Monday, January 24, 2011

Vol 2:4 A Missional Story

This week I am at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, IN for a week-long Pastor’s Conference focusing on preaching in the 21st century. I bring many questions with me to this coming week.

The congregation I serve has been experimenting with a different way of engaging God’s Story and Vision (Scripture) since last Easter. I have attempted being more interactive, dialogical in our approach. While reading Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist, I discovered that there was a term for this kind of preaching – Interactive Preaching. This style of preaching fits with our Anabaptist heritage of approach Scripture through a community hermeneutic – in which the community interprets Scripture together. Though this is part of our Anabaptist heritage, today in contemporary Mennonite churches, as well as most churches in North America, we seem to rarely practice such an approach in our exploring Scripture.

Recently I also came across Doug Pagitt’s book, Preaching Re-imagined, and I discovered that he provides helpful insights for an interactive approach – his term is progressional dialogue.

One particular insight of Pagitt’s helps us see that we are involved in a missional story.

In his 11th chapter on Implication vs. Application, he makes the point that in asking the application question of Scripture, we are asking what we are to do with the story, how the Bible applies to our own lives, how we can make use of the Bible for our own living, what is in this text for me – it perpetuates an individualistic hermeneutic where we make use of Scripture.

On the other hand, implication asks a different set of questions. It asks “how we fit into the story of God” (Pagitt, 100). Our lives find a vocabulary for living by weaving our lives into God’s Story and Vision – and as a result our lives become woven missionally into the stories of the world (cf. Pagitt, 100).

As the people of God we are not about living out our own stories, but we have been embraced, captured by God’s Story and Vision – it is God’s Story and Vision that shapes our life, shapes our faith, shapes who we are, what we do, how we engage others, how we are missional in the world. When we ask “what are the implications of a particular Scripture for our lives?” we are not asking an application question – it is not about how we use the Bible, but rather we are asking how is my life to be transformed by the Spirit of God so that I might live my life within a faith community, missionally and incarnationally in the world, in order to participate in the redemptive mission of God of making all things new.

Pagitt expresses that “application is about how a piece of information fits into your life. Implication is not about fitting; it’s about redefining. It’s not value-added suggestion; it’s a call to see the story and join in it” (Pagitt, 102).

We are involved in a missional Story – a story that calls out to us to become engaged in it – a story that reshapes us, transforms us and refits us for living our lives under God’s reign – we become part of God’s ongoing Story and Vision as it is being enacted by God today – until God brings shalom to humanity and creation.

Our Sunday mornings then are a time for engaging God’s Story and Vision, not just to hear and apply it so that it somehow adds to our lives, it challenges us to contemplate implications of how we need to continually surrender our lives to God’s Story and Vision so that we live out our callings of being a people of God who are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign.

I will let you know next week the questions and insights I gained from this coming week’s Pastor’s Week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vol 2:3 A Missional Journey

In continuing the series that the Mennonite congregation I serve is exploring, of being clothed with the Spirit of Christ, my focus this week is on missional journey.

I like the metaphor that our life is lived as a journey – it’s a biblical metaphor. We are all on a journey – times of celebration, times of sadness; times of strength, times of weakness; times of hope, times of despair; times of health, times of illness; times of victory, times of loss. Our lives are also lived in seasons.

Walking with Jesus Christ is all about experiencing life as a journey that is rooted in the Spirit of Christ. The challenge becomes how we seek to live out our lives in these seasons. Do we live grasping for breathe or do we find the rhythms of breathing in the Spirit of Christ?

Last Sunday, our community focused on Psalm 40: 1-11 which describes the journey of King David’s life lived in response to the presence of God – from waiting on God in times of despair, to being lifted up from the miry pit and being set upon a rock, to living life trusting God declaring the works of God in which he cannot find the words to give expression to what he encounters.

What makes the difference in our lives in as we journey through the seasons of life? I believe it has much to do with being open to the Spirit breathing the presence of God in and through our lives. Our breathing seeks to take control of our situations so that we have some control over the outcomes or directions of our lives – however, if we are honest with ourselves, we are more times than not, not all that facile at taking control.

Instead, when we surrender ourselves to the Spirit breathing into us and through us – we yield ourselves to a different rhythm, a rhythm in which the Spirit takes us along into rhythms which enable us to make confession in a similar manner as David expresses in Psalm 40 – a confession that realizes that it is God who embraces us in our living, leading and directing us in ways which fill us with life, giving us a different perspective in which our lives become more and more like Christ’s – being people who live our lives in openness and response to God’s engaging presence.

May we be open to breathing in the Spirit as we journey through the seasons of our life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vol 2:2 A Missional Spirituality

In the Mennonite congregation I serve, we are using the Lectionary to open ourselves as a community to hear what God is saying to us through Scripture during the season of Epiphany – actually throughout the whole year. During these Sundays following Epiphany we are exploring a common thread woven through these texts – namely being clothed with the Spirit of Christ.

Last Sunday, we explored that we were created as human beings not only to breathe in air, but more importantly to breathe in the Spirit of God – Genesis 2:7 recounts that God breathed in us. Though we exhaled and began to breathe in what is toxic to us, God came in Christ to re-create us and to breathe the Spirit into our lives once again – cf. John 20:22 where Christ breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

This week we are exploring our being attuned to the presence and workings of God in the times and seasons of our lives. As we live being open to God encountering us, and as we are open to responding to God’s encounter, we begin to witness the presence and moving of the Spirit in our lives – and in so doing we lives as ones who are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign (note to read my thoughts on our being sign, foretaste, and instrument, see to Missional Matters Vol 1: 3,4,and 5).

I make note of this to say that our spirituality is missional when it gives heed to the Spirit of Christ, and we live out a missional spirituality as we live being clothed with the Spirit of Christ. Breathing in the Spirit and being attuned to God are key aspects of our living missionally. We can be about our own lives, doing our own thing, breathing in God according to our own agendas, being aware of God in those moments which we set aside for being attuned – but then we about living our own lives, bringing in God when it suits us for God to participate in our lives.

However, living missionally, living within a missional spirituality is about growing in learning to live in the times and seasons of our lives being open to the rhythms and leading of God – it is we who are called and empowered and enabled by the Spirit of Christ to participate with God and what God is doing to re-create all of creation. Engaging in a missional spirituality is for us to respond to God’s embrace of us to participate in the life and mission of God, rather than God merely being a participant in the directions and agendas of our own lives.

To live missionally, to be a people who are embraced by a missional spirituality, involves being a people who daily posture ourselves to breathe in the Spirit of Christ, who daily attune our lives to the rhythms of God – recognizing that it is God who re-creates us, leads us, sustains us, so that in all our living we participate in living out what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer – “may your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, just as it is in heaven.”

My encouragement to you as we live into this New Year is for each of us to breathe in the Spirit and to live being attuned to God and God’s actions – in this way we will discover what it is to be embraced a missional spirituality.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Vol 2:1 A Missional Blessing

It’s good to be back writing after the Christmas and New Year’s break – I hope you all had a joyous Christmas and I pray for blessings upon you in this unfolding New Year. I use the term “blessings” perhaps in a little different way that is normally understood.

Often when we pass on blessings, we are wishing something good or bountiful for another – and often we may catch ourselves believing we are privileged because we are blessed. However, from both a biblical and missional perspective, I would like to reframe a common misunderstanding of being blessed.

I used to think of blessing as graces I have received from God, which though I understood as being undeserved, nonetheless I somehow felt I was privileged because I was blessed. Blessings were something I had received from God for my own well-being. However, a couple of years ago as I was leading the congregation I serve in a series on the Beatitudes, we began understanding the blesseds, not so much as “being happy,” but as beginning to develop our ears and eyes to notice what God is seeing and hearing. The poor or poor in spirit are blessed (Matthew 5:3), as well as those who mourn, those who are meek, those who are seeking for justice, those who act with mercy in an unmerciful world, those who are pure, those who stand in the way of violence as peacemakers, because God is taking notice of them; God somehow hears their cries, sees their sufferings and says to them “I see you, I hear you – I will be with you and yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

In being the missional people of God, our blessings are not so much of what we receive from God, though indeed we have received much for which we ought to gratefully respond in worship, but rather, our blessings are realized when we notice what God is noticing in the world which transforms our hearts and lives to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission of seeing God’s will being done on earth, just as it is in heaven.

Our being blessed is to be invited to participate with God in making all things new. I desire no other blessing than being part of God’s project of creating a new humanity and a new creation that God is bringing about in our world. In yielding myself to God, in yielding my life to the Spirit to surrender all that is still unsurrendered in my life to Christ and his lordship, in offering myself to God’s purposes, for God to do in me what God desires to do so that I can be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign is true blessing – all other blessings pale in comparison.

And so I offer this prayer of blessing – which I also shared with my community:

May you be aware of God’s actions all around you,
May you notice what God notices,
May you be attuned to God’s ways.

May you be open to God encountering you,
May you hear God speaking to you,
May you sense God’s presence with you and leading you.

May you live your life in worshipful response,
Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,
And loving your neighbor as yourself.

Indeed, may your New Year be blessed!