Monday, September 24, 2012

χάρις in Luke 6: 32-34

The Greek word χάρις appears in the Gospel of Luke four times.  Wesley translated χάρις as "grace" in Luke 2:40; however, in Luke 6: 32-34 he translated the same word as "thank" in his translation of the New Testament.  

Wesley's translation of χάρις is mostly consistent with the King James version of the Bible.  The word χάρις appears sixty-two times in the New Testament and in every instance but one Wesley and the KJV offer the same translation-- 51 times χάρις is translated as "grace," 5 times as "thanks" (the KJV has "thanked" in one verse), 4 times as "thank," once as "thankworthy" and once as "acceptable."

I am interested in what happens to the reading of Luke 6: 32-36 when χάρις is translated as grace--
“If you love those who love you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what grace is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”
I keyed on this verse because it is a parallel to Matthew 5:46-48, which ends with the promise that disciples will be perfect, τέλειος, just as God is τέλειος.  Instead of the promise of spiritual maturity, Luke's pericope closes with a command to be compassionate.  (If ever there was a corrective to Christian complacency and self-satisfaction this pericope is it!)

I find that I lose my audience whenever I use the term "perfection," so what about trying to explain the UM doctrine of Christian Perfection in terms of compassion?  Something like "God's grace gives mature Christians the power to extend compassion to their enemies, the sinful, the ungrateful, and the evil" might put the doctrine in terms that United Methodists can grasp.  And once they understand how radical Jesus' command is, maybe they will be convinced that their faith has room to grow.

Of course once we have convinced them, we will have to supply them with means of grace that will encourage this growth. Otherwise, folks will fall into works righteousness in the erroneous belief that they can become more compassionate through willpower instead of through grace by faith.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fasting as a Means of Grace

Four members of First United Methodist Church, Plattsmouth agreed to try out fasting with me to see if this spiritual practice could become a means of grace for us.  We read a pamphlet on fasting, discussed it at our first meeting, and covenanted to observe the Daniel Fast (vegetables and water) for our evening meal every Wednesday.  We pledged to set aside time in the evening for private devotions and to email each other the next day and describe our fasting experience.  We met once a month to check in with each other and to evaluate whether or not we found fasting to be an effective means of grace.

I define "effective" according to the Wesleyan analogy of faith (Repentance-Faith-Holiness)--  Do I experience God's grace as a result of engaging in this practice?  Am I convinced to repent?  Is my faith strengthened?  Am I inspired to love God and to love my neighbor?

Even this modest attempt at fasting proved to be beneficial for me.  My Wednesday evenings became more low-key as my energy waned.  As a result, I became more aware of the huge amount of time I spend planning and organizing for the future.  At first I felt impatient when I was not able to complete all of my tasks.  I tried to push myself, but I simply could not concentrate on my to-do list.  Finding that my normal tendency was impossible to maintain as my blood sugar level dropped, I instead was forced to focus more on the present moment.

My fasting goal is to slow down and seek God's presence in the present.  My private devotion is meditation because that is all I have the energy to do by the time Wednesday evening rolls around and because meditation enhances my awareness of when I am thinking about the future and when I am resting in the moment and seeking to abide in God's love.

After two months, I felt ready to try an all-day Wednesday fast (only fruits and vegetables).  The result was emphatically not a means of grace experience.  My blood sugar level dropped too low, and I had to modify my fast the next week.  Now on Wednesdays I eat my usual breakfast and lunch, a vegetarian dinner and cut out all snacks.

I am into the fourth month of this experiment, and I've noticed that I can now practice resting and abiding on non-fasting days, as well.  I have an easier time abiding in God's love and feeling the outward flow of that love towards others. 

My meditation practice has also expanded to non-fasting days.  I try to meditate every evening.  I seek to abide in Christ, and if I am not able to do that, I try to notice what's got me agitated.  When I do this I am usually convinced to repent, which in turn opens me up to a fresh experience of Christ's compassion for the sinful.

Meditation has increased my awareness of my internal drama and that in turn has made me more cognizant of how the anxiousness of others hooks me and draws me into their negative mood.  Now whenever I'm around an agitated person, I try to focus on my breath.  On the in breath I remember that I am capable of the same kind of negative emotions.  On the out breath I try to remember Jesus' promise in John 7:38, in which he stated that the Holy Spirit will flow out of the believer and reach out to others.  My prayer is that we will both experience the peace of Christ infusing our interpersonal interaction with grace.

I am humbled to see how much my good attitude depends upon getting enough to eat and enjoying the company of congenial people.  Take either of those away from me, and I am an imperfect, impatient, anxious mess.  To love God and others is a gift that must come from God.  As long as I am in this body, I will not be able to maintain that orientation on my own.

I have come to see my fasting experiment as a way to honor my ordination vow that I would earnestly strive after perfection.  What practice is supporting your effort?

Monday, September 17, 2012

De-Stressing Charge Conference

Another natural corruption reflection, this one on the stress response.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gil Rendle on discipleship

Gil Rendle spoke to the Missouri River District clergy today about the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Here's what I took away from the meeting--

  • For decades American UMCs have focused on making members not on making disciples.
  • Pastors must lead their congregations in the task of disciple making.
  • The Bishops and the DSs agree that this should be the missional priority of every congregation.
  • The Bishops and DSs do not have a working definition of how pastors should go about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  • The seminaries have not trained pastors to make world-transforming disciples.
  • Pastors and laity must figure out what the mission statement looks like in their context.

Does this spark your imagination?  Are you energized by the challenge to come up with your own working definition of the mission statement?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The mission statement at charge conference, part 2

My second sermon on the United Methodist mission statement.  I read the phrase "for the transformation of the world" through the lens of the analogy of faith (Repentance-Faith-Holiness) and doctrinal sermon #4, "Scriptural Christianity," in which Wesley argued that an individual's experience of inward holiness will inevitably inspire one to practice acts of outward holiness.

What is helping your church review their ministry and plan for next year?