Sunday, July 21, 2019

Call to Fast, Pray, Read: Week Four


The praise band led us in singing Indescribable today.  The lyrics brought to mind Isaiah's description of God, the one who extends the sky, stabilizes the earth, and brings forth the cosmos.  Some part of me is certain that this perspective is true. We do worship an awesome, indescribable God, and we should resist the tendency to domesticate or diminish the divine into something more comforting.

After this praise song, the guest preacher shared a story of his brother's ministry in a maximum-security prison in the Congo.  The brother was a political prisoner; a dissident whose only crime was his opinion that no one is above the law not even the President of the DRC.

Hearing a positive example of the UMC in Congo was an important counterpoint to the accusation that African UMs are the primary reason why the denomination continues to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.  Love of enemy includes replacing a one-dimensional caricature with a more nuanced representation.  God is beginning that work in me.

After the story, the preacher issued a call for unity that focused on two points:
1)  We are filled with the power of God
2)  We should use that power to speak faith, hope, and joy into the lives of others

While he preached, I thought of John Wesley's understand of grace.  In his writings, Wesley equated grace with the power of God's love.  By faith, we can perceive that power and our perception evokes a response.  Typically, that response takes one of three forms: our faith is strengthened, we are convicted of sin, or we grow in love of God and neighbor.

The guest preacher taught a unity based on faith and love, which are the comforting sides of God's power.  However, to be true to UM doctrine the sermon should have included an example of bringing people together by rebuking, disturbing false peace, and calling for confession.

Isaiah rebuked the worship of the small gods represented by idols.  I am rebuking a form of church unity that is comfortable with discrimination.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Call to Fast, Pray, Read: Week Three

From http://lifemessenger.org/lifemessage/publications/the-blind-servant/

God of the Blind and the Deaf

The lessons of Isaiah 41 & 42 were feeling Other.
Prophecies directed at exiles of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
Jewish tribes indebted to Cyrus and his Gentile liberality.
No me. Not mine. Not our historical conundrum.

Scriptural misappropriation would complicate discernment
I feared.

Until I found the ground of my faith in the words of Isaiah 42: 16-19.
The seeing and the hearing who confidently proclaim forward possibilities
Are not dependant on Isaiah's God, who is followed by the desperate and humbled.

I will glory in my lack of insight.
I will celebrate my failure to discern.
I will work with those similarly afflicted
Stumbling and hesitant
Yet expecting to be oriented
In God's time and manner

All of us-- leaders, members, disaffiliated, those who rule over them
We can not see or hear the way we should go.
Our only hope is in the God who guides those willing to admit their blindness and deafness
to the future.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Call to Fast, Pray, and Read Week Two




αλλάξουσιν ισχύν (Isaiah 40: 31)
in case the reader missed it, the next verse repeats it
αλλάξουσιν ισχύν (Isaiah 41:1)

For the God-awaiting, and for the rulers over them, and for the one who brings justice





ισχύν





It appears miniscule floating in the middle of all this white space. To Isaiah, it’s central.

Strength, Power, Might, Force, Ability, Am/Is/Are-ness

This hard-to-translate-into-English-because-of-its-layers-of-meaning word, The Book of Isaiah repeats 15 times over 13 chapters.

That’s hard to miss in the Greek.

Isaiah is a prophet of justice proclaiming a power that can bring to life his prophetic vision. God, as the source of this justice-achieving power, is able to imbue humans with it.

αλλάξουσιν

Gamers have a phrase-- Power Up. It refers to finding an object in a video game that gives the player an extra ability. It might be heftier firepower, stronger shields, longer life, greater speed, claiming objects that make the game easier to play and winning it more likely is a power up.

God’s power, according to Isaiah, is something along these lines. Isaiah is not describing a human power, such as force of personality or strength of intelligence, but instead Isaiah’s message conceives of God’s power as an in-addition-to and other-than our natural abilities.

“Renews their strength” is not an adequate translation of αλλάξουσιν ισχύν. “Adds another ισχύν” to those they already have, is closer to the Greek.

I’ve spent this week contemplating how I’ve been powered up by God in the past. What kept coming to mind is the number of times that God gave me the ability to love my enemies and pray for my persecutors. Definitely not a strength that comes to me naturally.

I admit to a certain amount of grumpiness that in the midst of justice-seeking discernment of UMC next steps, “love your enemies” is the lesson God imparted. Apparently, I needed reminding.

I suspect that the ισχύν given is different depending on the needs of the individual. God has given me love of enemies. What power is God imbuing you with that will aid the movement forward?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Call to Fast, Pray, and Read: Week One

Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
The invitation arrived last Sunday announcing a six-week intention to fast, pray, read
From June 24 to August 4 seeking The Will Of God
     During this season of disaffiliation, these collective interventions feel like the appropriate call

After joining the witness list, I began the assigned lesson: Isaiah 40-66

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 40, Verse One

First word: παρακαλείτε
     Looks like parakeet
     Sounds like Paraclete, which looks like
          παράκλητος, which is sometimes translated
     Helper-Comforter-Advocate
          Derived from
     παρα--  As in Close Beside
     καλέω-- As in Make a Call
                As if being close to the situation, the legal advisor makes the correct call and the client is  
               comforted
          Sometimes symbolized as a White Dove or as a Red Flame
     Never to my knowledge as a parakeet, a species of parrot with a potential lifespan of twenty
             years unless living in pet confinement, in which case the average lifespan is cut by three-
             fourths
                 One Part)      Inadequate Nutrition
                 Two Parts)    Poor Hygiene
                 Three Parts)  Cages

     Echoed in the final word of the first pericope: παρακαλέσει
As if Isaiah’s God is like a shepherd who comforts the pregnant ewes
        by advocating for a healthy diet and a safe shelter and the freedom to rest in green meadows and
        wander beside tranquil waters and then goes on to help them realize these rights

The first word of the prophecy is comfort.  The last word of the prophecy is comfort.
     As in, the Church called into being by the Paraclete will worship Isaiah’s God, and every one of its members will be close beside the comfortless, and its leaders will all teach the lesson that helping those in need of advocates is an act of worship, and this witness, spoken and lived, will distress the comfortable, who will confess and repent and will become a legal power that makes the correct call and protects the vulnerable, or they will leave the Church of Isaiah’s God and find a congregation that is not so distressing to their status quo.

Thus ends the first week of discernment.