Thursday, June 27, 2019

Grace 2.0

In Galatians 3:23-25, Paul writes:

23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our [nanny] until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a [nanny].

Note that I am using the word "nanny" instead of the Common English Bible's word, "custodian," because it is a better translation for the Greek word, παιδαγωγὸς.  This is the word from which we get "pedagogy" in English, and in this form, would have meant the "nanny" in that day who raised a child in the home of wealthier families, baby-sitting the child, caring for the child's every needs, protecting the child, and even teaching the child to walk and develop language skills. The nanny would have "coached" the child's development, augmenting its more formal schooling later in life, until such time as the child grew mature and no longer in need of the nanny. It would have been a difficult and emotional experience for the child, the family, and for the nanny, when their services were no longer needed, and therefore terminated.

So it is in the church today with the "law." Paul is telling the young church that in and through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are all now "mature" in our faith, saved and schooled in righteousness by the one who was the perfect righteousness of God. Christ imparts this righteousness to us, and then continues through his teaching and example to become the kind of believers and disciples who will make wise decisions, clearly hear God's call in the everyday, and build bridges of love, forgiveness, and acceptance to all people, in the manner of Jesus, himself. We no longer need the law to protect and "nanny" us. The Holy Spirit now guides us, and the Spirit's direction is toward building the inclusive realm of God. The "law" now is love--conducting ourselves in such a way as mature, righteous Christians that we don't harm others, don't "think of ourselves more highly than we ought," and respect others for who they are, not judging them ourselves, but letting the Spirit of Jesus do the perfecting. Grace 2.0 is here to stay, and her work is widening and growing deeper, as many more of God's children discover and experience the prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying nature of her work.

Grace 2.0 appears in Galatians 3:28:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   

Ancient barriers between persons have been demolished. And Paul may not have realized how prophetic he was being when he said "nor is there male and female." Gender doesn't make a bit of difference in the Realm of God, and it is not a stretch to suggest that this means a person's sexual orientation doesn't matter, either, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Grace 2.0 makes Neil Armstrong's "giant leap" look like a baby step, by comparison! Even in our day, God continues to do a new thing. The Christian faith we profess is dynamic, able to meet the challenge and the change of our day. Even the Bible experiences this dynamism:

God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. (Hebrews 4:12, CEB)

"God's word is living, to judge the heart's thoughts and intentions." It is not a list of laws and rules, other than the ones necessary for us to live together in harmony, to learn how to love one another (and this means "respect and accept" in the Grace 2.0 context), and to figure out how to "learn war no more," in the words of the prophet.

Friends, it was not easy in Paul's day to give up the "nanny" when her or his services were no longer needed. But they were no longer needed because the "child" had matured into an adult who could now think for him or herself, was confident enough in their own abilities and "skin" that they no longer felt compelled to intrude on the space of another individual, but could accept and respect that person for who they were as well.

We no longer need the "nanny" of the law, as we are under Grace 2.0, lavished upon us all by God in Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the NEW orthodoxy, and it is one of maturity, affirmation--from God to us and from us toward others--and one that moves us toward a true "beloved community" in Christ. It is also an "orthodoxy" that does not "exclusivize" this action to Christians alone, as Paul would also say:

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to God-self through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:16-19, CEB)
Grace 2.0 is God's action, not ours, and God is ultimately in charge of it. We cannot even dictate just how "God is reconciling the world through Christ," and upon whom this reconciliation may be falling--possibly even in the context of other God-seeking faiths!

Why can't we just rejoice in this wonderful "ministry of reconciliation," instead of running back to the "nanny" of the law and using it to exclude and do harm to the very people Christ came to include and heal? The Gospel is good news! If we're not careful, we will turn it into "good news for some, only."

I don't have much time left in my "active" ministry years (I'll always be in ministry!), but I'm going to use this time to fully preach, teach, and spread Grace 2.0. This is the discipleship that will "transform the world." Join me!

Friday, June 14, 2019

What good thing can come out of Grove City?

Annual Conference is over for another year. From some of us, who were quite, QUITE disappointed in its outcome, we're just thinking it's over...period. Like so many of the things some are touting as "doctrines," "covenants," and "rules," Annual Conference may be the last dinosaur standing, and it's wobbling severely. I am reminded of the Henny Youngman joke: "Hey doctor, it hurts when I do this!" to which the doctor replies, "Then don't DO that!" In short, regarding Annual Conference, it hurts when we DO this...

Was there anything good to come out of Annual Conference at Grove City College this year? Let me try to name a few things:

  1. The platform was decorated and lighted nicely (although I still like the corner/wedge-shaped arrangement better than the long "troop carrier" formation).
  2. The Oakland UMC praise band led us in some "golden moldy" praise songs that this "traditional worship" pastor likes and could actually sing (yes, I'm one of those old dudes who eschews much modern praise songs as either reeking with "Jesus is my boyfriend" theology, or that are just plain unsingable). Other varieties of music were good, too, and having served Coraopolis UMC for six years, I am partial to their choirs' music offerings during the Ministry Night.
  3. James Cogman, an African American seminary student (and whose twin brother just became an associate pastor at the church my daughter is on the staff of in Louisville, KY) gave a powerful sermon the evening after the Wesleyan Covenant Association "swept the Emmies" and hijacked our 2020 General Conference delegation. (Yes, they were voted in, but the fear-tactics used--especially on the laity--were, shall we say, "effective.")
  4. The Broader Table Coalition made its debut. The goal of the Broader Table Coalition was to advance a slate of delegates to General Conference that would be representative of the progressive, centrist, and traditionalist views of the pastors, churches, and congregations present in the Western Pennsylvania Conference. While the goal was not realized, at least the fairness of it has been surfaced, and a seed planted.
  5. The "Open Table" Holy Communion sessions held this year in the quad between HAL and the Breen Student Union buildings grew immensely, with over 100 participants on Friday. These Communion services, sponsored by the Western PA Reconciling Ministries Network, are open to all, and this year many new participants joined us, lay and clergy. (Oh, and Campus Security required us to move to the quad because of threats that had been made against Reconciling Ministries. Annual Conference is a Christian gathering, right?)
  6. The body voted to send a dissolution resolution to the 2020 General Conference with an eye toward dismantling the denomination and building new "branches" of a church from the ground up. This legislation, if adopted by the General Conference, would ask the Connectional Table to return to the 2024 General Conference with detailed plans for said dissolution and how a newly structured, multi-branched church might look. (I list this as something "good," as it is becoming more clear that progressives and centrists are not welcomed by the WCA in "their church," so we must close what is currently the UMC, divide the spoils, and move on.
  7. The Drum Circle from the Healthy Village Learning Institute was awesome. I hope we can get them to St. Paul's sometime soon.
  8. No one died in section meetings, despite the fact that two of the sections had to meet long, extra hours, testing section members' will to live.
  9. Only one of the "reports" given regarding the "Five Areas of Focus" lasted long enough that I almost lost the will to live. Most were short, sweet, and to the point, and at least one, on Developing Principled Leadership, was highly creative and entertaining, so much so that it almost fell prey to the"good TV commercial" foible of forgetting what product it was advertising.
  10. While it is always a highlight seeing the teen pages and Youth Ministry Team, I was thrilled to see so many gifted young leaders among our clergy emerging, and that many of them are picking up the centrist-to-progressive banner that some of us "old" folk are getting ready to pass along. We need your energy and profound gifts here!
  11. Conference Sessions always does their best to work with scarce resources to provide as pleasant an experience for clergy and lay delegates as possible. This year was no exception.
  12. Even with all of its warts--and there were some real tumors this year--Annual Conference is still a great time to renew contact with others, especially among clergy, many of whom have been serving together for decades.
I'll not digress into the myriad serious problems I had with this meeting of the Annual Conference, beyond those already alluded to above. However, I do have a few questions:

  • What happened to the commuter parking area? It was jammed when we arrived on Thursday, and seemed to be filled all during the week, forcing us to park near Punxsutawney, I think. Does this area need enlarged? Or should commuters to AC get a dash sign to display in order to enforce the commuter lot as a commuter lot?
  • Our Bishop announced toward the end of the conference that she, too, had been ministering under "credible threats" to her safety, as reported by the FBI. I thought this was supposed to be a Christian gathering? What the hell is going on?
  • If I were a member of one of the sections that had to meet all those extra hours, I would ask for a partial refund of the $100 registration fee as hazard pay. What do we have to do to move section business along so this kind of thing doesn't happen? (By the way, we are always looking for new laity and clergy section leaders to train and deploy. See Rev. Greg Spencer or our Conference Secretary, John Wilson to put your name on the "invite" list for next year.)
  • Why are our worship services so long? I understand when our Bishop is offering her "State of the Church" address, or  when we have a guest speaker, but then we should buffer the rest of the service accordingly. We wound up canceling important things on Saturday and rushing through the remaining business of AC, and still didn't adjourn until around 7:00PM, without dinner.
  • Here's a bigger issue for me, though: Now that voting is done electronically (providing a readout of how many persons are voting), when we did the balloting for General Conference delegates, there were about 360 clergy voting, and about 640 laity. Aren't we supposed to be a balanced assembly? In our "lay equalization" rules, no adjustment is made for the number of clergy--many of whom are retired or serving in extension ministry across the country--who don't attend Annual Conference. However, every one of these clergy "positions" gets a lay equalization delegate to "balance" it. This system is not working, when the split between clergy and laity is 360 to 640. (And yes, I realize that some persons serving in a clergy role are ineligible to vote for General Conference delegates, but I don't think this factor is responsible for the lopsidedness.) 
I have to say that, given the outcome of the Special Called Session of the General Conference in February, this was the first Annual Conference in my 34 years in ministry that I was not looking forward to attending. I was not disappointed. I also found myself avoiding conversation with certain people for fear of what I might say. Yeah, I know--aren't I supposed to be a Christian? Well, just slap one of those "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet" bumper stickers on my noggin and say a prayer for me. I'll say one for you, too. Shalom, Yinz...

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...