Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. —Isaiah 55:6–7
These verses are a familiar call to worship or a call to repentance, not a bad accent for Lent. The face of God shown here is of a Lord near at hand, ready to forgive, a God of grace. But this is a God to whom a turn must be made, a God of demand, a God of demand ready to be a God of grace . . . not just hard demand, not just easy grace, but grace and demand, the way all serious relationships work.
The imperative is around four verbs, “seek, call, forsake, return,” good Lenten verbs. But this is not about generic repentance for generic sin. I believe, rather, the sin addressed concerns for Jews too eager to become Babylonians, too easy to compromise Jewish identity, Jewish faith, Jewish discipline—in order to get along in a Babylonian empire that had faith in other gods with other disciplines. The imperatives are summons to come back to an original identity, an elemental discipline, a primal faith.
I suggest, moreover, that these are just about the right imperatives for Lent among us Christians. For I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.
The good news for the church is that nobody, liberal or conservative, has high ground. The hard news is that the Lenten prerequisite for mercy and pardon is to ponder again the initial identity of baptism . . . “child of the promise,” . . . “to live a life worthy of our calling,” worthy of our calling in the face of false patriotism; overheated consumerism; easy, conventional violence; and limitless acquisitiveness. Since these forces and seductions are all around us, we have much to ponder in Lent about our baptismal identity.
Lent is a time to consider again our easy, conventional compromises and see again about discipline, obedience, and glad identity. And the climax of these verses:
that he may have mercy . . . for he will abundantly pardon. Isa. 55:7 The word to the compromised deportees is that God’s face of pardon and mercy is turned exactly to the ones who reengage an identity of faith.
God of grace and demand, you challenge us to reclaim our baptismal identity as those whose lives are built on your call and your promises—not on the easy, seductive forces around us. Stir our hearts that we may engage your transforming word anew and rediscover its power to save. Amen.
Spirit of life ALL: Fill our emptiness with your fullness Spirit of power ALL: Stir our hearts afresh Spirit of love ALL: Touch us, and through us, our neighbour Spirit of Creativity ALL: Enable and empower the gifts you have given Spirit of Eternity ALL: Draw us ever deeper into your Kingdom
Pr, Florescu, de la Edinburg, un prieten drag, întâlnirile cu care sunt întotdeauna un eveniment de poveste, a publicat ieri pe blogul său un text cu adevărat profetic legat de sărbătoarea Pastelui.
Iata aici fragmentul de început.
De la Ierusalim la Emaus erau 60 de stadii, adică ceva mai puțin de 12 kilometri (Luca 24,13-35). Dar în duminica învierii Domnului drumul acesta se va face distanța nesfârșită dintre instituția credinței și împărăția cea vie a lui Dumnezeu.
Este aceeași distanță dintre religie și credință, pe care cei mai mulți credincioși, din păcate ținuți în captivitatea ritualică a religiei chiar de preoții lor care în aceste zile se pozează pe facebook în posturi dramatice, nu o vor străbate niciodată.
De aici și sentimentul general de insecuritate, de sfârșitul lumii, de dezorientare spirituală: unde să te mai duci, unde să-l mai găsești pe Dumnezeu, atunci când toate drumurile tale au fost în afară și n-ai fost învățat să călătorești înlăuntrul tău.
Vă încurajez să citiți AICI restul textul, care este la fel de miezos ca și introducerea.
Most of the Western Christians – Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals, look at the cross of Christ through the lens of a legal metaphor. According to it, God created humans and gave them his commands. At the devil’s temptation, they disobeyed God, whose honour, as head of the universe, was utterly offended. Because of human rebellion, called sin, God cursed the entire creation. And thus, death entered our world. At the peak of history, God sent his son into the world, to die for us, so that the guilt for Adam’s fall and our sinfulness could be atoned for. Through Christ’s terrible death, justice was done for the breaking of God’s law, and God’s wrath was appeased. The penalty for our sins was paid (let us not ask ‘to whom exactly’, as this may lead us into all sorts of strange theories). If humans believed that Christ died for their sins (what is usually called the ‘penal substitution theory’) they would be saved, and when Christ comes back, at the end of history, he will take them with him to heaven, while this world will perish in flames. As to those who did not believe, God, in his wrath, has prepared for them the eternal fire of hell.
I imagine many of my readers would be familiar with this perspective, maybe it is also their own, even if they might be disturbed here and there by the way I phrased things. This is the perspective behind Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of Christ, and of many of the western depictions – cinematic, literary or theological, of the events we rememorate at this time in the church calendar. For some, this is the only correct way of understanding the story of Christ. For them, this is the Gospel.
Yet, this is by no means the only way to look at it, and, dare I say, not the best way of accounting for Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension. The Eastern Church and the Celtic Church viewed the cross through a radically different lens, which we may call generically, the Christus victor motif. In what follows, I will talk more of the Celtic version of the story.
During this period of Lent, the first I ever spent in Scotland, I did two things which gave me a somewhat different perspective on Easter. First, I followed the daily readings from David Cole’s book Celtic Lent: 40 Days of Devotions to Easter. Second, I am watching at this time the Vikings series, which begins with the first incursion of the Norsemen on the Monastery of Lindisfarne on the Holy Island, the famous Celtic religious centre in Northumbria, which I had the privilege of visiting a number of times.
Cole talks often in this book about the Christus victor metaphor that informed the Celts’ understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, not as a ransom to appease God’s wrath, but as the culmination of a hero saga, in which the Dryhtnes (the Celtic word for Lord, which was originally the designation of a warlord in charge of a band of warriors) becomes victorious in his battle against the invisible forces of evil, in spite of his terrible death, precisely because death is followed by resurrection. And that not because God’s wrath has been appeased, but because death was the entry door for the hero to be received in triumph at his return in the angelic world (the Christian version of Valhalla, if you want).
Watching in the Vikings the painful and courageous death of Ragnar Lothbrok, helped me understand much better how this metaphor worked in the minds of Celtic Christians. To be fair, being a moderate pacifist, I am more attracted to the peaceful metaphors of the Gospel in the biblical text (grain of wheat, mustard seed, light, yeast, etc.) and I have an instinctive negative reaction to the aggressive metaphors favoured for instance by the American obsession with ‘cultural wars’. Though, this may have not been so much of a problem for the Celts, who were (and their hers still are) short tempered, very passionate people, constantly engaged in war between themselves and with others.
However, the Christian version of the Celtic cult of the hero has nothing to do with physical fighting or waging ‘holy wars’, supposedly for the spreading the Gospel, which dominated so much of Medieval Christendom, booth in the East and the West, but it is about spiritual warfare against the demonic forces of evil, of which Paul the apostle speaks in Ephesians 6.
This reminds me of a very insightful observation made by Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church. He argues there that when Peter the apostle preached to the Jews, the recipients of the law of Moses, he spoke of sin as breach of God’s law and of salvation in terms of propitiation for their lawlessness. However, when Paul spoke to the Greeks, who had no law of God revealed to them (besides the testimony of God in nature and their own conscience, as Paul shows in the book of Romans), the apostle spoke of evil in terms of people being enslaved by fear of the primordial forces of evil, and he presented salvation in terms of liberation from under the oppression of these forces and the adoption of these Gentiles as daughters and sons of the God of love, who sacrificed his own son in order to liberate them and give them life in all its fulness, the resurrection of Christ being the guarantee of this promise, which was to be accepted by faith.
Because of their cultural resemblance, I find the Celtic view of Easter much closer to the way in which Paul preached to the Greeks. Same was true, I guess, about Viking culture. As a result, the Norsemen may have been victorious against the Scots and the Anglo-Saxons, but, in the end, they themselves were conquered spiritually by the Christus victor, the Dryhtnes, the hero, whose glorious victory we remember and celebrate these days.
So, I invite you to look at the cross with new eyes and to get enriched with this new perspective, which will give new meaning to your song ‘Christ is risen’.
Teo Stanciu a publicat recent pe situl revistei Convergente o analiza a situatiei evanghelicilor romani in acest moment, in fata provocarilor viitorului. Ramine de vazut daca acest text va reusi sa lanseze o discutie in jurul acestei teme in spatiul evanghelic, ori va fi ignorat, asa cum s-a intimplat si cu altele de acest gen inaintea lui. Iata mai jos introducerea in acest articol:
Dacă în anii comunismului, cultele și comunitățile evanghelice erau orientate spre interior, cu minime legături cu societatea și probleme ei, deceniile ulterioare au fost caracterizate, în opinia mea, de un comportament preponderent reactiv față de problemele ivite, atât la nivel instituțional, cât și la nivelul poporului credincios al mișcării evanghelice – iar asta atunci când s-a coagulat cât de cât o reacție. Explicabil într-o anumită măsură, acest comportament înseamnă, în fapt, că o problemă nu există decât în momentul când afectează în mod direct și viața comunității. Iar în situațiile și mai deplorabile, anumite probleme devin reale abia atunci când se regăsesc în cercurile liderilor ecleziali (în familiile sau printre prietenii lor) fără a mai putea fi mascate. În rest, pot fi multă vreme ignorate.
Acest reflex reactiv mi se pare că este confirmat – fie și indirect – de câteva dintre dezbaterile importante din trecut pe fond ratate în bună măsură de către cultele evanghelice: despărțirea demnă de trecutul comunist; poziționarea ca reper moral public (oricât de mic, dar măcar consecvent) în societatea românească măcinată de tarele unui regim care a ucis zeci de mii de oameni, care a mutilat caractere și a distrus orice ierarhie de valori; migrația economică românească; integrarea europeană; ba chiar și recentul referendum pentru definiția familiei. Teme mari și grele, unde dezbaterea teologică serioasă și încercarea unor răspunsuri temeinice nu s-au făcut remarcate nici măcar în interiorul cultelor evanghelice – nu includ aici „răspunsuri” date preț de o predică, ce nu are cum trece drept demers teologic consistent.
Prinși în verva războiului cultural – foarte recent descoperit – cu diverse ideologii „stângiste”, război importat în mare parte cu temele, temerile și strategiile americane, evanghelicii amână cât pot mai mult soluționarea unor probleme tot mai prezente și tot mai complexe din imediata vecinătate. De asemenea, prezența (mai reală sau mai imaginată) pe frontul luptei pentru cauza creștină conferă o consolare morală pentru lipsa unor demersuri constructive, a reflecției teologice elaborate, profunde și complexe asupra realităților contemporane. Însă chiar și problemele conexe acestor ideologii necesită și o abordare pastorală, mult mai complicată decât poziționarea ideologică ușor de făcut și adesea lipsită de elementul uman și de orice urmă de compasiune.
Departe de a se limita la invazia ideologiilor progresiste (multe dintre ele îngrijorătoare și necesitând cu siguranță o poziționare), temele ce vor necesita un răspuns cât mai urgent – și, bine-ar fi, cât mai consistent – vin din mai multe direcții simultan: dinspre filosofie (unde e mare penurie de evanghelici angajați în dialogul cu lumea culturală), teologie, morală, ecleziologie, economie, politică, psihologie, știință, tehnologie, bioetică etc. Iar răspunsurile care vor conta va fi nevoie să iasă din sfera abordărilor actuale: predicoase, șablonarde, previzibile, de inspirație mai ales americană-populară/populistă, preluate cu minim efort de contextualizare.
Fără să fac o ierarhizare și o clasificare riguroasă, voi semnala câteva dintre problemele – de intensități și categorii foarte diferite – care cred că se vor prăvăli peste evanghelici cu o tot mai mare forță și reclamând tot mai acut niște soluții temeinice. Fără aceste soluții, sunt șanse mari ca evanghelicii din România să (re)cadă într-o irelevanță culpabilă și păguboasă, dar probabil meritată. Asta după ce s-au făcut remarcați, măcar mediatic, în ultimii ani în câteva rânduri. Nu am însă în vedere nici o utopică angajare generală a comunităților în astfel de demersuri teologice, ci pur și simplu interesul serios, consecvent al unor oameni – asumați de către „sistem” sau de mișcarea evanghelică – cât de cât competenți care ar vrea să și înțeleagă, nu doar să combată repede și să puncteze mediatic (cum se întâmplă în prezent) și ar încerca să elaboreze niște poziții teologice, temeinic ancorate în spiritul Scripturii, bine cumpănite sub raport intelectual și spiritual deopotrivă.
Advent [meaning “coming”], to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray—all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called “the one thing necessary”: that there is One who is the source of all life, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning. —Gayle Boss 
I hope it isn’t difficult to understand why I’m beginning the Advent season reflecting on darkness.  I’m not trying to be a spoilsport, but once Thanksgiving is over, we in the United States are rushed headlong into the Christmas season. Yet Advent was once (and still can be) a time of waiting, a time of hoping without knowing, a time of emptying so that we can be filled by the divine Presence. Though you may be wrapping gifts, planning special meals, and spending time with family and friends, I hope you will also take time to allow the Advent darkness to do its work as well.
Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts. Logic and truth have nothing to do with it. If you require certitude, you will surround yourself with your own conclusions and dismiss or ignore any evidence to the contrary.
The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” We can’t be certain of what’s in front of us, but with some time and patience, our eyes adjust, and we can make the next right move.
The Gospel doesn’t promise us complete clarity. If God wanted us to have irrefutable proof, the incarnation of Jesus would have been delayed until technology and science could confirm it.Scriptures do not offer rational certitude. They offer us something much better, an entirely different way of knowing: an intimate relationship, a dark journey, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world. You only need enough clarity to know how to live without certitude! Yes, we really are saved by faith. People who live in this way never stop growing, are not easily defeated, are wise and compassionate, and frankly, are fun to live with. They have a quiet and confident joy. Infantile religion insists on certainty every step of the way and thus is not very happy.
 Gayle Boss, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, illus. byDavid G. Klein (Paraclete Press: 2016), xi-xii.
 For those readers unfamiliar with the Christian liturgical calendar, Advent is the period of four Sundays before Christmas. It is intended to be a time of preparation, through prayer and reflection, on the coming of Christ at the Nativity (Christmas), in worship and community today, and at the end times.
Today we relight the first three candles of the Advent Wreath — the candles of HOPE, PEACE and JOY.
Now we light the fourth candle of Advent. This is the candle of LOVE.
Jesus demonstrated self-giving love in his ministry as the Good Shepherd. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others, and sharing with others. It is a time to love as God loved us by giving us his most precious gift. As God is love, let us be love also.
In the Book of Deuteronomy we find these words:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
— Deuteronomy 10:17-19a
From the Gospel of John we hear:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
— John 13:34-35
Let us pray:
Teach us to love, O Lord. May we always remember to put you first as we follow Christ’s footsteps, that we may know your love and show it in our lives. As we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth, also fill our hearts with love for the world, that all may know your love and the one whom you have sent, your son, our Savior. Amen.
Today we relight the first two candles of the Advent wreath. The candle of HOPE and the candle of PEACE.
Now we light the third candle of Advent.
This is the candle of JOY. As the coming of Jesus, our Savior, draws nearer, our joy builds with our anticipation of his birth.
From the Book of Isaiah we read the words of our Lord:
“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”
— Isaiah 65:18
From the New Testament, the words of Paul to the people of the church at Galatia:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
— Galatians 5:22-25
Let us pray:
We joyfully praise you, O Lord, for the fulfillment of your promise of a Savior and what that means in our lives. Thank you for the gift of salvation through the birth of your son, Jesus. Create us anew as we wait, and help us to see your glory as you fill our lives with your living Spirit. Amen.
Today we relight the candle of HOPE.
Now we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of PEACE.
As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and our peace.
* * *
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Christmas season is full of light – sparkling lights on the Christmas tree; houses in the neighborhood decorated with lights for the coming holiday; candles flickering on the mantle; a fire in the fireplace representing warmth, comfort, and hope. These are the images of light we will hold onto this Advent season.
And we hold these images as hope not only for our own lives; but for the lives of those suffering in Palestine, Israel, the Middle East, and around the world. We remember in our prayers this week:
The men, women, and children who are living in Gaza; often with only a few hours of electricity per day.
The 60,000 internally displaced persons in Gaza still waiting for a durable housing solution since the destruction of their homes during the 2014 Gaza War.
The families affected by the 155 demolitions or confiscations of Palestinian owned structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during September and October 2016.
Those affected by the terrible fires throughout Israel and the West Bank that destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing tens of thousands.
We close with a prayer from The Reverend Said Ailabouni, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, Illinois:
God of mercy and compassion,
of grace and reconciliation,
pour your power upon all your children in the Middle East:
Jews, Muslims and Christians,
Palestinians and Israelis.
Let hatred be turned into love, fear to trust, despair to hope,
oppression to freedom, occupation to liberation,
that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces,
and peace and justice could be experienced by all.
My Easter ikon this year comes from Egypt, in commemoration of the Coptic martyrs who died there at the hand of religious fanatics on Palm Sunday. May the Lord bless them and rest them with the saints!
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . . —John 20:1a
Nobody knew how long Saturday would last. Nobody knew if Saturday would ever end. So it is now as well. Nobody knows how long Saturday will last or if it will ever end. Saturday is that in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness. The old Saturday was about abandonment and disappointment at the far edge of the crucifixion. And then came all the Saturdays of fear and abusiveness, of the Crusades and the ovens and genocides in too many places. And then came our particular Saturdays of Katrina and 9/11 and economic collapse, Saturdays of overwhelming failure with no adequate resources. Continue reading “Walter Brueggemann – Holy Saturday: Expecting to be Interrupted”