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Posts Tagged ‘reign of Christ’

God of time and of eternity,
we thank you for the signs in the most unlikely places
that you are in our midst,
bringing in your reign of love and healing and peace.

In Jesus, you invite us into the blessings of your reign
but there are times when we are afraid to say yes to the gifts you offer.
There are times when we are afraid your guiding hand
will lead us where we do not want to go.
There are times when we cannot see your new creation clearly enough
to dispel our fears.
There are times when we fear that letting go of what we know
will mean only loss.

Lord, have mercy.
Overcome our fears with your powerful grace.
Hold us fast in your faithfulness.
Ground us deep in your love.
Heal our blindness.

Then, do not leave us as we are.
Remake us.
Renew us in the image of your Son
so that we face all our days
with holy freedom and daring courage;
so the we live to your glory and honour and praise.

 

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The report of the United Church’s Comprehensive Review Task Group, “United in God’s Work” recommended that the United Church “make a commitment to supporting new ministries and new forms of ministry through an initiative that tentatively would be called Chasing the Spirit” . It frames the purpose of this initiative in terms that come from the Missional Church conversation: “The task group believes the challenge, risk, and hope for the church lie in joining what God is already bringing to life”(p. 13).

The language of the missional church conversation is being heard in many places in the United Church. There is lots of talk about engaging the neighbourhoods around church buildings. However, the term ‘missional’ is often applied to congregational mission projects rather than connoting a genuine shift in identity: mission is seen as something the church does rather than what the church is.

The Missional Church conversation recognizes that the the Church does not have a mission; rather, it participates in God’s mission in the world. That mission does not just happen in distant places; the Holy Spirit is at work everywhere, including the neighbourhoods in which congregations exist. God works through the everyday, ordinary lives of the people of the church and through the congregation as a local expression of the Body of Christ. Baptism is a person’s ordination into ministry and mission. The church is not a ‘place’ where spiritual consumers come to get their needs met. It is an outpost of the reign of God from which disciples of Jesus are sent into the world. It understands itself to be both gathered and sent for the sake of God’s mission of reconciliation and grace. The conversation is not about, “What can we do to get more people into our church”; it is about, “Where is God already at work and in what ways are we being called to participate in that work?” As congregations make this shift in identity, the role of the ordered ministry personnel shifts from being “the minister” to being a leader who equips disciples of Jesus for their ministries in the world and who cultivates a congregational environment that “nourishes this work of discernment, experimentation, learning and engagement with God at work in their neighbourhoods” (The Missional Network website).

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In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.

 

Conviction #3

3) The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the earliest confessions of faith in the Church was “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus is Lord and, therefore, Caesar, the empire, or other forms of power, are not. Jesus’ message included the declaration that in his person and in his work, the reign of God had begun: a new era, a new social order had arrived. The early church was not a new system of beliefs but a new community, an alternative society, into which people were called by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, “the reign of God launches an all-out attack on evil in all its manifestations. God’s reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 33), especially among the lowly, the despised, and those on the margins of society. Gathered by the Spirit at Pentecost, the Church is a unique social community that is a sign, witness, foretaste and servant of God’s transformative resurrection work in the world. Its purpose is that of “representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God. . . In its mission, the church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil. . . The history of the world is not only a history of evil but also of love, a history in which the reign of God is being advanced through the work of the Spirit. Thus, in its missionary activity, the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has already been operative secretly, through the Spirit” (Bosch, p. 391).
The mission of the church offers the reign of God in concrete forms. It invites people to allow the Spirit of Christ to adopt them into God’s story in place of the stories of consumerism, therapeutic moralism, technological mastery, or militarism.
Walter Brueggemann, in “Counterscript:  Living with the elusive God” (Christian Century, November 29, 2005, p. 22 – 28), describes the dominant script of our society as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism: therapeutic referring to ‘the assumption that there is a product or a treatment or a process to counteract every ache and pain and discomfort and trouble so that life may be lived without inconvenience; technological meaning that every problem can be fixed, solved, made right through human ingenuity; consumerist describing the approach to living that turns everything (including humans) into a commodity that can be bought and sold; militarism that uses violence to protect and maintain our privilege”.

In order enact this countercultural alternative in its own life, the church will often be intentionally small so that it can offer authentic hospitality, reconciliation and healing. Its nature will be primarily relational rather than organizational so that there can be genuine accountability. It will be structured towards assisting its members to enter into Spirit-gifted service in the world.

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A)  In a church whose mission is about offering reconciliation, healing and hope to all people, the church will need to journey more and more deeply into the practice of communion — the words, the gestures, the practices that are strong enough to heal the divisions and conflicts that are part of relationships with other people. This means that the regular practice of the sacrament of Communion will take a central place in the life of the church. At the Table, the risen Lord feeds the church and gives it the strength it needs for its radical work. The vision for a world of peace where all people thrive in flourishing communities is renewed. The community receives Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation and grace in its own relationships so that it can offer those graces in a hurting world. Leaders in such a community will need to be working on their own healing. They will need skills and resources for guiding others in the art of forgiveness and reconciliation. Leadership training will need to be highly relational, including mentoring and coaching.

B)  God’s mission involves confronting the lies that the world tells people. The community will need to be led in developing the capacity for telling the truth to one another.

The leaders of a church will themselves need to be authentic in word and in deed.
C) Leaders will need to be trained to engage the scriptures so that they have the capacity to “discern the world anew according to the script of the Bible with particular attentiveness to the character of the Bible” (Walter Brueggemann, “That the World May Be Redescribed”, Interpretation, (October 2002), 360.)

They will need to be trained in what it takes to help people relinquish the powerful dominant scripts that are killing them and killing their communities.

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A prayer for Reign of Christ Sunday based on Luke 23: 33-43.

Creative, life-giving God,

you speak,

you say, ‘Let there be . . .’

and the forces of life

move with transforming power.

You love,

you love with a costly love,

surrendering self for others,

and evil and death

lose their power.

You forgive

you forgive our ignorance

our blindness

our willfulness

our selfishness,

opening space for your Spirit’s creative work.

Jesus,

remember us.

By your mercy,

heal the wounds we inflict on each other.

Bring us into your presence

and teach us to love with a love like unto your own.

We weep and cry to you –

you whose power for life moves through suffering,

stronger than the power of death:

we pray for the people of the Philippines,

for those who are without homes, clean water, food.

We pray for our own country,

scandalized by the misuse of power

by those who were entrusted with leading us.

We pray for this congregation,

for those who weep within it,

for those who seek to lead it,

for those who look for your Holy Spirit’s hope.

Let your love and power and forgiveness

shape our love, our power, our life together.

Lord Jesus,

Lord of compassion and mercy and grace,

remember those for whom we have special concern this day.

Come among us,

crucified and risen Lord:

let your will be done,

your Spirit move among us;

let your costly, life-giving love reign

and bring us into your glory with you.

Amen.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on November 20, 2011. (Reign of Christ Sunday)

Scriptures:  Isaiah 9: 1-9;  Psalm 23;  Mark 1: 14-20

Who is imagining your life for you?  (from an article by Michael Paul Gallagher,  Anchors in an Ocean of Change)

One of the highest values of our culture is that we should be imagining our own lives. We should be the ones choosing our lives. We become what we choose.

This past week the Royal Society of Canada said that assisted suicide and euthanasia should be legal in Canada: people should have a choice about when they die and how they die. Their recommendations will resonate with many people because for decades now our culture has been vigorously nurturing the notion that choice is the highest virtue.

Some of you will remember when ‘duty’ was the highest virtue. If you did your duty, the world would progress to become a better place. ‘Duty’ now has been replaced by ‘choice’. “You can be anything you choose to be”, we tell our children. Now, the millenials — the group of young people between the ages of 13 and 29 — are what someone called ‘the Choice Generation’. They have been part of family decisions since about the age of 4. They are characterized by their “unrelenting demand for choice in every aspect of their lives.”

There is, of course, every chance that we are fooling ourselves — that we are not really the masters of our choices that we think we are. Many of the choices we make have already been chosen for us by marketing companies. They want to imagine our lives for us. They spend billions of dollars and enormous amounts of energy shaping our desires and our fears, our hopes and our dreams. They want to ensure that the choices we make are the choices they want us to make. And they are experts at making us imagine that we our making our own choices about the things we choose.

I remember hearing years ago about a government official from the Soviet Union who was visiting North America. He wasn’t here too many days before he turned to his host and said, “Everybody looks the same. How did you do that?”

We may not be as in control of our choices as we think we are. Even the notion that ‘personal choice’ is the highest virtue was chosen for us. We were trained to think that way. It makes us very good consumers.

As we enter more and more deeply into that season of the year when the marketing companies are moving into high gear, it is helpful for followers of Jesus to take time to take stock: “Who is imagining our lives for us?” Are the images they offer us helping us to become more deeply human — sensitive and compassionate to others? Are they nurturing in us moral courage?  extravagant hope? Do they inspire our imaginations so that we live creatively? Are they shaping our desires so that we are being set free from ego and pride? Are we being set free to love in more radical and risky ways?

Someone once described Jesus Christ as “the Lord of the imagination”. He came to subvert all unworthy images we might have for our lives. In his words and in his actions, he coaxes us out of narrowness and fear — anything that leaves our lives small and pre-occupied with trivial matters. He awakens us to new possibilities for our lives. By his stories and his actions, he pulls us into the great, expansive imagination that God has for our world. He nurtures us toward goodness and holiness and beauty and truth.

To follow Jesus is to enter into his imagining of the way the the world is meant to be.

Have you ever been in an Eastern Orthodox church? How did you feel? Did you feel like you were entering into a very strange world? — a world very different from the one just outside the doors through which you entered?  Orthodox churches are intended to help you see the world that surrounds us all the time   but a world that usually remains invisible to us. It hovers just beneath our consciousness. The walls are filled with icons — stylized art that is meant to be a window into the spiritual world. The icons at eye level depict saints of the church throughout the ages. As your eyes travel upwards, you see the apostles and first disciples of Jesus — Mary, Peter, John, Paul.  At the highest level — often in a great dome at the centre of the ceiling, there is an icon of Jesus, Christus Pantocrator — Jesus, ruler of all, Lord of history, ruler of the nations.

There is lots of gold everywhere. The gold is trying to help us imagine the splendour of the God’s glory. The beauty of the light of Christ that shines in our world.

You enter this space and you smell incense — a reminder of the prayers of God’s people. Both the prayers of the congregation that are said every Sunday, but also the prayers of the saints being continually offered to God who rules over all.

In a book called “The Russian Primary Chronicle”, there is a story about Vladimir, a prince of Kiev in the tenth century. He was not a Christian. He was what we today would call a seeker. He sent envoys to various countries to discover the true religion. One day his envoys entered the Eastern Orthodox Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul). They reported back to Vladimir, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or one earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only this we know, that God wells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”

There is a saying that, “We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” Orthodox churches are decorated so that the beauty and splendour of the building will shape the lives of the people who worship there: shaping what they see, what they value, what they value, what they hope for.

If you come into a sanctuary week after week whose exquisite beauty points you to the glory of God, your eyes and spirits are being trained to look for that glory out in the world. You learn to recognize it as you go about shopping and working and sitting in the doctor’s office. More than that, you become discontented with anything that mars or disfigures the beauty that God intends for all creation and are moved to change it.

If you come into a sanctuary week after week, aware that you are surrounded by saints through the ages who even now watch over us, joining our prayers with theirs, it becomes more possible to live your life with courage and in truth. You go out into the week, facing the challenges you face, knowing that you are not facing them alone. The saints of the church have journeyed through such discouragements before — some even greater than our own– and they are whispering to us, “Courage, courage”. Their words keep pulling you towards the finish line where you will see how your little story has been part of the great drama of salvation and reconciliation and peace that God is writing.

If Sunday by Sunday, you see an image of the crucified but risen Christ presiding of all things, making the sign of blessing over your life, you are being trained to go into the world aware that Christ really is Lord. In spite of all the darkness that can cover the earth, the great light of Christ is shining.

We are part of a tradition that has emphasized the word more than images. But those words invite us into an alternative imagination for our lives. We don’t put an icon of Christus Pantocrator at the highest spot of our sanctuary; we tell stories that shape a world for us. We hear Isaiah tell us that the world is presided over by one whose name is Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We hear Isaiah promise us that, in spite of all the precious things that are ending, God is at work, bringing unexpected newness.  That newness is small and fragile as a child is small and fragile, but the authority of Mighty God, Lord of the cosmos, rests upon the newness. It will grow because God is determined to move his beloved creation towards goodness and truth. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that nothing in all creation can ultimately defeat God’s purposes. In all the moments of our lives, Christ is offering the blessings of God’s redeeming grace. In every situation, we can be on the lookout for the blessings that Christ is inviting us to receive.

The most elemental confession of the Christian Church is “Jesus is Lord”. We don’t have to be jerked around by every television commercial.

Jesus is Lord. Christ defines your life and he defines you as a beloved child of a good and loving Father.

Jesus is Lord.  All the structures and systems of this world are not. We do not have to settle for a world of violence and injustice. God’s Spirit is on the move and we can be part of the new creation.

Jesus is Lord. What ultimately shapes your life is not your choices. As important as they are, what ultimately shapes your life is God’s choice of you. In Christ, God chooses you to receive love and grace, forgiveness and the possibility of beginning anew. God is Christ chooses you and he longs for you to choose Christ.

Allow that word to dwell richly in you. Let it shape your imagination and it will transform your life in good and compassionate and holy ways. And you will live to the glory and praise of God.

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