matched by her care for her children. The radiance of the transfiguration also shines a light on the ways in which we are not like Jesus, yet he chooses to leave the mount of illumination and return to the world that needs his light. The readings for the third week attend to the world God has made, calling us to care for it in partnership with God. And on the final Sunday, Jesus teaches about his death and resurrection, the greatest transition in the scriptures.

 

Wil Gafney 11-30-2017

THE NEW YEAR OFFERS an opportunity to take stock of ourselves and our intentions for our own well-being. Radical attempts at self-reformation often end in frustration, including attempts to develop new spiritual habits. This month’s texts hold a up a series of mirrors in which we can assess ourselves and see perhaps that we do not need to be wholly reinvented. The Spirit who weaves through the early texts is present at creation and through the life of Jesus, and she remains to guide us.

Whatever the new year brings, we will not face it alone. In the second week, we have an opportunity to speak frankly about sexual misconduct or choose to preach different aspects of the lessons. The new year offers an opportunity to do the hard work of community, protect the vulnerable, and hold accountable those who violate sacred trust. We do so knowing the Spirit does not shrink from the subjects from which we shrink. She will be there with us through the difficult work. Likewise, the third week’s readings offer an opportunity to do the hard work of repenting and asking forgiveness before we try to be reconciled to those whom we have wronged. This is particularly important for people who hold power and in religious settings where pressure is often put on those who have been wronged to forgive before they have begun to heal from their injury—or while they are still being harmed. The final lections invite us to sit and stand in awe of God and treasure the knowledge that comes from those postures.

 

Wil Gafney 10-30-2017

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

ADVENT MARKS THE BEGINNING of the Christian year, for many. We await the return of Jesus and prepare for it by revisiting the story of his first coming. In Isaiah 64, the prophet longs for God to tear the heavens and come down, a description more apt for the latter return of Jesus than his first appearance. The longing for Jesus to return and fix the world’s mess escalated for many last year about this time and was expressed by a widely read online Advent devotional under the hashtag F**kThisS**t. (The original title was unapologetically uncensored. The originators argued that “to convey a visceral gospel, we must sometimes use visceral language.”)

There is a theology that says one day God will clean house and fix everything. In the meantime, we have to live here. Advent is about waiting and preparation. What shall we do while waiting for the return of Christ? What can we do about the state of the world? The gospel for the second Sunday in Advent calls for spiritual work, confessing and repenting sins (Mark 1:4-5). The following week the gospel suggests that there is work to which we can put our hands: “Make straight the way of the Holy One” (John 1:23).

Wil Gafney 9-21-2017

IN NOVEMBER, the season after Pentecost comes to a close. The church has reflected on the power of its genesis and its spread outward from Jerusalem. The lessons now represent one last opportunity to review the fundamentals before returning to the story of Jesus from its inception. Several of these scriptures communicate the notion that time is running out. Others emphasize the knowledge of who we are in God’s sight and who we understand Jesus to be. The season that began with the power of the Spirit breathing a new creation into the world ends this month with an affirmation of sovereignty.

The psalms that weave through this grand story move from the personal prayers of a pious person to the worship of a grateful congregation. The prophets echo each other: God is going to call the world to account and God acts to preserve her people. The epistles confess the theology of the ancient church with an urgent zeal, allaying its fear and anxiety about what is to come. The gospels communicate their own urgency. Rather than simply preparing the church to abandon its earthly ship, the gospels call us into relationship with one another, to care for each other as we would care for Jesus in the flesh for however long we tarry here.

The coming seasons of Advent and Christmas are marked by an adoration of the Christ child. But this longest season on the church’s calendar bids us to love and serve the Christ that is hardest to see, the one hidden in the flesh of each other.

Wil Gafney 8-01-2017

THIS MONTH'S LECTIONARY includes very familiar texts, such as Psalm 23 and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. With these passages comes an opportunity to read them from a fresh perspective. It is tempting to read individual verses with reference to ourselves and our contemporary circumstances; indeed, that is the only way some read the texts. However, the cyclic nature of the lectionary provides regular opportunities to engage these texts from different perspectives.

October marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which revolutionized the way many people gained access to the biblical texts, newly translated out of Latin and into their own language. The Reformation put a high value on a believer’s access to the scriptures, which is now easy to take for granted. The translations produced during the period of the Reformation signified a deeper journey into the scriptures – and not just for scholars.

Bearing this in mind, what might reading more deeply look like for those who are not biblical scholars? Most if not all of these texts were composed to be read aloud. These texts often “read” quite differently when heard aloud. Perhaps the most important question we can ask of a text is how it was understood in its originating context, recognizing the differences between our world and the worlds of the Bible. Lastly, it is essential to ask how the message of a particular passage functions in our world, particularly when some of its framework reflects values we no longer share.

Wil Gafney 7-31-2017

MANY OF THE VOICES in this month’s readings seem to have “no filter.” They say what they think without adjusting it for politeness or theological correctness. In so doing, biblical paragons are presented as identifiably human, and God is seen as a God who welcomes our unvarnished truth. Here the raw human emotion acknowledges the complex terrain that is the human heart. The texts assume we feel, hurt, and occasionally want revenge; that we transgress and fear revenge; that we want forgiveness for ourselves but not necessarily for others. We can feel that God had gotten the better of us. Our experiences of God can be frustrating and painful. Like Jeremiah and Jonah here and Hagar (Genesis 16:7-14; 21:15-19) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:9-11) elsewhere, these texts invite us to tell God about God and take our frustrations to God.

The scriptures call us to interpret them with regard to their ancient contexts and our contemporary ones. Israel/Judah, in any of its configurations, was one of the smallest and least powerful nations in its world. The scriptures were compiled and received their last edit when what was left of Israel was completely subjugated by a foreign power. That is not our contemporary situation as Americans. We may have been conditioned to read from the position of Israel, but we also need to read from the position of empires that subjugate. If God can bear us without filters, surely we can scrutinize our own imperial impulses.

Wil Gafney 7-10-2017

Welcome and hospitality are more than trendy buzzwords or alignment with one set of politicized priorities over another. They are characteristics of the world that scripture constructs from the perspective of God and are deeply embedded in scriptures across genre and time. The constancy of that portrait makes clear that these are core values to be emulated and cultivated. In this season of growth, the selected texts paint a portrait of a loving God whose goodness is abundant. The growth that is called for is ours. We are to grow into the example God sets. The texts alternate examples of God’s fidelity as earmarks of trustworthiness and the turn of the faithful to sure hope in God. God’s fidelity is not limited to those who are called “God’s people” or “Israel.” Rather, God welcomes all peoples and nations and draws in the outcasts. This God is magnificent in power, yet tender and loving. These texts invite us to think beyond the immediate meaning to their application in our time. What does God’s goodness and faithfulness look like in our world today? What does God’s embrace of all peoples and nations mean in our world of international conflicts? Who are the outcasts now? And what ethical action do these texts require of us?

Welcome also requires adapting a posture of openness. Waiting is an apt posture for listening for God’s word to our times. Welcoming the guest may also open the door for the word in flesh to arrive.

Wil Gafney 6-05-2017

GOD'S FAITHFULNESS is measured in generational time. An emphasis on God’s faithfulness across generations is, by necessity, also an emphasis on community. God speaks and acts for the benefit of those present and those to come. Even when singular figures are mentioned—a prophet, a monarch—the message affects and is passed to and through the people.

The law and prophets represent God’s investment over time and bind together these readings. The law and prophets speak at moments in time but their messages are timeless. The gospel presents these truths embodied in the person of Jesus—and the epistles preach them passionately.

These lessons are read in the great expanse of liturgical time known as “ordinary” or as the season after Pentecost. This is a green season in the church (no matter what your grass looks like); that green symbolizes growth. This is a time for remembering the explosive growth of the early church and tending to our own growth as individuals and in community. Growth takes time. Our sacred stories make abundantly clear that the people of God—individual exemplars and the community, nation, and church—grew into fidelity over time.

The shaping of character and growth of faith is a process. These texts are signposts along the way.

Jason Byassee 5-03-2017
piosi / Shutterstock.com

piosi / Shutterstock.com

SUMMER IS ALMOST HERE, and churches ... slow ... down. Folks are planning for vacation. Staff are away. Pastors are away. It’s as if we take our status as middle-class bourgeoisie more seriously than our baptismal vows.

By contrast, in the summer the biblical texts pick up—in intensity, directness, drive. Pentecost falls on us like an avalanche of fire, teaching us languages we don’t know, names, places, people. The old joke is that war is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans. No, in the church, that would be Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowers people to preach who most say shouldn’t (in our texts that includes Arabic-speakers, women, unnamed prophets), and confounds those of us who think we “should.” Then Trinity Sunday, and all three persons of the triune Godhead are on the stage. We now know God as fully as God can be known by mere creatures. What we can’t know is not because God is tragically removed or far away. No—it’s precisely because God has come so unbearably close and is so unimaginably beautiful. That’s why we can’t take all of God in. So we praise instead of merely examine. And then Jesus sends out the disciples in mission to do what he does, or even greater things. Teach. Heal. Exorcise. Baptize. This doesn’t sound like a summer vacation or even a mission trip. It sounds like a new way of being in community for others.

That’s what the church is, in summer or anytime.

Jason Byassee 3-23-2017

THE WEEKS AFTER EASTER have always been especially important. Think of the first Easter—the bewildered disciples spent seven weeks being taught by a crucified and resurrected person. It must have been amazing, slightly unbelievable, then gone too soon. In the ancient church, Easter was a time for the newly baptized to immerse in the church’s odd and distinctive teachings. We dunked you—and then told you what that means. First Peter was originally a baptismal manual, a guidebook on the way to being the sort of peculiar people God wants (1 Peter 2:9). We do well during this month to look for extra opportunities for teaching. What does it mean to be baptized into a dead-and-alive-again person?

One thing it means in our own strange days is to craft creative ways to care for God’s beloved poor. We are experiencing a shredding of our country’s social safety net. Say whatever you like about it politically—the reality is there are more poor in more need. Someone is going to have to help. Why not us? It’s commanded in our Bible and our church’s heritage. There will be more of them, trust me. Our neighbors will notice and get curious about this Jesus about whom we teach. God desires a people of mercy who adore the poor, who treasure creation, who notice the dignity in every single human face. Not because it’s nice. But because God has a human face.

[ May 7 ]
Sacred Sheep?

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Jason Byassee 2-28-2017

THERE IS SOMETHING SPACIOUS about the gospel viewed through the keyhole of repentance. Something to the spare, Spartan spaces that mark a season of penitence. One chapel I know turns its altar so the people can see Jesus’ dying words: “I thirst.” Another adorns its sanctuary with a bare tree, not a leaf on it. The signs are those of severity. We make a hash of this world. We leave it bare. There is no health in us.

Lent says the tree will not always be bare. We will not always be health-less. And Jesus will not always thirst. Augustine of Hippo says Jesus thirsts for those gathered around him—he longs to drink them in, make them part of his body. That is, Jesus’ own murderers, the oblivious passers-by, his fellow convicts (his own disciples are long gone).

Lent is long. If you’re like me or my church, our Lenten devotions have grown a bit tepid by now. These final weeks are good times for renewal. The first weeks of Easter, in the ancient church, were a time when the newly baptized would gather daily to marvel at the wonders of their new faith. So too can we.

It’s been a year of strange happenings, politically and culturally. Our inclination is to lash out. There is plenty of blame to be distributed. Lent asks us to lash in. We are the first at fault, whoever we are. And then to praise. Try though we might, we cannot stop the Lord of life. And neither can anyone else.

Jason Byassee 2-01-2017

THIS IS WEIRD, I know, but I miss Lent when it’s over. There is something to what Otis Moss III calls the “blue note preaching” that feels human and humanizing. So much of life is sorrowful. At Lent we can name that sadness explicitly. Don’t get me wrong—Easter is awesome. But as soon as it’s done and the lilies are put away and the crowds diminish, I miss the strong scrubbing brush on our corroded hearts and the promise of God’s unending mercy.

There is a clarity in Lent. Repent! Turn around! Now! This is not at all a negative message. When we repent, we empty ourselves, pour ourselves out, open ourselves up. We are normally so full of self-regard. As a friend of mine says, “I’m always right.” What? “I mean, if I knew something was a lie, I’d stop thinking it.” Donald Trump couldn’t have said it better. The thing is, we all think we’re right all the time. Lent says, “No you’re not. Whoever you are.” Sarah Coakley’s work brilliantly has shown the good news of what scripture calls “kenosis,” self-emptying. This is a dangerous teaching. Women and minorities and people out of power are often abused by being told to make themselves less. Coakley argues that self-emptying in forms such as silent prayer is actually the most empowering thing we can do. Because then God’s Holy Spirit fills us up. Grants us a power we can’t imagine. Makes us fully human.

So repent away, preachers and friends. There is no better piece of good news around.

[ March 5 ]
God Tumbles After Us

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 ; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19, 13-17; Matthew 4:1-11

Jason Byassee 12-22-2016

THE CHURCH'S CALENDAR always sits at odds with the world’s. In the world, the season of light is Christmas. And that’s long since gone by now. But in the church, the season of light is Epiphany, when God gives us a glimpse of all the strange people who will be drawn to Jesus. We gentiles rejoice. Jesus is bringing all his weird friends over for dinner. So maybe there’s space at the table even for us.

Think of every dark place in our world. Every frightened child. Every violated person. Every victim of war or hunger. The darkness growls with endless hunger. Epiphany says this: God’s light will shine and swallow up that darkness and make all things into unending day. Hopefully God will do that sooner rather than later—through our efforts, through the church, through our elected officials. But if not, God will bring the kingdom Jesus preached, one day. And there will be unending light for those who’ve faced the most darkness.

Epiphany is a good season in which to concentrate on the church—Jesus and all his weird friends. The lectionary showers us with stories from Matthew and the psalms and Corinthians about how odd and distinctive this community is. Ministers have the inestimable privilege of serving God’s people. What joy! What light! What a marvel is the church of Jesus Christ.

[ February 5 ]
Now and Not Yet

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 ; Matthew 5:13-20

CHRISTIANITY IS A religion of grace. We don’t get what we deserve, thank God. We get so much more. And being people of grace, we try to show forth God’s mercy in our life together—to show the world it is made and sustained in existence by a good, good God.

Jason Byassee 12-01-2016

GIVEN THAT WE'VE ALL just had a face full of Christmas lights, most folks would be surprised to learn that in the church, Epiphany is traditionally the season of light (not lights—you can put them away). Epiphany is designed to put us in the position of those who first met Jesus on whom light slowly dawns. What? You mean the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy? He’s the one to redeem Israel and bring justice to every last human being on earth?! There is so much light here it is hard to see all at once. Epiphany acts as a light dimmer, waiting for our eyes to adjust, trying to keep us only slightly uncomfortable, but not overwhelmed.

Some churches have a practice of announcing a sermon series for January that can attract new people—something on sex or politics, for example. Advertise it at Christmas and then deliver with your best in the new year. That’s when folks are open to new things, and best of all for us, God illumines us at Epiphany. Learning who God is throws light on who our neighbor is—one in whom divine light shines, who is therefore endlessly deserving of our respect and adoration.

Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., talks about money in January. It seems suicidal. But folks are financially hungover from the holidays, and need help. And the gospel’s words about money are good news all the time, not just in “stewardship season” or at the year-end budget rush.

[ January 1]
All Rachel's Children

Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS don’t often last. They are born in good intentions, but we are weak, fragile creatures, and habits are hard things to break.

Brandon Wrencher 11-02-2016
1000 words / Shutterstock

1000 words / Shutterstock

WE'RE ENTERING “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. Christmas gifts are piling up. The retail stores are busy as ever. Folks are anticipating the coming weeks with lots of food and time with family. For others, excitement is not what they feel at Christmas. Instead Christmas conjures memories of loss and neglect. For many, it’s a time of pain and suffering. How is the Christian to navigate this range of experiences? We practice Advent. The church invites us to live as though Christmas can wait. We hold off on all the celebration and consumption. We learn what it means to wait for God.

The pressure is pervasive to turn Christmas into being busy and buying stuff. Anxiety is high. Resentment’s in the air. Waiting, especially the Christian practice of waiting, is furthest from our minds and habits. Yet Jesus calls us to wait, to interrupt the world’s addiction during this season so that we can be surprised by Christ coming anew, in unanticipated ways. Because God is hidden. God has hidden God’s self in the most unlikely of places, in a Jewish baby named Jesus. But this is no meek and mild infant. Leave sweet baby Jesus for Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights. The baby born to Mary is the coming Messiah who confronts the world’s violence with the way of peace. God in Jesus continues to hide in unlikely places. We learn how to wait, and pay attention, to where God will show up, to wait for the peaceable world God is birthing in our midst.

[ December 4 ]
Fire of Love

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

ISAIAH IS SPEAKING to a people that will be redeemed. Exile is their present reality. The movement from exile to redemption is part of the flow of Israel’s story. How does Israel maintain sanity with such ebbs and flows of their freedom? Patience. Yet something is amiss if what scripture means by patience is the microwave sensibilities of this age. It’s crucial that all four gospels begin Jesus’ story with John the Baptist’s message of repentance. We should not sentimentalize the baby Jesus. The Advent message requires that we be attentive to Jesus, the coming judge. Repentance is fundamental to Advent.

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock 

WITH SO MANY dust-collecting pews, judgment is not the theme on most religious leaders’ lips. The audience that took seriously the “signs of the times” is typically in nursing homes and cemeteries. Millennials and Gen-Xers find the subject distasteful at best, a fairy tale at worst. I’m not sure there’s any way to shirk the theme in this season. Judgment is on the lips of God. We better find ways to take God’s word seriously. And this word of judgment is for all people, no matter your generation.

God’s judgment is always twofold: a word against those who withhold justice and equity from communities on the margins, and a word of blessing promising those on the margins that shalom is already here and yet to come.

Still, God’s judgment is never abstract or vague; it is directed to particular people and communities. We have to search for those places in our own communities where justice and equity, where God’s shalom, is held hostage for the few.

Focused on one set of the many injustices in our world, the Black Lives Matter movement has sustained a witness for justice and equity for four years now. This movement is part of a long tradition and contemporary global movement for the liberation of black and brown lives. Calling out white supremacy is a prerequisite to taking God’s word seriously. White fragility and guilt will have to be exorcised. Black and brown assimilation to whiteness will need to be lovingly named. The vision of God’s future will keep us on this path. Our work in these weeks is continuously to call forth God’s vision of shalom for all people through the flourishing of black and brown lives.

[ November 6 ]
Resisting Whiteness
Job 19: 23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
SpeedKingz / Shutterstock

SpeedKingz / Shutterstock

There’s no standout theme that can be traced through October’s lectionary, which means that teaching and preaching will not be able to rely on the nice packaging of cool titles and catchy series. And those reading devotionally should not expect pet clichés. I suspect we need seasons of spirituality that are off the grid. It reminds me of my friends that live almost completely off the land. They are hard to track, but they maintain an abiding centeredness. Their keen sense of attention to their surroundings and their own bodies is unparalleled, because they have to anticipate both nurture and nature, rhythm and surprise, order and spontaneity.

We will need to be ready for no less surprises, twists, and turns in the lectionary for this month. We will also need the centeredness to act and lead. Scripted leadership and lessons won’t cut it. Improvisation is the skill to cultivate. Samuel Wells offers a framework that will guide us: “Improvisation means a community formed in the right habits trusting itself to embody its traditions in new and often challenging circumstances ... this is exactly what the church is called to do.”

This is the way of wisdom – a far cry from the pop Christianity of our day that offers formulas and platitudes.

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

ORDINARY TIME CONTINUES, in this season after Pentecost. The designation “ordinary” always strikes me as odd. This season is anything but ordinary in the common way in which we use the term. Ordinary typically means that something has no special or unique characteristics. Ordinary is simple, average, unexciting.

In one sense, the lectionary passages can be described as ordinary. There are no mighty battles or astonishing miracles or dreamy visits from God. The text is full of practical teaching, of how to live out the life of faith. Ordinary, right? And yet, the life to which the Spirit calls us is anything but ordinary.

A couple of warnings are in order. If you’re looking for material for “Seven Steps to (fill in the blank)”-style preaching and teaching, then don’t look here. These passages are not going to give you warm fuzzies about your personal relationship with Jesus. There’s nothing watered down or simple about God’s teaching and commands in these passages. We are called to nothing less than radical discipleship: Take up crosses, extend and receive God’s mercy, prioritize the poor for our salvation, and establish communities of trust. If you discover anything truly ordinary as you study and reflect, it is yourself. You cannot live this life ordinarily. We are in the stretch between Pentecost and Advent. You’ll need to connect to the power and patience of these traditions in order to live out the extraordinary call God has placed before such ordinary people.

[September 4]
Making Choices
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1:1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Following Jesus is a costly business, as Luke reminds us, requiring sacrifice and shedding of our slave mind in order to move in freedom. But is that what we find in much of U.S. Christianity? In studying the spiritual lives of U.S. teenagers, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton determined that teens’ reigning religious worldview can be described as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Moralistic: God wants people to behave. Therapeutic: God wants everyone to be happy. Deism: God exists and started the world turning, but is now remote, without personal engagement.

Those from the underside of U.S. life, the disinherited, recognize this worldview for what it truly is: the leftovers from a Christianity that is more American than it is Christian. Frederick Douglass described it as “the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

Marten_House / Shutterstock

Marten_House / Shutterstock

AUGUST MARKS A TIME OF TRANSITION. Summer is fading. Fall is near. If you haven’t gotten your vacation in, it’ll have to be rushed because school starts shortly. Retail prices are “lowered” for back-to-school shopping. Churches are preparing for the return of students. Pastors are sneaking in a last-minute retreat or a continuing-education class. Church is in flux. What about our behavior, our faith lived out in the world? The lectionary passages for these weeks speak directly to this context of common life. How will we keep our promises? Will we prioritize the Sabbath? Are our interior and exterior lives built around hospitality?

God is not in flux, even if we are. God still longs for our worship. God is clear that the kind of worship that brings God joy leads to a life that demonstrates God’s peace and restoration. We’ll need more than good ideas and willpower. We’ll need the gift of faith to act in the world as if God is still making all things new. Even with all of the transitions around us, including the mechanics of church, we’ll need to make sure worship is as authentic and passionate as ever.

Do your pastor a favor and lend a hand, say a special prayer, extend grace. If you’re a pastor, then safety nets are in order. Now is the time to be connecting with colleagues, sitting with your spiritual director, visiting the therapist. Your people need you. You need God. The world needs the church!

[August 7]
Promises to Keep
Genesis 1:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3; Luke 12:32-40

In Genesis 15, we find Abram just out of battle. He’s recovered his nephew, women from his community, and loads of property. But there is still something missing: He has no children of his own to carry forward his name.

Abram is a visionary. But without God’s promise to bring the vision to fruition, he’s only dabbling in wishful thinking. How else can one cope with that moment when death is knocking, and the vision is still far off? “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” preached Dr. King. “Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

Jason Byassee 6-07-2016
Everett - Art / Shutterstock

Everett - Art / Shutterstock

THE “DOG DAYS” OF SUMMER refers to more than the weather. Attendance in churches is often down due to travel. The energy level is low, with students away and families scarce. The church year tends to gear up with the academic one, to peak with Christmas, to peak again with Easter, and then to peter out into the summer. How do we stay invigorated? How do we energize our faith with the zeal of the psalmist: “Come and see what God has done: God is awesome in deeds among mortals” (Psalm 66:5)?

I challenge churches to do something different with the summer—turn the dog days into an excuse to take risks. “Something different” will differ with context. Try a dialogue sermon. Answer live tweets from the youth. Preach a sermon entirely in the interrogative mood—nothing but questions or one that, like the psalms, is addressed solely to God. Invite testimonies about faith and service. Invite mentors who inspired you into ministry to offer their story during worship or Bible study. With the elections coming, talk about how the church has engaged with politics through history—and don’t leave out the bad stuff. Immerse yourself and your community more deeply in the gospel for the renewal of your life together, always an aspect of church and worship.

Summer is often a season of travel and meeting strangers. Remember that Abraham and Sarah offered extravagant kindness when they met three strangers in the desert. How can we become known, like Abraham, as “the friend of strangers”?

[July 3]
A Livable Faith

Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6: 1-16; Luke 10:1- 11, 16-20

ST. AUGUSTINE describes breast milk as a sign of the goodness of God. Who would dare say he’s wrong? It’s so there—abundant, nurturing, creating intimacy. It’s like God with all of us. But Augustine isn’t being original here. Isaiah is. God is a nursing mother, Israel is a nursing child, and both are happy with one another.

Eugene Peterson has made a career of insisting on the “livability” of scripture. We can do this stuff—with a healthy dose of the Spirit’s power. Coastal Church, a Pentecostal congregation in downtown Vancouver, made Luke 10 a sort of constitution for its life together. Rather than preach or protest at people, it has made a point of visiting people’s homes (already difficult in an age that loves privacy). They offer blessing. They ask what hurts and pray for it. They eat together. And they speak of the reign of God. The church has grown, lonely neighbors find surprising friends, and the reign is manifest.

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