Archives for the month of: December, 2013

ImageMoments linger, but years seem to pass at breakneck speed. This year did not unfold as I scripted it about this time last year. The screenplay I scribbled in my Moleskin notebook was full of grand accomplishments and well-thought goals. Sometimes I wonder why the plans I laid went awry, and in the worst moments I get stuck on the failures. The end of the year has a way of demanding an accounting, but as I look across the great and small moments of the year, I am reminded of the great promises that hold my whole story together.

“Faith and promise keep me honest when starvation falls upon us.” These beautiful words are taken from the song “Life,” by the Avett Brothers. Later they sing, “You and I know all too well about the hell and paradise here on earth.” Beautiful stuff.

That got me thinking about the fight to keep faith and promise in view. All too often other narratives take center stage, so this post is a practice in locating faith and promise.

To look in the mirror is to remember who I am. It is no mystery who my family is because I bear the Williams markings. It is a beautiful thing to stand as a member of the Williams family. There is not a day that goes by that I am not certain of my family’s love. This promise is a grand promise in the face of starvation. Even in the lonely moments, I know there is a group of people who choose to love me. Not the good me or the right me. Not the smart me or the “on the right path” me. I stand on the firm foundation of Larry, Cyndy, Kyle, Cody, and Clara. Faith and promise keeps me honest.

As I write, there is a trendy ring on my left hand. The ring has been there for over 6 years now. On the evening of March 3rd, 2007, Jill and I exchanged trendy rings. The exchange was much more than a jewelry swap. It was a day that was in the making for some time. We met in college and though we did not admit it, (Jill was far less forthcoming than I was) we knew early on there was something right about each other.

The abstractness of marriage falls away with the reality that you are bound to another. I remember showing up to the hotel with our wedding clothes on. Husband and wife. It was the moment that it all became more than an event for me.

I am married to Jill in ways I would have never guessed. It is this dance together where her “otherness” makes me whole. It is not simply that she fills in my gaps, though she does some of that. The beauty of marriage is that you are so close to someone that lives in the world differently than you. I thought over time I would figure Jill out. I would take account of all of her otherness and figure out ways to change or change her to dismiss the otherness. I have changed and Jill has too, but she is still other. Brueggemann says, “The reality of otherness will not go away, but is the very source of life (location 320).” Jill is the gift of new life for me. I live in the world with Jill.

For us, life has always been a partnership, a give and take. The amazing thing is the giving and receiving with Jill does not distort my identity, but is where my identity takes shape. It is not that I have cut all ties with what makes me different. Instead, in giving myself to Jill I am taking part in a new future. It is in relating to Jill that I encounter myself, warts and all. We are not mirror images of one another, but we are other and yet have become one at the same time.

Jill’s faith and promise keeps me going when the moments of starvation happen.

There is a weird story in Genesis where God commands Abraham to sacrifice and cut several animals in two. Once in two, he was told to lay them on the ground so there is room for two people to walk through. Abraham did not have to take copious notes because it was well known practice. He knew this was the ritual of contracts, so he did as God said. I am sure he lingered at each step, making sure everything was just right, then he waited. All of the sudden, the Lord appeared and walked back and forth down the aisle of covenant alone. The promise cut on God’s character, a foundation forged by the God of steadfast love and kindness.

Sometimes when I cannot get my bearings, I close my eyes and think of this story. I think of God who has a furious love for all of creation. It is God’s faithfulness that sustains the covenant, and it is God’s promises that keep me going.

There were moments that gave me life this year, and there were others that restricted life. I both succeeded and failed. I can say this about every year, but as I recount the year, I must also leave room to remember my faith and promise. This kind of remembering has a way of ushering me into God’s new reality.

So before you start scribbling resolutions and goals in your notebook, leave time for the practice of recounting your faith and promise.

UnknownWords matter. We believe that God spoke and things came to being. The words passed from God to the chaos and good happened. It’s restless void calmed by the voice of Creator God.

Later, words called out to a man named Abram. The words built a people where there was none. This man was called into a new existence, a brand new life and calling. God’s call to go and the promises attached beget a family, an ancestry as numerous as the stars in the skies.

Speech insisted in the wilderness. The Lord heard the cries and the anguished words of a captive people. Right there in the desert I Am speaks to a guy named Moses. Go to pharaoh and tell him “Let my people go.” After some convincing Moses stands in Egypt and demands a hearing. The speaker was not the articulate, but God gave him offered him speech. Words built a way out of bondage. The Lord delivered and through the seas this people, formed from words, walk toward a promise — a sharing of words between the living God and a people who have his heart.

Life ushered in one word after another. Each word shaped the life of the chosen people. The promises and the law welcomed by the people and passed on with each conversation. Everything held together by the stories they would now stop telling. The stories of how God delivered and provided and created and saved. Word by word—from the first to the last—a people was formed.

The Psalms are a beautiful peak into the breadth and variety of words. Praise and lament, complaint and thanksgiving. God’s people heard and responded. Listened and spoke.

Words were worship. Language gave opened the covenant, the communion between God and God’s people. Each breathy cry gave life and possibility. The rhythmic songs and supplications ushered in the creative force and transformation.

At moments particular speech was necessary. The stuff that comes with a prophetic tone. Both the harsh and the hopeful echoed across a people, opening new possibilities and new ways of being.

Much later, Mary noticed what seemed to be a gardener. Her vision dulled by the tears in her eyes. The tomb was open, the situation curious, but then the gardener spoke. “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for,” he said.

Then the voice registered. Mary responded, “Rabboni.”

Mary ran to the risen Lord, and he leaned down and told her, “Do not hold onto me but go to your brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to the father and your father, to my God and your God.”

Once again we are left with words and stories. I love that Mary, this committed women is the one who gets to tell the story. She hurries back and the words begin to create. They usher in new creation. Word by word, God’s salvation, the kingdom come, breaks into our world. Paul says, “You are a new creation.”

So we stand in this great tradition of words and power. We are witnesses of the strength a word holds as the syllables rattle out. One by one our language creates. Words Matter.

Christian speech is sacred. The language draws the world into the salvation of God. So let’s focus on the stories we tell. I hope the stories we tell and the words we use welcome the world into the hope of God with us. The living God who just will not let us go. This God is not angry or disappointed; instead this God is full of steadfast loving kindness.

 

 

 

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Christmas is sacred space for many people. It inspires great passion, and I think the season welcomes it. The language of Christmas lends to a passion for revolt. The Christmas story demands to be taken seriously; it calls for a revolution, but the story draws us into a particular kind of revolution. The coming of the Messiah would have it no other way.

This week our gospel reading told the story of John the Baptist’s questions about Jesus. John is in prison; its walls forcing him to question everything he has done. The life of a prophet rests on great faith. Faith for a future he might not witness. And so he sits, a prisoner on account of his message.

Much earlier, John stood in the water with Jesus. He looked him in the eyes and welcomed him into the water. The sights and sounds of that day were correct. John was sure Jesus was the Messiah, the one to come. But the stories after that day were outside of his expectation.

And prison gave him space to wonder. John began to think and calculate and reflect about Jesus. He remembered the prophecies and thought about the stories circulating concerning Jesus. As he calculated, things did not seem to match up just so. He hurried a friend to his side to carry a message to Jesus. This messenger made his way to Jesus and with a bit of trepidation delivered his friends inquiry. “Are you the one to come or should we wait for another.”

Jesus’ answer was different than you might expect, but was an answer nonetheless. He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me (Matthew 11:3-6).”

John would recognize the language; he likely nodded his head as the messenger relayed Jesus’ words. The language drew on Israel’s long history with God. These words call up the kingdom promises.

God becomes King in Jesus, because the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is God’s saving work.  The Gospels assure us that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, but even John needed a conversion.

And if Jesus is the way God becomes King then it calls everyone into this new kingdom order. This order draws the people of God into this New Order of things. Christmas ushers us into a reign where the promises of God come to life.

I love how Mary, Jesus’s mother, makes sense of her promised baby boy. She sings, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant, From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down the rules from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped the servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants just as he promised our ancestors.”

Do you hear the language of revolt? Christmas calls for the passion of revolution, but it is a different kind of revolt. It is less interested in correct speech and nativity scenes. It demands that we lean into the reign of God. A revolution where the proud are scattered, where the eyes of the blind are opened to life in Technicolor, a world where weak legs jump for joy. A new order of things full of the justice and peace of the Lord, and an new world order where the poor in our midst receive good news.

So count me one of the activists for this kind of Christmas. I care about the reason for the season because It changes everything. It is the season where our Savior comes. The one the parts all things right.

Advent

I cannot believe another year has passed. Sometimes I wonder where it went, but this year there were moments that seemed so long. Seconds that went on uncomfortably, pregnant with anxiety. This year flew by, but at times it didn’t. And certainly I am not alone. I am sure there are others whose life squealed to a halt this year. There were moments when you just were not sure the next would come. The anxiety of an impending foreclosure pries at you as you lay in bed wondering what time the collector is going to call tomorrow. Maybe for you it is the pain and hurt of a deteriorating family. The moments feel like days as you wonder if things will ever get better. Maybe this year has not tried you in major ways, but I am sure at some point the days got the best of you. Maybe for a few fleeting moments hope buried deep under predicament of the moment. Well in this season, we are invited to slow down and to remember that hope is what keeps us going.  Even in the midst of waiting and waiting we are called to hold on to hope.

An aging couple sat down to a selection of their favorite foods. It had become their annual celebration,  another year of marriage. Again the year passed with nothing but a promise. Each year give birth to nothing but anxiety, frustration, and despair. The barren womb with a promised lineage, weighed on the aging couple. The promises of new life give way to the despair of another year waiting. A child is not going to come; the ancestry will come to rest here. Their lineage is just a stump in the ground. A failed promise.

A prophet comes to the household of Jesse and one by one meets his sons. Each son is the possible heir to the thrown. Jesse introduced the prophet to his first-born. “No,” says the prophet. Next the second in line, the prophet shakes his head a No. God has in mind someone different. A special king and this search led them out into the pastures where the youngest is kept watch over the sheep. “This one,” God says. He will be my King and David is anointed. Later, he is given the throne. Everyone loves this king. King David is the mighty warrior who slayed the undefeated Philistine Giant. This King is the one who brought glory to the house of Israel. King David is the king of kings. And from David is promised one greater.

So Solomon is born, this wise one had his good qualities, but he did not bring the full promises of God. Then comes Jeroboam, but he seemed further from the promised king. And one after another the kings pass and one after another the wait is prolonged. Then the unthinkable happened. Israel is taken from their homeland to a foreign land. The exiled nation has no power and the King thing, well it seems as if it is nothing but a stump. The once-thriving cedar of hope has become a dead end.

And this kind of waiting has a way of dulling our sense of hope. It blurs the God’s promises just as a memory dims as the days pass. Just as Sarah’s aches and pains signaled the cooling of the reality of the promised child, the days of “no” have a way of hardening our hearts.

But Scripture reminds us of the promises of God. For it says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, and from its root a Branch will bear fruit.” We are drawn back into the hope of Israel. The hope one greater than David, a Messiah, will come. And this Messiah will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Even in another land, with no power, hope springs up. And in the womb of an elderly woman a baby boy kicks for the first time. And in the midst of the most violent storm of your life a shoot appears. And Out of the hard lifeless eyesore of a stump the promises of God force their way through. It is the sign of life that rescues us of from despair.

This season of Advent is beautiful because it gives us a chance to remember the promises of God, and invites each one of us to expect the shoot to spring out of pain or emptiness or brokenness. The promise of hope—through whatever the situation or storm in your life—can keep you whole.

This stirring image must be ours. We are to be the people who wait expectantly for God’s deliverance. There is nothing easy about Biblical assurances for we live in the real world, and all around us chaos abounds. Yet, we are the people who hold to God’s image of peace and rest. Though our government is no closer . . . we believe God’s shoot of Jesse can overcome. Though it may seem the cry, “Come Lord Jesus” may go unheard; we lean into the promise of our faithful God, because we have been witnesses of God’s work.

Advent hope grants us breath, even when anxiety confronts. It gives us strength even when ours knees are far too weak to stand. It is a dawn to the deep shadows of life. So we stand on our tip-toes waiting for God to come.