Musings on the Kingdom (Lenora Rand)

This Blog post is a repost from Red Letter Christians written by Lenora Rand.

Lenora’s blog, Spiritual Suckitude, is about figuring out how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, while working in corporate America and trying to get the laundry done. She is also co-founder of The Plural Guild. Check out her earthy, soulful writing and enjoy this short piece below.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

Lenora writes:

“I used to have a sort of idealized Disney-version of kids in my head. Then I had some. And I noticed that in their natural state, before us adults manage to fully “civilize” them, kids are crazy with questions, needy and rambunctious, don’t easily take “No” for an answer, feel everything deeply, hate unfairness and aren’t ashamed to yell about it, and basically live every second of every day until they pass out in blessed exhaustion. And if we’re like them, Jesus says, that’s how we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is actually heaven.”

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Re:Incarnation

I am called to be a little re-Incarnation
of the Messiah:
someone who,
in the Spirit,
goes about doing good;
who is known for living
and proclaiming this
disturbing,
all consuming, all inclusive Love
(of God);
someone who
practices compassion,
lives prayer,
seeks justice,
is mercy.
Someone who, like Jesus, loves…
all…
regardless of
anything.

(Inspired by Isaiah 58; 61.  Luke 4.18.  Matthew 11.1-4; 25.  Acts 10.34-38. Galatians 5.14)

“Where’s the Proof?” (Kayla McClurg)

Advent Reading for December 15, 2013 ~ Matthew 11:2-11

Sermon by Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC

In prison a person has time to ponder things. My friends who have spent time there say it isn’t surprising that people meet Jesus in prison simply because there is so much time, mindless miles of time, to be still and think. The wise ones use that time to ponder the depths of their lives and to ask questions and invite new answers. John has been put in prison. The authorities have tried to stifle him, but his disciples remain faithful and John remains their teacher. From his cell they carry a key question John has been pondering about Jesus: “Are you the one, or should we be waiting for another?”

Curiously, Jesus doesn’t say. He simply says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Look at the evidence, and come to your own conclusions. The evidence is this: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are standing on the shores of a new life, welcoming a boatload of good news. Is this the proof you were expecting from “the one who is to come,” or another?

You know the question, if you were arrested for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Or would you get off scot free, innocent of having disturbed anyone with the good news? Would you be found guilty of living a converted life, of giving away freely what you have received? Could anyone accuse you of radical expressions of solidarity with the poor? Would the powers tremble at the ripples of your generosity?

John has been arrested for stirring up mercy and healing, for proclaiming another way, for inspiring people to submit to a higher-than-human authority. His imprisonment is meant to intimidate him and his followers—and especially to intimidate Jesus. The powers always resort to such foolishness. In reality, such a response does nothing but add fuel to the fire of the movement. Jesus and a growing band of disciples pick up where John left off. The mantle has been passed, and the momentum builds. The proof is at hand.

By: (Season and Scripture: ,

“Drugged into Submission” (Robert Farrar Capon)

This quote below by Robert Farrar Capon is quite appropoe, and we can allow the word “preacher” to speak for all followers of Jesus.  Stirring the pot…

“I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain.

The Church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God.

What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross-and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they won’t be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them…in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone – and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness – they will be of very little use in the pulpit.”

Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching

“A Church OF all People (Sam Wells)

What if discipleship meant individually and corporately letting one’s life be transformed into a parable of faith, a poem of hope, a [song] of love that exchanges the world’s habits of scarcity for the kingdom’s assumptions of abundance?

What if piety meant leaving aside the things the world offers a tantalizing shortage of and embracing the things God gives in plenty?

And the moment that starts to sound too ambitious is the very moment of renewal, because that’s when the church for the first time perhaps ever realises it doesn’t have the luxury of prejudice, it doesn’t get to include just one kind of person, it really and truly needs everyone who is willing to part of this great adventure, and is at last surrounded by all the kinds of people who thronged round Jesus and the church should have regarded as its best friends all along.

Rev. Sam Wells, Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, UK.

Found at The Church of the Advocate website: http://theadvocatechurch.org/

“The Depths” (N. Gordon Cosby)

If men and women today began by the thousands experiencing the depths of Jesus…in a transforming way, there would simply be no place for their expression of experience to fit into present-day straitjackets of Christianity.

Protestant or Catholic, neither one is structured to contain a mass of devoted people who long for spiritual depth.

We are structured towards infancy.

N. Gordon Cosby

N. Gordon Cosby

On a sad and glorious note: the Rev. Gordon Cosby, a prophetic voice for church renewal and one of the co-founding ministers of The Church of the Saviour in 1947, died on Wednesday, March 20, at the age of 95.  Gordon was a spiritual father and mentor to me and to thousands of other seekers, people like me who hungered to taste of God’s radical love in action.  After hearing a sermon of his almost 25 years ago, the Spirit moved me and I sold all my possessions, packed my bags and left suburban Philadelphia to live in and work with Samaritan Inns – one of the many Missions that God created through The Church of the Saviour. A public memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 6, at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. A Story on Gordon Cosby.

“Thank God for your life and witness and now you are free at last and Home with your God, my brother…”

Walking Across the Snow

“Looking for God in prayer is like looking for a path in a field of untrodden snow.  Walk across the snow and there is your path.”

Thomas Merton

I love this quote by Thomas Merton, a truthful man if ever there was one.  Although a monk in one of the strictest Orders in the Catholic Church, he lived his life in gentle yet transparent  honesty.  Known mostly for his deep writings on faith and social justice, Merton was above all a man of prayer.  And yet he penned the above quote.  I venture to reason that this quote was written by Merton for himself.  He ‘walked across the snow’ faithfully, seeking God in all ways and in all things.

I’m pondering this quote and sharing it because of my own life of prayer these days.  I pray a great deal.  I say that not to brag but more as a confession since I have no where else to turn most days except to God, for the things surrounding my life seem larger than it.  So, I pray often because otherwise I’m a sloppy example of flesh and blood, prone more towards my addictions than my healing.  Prayer for me is a pathway to deeper intimacy with God, with myself, and with the world I have been called to serve in love.  Without prayer I am like fruit that has fallen from the tree while still believing it is growing and connected to its Source.  Without prayer, I am pure illusion.

There is a “lostness” to these days, as the light of day gives way more quickly to the shuddering embrace of darkness, my prayer life is following the ‘natural rhythm’ of winter.  When I say ‘lost’ I do not mean in my entire life, but in the sense that this part of the journey is “rubber meets the road” time, a time when the giddiness of the pink cloud has burst and I must show up.  But I am reminded that just showing up is indeed half the battle.

So I show up.  I set aside time to be in contemplation with my God, to listen to the still, small Voice above the din and noise within my head and heart.  I show up knowing, regardless of what I am feeling, God is there as a Present Reality and not just some  far away entity.  Much like the well known prayer of Merton’s posted a few days ago, I do not know the path I am called to take in certainty, yet I feel the tug of the Spirit leading me down paths I sometimes fear to travel (even if they are for the Best).  At times, I sense I am traveling alone.  But I have learned that God’s  presence is a promise not an emotion and I have tasted God’s love as deeply in his Absence as I have in his Presence.

I sense I am being led to a place that will open up for me a life I have only ever dreamed, but fear still persist as does confusion.  And not the confusion of choices made in or by my own stupidity, rather choices made in the hands of Divine Providence, choices that may alienate me from some while ingratiating me to others.  Regardless, the truth is choices must be made and they must be done so by (and in) faith: faith in God; faith in knowing that if I ask for Wisdom, it is promised; faith in knowing I must walk across the snow in order to see the path God is laying out for me; faith in knowing that I am traveling with One who will never leave or forsake me.

In making these choices I am seeking obedience to God and his will – a will that is more tender than stern, more compassionate that perfectionist, more about trust than certainty.  The word for obedience in Latin is “obidere” meaning “to listen.”  I love that definition because it ties into my coming before God in prayer to know him, to know what he is asking of me, and in order to do that I must be still and listen to his voice of love.

So on this cold afternoon, I am reminded again that the path I am seeking is made along the Way.  The path God is leading me on is not always so clearly laid, yet I am promised the faithfulness of God’s warming Presence in the chill of the unknown.  I am reminded too that prayer is a loving communique filled with hope – the hope of Jesus being born anew in me and in the world.  And my prayers, much like this hope, do not come in strength or unfailing assurance, but rather in fragility, vulnerability, and in weakness.

However, God’s love comes in the chilled, biting wind chaffing my cheeks as I stare out into the gorgeous wintry openness.  And as the feel of snow rises in the air, and the chill numbs my fingers, I am reminded once again that the path may not be certain, but God’s tender love and presence is.

I Dare You…

In matters of faith it may not be ‘biblical’ to do so, but I’m looking in the mirror as I write this realizing I need to dare myself, so I’m going to dare everyone.  And the reason why is that most of the time, the God I profess and the God I actually believe in are two different beings: the former is too small and the latter is sometimes just a God I give lip service to but do not always act like I believe.  I say I believe in Jesus but my actions sometimes betray those ‘beliefs.’  I am human and quite ordinary but God, well, God is Extraordinary.

So it is Double Dog Dare time (and remember the “Mirror Principle” counts here, namely the principle that states I’m really having a conversation with myself and God and you are simply ‘overhearing’ it):

  • I dare you to try and out give God.
  • I dare you to let God’s comforting and disturbing grace turn your life upside-down, and therefore right-side up.
  • I dare you to turn to prayer before turning to worry, fear, or panic.
  • I dare you to let go of every ‘small’ image you have of God and ask him to replace those ‘idols’ with the truth of just who God is.
  • I dare you to believe that emotions, circumstances and feelings do not determine all of what the truth is (but yes, they can help, guide and teach).
  • I dare you take God at his word – all of it.
  • I dare you to ask God to enlarge your ‘territory’ for his purposes.
  • I dare you to ask God to bless you so you can be a Blessing.
  • I dare you to pray ‘big’ for God is big and we can not out give God.
  • I dare you to ask God to use you in wonderful ways for his good pleasure and then make yourself available (and also put your seat belt on).
  • I dare you to pray everyday to be filled with God’s love and then to let him fill you.
  • I dare you to go and give away God’s amazing love, without discretion and with reckless abandon.
  • I dare you to surrender every aspect of your life to God and to truly let it all go…into his faithful, strong, and loving hands.
  • I dare you to dream God’s Dream and then be a part of it.

Advent Gift Ideas: Live the Good News

Follow the Nazarene closely (He set a pretty good example on how to live).

Pray often and even more so.  Pray for the people you love, and pray for the people you don’t love.

Don’t build a big church Because if we do, then we will need to protect it and use up time, taxes, and treasure to maintain it.  Instead of a building try Being Church – and rather than building a new building, start by sharing your life with people as they are, where they are and they will undoubtedly see Jesus.

Share the Good News.  For what Jesus did is indeed Good and truly Newsworthy.

Make serving the poor the Gospel mandate it is(instead of treating it like a superfluous add-on)…make charity and justice for the poor a personal, close-up thing and not a ‘program’ in the church.

Give relief to those who are suffering around you and those far away (for we are all in this together).

Visit the sick, the locked up and the shut in.

Sit with the dying…just be with them as they transition into the next part of life.

Comfort the broken, the bruised and the bereaved.

Be generous and lavish with those in need and do so with your time, your talents, your money, and your stuff.  Share your house with someone in need like a teenager in a bad situation or a person coming out of the system.  Share your car, your tools, your garage, your apartment, your books, etc., because we are merely stewards of what God has given us.

Be reckless in giving and receiving God’s grace, graciousness, love and mercy.

Practice hospitality and be hospitable to strangers and those different from you (not just your friends and family).

Love your neighborand yes, I do mean the one right next door, as well as the one down the street, across the country and across the world.

Live your life as a fully alive, aware human being Practice being real and transparent then watch people see Jesus in and through your unique personality.  No stuffed shirts, smug piousness or the need to be superior over people.

Love ‘sinners’ (because all of us are wounded)…and love all of them, not just the ones you feel most comfortable around.  Befriend sinners and people of other faiths, and don’t do it just for the sake of converting people.  Jesus loved all people – truly, madly and deeply – even those who walked away from, betrayed and killed him.  Jesus had no other motive but too love people into the Kingdom, so put down your Four Spiritual Laws, your tracts and your Bibles and start being real (and human) around people (you’ll be amazed at how much God’s love will flow from you).

Practice Common Grace (whether you are Calvinist or Catholic).  For all people are made in the image of God and God sustains everyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof (see Matthew 5:45, Acts 17:25-28, and James 1:17)

Practice common graciousness as well…don’t be a bully, smug, self-righteous or mean-spirited.  Just because we know the Truth does NOT mean we are the truth or always right.  Only Jesus is Lord and only he will judge on the last day, so save the judging for him and him alone.

The Upside Down Kingdom

Some disturbing words from Jesus the Messiah:

And many who are first shall be last…whomever would be the greatest among you shall be your servant…The first will be last and the last shall be first…Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…The Kingdom belongs to such as these [little children]…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom…Blessed are the [anawim1] for they will inherit the earth…you can not serve God and money…If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me…Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me…

I really need not write anything if you prayerfully read the above words of Jesus and just sit in silent contemplation of just how ‘upside-down’ Jesus’ words and his way really are. His words were radical then and they are just as radical now (radical coming from the Latin word, ‘radix’ meaning ‘root’).

Our world today, as in the days when the Nazarene walked the earth, might still mean right, the strong survive by way of a ‘survival of the fittest’ ethos, youth and beauty are still worshiped and pursued, our mortality is still feared and avoided and the poor are still demonized. But as we enter this Advent season, a time of year where we remember that God came to us as a helpless, naked baby born not in a posh neonatal ward but an ‘animal shelter’ I feel it is important to remind myself of the nature of the Kingdom of God: namely, that it is an upside-down Kingdom.

In a world where God is becoming irrelevant to a whole generation and an ever-increasingly secularized world, lost in the middle of this is a helpless Messiah lying in a stable held by an unwed teenage Hebrew girl who is left to wonder if the angelic messenger was foretelling the truth of this swaddling-clothed little wonder or if she is just ‘insane.’

From the beginning of his life to the ‘theme’ of his good news to his death on a cross abandoned by almost everyone, Jesus embodied the paradox of God’s grace and love in the Upside-down Kingdom ethos: the rich become poor, the poor become rich, the first are last, the last are first, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword…the list goes on. In God’s Kingdom, up is down, down is up…grace is given to the unrighteous and the righteous are judged quite harshly. This is not so good for modern-day marketing, is it?

Does this message of the Upside-down Kingdom resound throughout the majority of sermons and homilies coming throughout the world?

The Kingdom of heaven is indeed an upside-down kingdom. It is not the kingdom of America, or the Red Kingdom or the Blue Kingdom. It is a Kingdom where all who call upon the King become ‘naturalized’ citizens; and we who call ourselves citizens of this Kingdom are called to follow the law of the King of this realm. And that law is the law of love – a law that embraces the unlovable, the unlovely, the broken, the wounded, the addicted and the marginalized. It is a law that embraces both good citizens and ones who have broken the laws of any land.

So what better day than today – World AIDS Day – to remind myself of the Upside-down Mandate given to us by the wandering Nazarene. And we better be careful for just when we are not looking, his grace will turn our hearts and our worlds upside-down, and Spirit willing, hopefully our churches as well.

__________

1) Anawim is a word that is often mistranslated as meek but more accurately is a word that means the “lowly,” “the poor,” “the righteous poor,” or “the vulnerable.” From Steve Kimes, “Overall, anawim’ mean those who are outcast or persecuted and then seek God for justice and help.”