Brueggemann: Time to Die and Be Raised

The Easter season is full of intensity for the disciple of Jesus.  It is where we participate in the journey to the gruesome cross, and the glorious resurrection.  Yet within that intensity is a potential to miss the depth of connection with the Easter story and our current time and place.  In this gem from “the work of the people,” Walter Brueggemann offers us a nitty gritty picture of what it means to make this connection.  It has made its rounds in many spaces online, yet if you haven’t seen it take 5 minutes.  It’s worth it.

Time To Die And Be Raised from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

How is the death and resurrection of Jesus prominent to you after the intensity of the Easter season?  

The Big Dirty ‘D’

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“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.  They keep it awake and moving”
– Frederick Buechner

When the disciples told Thomas of the resurrection, he doubted.   Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, needed more.  He was fraught with uncertainty.

The grand narrative of the Bible does not shy away from doubt. We encounter ‘heroes’ of faith who languished within the depths of doubt.

Often our churches do not encounter doubt with any degree of maturity.  If we do not take doubts seriously, churches come across as merely trying to maintain a confortable faith ‘construct.’

It’s like a dirty word or something.

It is because doubt asks questions of carefully constructed theological and organizational structures.  Many of which serve as foundational to a faith that gives robotic answers to much of life’s mystery.

Doubt offers us an opportunity to explore anew the mystery of God.  It pokes holes in the construct.  Sometimes we claim to know so much, yet in reality we know so little.  In the midst of this world that celebrates certainty even within our church communities, uncertainty creates a doubt that is troublesome.

Pay attention to your doubts.  Pay attention to the questions those doubts are asking in the particular context in which you find yourself or your community asking them.

Here are a few questions those in my context are flirting with;

  • Can faith and science get along?
  • Why do bad things happen?
  • What about all the contradictions we find in scripture?

With doubt we have potential for new understandings and ultimately a new depth of faith.  Because if we follow our doubts into the realm of uncertainty and mystery, we may indeed find a deeper call to believe.

But what is faith if not for uncertainty?  For a faith of only certainty grows stagnant within the shallow waters of human concreteness.

Pursue your doubts with honesty.

What are your doubts?  Are you afraid to pursue them?  Why or why not?

I was privileged to participate in a weekend of doubting with the young adults of the Mennonite Church British Columbia conference. This was the best retreat I have been part of in my short pastoral career. Our doubts sparked a new depth in conversation unmatched in many ministry contexts which have avoid ‘the big dirty D’

Mean, Angry Pharisees

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The  most faithful group in Jesus time was the one called “Pharisees.”  Their name means “separate.”  It communicates in a nutshell how they understood faithfulness.  Separateness meant avoiding impurity of any kind keeping all the rules most scrupulously, and expressing their righteousness in every aspect of life, even the smallest matters of diet and clothing.  Toward this end they had the hep of a body of scholars known as the scribes or the “lettered” who found and interpreted in Scripture the rule to fit every occasion.  When the New Testament wants to emphasize a person’s conscientiousness and zeal in keeping the law, the best word it can find is “Pharisee” (John 3:1, Philippians 3″:5).

In spite of this earnest concern for purity and obedience, something was out of order.  This was so much so that the Pharisees receive more of Jesus’ hard words than any other group.  Somehow all their effort toward nonconformity and keeping the rules did not help them understand or follow Christ.  It actually got in their way.  So in Matthew’s report of Jesus’ teaching on his kingdom, we find near the beginning of the warning, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

John Howard Yoder, “Radical Christian Discipleship” page 100.

Mean, angry Pharisees.

While they are highly villain’ized’ in some Christian circles I carry a certain element of respect for the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were fervent, to a detriment, in their faithfulness to that which separated them from the world.  They followed rules and regulations taught to them by scribes and forefathers.  They were faithful in the way that they knew how to be faithful.

Sound familiar?

While the Pharisees sought not to conform to the world, they found themselves conforming to a religious legalism that missed the point.  So much so, that when the incarnation of God walked among them, they scoffed, and went about their way whilst criticizing.  Jesus made them uncomfortable.

Do we miss God for the sake of our religious conformity?  Conformity is comfortable.  Even religious conformity.  The Pharisees were comfortable conforming to a religious way of life, while seeking to be non-conformists to the society around them.

In some ways I wish I could carry the same fervent faith the Pharisees displayed.  But with that I am offered the reminder that while seeking to be people of God’s kingdom, we may just be exchanging one ideology for another.  It is the trick of faithfulness and why we need to understand the lesson Jesus was teaching the Pharisees.  Without Christ, rules are nothing.

Yoder calls this a the paradox of Christian freedom.  “When we give up living by rules and begin living in daily fellowship with Christ, we discover that rules are helpful after all.”

How do rules, regulations or guidelines function within your faith community?  In what ways are you similar to the Pharisees?  In what ways are you different?

Twenty Three: Praying with the Anabaptists & Matt Puckett

I find my thoughts still lingering with Matt Puckett who is on death row in Mississippi waiting to be executed on Tuesday.  This reality is hard to fathom.  I cannot imagine what Matt and his family must be going through as the hours, minutes and seconds pass clinging to a hope that must feel so distant. Please sign the petition, you will find it here.  You can also share your concerns directly to Govenor Phil Bryant here.

Anna of Freiburg was a zealous new convert to Christ.  But, as was common place in the 1500’s for Anabaptists, she endured imprisonment, tremendous persecution and brutal death at the hands of the state.  While there may not be too many parallels with Anna of Freiburg and Matt Puckett there is one deep reality that they share in common.  The prospect of death by way of execution.  Matt Puckett and Anna of Freiburg both carry the burden of lingering in the moments before execution, staring death in the face, helpless against it.  Below is a prayer by Anna of Freiburg before she was drown and burned in 1529.  If anything, it gives us a glimpse into the rawness of humanity in it’s final hours.  May we continue to pray for Matt Puckett and his family.

Dear Eternal, Heavenly Father

 I call upon you from the depths of my heart;

  do not let me turn from you,

  but keep me in your truth unto my end.

Instruct and teach me,

  Your poor, unworthy child,

  That I may press even unto death,

  Through all sorrows, anguish, suffering and pain.

Let me preserve O God

  That I may not be separated from your love.

 

Comfort me in your holy word,

  In which I firmly trust.

I comment myself to you and your church

 

Be my Protector today,

  For your holy name’s sake,

  Through Jesus Christ.  Amen

This prayer was taken from the beautiful book “Praying with the Anabaptists: The Secret of Bearing Fruit.”  Page 161

 

Sixteen: “After Shock” on Why Suffering?

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“After Shock” by Kent Annan is quite simply one of the few books that has completely blown my mind by shaking my faith to it’s core.  It’s a real deal look at a major disaster while poking and prodding about suffering.  The book both deeply disturbed my faith and made some of my theological foundations seem like mere cliche.  Below is a quote on why suffering.  Read this book.

God performs jujitsu in response to our questions about suffering – our protests are not answered but are instead redirected back at us and we are made responsible.  As Jesus got ready to leave for good after the resurrection, he said “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the father.”  So the follower will do works that are as good as – and even better – than Jesus.  Because Jesus is multiplied now through thousands and millions of us.  We’re supposed to love like little Christ’s.  Belief should trigger our helping others in a way related to how Jesus loved people.

The suffering question is theological and the answer is ethical.  This is the divine jujitsu.  “Why suffering?” comes back at us as “Help each other in your suffering.” People are supposed to experience God’s love through others showing up to help.  And Jesus says something else happens too: those who help actually experience Jesus in the one they’re helping.

How do you resonate with this quote?