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Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in
heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.”

I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. But a little while ago, read this passage as if for the first time. Don’t get me wrong – the words were familiar to me. I could have recited most of them from memory.

But words can become divorced from meaning. They can be abstracted
and used for a million mundane purposes. They can be pasted into advertisements and mission statements of multi-nationals.

They can become like veneer glued to plastic to give it the appearance of fine carpentry.

Or they can be obscured by a fog of assumptions that makes them illegible. Like wearing someone else’s thick glasses.

Perhaps some words are over venerated – locked away in glass cases – filed and categorised and cross referenced. Pinned like a lifeless butterfly.

But these words – it seems to me that every generation needs to discover them anew. They contain something so wonderful, so powerful, that they are dangerous.

Like dynamite.

Here are the words of Jesus, spoken to his friends. Given as a means to shape their engagement with the present-future Kingdom of God.
Words that turned everything upside down.

Subversive, revolutionary words.

Beautiful, hope-filled, wonderful words.

May they find their way to the middle of you…

(From Listings, by Chris Goan)

Prayer / Blessing

may you be blessed
as you continue to seek out
honesty, and truth, and peace
desiring more than passing, cheap, flippant intimacy.

may you be blessed
as you travel through seas of strangers
desperately wanting to be seen
and not merely passed by
yearning for a touch, a word, a presence.

may you be blessed
as you authentically try to respond
to the God-given wrenching of your gut
making you aware that a need is near
and someone is waiting on your touch,
your word,
your presence.

may the blessing of a love that transcends indifference
and brings reconciliation
be in your heart and in your mind and in your hands
as you travel to and fro –
constantly aware that even now you are surrounded by
love.
may you seek,
may you be completed,
and may you be blessed.
amen.

 

 

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Complex Christ book cover

The Complex Christ, by Kester Brewin

This week I’ve been re-reading a book by Kester Brewin of The Vaux Community in London, England, The Complex Christ: Signs of Emergence in the Urban Church.

I want to share a few thoughts from the chapter on “Gift.” These are direct quotes from the book. I encourage you to purchase the book from Amazon.com by clicking on the book cover to the left. I cannot say that I am in total agreement with all that he writes in this book, but once again, it has impacted my life and ministry.

Christ began his journey to embrace the city in the desert, where he rejected the crude transactionalism of those who would tempt him to seek devotees through stunts and bread. He turned away from a style of ministry that tried either to get people to exchange their commitment for the meeting of their material needs, or wow them into belief through displays of power and magic. Christ did this because he had dedicated himself to a new way, to a conjunctive approach to the city. . .

However it is clear that, despite resisting these trades, there was some kind of transaction occurring in Christ’s ministry, just as there is in the Church’s ministry today. Something is given, and something is received. It is vital that we, like Christ, get the nature of this exchange right, for we risk ending up as another product to buy or sensation to seek unless we do… a conjunctive approach to faith must re-evaluate the Church’s modes of exchange, and … central to our critique of consumerism must be the rediscovery of the transaction of gift. (p. 117)

At a basic level then, we might reflect on the extent to which our practices in church function as commodity or gift. . . We must clearly be careful about our gift practices in the context of faith, and ensure that we get the distinction between appropriate commodity transaction and appropriate gift transaction. To blur the line between the two is likely to cause all sorts of problems and lead to allegations of manipulation. (p. 120)

… if worship is a gift, then it is absolutely not about what I am looking to get out of it, but what I am looking to give. Churches must steer clear of ‘selling worship’, as if it could be re-marketed and rebranded through some surface pick-and-mix of popular culture. Who am I to come to worship the Almighty and expect to get something? Yet that’s what most of us do,, turning up tired from the week’s work and busy weekend, needing our batteries recharging, looking for a bit of a power-pack from God or to be caught up in some holy moment. (p. 121)

Churches must aspire to become centres of gift exchange in the broadest sense. They should provide hanging spaces for artists, venues for music of all types, forums for discussions and debates, classes for expectant mothers… whatever gifts there are in the local community, the church should be the place where these gifts can be exchanged or shared. I reiterate: this is not just about services of ‘Christian’ activities. This is about engaging with the local environment and having open boundaries. It is about refusing to see this as infection, but encouraging it as cross-fertilization. It is about declaring our interdependence with the locality we find ourselves in. (p. 128)

My thoughts:

As an artist, as a musician and as a minister of the gospel, my spirit resonates with these thoughts on gift. I believe that too often the church has commercialized its worship, offered assistance to the community with strings attached, or has had a ‘patriarchal’ attitude toward the people groups in the community.

The church must allow people to bring their gifts and share them at all levels of ministry, with no string attached, with no profit expectations, with no analysis to see how many new worship attendees or church members have resulted from the ministry attendance and response.

Jesus wants to reunite us with God because he loves us and longs for an intimate relationship with us. If we are to love others as Jesus loves us, we too must offer such a loving relationship as a gift, without any function or expectation.

Eugene Peterson, in the introduction to the book of Ephesians in The Message wrote:

What we know about God and what we do for God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives. The moment the organic unity of belief and behavior is damaged in any way, we are incapable of living out the full humanity for which we were created.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world. He begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, “sets” this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones – belief and behavior – knit together and heal.

Once our attention is calleld to it, we notice these fractures all over the place. There is hardly a bone in our bodies that has escaped injury, hardly a relationship in our city or job, school or church, family or country, that isn’t out of joint or limping in pain. There is much work to be done.

And so Paul goes to work…. the energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe, it is imperative that we join in vigorously and perseveringly, convinced that every detail in our lives contributes (or not) to what Paul describes as God’s plan worked out by Christ, “a long range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

As I meditated on this introduction and the first chapter of Ephesians early this morning, I realized that the choice of praise music that I am listening to builds on these thoughts: “How Great is our God, Sing with me, How great is our God. So all will see, how great, how great is our God… You’re the name above all names, you are worthy of all praise; my heart will sing, How Great is our God!”

How Great Is Our God lyrics
Songwriters: Cash, Ed; Tomlin, Chris; Reeves, Jesse

The splendor of a King, clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps himself in Light, and darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead Three in One
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

Name above all names
Worthy of our praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

celtic crossThe Daily Office (Daily Order of Prayer) can be said anywhere, but, for Morning and Evening Prayer, it is recommended that a quiet place, as free from interruptions as possible, is chosen. Our lives are usually too full of noise, so this is the ideal moment of the day to experience real silence.

Starting and ending

Daily Office Prayers are best begun and ended with a period of reflective silence; and by affirming that the prayers are said in ‘the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

Sources

The words of the Daily Office are drawn from a variety of sources, such as St Patrick’s Breastplate, Teresa’s Bookmark, Columba’s Blessing, etc – and from Psalm 27 for Morning Prayer, Psalm 90 for Midday Prayer and Psalm 130 for Evening Prayer.

Scripture readings and meditations

Morning and Evening Prayer should include scripture readings, meditations and prayers. Selected scriptures should be short and time should be allowed after each reading for its meaning to filter down from the head to the heart, and to seek the significance of each for that day.

The meditation for the day may be obtained from various resources, such as the Upper Room daily devotionals, The Daily Bread, the Bible Reading Plans from NavPress, from the book “This Day, a Wesleyan Way of Prayer” or from the Northumbria Community. You may have your favorite devotional book that you use each year. Some people may read a Psalm, the chapter of Proverbs for the day, and/or a short portion from the gospels. The important point is that a time of silence and reflection should be allowed for new insights to develop in the mind and heart before moving on. Some find that the mornings tend to be too rushed for lengthy silences and that this can best wait till evening prayer. The important thing is to find a rhythm that works for you.

Intercessory Prayer

After the scripture readings and meditations, there is an opportunity to pray whatever is on your mind and heart, offering to God the concerns of the day, your personal needs and prayers for other people. A ‘prayer basket’ or ‘prayer pot’ may be used from which are selected three names for holding up before God. The basket or prayer pot contains slips of paper on which have been written the names of folk to be remembered in prayer. (It is of course important that names are added and removed regularly as circumstances change.) The selected slips may be placed where they can be seen from time to time during the day, or carried around, as a reminder for continued prayer.

Midday Prayer

This is specially devised for use in the middle of a busy working day. For this reason it is short, and can be prayed in the time it takes to boil a kettle, especially if committed to memory. Some find it helpful to make a point of saying it while moving around (while preparing lunch for instance) as a reminder to pray as we work and work as we pray.

Others find it a welcome opportunity to withdraw from the tensions and busyness of the day to spend some time quiet and alone with God, putting the day’s work into a different perspective.

Midday Prayer retains the ‘thee and ‘thou’ forms of speech. This may seem unfamiliar to the many who are used only to modern language, but it is a deliberate attempt to highlight the contemporary relevance of the treasure of prayer from long ago.


Evening Prayer

Evening Prayer gives us a time at the end of the day to reflect on our walk with the Lord during that day, to center our thoughts and hearts on the Lord through scripture reading, listening to worship music and prayer. The Celtic Evening Prayer includes a poetic Expression of Faith.

__________________________________________

In part, adapted from How to Use Daily Office from the Northumbria Community.

Book by Alan J. Roxburgh

Book by Alan J. Roxburgh

Alan J. Roxburgh has written a book called “The Sky is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition” (available on amazon.com) that I purchased and read a couple years ago in preparation for a research paper for a seminary class. For the past several days I’ve been rereading and considering this work, trying to decide how I can apply the principles I learn to my current and future ministry.

In the relatively few years I’ve been in United Methodist ministry I’ve been impacted personally and seen the church impacted by massive social and cultural change. In chapter 9, Transition and Culture, Alan Roxburgh states, “North American culture is in a process of radical change. It is being uprooted in a competition of values as an increasingly globalized, multi-cultural society emerges. At the same time, particular forms of Christian identity are being challenged and disembedded from their former role as a definer of core traits for our culture. .. Basic, long-held, tacit assumptions, frameworks and values of both our culture and our churchres are being challenged, eroded, and transformed.”

The core traits, values and world view, of the church are changing so rapidly that most lay leaders and clergy are bewildered and astonished. What is needed to address these changes? How can leaders come together to form communitas? “Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern together the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for a willingness from leaders … to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other. This is uncommon at the moment; however, it is possible.” (p. 111)

In my interaction with UM leaders and ministry leaders from other Christian traditions in the US and other parts of the world, the same questions and preoccupations come up over and over again. How can we be in community? How can we empower the church in this time of transition? How can we form new connections, new roles, a new future with God, the great “I AM”, the “I shall be there as there I shall be”? How can we share the life of Jesus Christ in relevant, life-sustaining and life-giving manners? How can we live our own personal and corporate/institutional lives in this time of massive change?

Share your thoughts and questions with me?

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