Archive for May, 2015

I Don’t Know What to Say

// May 30th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

The high liturgical seasons are behind us and now we enter “ordinary time.”  No fancy name, like “Eastertide;” it is just called “the Season after Pentecost.”  I like ordinary time, though.  We get to spread out a bit, immerse ourselves in the stories of Jesus’ ministry, this year from the Gospel of Mark.  Maybe pick up some of Paul’s writings, or maybe even read the old texts about Samuel and Saul and David. This week is a wealth of great material, so much so that I’m having trouble pulling it together.

The devisers of the lectionary like to fill ordinary time with some special days, and this is one of them.  Well, two of them, actually.  This is Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate the mystery of the Trinity.  Since the Trinity is never explicitly stated in Scripture, it seems like they just picked some stuff at random: Isaiah eating a hot coal and Jesus talking to Nicodemus about rebirth.  Great texts!

It is also, inexplicably, the day some traditions celebrate the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke.  They pair that with the song of Hannah on which the Magnificat is based.  Three great female characters of the Bible singing songs of justice and hope.  I can’t pass that up.

And there’s a little bit of Paul in there, too, exhorting us to love one another.

I’m not yet sure what I will say tomorrow.  I may not say anything at all, just let y’all do all the talking.  In any case, I trust the Spirit of God to be present, as we say each week, in Scripture, within us, and among us so that the word of God will be proclaimed.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we celebrate the rich tradition of our sacred texts.  We’ll talk about the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation and musicals and justice.  Bring your Bibles.  Really.

Grace & Peace,
Scott
 
Collection for Flood Victims

Remember, this Sunday we will be collecting items for flood victims in Wimberley. A friend of CitC will be traveling there next Friday, June 5, to hand deliver the donations. We’re collecting clothes, toys, non-perishable food, gift cards to grocery stores/Wal-Mart, and other items to help people get back on their feet.

The Strangeness of Church

// May 23rd, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  It’s a typically Lukan scene of strangeness, a man being carried up into the sky until he disappears into the clouds.  Things get weirder this week.  It’s Pentecost.

You’re probably familiar with the story.  Jesus’ followers are hanging out, trying to figure out their next move when, suddenly, a wind starts blowing from inside the house.  Little flames jump around and light on their heads.  They speak in languages they have never known.  Everyone is astonished.

Maybe we’re too familiar with the story.  Maybe we dismiss it because we see it as “mere” myth.  Taken as literal-factual truth, it defies understanding just as it did for the people in Jerusalem.  But imagine it as a summer blockbuster in the hands of Peter Jackson and it becomes something else.  Movies have become the mythos of our culture.  It’s why we quote movie scenes to one another in routine conversation.  They become the language and imagery of our lives.  They say something about who we imagine ourselves to be.  Luke and Acts were for the Early Church that defining mythos.  They tell the Church who it hopes to be.

In that strange and fantastic moment, the Church was born.  Yet, we have lost that sense of strangeness.  Church is, for many, for all of us at some point, an abstraction, a habit, a duty, a chore, a culture.  Too often, for too many, it is the defender of the norm.  It is rarely a radically transformational moment of magic and mystery.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we discuss the strangeness of the Church, what we’ve lost and what we might regain if we acknowledge the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.  Be forewarned: there might be preaching.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

SuperJesus

// May 16th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We’ve been in a quasi-series throughout Eastertide, talking about the early Christian communities represented in Acts and 1 John.  In particular, we’ve been looking at the struggle for identity through doctrine and practice.  Unfortunately, that struggle has too often – not just in the early Church, but in every incarnation since – been decided in favor of doctrine, even at the expense of love.  So, my summary for the quasi-series is this: any time the Church (that is us) chooses doctrine over love, we are missing the point.  Further, if doctrine does not move us to love, it is false.

This week we’re going to take a little side trip leading into Pentecost.  Thursday was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to be with God until his final return.  At least, that’s the story that Luke tells.  Only Luke finds it necessary to explain why Jesus, who the Gospels seem to agree rose bodily from the dead, is not still walking around today.  The way the author chooses to explain it is pretty fantastic.

I don’t just mean fantastic like “really cool,” but actually containing elements of fantasy.  Luke-Acts is the story of a cosmic battle between good and evil.  Jesus is the hero.  Perhaps, Jesus is the superhero, flying up into the sky like Superman.  I’ll say more about that tomorrow, but I want to go ahead and provide the test questions in advance, so that you can all study and do your best.

  1. If Jesus is a superhero, what is his superpower?  I know it is tempting to say “everything,” but maybe think about what superpower you might count on in a time of need.  Or what would worry the villains of this world.
  2. If we are to be like Jesus, what is your superpower?  How do you use it?

I look forward to hearing your responses this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Neighbors in Need

On Wednesday night, the apartment building next to the church was hit by a speeding car.  All three occupants of the car were killed.  Fortunately, none of the residents were hurt, but they are all displaced due to massive damage to the building.  Folks here in the neighborhood are trying to raise $6000 to help them with repairs.  Please give whatever you can.

http://www.gofundme.com/uh97q63k

The Promise and Peril of the Spirit

// May 9th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the early Christian community in Jerusalem as depicted in Acts and the Johannine Christian community from which 1 John emerges.  Both communities are trying to figure out what it means to be Christian, what it means to live into the promises of Jesus’ life and death.  As both were trying to carve out an identity, both in relation to Judaism and in relation to other Christians, their language becomes dogmatic.  Though they differ slightly in their identity-forming dogma, they both claim their authority from the Holy Spirit.

In Acts, Peter cites the Holy Spirit as the reason to include Gentiles in the Christian community, the “New Israel.”  After Pentecost (the lectionary jumps ahead a bit due to the lack of resurrection stories in the Gospel of Mark) Peter is preaching to Cornelius the Centurion’s household in Joppa and the Spirit descends on them.  These Gentiles become ecstatic, speaking in tongues and praising God.  If they are good enough for the Holy Spirit, they are good enough for Peter and good enough for baptism as Christians.

In 1 John, as we’ve discussed, there is a schism and tied up in that schism seems to be some dispute about right belief and/or right practice.  That is, it is unclear whether those who are leaving (or kicked out) are doing so because they do not believe that Jesus was who the Johannine community says he was or because they were acting in a way that was considered unloving by the rest of the community.  Perhaps, those two things are considered the same or inseparable in some way.  In any case, as we come to the last part of this letter, the culmination of the author’s exhortations, the author relies on the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the final authority for his/her claims.

The Spirit has always been a tricky part of Christian faith.  In some seasons of our tradition, the Spirit has been seriously demoted and deemphasized, a powerless thing that exists only to prop up doctrine.  In some, it has taken the spotlight, seizing preachers in fits of flying spittle and sweat and filling the pews with screaming and dancing.  The Spirit has the potential to make anything happen.  To some that is a threat, to some a blessing.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about the role of the Spirit in the formation of belief and practice.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

It’s the Queer Bits That Save Us

// May 2nd, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Michael Warner, in Fear of a Queer Planet, defines queer as “resistance to the regimes of the normal.”  I can’t think of a better way to describe life in God.  Yet we see in our examination of these two early churches, the Jerusalem church described in Acts and the Beloved Community of the Johannine literature, an attempt to focus on orthodoxy, on right belief, on a specific confession of faith.  That is, there is a quick effort to define the new normal in the wake of Jesus’ death and, given that these texts were written after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, a new reality for Judaism.  As the 1st century comes to a close, we find that this new normal looks a lot like what normal had always been.

I said last week that I think that the early church got it wrong.  In the Acts passage, Peter is asked by what power he healed a man.  Instead of proclaiming the goodness of this miracle that can only, obviously, come from God, Peter turns it into a polemic that accuses and demands a new, specific confession of faith.  A good deed is only a strategy for conversion to a particular set of beliefs.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives one commandment: love one another.  Yet, in 1 John, the author insists on doctrinal purity.  We are to obey God’s commandments, one of which is to love one another, but the author adds another: believe in the name of Jesus Christ.  Given the context of schism and the calls for disassociation in the Johannine Epistles, one wonders if the author understands that confession of faith to be required in order for a person to be loving or lovable.

Insistence on doctrinal purity creates a defensive church, guarding the perimeter of thought and experience.  It necessarily excludes people from God’s feast table.  Difference is seen as a threat, as if God could be harmed by the diversity of God’s own creation.  It’s a fragile faith and a fragile God held aloft by the pervasiveness of the illusion of the normal.  But this perimeter is only the boundary of a particular experience, not the boundary of a boundless God.

Insistence on the purity of love erases the perimeter by expanding it infinitely.  It opens up new space for new thoughts and new experiences.  It invites the other (and the Other) in and draws us out into the vastness of God.  It is the very vulnerability to which Jesus calls us, not solely for the sake of the other (or the Other), but for our sake as well.  Every life – in fact, all that is! – proclaims the presence of God and we are saved by hearing it.  If Jesus is the stone that was rejected only to become the cornerstone of the house of God, shouldn’t the marginalized, the very non-normal, be the cornerstone of our faith?  It is not orthodoxy that saves us, but the queer bits in our tradition: the forgotten verse, the lost community, the suppressed symbol, the outsider that comes in to breathe new life.

We will continue this line of thought this Sunday as we discuss the story of the Ethiopian eunuch found in Acts 8.26-40.  Eunuchs were excluded from the Jewish community and Roman citizenry, but were highly regarded in foreign courts.  He is an outsider in more than one sense.  His conversion is often heralded by Christians as the first Gentile Christian, a sign that God’s love expands beyond the Jewish community.  This story provides the warrant for the very existence of Christianity as a broad phenomenon rather than a peculiar Jewish sect.  Yet we ignore the other markers of his identity – race, gender, sexuality, family status – in short, his queerness – so that we can forget that God’s love embraces all of those, too.

In excluding and suppressing the queer, we impoverish ourselves and the Church.  We reduce Christianity to a narrow experience that rests comfortably in the normal rather than the profoundly expansive experience of God’s love to which we are called.  We obstruct the salvation of the world and turn our hearts to stone.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff.

Grace & Peace,
Scott