The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Seven Conversations

I’ve never been on Facebook.  I’m one of the few Ludites left who is concerned about privacy.  Therefore, I’ve not seen firsthand the interest in one of my sermons on parenting that has resurfaced.  I appreciate the kind words that have been forwarded about it

Based on that sermon, several  parents have asked, “What are the questions to ask our children?”   Since I entered retirement, I’ve been working on a book about this idea.  The current title is Seven Conversations.  I won’t try to preview the whole book here but in response to texts and emails, here are the basics:

How can we wait? Teaches delayed gratification.

How can you do that yourself?  Teaches independence.

What shall we eat? Invites the family to a common table.

What are we thankful for?  Teaches gratitude.

What shall we give? Teaches generosity.

What shall we pray for?  Instills faith.

I’ll save the seventh as a tease.  I’ll get to another post soon to explain why these questions and qualities are important.

If you are interested in more about parenting, scroll right and read my post “The Lottery,” if you dare.


 

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The Antidote for Suffering

Second Sunday of Easter – Year B

Acts 4:32-35

The Antidote for Suffering

From Morguefile.com

Suffering implies some sort of pain. It may be the physical pain of illness, the hunger of poverty, the emotions of grief, or the shock of betrayal. One way or another, suffering includes pain.

Our society today is obsessed with remedies for pain. We consume vast quantitates of medications designed to mask the reasons for physical pain. We spend time with therapists and absorb countless self-help books in a quest to eradicate the pain of guilt. People hook up to avoid the pain of loneliness.   As one song says, “Some drink to remember. Some drink to forget.” Both sides of the equation are about pain.

The list of the ways we look for an antidote to suffering is endless.

This passage for the Second Sunday after Easter suggests a different approach.   It suggests community as a way to deal with suffering.   A community is group of people committed to one another – and a common approach to life. In the case of the early church, it is a commitment to the risen Christ.

32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, 35 and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need. (CEV)

The testimony of the Word is that the member of the early church shared completely in this community and the suffering of want was eliminated. Community was the antidote to suffering.

This type of radical community has rarely been practiced in the history of the church. Many of us can name a few communities who have practiced it – primarily because they are well known due to their departure from the way most of us live – including me.

Too radical for you? Think of other examples where community mitigates suffering. Twelve-Step groups find their power in community. When crisis strikes, we ask for the prayers of as many people as we can because we find comfort in the prayers of Christian community. Don’t we often ask, “How do people get by in dire circumstances without Christian friends?”   That question is simply a way of asking, “How do people handle suffering without community?”

Perhaps these more common ways of alleviating  our suffering by gathering together might be hints that the radical community of the early church is not an ancient practice, long discarded; rather, it is a timeless practice waiting for people of faith to discover its full power.

 

 

 

 

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Quotations on Easter

Christian writer Barbara Johnson says that we’re Easter people, living in a Good Friday world.

Anne Lamott, in Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, p. 140

A careful reading of the entire new Testament suggests that the resurrection experience involved both Jesus and his followers, took place not only on the single day later known as Easter but continuously, and consisted of the presence of the risen Jesus among his followers through the Holy Spirit.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 12

The truth of the resurrection is not simply that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but that he now shares the life and power of God.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 178

Life on the other side of Easter is not easy and we are tempted, and in fact we succumb to our temptation, to go back to where we were, and to what we were, and to what we were doing before Easter came along and interrupted us with its power, its glory, and its transformation.

Peter Gomes, in Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, p. 79

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Easter South of the Equator

I read about a woman in New York City who was interviewed as she departed church one Sunday. A reporter asked, “What is Easter?” The woman said, “Easter is when we throw off the robes of winter.” A critic of Christianity said, “Easter is a spring ritual celebrating the ancient myths of the Mediterranean mind.”

Christians and nonchristians alike tend to join Easter with the arrival of spring. Between now and April 1, we will see countless pointers to new blooms, the end of winter’s grayness, and the reemergence of green in our yards. Spring is our dominant metaphor for Easter.

I want to raise the question: is spring an appropriate analogy for Easter?  Perhaps not. I came to this conclusion several years ago when I traveled to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. One of the things that I really wanted to see while there was the Southern Cross, that constellation that can only be viewed south of the equator. One night in Kenya, I asked a resident of the country to help me find it in the night sky. There it was.

That experience started me thinking about the differences in the hemispheres. I paid attention in social studies as a child, so I knew the seasons are opposite. I wondered, “What do they do about Easter down here, when nothing is blooming and everything is dying?” How do have Easter if you can’t point to green grass, flowers in bloom, or the death of winter passing away? How do you celebrate Easter south of the equator, without the metaphor of spring? I goggled sermons in every English-speaking country south of the equator that I could think of. I discovered they do quite well without spring.

A couple of years later, I found these statements by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Mediations on the Cross:

Good Friday is not about the darkness that necessarily must give way to light. Nor is it the winter sleep or hibernation that stores and nurtures the germ of life. Rather, it is the day when the incarnate God, incarnate love, is killed by human beings who want to become gods themselves. It is the day when the holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, really dies—of his own will and yet as a result of human guilt. p. 71

Easter does not celebrate a struggle between darkness and light….It does not celebrate a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sunshine. Rather, it remembers the struggle of guilty humankind against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humankind. p. 70-71

In the beginning chapters of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is speaks to the Corinthians about earthly wisdom, worldly wisdom, and how there is nothing in it that would make you think about how God saves us. Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, not with words of human wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Skip ahead to chapter 2 and we read, “And the things we speak of, we were not taught by human wisdom, but we were taught by the spirit who expressed spiritual truths and spiritual words.” His point is you could look at spring all your life and never come up with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The cross is foolishness.

Too often we ask nature to do our preaching for us. We ask questions such as, “How could you look at the beauty of spring and not believe in God?” As if that experience tells all a person needs to know about God and Christ. Can we look at blooming azaleas and deduce, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Is there anything in a dogwood that says, “Love your enemy”? Is there anything in grass turning green that says, “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself and pick up your cross daily and follow me”? In all of nature is there anything that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and his son came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”?

We need to remember that Easter is not simply a time of general renewal but this is a time when we come to worship because Christ has redeemed us by his cross — and the last enemy has been destroyed.

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