Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grace Alone

Halfway through the adventure at Ascenison I realize that much - all? - of my preaching has been about grace. That is not at all surprising as my being at Ascension at all is wrapped up in several gifts. 
  • The gift of the sabbatical grant from the Lilly Endowment
  • The gift of a grandchild that prompted our retiring on the North Shore
  • The gift of collegiality in the North Shore Clericus where Brad and I became friends
  • The gift of welcome by the people of the parish
  • Most importantly, gift of our life in Christ
There is, of course, another reason why grace has been the focus of my preaching. We are constantly tempted to believe that we have somehow earned God's love and we need regular warnings about falling into that trap with all that that involves. When we think we've earned God's love we are very likely to judge others as undeserving of that love. We are also likely to become more concerned about avoiding various sins than about abiding in Jesus. God has not called us to judge ourseleves or others, but to love ourselves and others.

Some of the conversations that we have been having here during this sabbatical have been about how the parish can become more open to the gifts of new people. I put it that way because I think that much of the talk about hospitality in churches focuses on how we share the great things we have with others. It is true that we have much to share, but every visitor and every new member is a gift to be received with respect and thanksgiving. Respecting the gifts that others are means that we don't see them as solutions to whatever problems we have in the parish. Receiving them into the community as gifts from God, we leave them free to discover how their particular skills and experience might be offered for the strengthening of our common life.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Relational Faith Communities

Many members of Ascension Memorial Church read Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith this spring and attended his lecture at Ascension in June. One of Cox's assertions in the book, one with which I agree, is that we are moving from an understanding of faith as acceptance of certain beliefs about God to an understanding of faith as a relationship of trust in God. One of Ascension's parishioners recently raised the important question of what Ascension Memorial Church might look like with this new relational understanding of faith. In the book Cox gives examples of communities that are more relational in their understanding of faith, and even though the contexts of these communities are very different from ours, we may be able to take some clues from them. 

Engaging with the world: relational faith leads us into the world as we share Jesus' love for the world. While the relationships we have with one another are important, the Church is called to share in Christ's work of reconciliation in the world.

Reading the Bible as a transforming story: rejecting the fundamentalists' literal reading of the Bible, we can read the Bible, as Christians in Latin American base communities do, with a focus on how the biblical stories help us to make sense of our lives and invite us into a deeper relationship with God.

Living with diversity and ambiguity: as we move away from an understanding of faith as acceptance of certain beliefs about God, there will probably be greater theological diversity within our community and a greater willingness to live with ambiguity.

Embracing our marginal status in society: as Church membership becomes less and less socially important, we have the freedom to become a more intentional community of disciples of Jesus. 

Are these the only marks of a relational faith community? Certainly not, but I offer them as a beginning for the discussion.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

John 3:16

When I asked this past Sunday if anyone could tell me what John 3:16 said, I was pleased that one of the Eucharistic Ministers could recite the entire verse: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, do that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life."

I think that verse is key to understanding the Gospel according to John. Although the Synoptics are certainly about how God's love was made manifest in Jesus, John makes that the explicit focus of his account of the Good News. It was and is in the sending of the Son, the word made flesh, that God's love for the world has been revealed. Although some translators want to make this verse about how much God loves the world, the Greek word translated as "so" means "in this way." God's love is, I believe, infinite, beyond measure, and the point of John 3:16 is the manner in which that love has been expressed.

I have been pleased in the month that I have been worshipping each week with the people of Ascension Memorial Church that they understand that our life together is a gift, that it is all matter of Grace, of God's unconditional love for us and for the world. That gift, of course, challenges us to love the world as God does, to minister as Jesus did to one another and to the least, the last, and the lost.