Posts Tagged ‘judgment’

Belief and Judgment

// March 21st, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last Sunday’s conversation was wide-ranging, befitting a couple of scripture passages (Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21) that are rich in meaning.  Most of our dialog focused on John as it contains what is probably the most memorized verse of scripture in the Christian faith, 3.16.  As I still remember it from my childhood: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Unfortunately, like any text, the meaning and promise of this verse can be distorted by the lack of context that comes with memorizing it in isolation.

The Gospel of John is a very complex book.  The language loops back on itself to call into question what we think we know.  It can be read again and again with new insights.  It’s like watching a movie a second time and seeing all the foreshadowing you missed before you knew the outcome, but more.  Each time one reads the text one is transformed, so that the next reading is done from a different place than you were before.

When we read v. 3.16, we see that the difference between those who are saved and those who will perish is belief.  But in John, that does not mean what you might think it means – believing a set of propositional statements.  No, John uses a unique construction that is best translated as “believe into,” indicating an ongoing process of transformation.  In a sense, “believing” in John is becoming.  In related language, “knowing” is to open oneself to God’s ongoing revelation.  Thus, we are always progressively entering into the life of God as presented in Jesus.  If belief is merely the acceptance of a set of facts, it requires nothing more of us than to name those who disagree, to divide ourselves into believers and non-believers.

But John’s Jesus would reject this division.  Verse 17 tells us that Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it.  The condemnation from which we are saved is actually a trial (krima) that brings about judgment (krisis).  That is, all of life puts us to choices about whether we will live into light or shadow, freedom or slavery, life or death.  Division is a quality of life and our choice is which side of that division we will live into.  It contains its own judgment: if we live into death, we will die.  Jesus, the Light of the World, reveals these choices for what they are and invites all to the life-giving side of those choices, what the Gospel of John calls eternal life.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to talk about suffering and calling.  This week we’ll go old school, like, Hebrew Bible old school, with the prophet Jeremiah (31.31-34) and build some connections with last week’s discussion of John by jumping forward to 12.20-33.  We hope to see you!

Grace & Peace,

Sheep and Goats

// November 22nd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Our series on the Rapture culminates this Sunday in what is traditionally known as “Christ the King” Sunday.  This is not language we typically use at Church in the Cliff.  It is hierarchical and patriarchal and we prefer more expansive and inclusive images of God.  However, this highlights some of the things we’ve been talking about with Rapture theology.

As it is commonly understood today, due to the influence of writers like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, Christ’s return will be marked with violence and division.  God will judge everyone, separating the believers from the non-believers.  Believers will be vindicated and rewarded for their faith and non-believers will be punished.  Those who have suffered so long for the glory of Christ will finally be spared the indignity of hearing “Happy Holidays!”

Most Rapture enthusiasts I encounter today are privileged in a number of ways: straight, white, Christian, and relatively prosperous.  In fact, there is a curious intersection of prosperity gospel and self-help gospel that tell people that good Christians have good lives, and a Rapture theology that tells Christians that they are always under threat, that their way – God’s way – is in decline.  The result is that God’s judgment is rendered to protect the privileged – from the gays, from the Muslims, from the immigrants, from the lazy poor.  Some folks are anxious for the division of the sheep and the goats, but maybe they shouldn’t be.

Maybe they should read the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25.31-46, which is one of our lectionary passages this week.  Yes, God comes as a king and sits in judgment.  He separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep go to mansions in the sky and the goats get the coal chute.  But look at the criteria for judgment.  How did you treat the poor?  How did you treat the hungry?  How did you treat the homeless?  How did you care for the least among us?  Then he says something remarkable that, in a very Jesus-y way, undoes all the hierarchical, patriarchal stuff in which the story is framed.  Jesus says that the way that we treat the least among is the way that we treat Jesus, that Jesus is, in fact, those very people.

To backtrack a little bit, the reason that we so often see images of kingship in ancient writings is that the king was understood to be subordinate only to God.  Many times, the king was seen as the Son of God, carrying God’s full authority.  Philosophically, this defines a great hierarchy of being that carries God’s nature into the world.  If you want to know who God is, look at the king.  If you want to please God, behave like the king, support the king.  That is not only the ordering principle of society, but the very nature of reality itself.  When the early Christian writers speak of Jesus as king, they are saying he is the image of who God is, the definitive vision of the nature of reality itself.

Yet, here Jesus identifies himself with the least among us.  God’s vision of kingship is a complete reversal of everything it means to be a king.  The definitive vision of the nature of reality itself is, in fact, those who are impoverished, those who wander or have no home, those who are hungry and naked.  If we want to know who God is, look at them.  If we want to please God, we should live our lives in solidarity with them.  If we want to avoid the coal chute, we should not see God as the protector of our privilege over against those who suffer, those who ask for food to eat and a roof over their heads.  Jesus is not the king, but is instead the presence of God in the world seen most of all in those who suffer.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss sheep and goats and which one we might become as we construct our vision of hope.

Grace & Peace,

Advent: Lighting the Candle of Hope

// December 1st, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Welcome to Advent! The first breath of the new church year is about to be drawn. Once more, we’ve circled around to the season of mystery, into “the close and holy darkness,” as the poet Dylan Thomas put it.

Advent is laden with expectation, pregnant with strange good news, and lit by archetypal symbols. I loved this season during my growing up years – though in my not-particularly-liturgical home, we just called it Christmas time. Special food, special songs, pretty things that came out only during this special season – it felt magical, like I was part of a story of great importance.  As I became a grown person, I learned about the distinction that followers of the Christian tradition make between “ordinary” time and the seasons that are laden with signs of the sacred.  In the Greek, a distinction is made between chronos, or “clock time,” and kairos – sacred time, time that is heavy-laden with meaning.

We are entering a season of wild kairos. In the rhythms of life, certain seasons help us remember the holiness of every moment and serve as guideposts – identity markers that help us recall ourselves and begin again towards how we want to live and who we long to be.  This week, we light the first candle of Advent – the flickering flame of Hope.

Join us as we take the first breaths of Advent together. We’ll make some symbols of hope & expectancy to take with us on our journey through the next few weeks, and we will talk through the two faces of hope: judgment and expectancy. Please celebrate with us tomorrow, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.

With Hope,

Stir Up, We Beseech Thee

// November 23rd, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

When I was semi-serious about marathon running, it was all-consuming. Running up to 70 miles in a week takes a lot of time. But it’s not just the running itself. Running told me what to eat. Running told me when to sleep and how much. Running told me what to do at night. Running organized my life; it was the lens through which I understood my world and made my choices.

We all have these things; Paul Tillich calls it our “ultimate concern,” the meaning which gives meaning to all our meanings. We construct these things. We decide what is ultimate for us. The trick, as we all eventually discover, is that some things are not worthy of being ultimate in our lives. In the end, running could not bear the weight. For a while, it gave me life. Really. On those long runs through the woods of Florida, I found God. Then, I found, it was a way of hiding from life. It was exhausting, draining.

I wonder if there is some sign of this in what the liturgical year brings us this Sunday. It is Christ the King Sunday, the day that Jesus returns in judgment and begins to rule the world. He rules with justice and love, but he still rules. I wonder if, ultimately, any system of power, even one with Jesus at the top, can live up to being ultimate. I wonder if it is enough to simply organize one’s life around something, to hold up a single image as the model for how we understand our world and live in it, especially when that image appears to be masking God with Caesar.

Maybe that’s why it is also Stir Up Sunday. Stir Up Sunday asks us to be stirred. It’s not merely organizing our lives, achieving order and certainty, a comfortable rhythm of life, but being moved, being messed up a little bit. Judgment is an ugly word, especially for this church. It threatens. It hurts. But maybe it also stirs. If the lens through which we view the world is worthy of being ultimate, it might ought to disorient us a little, shake us up, and stir us to engage, not only the world, but the lens through which we see it.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about our images of God and how they frame our understanding of ourselves and the world and what we are to do. How do we judge ourselves? For whom is that Good News? And what stirs us up? See you there!

Grace & Peace,

Signs of the Times

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

Those who know me know I love a good apocalypse.  That means this is my favorite time of the liturgical year.  As we slide into Advent, the lectionary turns to signs and warnings of the inevitable end.  Not really what we have come to expect as retailers have for weeks told us it is Christmas time.  As much as we anticipate the little baby Jesus, it is also the time of judgment.  It is as much an ending as a beginning and, in fact, they are one and the same.  We are always and forever living through beginnings and endings, often at the same time.  The liturgical calendar – and Advent in particular – allows us to rehearse this annually, both in our personal lives and in the wider world.

We rehearse because, from the center of it, the shape of the apocalypse is hard to discern.  We can be so destroyed by the ending that we miss the beginning.  Or so distracted by the beginning that we ignore the ending.  Thus, the apocalypse, which really means “revelation,” is missed.  We lose sight of the truth of our lives.  We lose the opportunity to live into the ongoing revelation of life in God.

But it is not yet the end; it is still a couple of weeks until Advent.  No, this is still the waiting, the living through.  According to Luke, this is the time of signs and portents: war, plague, famine.  It is the time of discernment.  Notice that Jesus does not promise that things will not fall apart, but asks, How will we account for ourselves in times of trouble?  He encourages us to have patience and endurance and promises that, in the end, we’ll be okay.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about warnings of the end, Paul’s exhortation to work, and whether we will really be okay in the end – or what that might mean.  Also, please bring some extra money as we will be taking up a special offering for the people of the Philippines hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

Grace & Peace,

Help Us Plan!

The leadership of Church in the Cliff is currently doing some strategic planning and we need your help!  If you could please take a couple of minutes (really, a couple of minutes) to complete a survey, we would really appreciate it.  You can take the survey online or we will have paper copies available on Sunday.

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully (in which the author takes issue, as is his way)

// November 30th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This year Church in the Cliff is participating in Advent Conspiracy, which seeks to turn Christmas upside down, to remind us of the meaning of God coming into the world.  Advent Conspiracy asks us to reconsider the consumerism of the Christmas season, to avoid the stress of malls, the debt of buying things we can’t afford, and the downright silliness of buying a bunch of stuff that people don’t need and probably don’t even want.  Instead, we should spend our time and attention on the people that we love and direct our money to people who really need it.  Above all, we should take seriously the in-breaking of the Divine into our lives and what that means for how we live with one another.  These are all great things that I support without reservation.  However, because I seem to be constitutionally incapable of playing nicely with others, I have to say that something is bugging me about Advent Conspiracy.

On the Advent Conspiracy website, there’s not a lot of pixels spent on Advent.  It’s all about Christmas.  I know that evangelicals like think they finally cracked the code on Christianity, but Advent has been around a long, long, long time.  And it’s not about Christmas, at least, not entirely.  But the really odd thing to me is that, if we pay attention to what Advent has always been, it gets right at what Advent Conspiracy is trying to do.

Though it passed without remark – my fault – last week was what is traditionally known as “Christ the King Sunday,” the Sunday before Advent.  The patriarchal, hierarchical language gives me the willies, but what it signifies is, well, significant.  Every year, the liturgical calendar rehearses the cycle of life.  There is birth and there is death and there is re-birth.  Beginnings always hurtle us towards ends and ends always lead to new beginnings.  Advent is the fulcrum of that calendar.  To use traditional language, Christ returns as the King to judge the world and to remake it.  It is the end, the apocalypse, where all are held to account.  This sounds scary and weird and I don’t believe a word of it.  However, I do believe we need to take stock, to look at what we have done and who we have become, to see what is real so that we can understand the hope and promise of new life signified by the birth of Jesus in a few short weeks.  Just as we can’t have Easter without Lent, we can’t really have Christmas without Advent.

I know it’s a downer.  We want Christmas stories and carols and lights.  We want wise men and angels and the little baby Jesus.  We want Luke’s fabulous musical numbers.  And we will have all that.  We will.  But we must wait, just a little bit.  Judgment will yield to proclamation, proclamation will turn to anticipation, anticipation will turn to hope, and hope will turn to joy.  Advent Conspiracy asks us to rethink Christmas: to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All.  Advent, in the long, long, long Christian tradition, makes it impossible to do otherwise.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about what it might mean to “Worship Fully.”  Heck, since we’re not really a praise chorus kind of church or a robe and stole kind of church, perhaps we can talk about what it means to worship at all, and inch up to “fully” as best we can.  Remember, we will take up a special offering every Sunday during Advent to give to people who could really use it.

Grace and Peace,

Advent Craft Days

In an effort to help you spend less, we will be doing crafts at Kidd Springs Rec Center for the first three Saturdays in December from 10am to noon.  We will make cards, lip balm, and soap to give as gifts to family and friends.  Hope to see you there!

Chestnut Farms

Chestnut Farms is a non-profit organic farm in Deep Ellum that CitC friend David Cole is involved in.  They are growing on a quarter-acre that used to be a parking lot.  As I understand it, they are still working out the details on how to serve the community and who to sell to, but right now they are harvesting a bunch of bok choy.  David will be out there most Saturdays and would love some company.  Looks like Saturday will be beautiful out.  If you’d like to join David (after crafting, of course) shoot him an email at

Also, Chestnut Farms is having a benefit concert, Dec. 21 at 8pm, featuring Folk Angel, Robbie Seay, and Lauren Chandler.  Proceeds go to Grow Us, a partnership between Chestnut Farms and Champions of Hope.