Friday, November 28, 2008

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

Christian faith has intrinsically a dual orientation -- both backward and forward. We inherit this from our Jewish roots, in which the Jewish people look back to the establishment of the covenant and to the Exodus to understand themselves in the present and to prepare themselves for the future. For Christian faith, we look back particularly to the events and significance of the historical Jesus -- his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Yet our backward orientation is never for its own sake, to mire us in antiquarianism. It is to ground and shape us for today, and to look forward, in hope, for tomorrow. In our dual orientation, we gratefully recall the life of Jesus ("Christ has died") so that we can devotedly live in the life of Jesus ("Christ is risen") and boldly anticipate the life of Jesus in the tomorrow that he inaugurates and fulfills ("Christ will come again"). Hence, rooted in and stemming from our history in Jesus, we grow toward our future in Jesus.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Long wind and rain scour the cold trees of all leaves

but those most stubborn.

Extravagant mysteries of summer,

once enfolding, hiding with layer upon layer

(green without end!),

have fallen away.

Nests emerge, cling tenuously to what remains.

Severe mysteries of November, most subtle,

now excise with clarity, disclosure of form.

Luxuriance passes. Necessity presses.

Gray trees, semblance of rigor, spare no indulgence

but trouble to scrutinize.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some Thoughts on Romans 1:1-15

About twenty five years before Paul wrote this letter, Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem by Roman authorities with the consent of Jewish leaders. In the intervening period a Christian community arose in Rome. The time was now the middle 50s A.D., with a young Nero in his first years as emperor of the Roman empire.

When Paul wrote, he had never visited Rome. He certainly had not founded the church in Rome. Why then did Paul write? He, like other Christians around the Mediterranean, had heard of the faithfulness of Christians in Rome. He wrote to express his care for them and desire to see them. He also wrote to explain in some detail God’s good news in Jesus, the relationship of the Jewish people and Gentiles to God and to each other, and the ethical implications of being a follower of Jesus. Worthy of deep and prayerful study, this letter engages both our hearts and our minds.

This opening section of the letter consists of Paul’s introduction. It includes a greeting, commendation of the believers in Rome, Paul’s credentials as an apostle, and reasons for his writing. It also includes certain fundamental assertions about Jesus and our relationship to Jesus.

We should take special note of these assertions. From familiarity with church history and our life in the church, we may miss how striking they are, especially in original context. At the outset of this letter Paul reminded the Christians in Rome who really is the ruler of the world – of empires, nations, and people. Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord – not the emperor. Believers belong to Jesus – not to the Roman empire.

Questions of allegiance and identity are basic to life. They are certainly basic to Christian life. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” At the outset of this letter, Paul makes clear that we serve Jesus. Our allegiance is to Jesus; our identity (our belonging) is formed in Jesus. Yes, we live in nations and societies of the world. Yes, they assert their claim on us. Yet, as we have been baptized into Jesus’ death and reborn in his resurrection, our hearts, our minds, our very lives belong to him first and last. May we let Jesus, not the world around us, shape our allegiance and identity deeply, fully, visibly.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Singular Moment

There is a singular moment within the imperceptible haste

not a moment out of time nor a place out of space

for time and place remain as they are—local and sequential

Wind unlike any other wind yet wind still

moving ever new yet ever same through time and place

moving over the face in darkly disturbing anticipation

Nuance of sun parts the cloud that here and now

light—which most we see diffused and by reflection—

we see with clarity as light on face (as face to face)

In a singular moment time redeemed made full

without shadow of imperfection or decay yet time still

in bright-glinting transcendence yet local sequential