Archive for August, 2013

The Scandal of the Cross

// August 31st, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

It seems that the people of the Jesus Movement expected something else.  Maybe a violent overthrow of their Roman oppressors.  Maybe just a living wage and single-payer health care.  A chicken in every pot.  Maybe they just wanted someone, one of their own, to say that he understood and to speak for them and fight for them.  But it didn’t work out that way.  Their Yeshua, their rescuer, their deliverer, was arrested and killed.  Not just killed, but executed in a way that was reserved for enemies of the state – terrorists and traitors.  It seems somewhat ironic that the cross has become the central symbol of the Christian faith, the means of execution of the one who was to be our rescuer.

Among biblical scholars, this is known as “the scandal of the cross.”  The execution of Jesus had its intended effect: no one wanted to be connected to Jesus.  When you hang the leader of the movement on a piece of wood for public viewing, the movement tends to fragment.  It is not merely fear, but shame.  Your savior is utterly defeated.  All his followers hid or went back to their day jobs.

But it seemed there was life in this movement, yet.  The women didn’t go home.  Instead, they went to the tomb and what they saw shocked them.  It was empty.  Then it got weird.  People started seeing Jesus all over place.  As it turned out, there were rescuers everywhere people needed rescuing.  Salvation was a present reality, not a dashed hope.

One could take a cynical view.  Resurrection stories could be a marketing move or a mass delusion.  It is a fact that the followers of Jesus needed some way to deal with the scandal.  If the movement was to continue, there was certainly a public relations angle to consider.  However, there was also massive personal grief.  Jesus asked his followers to give up their lives – their families, their jobs, their status in their communities – to follow him.  They did that.  For years.  And this is how it ends?  There must be something else.  Or there must be a reason it ended this way.  If not, then what have we been doing?  And how do we go on?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we talk about hope defeated and how we go on with purpose.

Grace & Peace,

Series Schedule

September 1: The Scandal of the Cross
How do we move forward from grief and loss?  How do we remain hopeful?

September 8: Atonement Theology
Did Jesus have to die?  If so, why?

September 15: Saved from what?
If Jesus died so that we could be saved, from what are we saved?  Should everyone have the same answer?

Faith in Doubt, Doubt in Faith

// August 17th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Qohelet, the primary voice of Ecclesiastes, has a penchant for hedging.  There is no profit in wisdom or foolishness – the wise and the foolish will both die alike – but it’s probably still better to be wise.  Ultimately, God is inscrutable, but we should probably honor God anyway.  Is this capitulation to the common wisdom that Qohelet spends so much effort dismissing?  Or is this its own kind of wisdom?

The modern project has been an attempt to nail things down.  We look at the data, determine the best course, and do it.  Right?  The task of understanding Scripture is to narrow down the possible meanings until we find the right one.  Right?  The job of the Christian is to believe all the right things about God and Jesus and salvation.  Right?  Post-modernists say no – and it seems that Qohelet is right there with them.  There is never any certainty, not in life and not in faith.

I remember hearing the altar call as a youth.  Being at a camp filled mostly with Christians, it might seem odd to have an altar call.  I mean, we’re already on board.  But the question wasn’t just, “Are you saved?”  It was, “Do you know that you know that you know?”  When you put it like that, I think I better double dip.  Just in case.  Salvation, it seems, is about certainty.  Faith is about knowing.

But for Qohelet and for post-moderns and for many mystics throughout the history of the Church, faith is not really about knowing.  In fact, it is a brutal recognition of our inability to know, our constant, enduring uncertainty.  In faith, we embrace the mystery, the unknown, the nurturing abyss.  We call this enigma “God.”  In that context, how can faith be anything but a struggle – to do right, to love well, to create justice, to be comforted, to be saved?  Perhaps the faithful life is a life of questions and answers loosely held.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss the questioning of faith and the faithfulness of questioning.

Grace & Peace,

Shepherding the Wind

// August 9th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

One of my all-time favorite teaching moves was when my theology teacher used the movie Contact to help us seminary novices get a handle on the idea that our talk about God has a story to it (in particular, Contact was a springboard for us to talk about the doctrine of revelation – that point of numinous connection human beings sometimes make with that which is Bigger Than Us).  In case you haven’t seen it (you should – really.), in Contact we meet Ellie Arroway.  Ellie is a brilliant SETI scientist, listening to the universe for signs of intelligent life.  As we get more of her backstory, we learn that part of the reason she wants to connect so badly is to some make sense out of the sad parts of her own life.  Her experience initiates a search.

What stands out to me about Ellie is the fierceness of her search.  Her commitment and passion are unrelenting – which is probably why I thought of her story this week when reading Qohelet’s search in Ecclesiastes.  Heads up: the text this week is one of the hardest in the Hebrew Bible, in my opinion.  It’s not the sadness of the story – it’s the tone of pain and despair the author takes.  His search has taken him far and wide, and everything still seems like “shepherding the wind.” All is hebel – this word gets badly translated as vanity or meaninglessness, but literally means “breath.” He laments that nothing lasts, that nothing in life is sure.  Everything he tries is like “shepherding the wind. Let’s just say that Ecclesiastes 2 isn’t exactly a pet text for most pastors…

At yet this text profoundly affirms the range of human experience.  Qohelet rejects conventional wisdom and easy platitudes in favor of raw honesty. “This doesn’t make sense.  And it hurts.” would be an apt section title for this passage. This search doesn’t lead him to give up on life because he can’t solve the mysteries of the universe – instead, it sends him running to share his experiences with his friends and fellow searchers.

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday – I really do. There are so many questions this text brings up (Why is this seemingly heretical text even here? What does it say about the quality of relationship we’re invited to have with God? How do we find meaning, hope, and joy in the middle of our little human lives?), and I know that’s just my limited perspective.  Questions like these ones need the wider perspective of a shared journey.  Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

Looking forward to the conversation.