Salvation

Vocabulary & Grammar Is Important for "Grace"

"Hopefully" in Irish is “le cuidiú Dé;” directly translated it reads, "with the help of God."   I do not speak Irish fluently, but I do have some sayings, and there are some I say regularly to my son.  For instance, when I put him to bed I say “Oíche mhaith, codladh sámh,” which means “good night, sleep well.”  He has heard it often in his three years.  I am confident he knows it as a blessing for sleep, but honestly, as he is delayed in communication and has autism, we truly do not know when he understands English, Irish, or Choctaw (he attends Choctaw Headstart). We concentrate on his English, but it is wonderful that he is exposed to the language of our ancestors and the language of people native to this area (well, the “relocated” area).  I know he is delayed in communication, but vocabulary is not his issue.   He can certainly learn words in multiple languages and transfer between them, why should the primary colors be only known as “red, yellow, & blue,” they can also be known as  “dearg, buí, & gorm” or “humma, lvkna, & okchvko.”   Communication is not simply vocabulary, and that is what my son’s teacher, aids, speech therapists, and parents are teaching him.

The church, on the other hand, needs vocabulary and grammar lessons.  We use some very religious words, but we use them incorrectly (I am talking to pastors here).  Atonement, justification, faith, and sanctification are four words that come to mind.  Across the theological spectrum I hear pastors use words in such a way that undermines the meaning of the great word “grace.”  When that word, “grace,” is used everyone seems to know it is the love of God that we receive even though we do not deserve such a gift.  That is good news; that is the Gospel.  However,  when we (and I am certainly not immune) use other religious words such as justification or faith, we are not always clear what we mean, and we fail our vocabulary quiz.

We preach that God is the only one that saves us; God’s grace justifies us.  Simple, but then I hear someone point to actions one may do to be right with God; however, that is not as common a culprit, for they will make it clear that the good acts are in response to God’s Grace.  The most common culprit I hear is, “justified by faith.”  No longer does the word grace have any meaning.  If justification is determined by one’s faith, it is determined by human action, not the free gift of grace.  This may seem subtle, and I know that most who say “justified by faith,” preach grace and God as the only source, and thus will call this issue semantics.  That is the point--we must be aware of our vocabulary, our grammar, and our semantics when we talk, and especially, preach.

I believe that Joe Jones offers an important alternative, “I prefer to avoid the expression ‘justification by faith’ and use instead ‘justification by grace through faith.’ It is the grace of God that justifies, and it is through faith that we say ‘yes’ to that prior justification and begin to live on the basis of that justifying grace.”[i]  Hear the difference?  We maintain the meaning of grace, justification, and faith.

My son may need to learn to communicate, but as church we need to remember our grammar and vocabulary and how they work together. Once we get our vocabulary and grammar straight, I hope we can join my son and work on our communication.  Hopefully (le cuidiú Dé ) we will  remember that it is all done with the help of God especially our justification and salvation by grace, through faith.

[i] Jones, Joe.  A Grammar of Christian Faith; Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine. Volume II Rowman & Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.  2002.  p. 518.

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to... .........be free and independent; .........think; .........be curious; .........be intelligent and wise; .........value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; .........be creative; .........grow and mature; .........live long healthy satisfying lives; .........live non-violently without vengeance; .........be generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PDF FILES - to download and print REFORMATION II - poster size --- 11" x 17", 1 page (appropriate size for posting on the doors of churches and other institutions)

REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

The Coming of the Lord -- Lectionary Meditation

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Luke 19:1-10

The Coming of the Lord

Whenever preachers look at the week’s lectionary texts they tend to look for any common threads.  Sometimes, in our eagerness to find the threads, we push the envelope, and I suppose that I could be accused of that in titling today’s meditation.  Except that each of the texts, even the Gospel text, speaks of the coming of the Lord.  It is true that in Luke’s gospel, the Lord is simply inviting himself over for dinner at Zacchaeus’s house, but it still has that “eschatological flavor” that is present in the other two texts.  In the Lord’s coming, there is salvation.  And salvation involves or leads to righteousness – a word that needs defining.

The Habakkuk text closes with the phrase “The righteous shall live by faith,” a phrase that is repeated in Romans 1:17 (not the lectionary reading for the week).  This phrase proved troubling to Martin Luther, who saw in it the possibility of “work’s righteousness,” and so he wanted to emphasize the faith part of it, and insist that whatever righteousness is involved, that righteousness comes from Christ and not our own works.  But that doesn’t seem to be the concern of Habakkuk.  In these two brief selections from this so-called Minor Prophet, we hear the cry of a suffering people, who were witnessing in their midst violence, wrong-doing, and trouble-making.  Indeed, considering the political bickering of the moment, these words stand out:  “strife and contention arise.”  The prophet is wondering when God will respond, going as far as declaring that he would stand at his watch post and keep watch until God answers his complaint.  It is then that the Lord responds, telling him to write down a vision on a tablet that the runner can take around to the people.  And the word that came to the people was this:  “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.  It will not delay.”  And then comes the kicker – be sure to look at the proud, for their spirit isn’t right – but “the righteous will live by faith.”  And what is faith?  It is living by trusting God?  What is righteousness?  It is God’s justice – God’s commitment to the poor and the marginalized of society.  It may not have been what Luther had in mind at the time, but that seems to be what was on Habakkuk’s mind.

The second text, the one that comes from 2 Thessalonians serves as a response to concerns that the “parousia” or the return of Christ had already come.  To use the title of a recent series of “apocalyptic themed books” they were afraid they had been “Left Behind,” and so the author (presumably Paul, but there are questions about authorship) offers a word of assurance.  Don’t worry, because before anything like that happens you’ll start seeing the signs of rebellion and the rise of the lawless one, who will seat himself on God’s throne in the Temple, declaring himself to be God.  But, don’t get too concerned, and don’t be alarmed by any “spirit, word, or letter” claiming to be from us declaring that the “day of the Lord” is already here.  The Lord is coming, but don’t believe everything you hear.  But the word that we need to hear comes at the end, in verses 11-12, which offers a word a judgment against those who take “pleasure in unrighteousness.”  That is, those who fail to believe the truth and follow the Lawless One by living lives of unrighteousness.  And what is meant by unrighteousness?  Surely the definition is rooted in the message of the prophets, who call on the people of God to act justly toward those who are poor, to the widow, and the orphan.

Finally, we come to the story of Zacchaeus, one of the best known stories in the New Testament.  We know this story because Zacchaeus seems to always be the butt of “short-people” jokes.  He’s so short, he has to climb a tree to see Jesus.  But it should be noted that this story falls on the heels of the previous week’s lectionary text where the attitudes of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector are compared.  The Pharisee is sure of his own righteousness and needs no help from God; while the tax collector humbly asks that God take mercy on him, for he is a miserable sinner.  Now, in this text, which follows on that parable, we meet up with a real tax collector who is keen on seeing Jesus.  And, as a result the Lord decides to come to his house.  Although the “righteous” folks in town are scandalized that Jesus would hang out with a sinner, Zacchaeus, the chief tax agent in Jericho, is so pleased by Jesus’ willingness to come to his house that he vows to change his life.  And how might he do this?  He commits himself to giving half of his possessions to the poor (an act of righteousness) and will repay those he has defrauded four times the amount that he had taken from them (considering that this is how he made his money – the profit that lies beyond what he had to give to Rome, he was essentially doing what Jesus asked of the rich young man (Luke 17:18ff) – he committed himself to giving everything he had and in return Jesus says that salvation had come to this house.  He had committed himself to live by faith and doing so had become righteous.

The two messages that are embedded in these texts are these:  First, the day of the Lord is coming, so keep watch, because God is faithful and will come at the appropriate time.  And second the “righteous shall live by faith,” which means that if we’re trusting our lives into the care of God, we should live in the interim period in such a way that the righteousness of God will be on display – a righteousness that is illustrated by the decisions made by Zacchaeus.

By Bob Cornwall

Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November.  Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.