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Our Story in God’s Story

The Meaning of Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection

Every year I try once again to read a book or discuss with a clergy person or friend the theology of the atonement, which means the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

My need for this is to make peace in my heart with the whole story of Jesus. My desire comes down to this: I live in a small and simple world in which I want God to be accessible, understandable (yet ultimately unfathomable), real and touchable. I also want to be challenged to do something significant and heart-felt in response to God’s presence in my life. So I prefer a theology or way of explaining Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that makes sense to my heart and soul, not just to my mind. And I want to live out my beliefs about Jesus in a life giving way.

This year I stumbled on a view of the atonement that has been right under my nose for about twenty years. My clergy friend, Gary Klingsporn, cited it, cogently, in a chapter he wrote for a book we co-authored. I include it as the core of what I’m writing here, along with added features that I have personally experienced in my journey with God. Essentially this view illustrates how we find our story in God’s story. I embrace this view as the one that resonates most at this point in my life and my faith. I will describe it for you in the way I understand it and then name it for you at the end of this essay.

God came into the world for love’s sake

First, God chose to come into the world out of love for us. He loved us so much, he wanted to show us that he could identify with our lives and our work. God wanted a closer relationship with us and one way to be close to us was to be one of us and live amongst us. Jesus was born to be God’s unconditional gift of love to the world. God’s utmost desire for us is to live in intimacy with him and in him.

 

Jesus lived out God’s love in the world

Jesus lived fully in God’s love and through God’s Spirit. Jesus healed people, called them to make significant changes, embraced all the outsiders and marginalized folks, taught the crowds with stories and simple questions (“do you want to be healed?”), took on the religious establishment and hypocrites, and mentored his close followers (both men and women). He did all of this by going off regularly into the hills or mountains to pray and to be refilled by God. Perhaps he needed to remember the divine long song that he heard at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was anchored in his beloved. He knew that he was God’s human face of unvarnished love.

God entered into our suffering

God, through Jesus, entered fully into our humanity by living and suffering and dying on the Cross. So we know that God can enter all of our suffering and darkness and be present to us intimately in any of our pain. Why is suffering God’s entry point? I’d like to think that we just naturally want to be closer to God, but my experience as a spiritual director has shown me that we are drawn closer to God primarily by pain, which most of us try to avoid. That pain may result from illness, death, lack of meaning or purpose, abuse, addiction, divorce or any number of other things.

No matter the source of our pain or suffering, all of it is forever held in the heart of God. In fact, God tells us that he comes and makes his home in us. He is within us, waiting for us to come and lay our burdens down. Scripture says God stores all of our tears in a bottle and keeps a poignant ledger of all of our pain. God’s story is really our story, since there is nothing we have suffered that he hasn’t already experienced. In this way, God is a God of love and a presence in our pain.

God rose and transformed suffering and death

But the Cross, and our suffering, are not the end of the story nor the last word. Jesus rose from the dead and once again became present to his followers, promising them that he would leave his Spirit with them so they would never be alone. Meaning arose directly from his suffering. His story lived on in a new way. So, we, too, are called to rise from our suffering to see the light of a new day. Jesus always goes before us, as the angels told the women at the empty tomb.

Jesus does not leave us alone either. He offers us his Spirit, which is as close as our breath. In fact we could say that we live and breathe Jesus’ Spirit, he is that close to us. His Spirit gives us clarity, courage and compassion to live out our lives in life-changing ways.

What does this mean for us? There is a gift in our suffering

So if we see our story in God’s story, how does it interpret our suffering? If we attend to the deeper meaning of our suffering and embrace it with the help of a loving God and a healing process, we experience a transformation. We can see the deeper purpose, the larger call, the healing presence within the suffering, even if we are never fully cured or the memories still linger. Even Jesus used his scars to show whom he was and that he had healed. And those of us who cause suffering, by inflicting pain on ourselves and/or others are urgently called to admit our actions and take responsibility for them so we can be healed and restored as well. We can’t undo what we have done but we can make amends.

We can all move beyond our pain to a new way of life, a healed and restored life. We know, even in our pain, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. God attends to the details of our lives in loving, healing and often humorous ways and our intimacy with God grows—perhaps more in times of suffering than any other time.

 

The price of intimacy and healing

The closer we get to God, the more of his holy intimacy we experience. And with that intimacy we pay a price, a price that confirms our covenant with and surrender to our loving God, just as Jesus and his followers did in the risks they took and the way they lived out their lives. Jesus’ intimacy with and surrender to God brought him to a Roman Cross. How? His life of love was too radical for some. His unwillingness to be an earthly king provoked others. His life-giving stance flew in the face of authorities on all sides. His miracles prompted a larger and larger following, culminating with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, propelling the Sanhedrin, the leading Jewish authority, to position him to be the scapegoat so the rest of the Jewish nation would be saved from the wrath of the Romans.

When we experience intimacy with God and his love, we begin to look at ourselves in the new light of this unconditional love and we are called to release all that is not of God. Our price of this intimacy will be unique to us and may require releasing, letting go, making peace, and facing places of pain or estrangement from God in our lives, but it will also be life giving. We may not see how life giving it is while it is happening because we live in the little picture and God operates in both the little and big pictures!

God may call us to release things that will surprise us as he reveals what it means to go deeper. We may be called to change our work. We may release friends who are toxic; even family members. We may be asked to leave the comforts of home. We may be asked to tell the whole truth of our lives and make amends. We may be called to address our sin, which is, in my experience, anything that gets in the way of deeper intimacy with God. This would include, of course, the seven deadly sins plus two; lust, pride (which some say is the root of all the others), sloth, anger, self-deception, envy, greed, fear and gluttony…or anything over which we harbor resentment, revenge, shame or guilt. In short, we may need to “die” to ourselves in order to live more fully in God!

The deepest truth in our “death” and surrender is this: In this process we find our place of restoration. God restores us to who we were always called to be when we were first created and brought into the world, to live out our “sealed orders,” as the great healer, Agnes Sanford so aptly describes. We were created in God’s own image. Now we are able to reclaim that image and bring our restored selves fully to the world. But God invites us even one step further…

God calls us to be healers in the world

As we heal from our pain, and weigh the call of intimacy with God, we will be invited to reach out into the world in miraculous ways, to pay forward what we’ve experienced as a result of our healing and intimacy with God. Many times our call is to work in the very areas of our own healing, to share our newfound strength with the world. Jesus lived out his intimacy with God through showing radical love to the people he encountered, no matter what the consequences. He taught his followers by the way he lived. And his followers lived out their lives differently as a result. So we can live our lives differently. What it really means to live a Christ-like life is to let God be as instrumental in our lives as Christ invited God to be in his life. It may be different for all of us but it is equally transforming. We are truly restored, and indescribable joy flows through our lives.

And what happens when we are living out our lives in total surrender to God’s amazing grace is that we experience God’s eternal presence right here on earth, God’s kingdom among us. And then death, for us, is a deeper and richer reunion with God, who adores us, and with those who have gone before us (the clouds of witnesses) who are beckoning us “home” to join the heavenly hosts. And so the final word is never death. The final word is LOVE.

If we could only know how wide and deep and broad God’s love is…and that nothing can separate us from this unconditional love. Here is a poem I wrote about how I experience that love, my intimacy with God. This poetic form is called a French Pantoum.

 

I am God’s Now

I am God’s now

My desire, to know my Beloved

Intimacy comes with a price

My life has been restored

My desire, to know my Beloved

No other love compares

My life has been restored

Eternity comes into view

No other love compares

Intimacy comes with a price

Eternity comes into view

I am God’s now

This theology is called Narrative Theology, finding our stories in God’s story and seeing that God is lovingly involved in all the details of our lives. Thanks to Gary for writing about this view in our book, Who Are You, God?, in the chapter called “What can we expect from God?” I am also grateful to Bob Guelich, my co-author of the Critical Journey, for naming what it really means to be Christ-like.

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay:

How do you resonate with this way of thinking of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection?

When have you experienced God suffering with you or being present to your pain or suffering?
When have you experienced a new meaning, purpose or a call from an experience of pain, disappointment, betrayal or suffering, whether of your own doing or at someone else’s hands?

What does it mean to you to let God be as involved in your life as Jesus invited God to be? How does that feel to you?

What would keep you from moving closer to God or letting God move closer to you?

 

GOD IS WITH US

 

Over the years of my quest to know God more intimately, this characteristic of God has been especially meaningful to me. The truth that God is with us has sustained, comforted, and empowered me on my journey. I found that it is repeated over and over again throughout Scripture in both Old and New Testaments. It’s very repetition suggests that God doesn’t want us to ever forget God’s presence in our lives.

 

Please read the following collection of Scripture passages slowly and prayerfully. Allow the Spirit to speak and God’s message, uniquely yours, to sink in.

 

 

————————————

 

 

..the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23 (see Isaiah 7:14)

 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. Psalm 139:7,8 For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…” John 14:23 You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name. Jeremiah 14:9b

 

Be strong and courageous…..for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…the Lord…will be with you. Deuteronomy 31:6,8 He brought you out of Egypt by his presence and his great strength. Deuteronomy 4:37 You are my servant, I have chosen you…do not fear, for I am with you. Isaiah 41:9,10 The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love….Zephaniah 3:17 Do not be afraid….for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Jeremiah 1:8 …I am with you. Jeremiah 46:28

 

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. Psalm 118:7 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me. Psalm 23:4 The Lord stood by me and gave me strength. 2 Timothy 4:17 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear..Psalm 46:1,2a You shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. Isaiah 58:9 Be content with what you have; for he has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” So we say with confidence, the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid… Hebrews 13:5,6

 

For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (God) said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20 Be strong all you people of the land, declares the Lord, and work. For I am with you. Haggai 2:4 And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:3 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy. Psalm 16:11

 

Reflections on these verses:

…. Give thanks for God’s presence with you right now.

 

…. What does that mean to you? How are you experiencing it?

 

…. Reflect on how awareness of God’s constant presence can enrich your daily life.

 

Thank you, loving God, that you are always with us. Make us increasingly conscious of your presence that we might also be with you.

 

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Hi, I’m Bobbie and am what some would call seasoned. Now in my early eighties I look back on a life full of experiences through which God has shaped and refined me – still a work-in-progress – and for which I’m so very grateful. My first husband and I raised three daughters and both of us worked full time. Following his death from leukemia, God gave me another good man to partner with. Our combined families now delight us with 17 grandchildren. Our church’s prayer ministry is my passion. I also enjoy reading, journaling, long walks, jig-saw puzzles and knitting prayer shawls. I’ve known and treasured Janet’s friendship for close to 35 years and am honored to share on her blog.

 

c Barbara Spradley, 2015, All Rights Reserved

 

Beyond Words

 

In my opening essay, I mentioned my desire to speak from my lived experience to Janet€’s themes of beauty, hope, and healing and began last month with beauty.  This month, I would like to share a story about healing and how, through God’€™s boundless grace, I was surprised by a very deep healing at a time and in a way that I would never have imagined possible.

 

My story of healing involves my father.  With depression as his nearly constant companion for most of my life, my father, large in stature and quick tempered, was a man of few words.  Because he had more than he could handle just surviving day to day in the world of commercial banking, there was little left of him when he came home at night.  Quite unaware of the real challenges he faced, my sister and I, in being our mostly exuberant, silly, chatty, and noisy childhood selves, would be constantly reminded by our mother that we needed to find a way to contain ourselves because our father needed to rest.  As he frequently sought refuge in his bed and books, the back of his head became almost more familiar to me than his face.

 

Though my sister and I tried in various ways through the years to find and maintain a more positive connection with him, we were mostly unsuccessful.  His pattern of withdrawal persisted.  Upon his retirement, sleep became his most welcomed friend.  Though he would wake and come to the table for meals, he would soon quickly and quietly excuse himself and retreat to his room.  When the demon of dementia consumed what was left of him in his early eighties, the few words he had used were taken from him, leaving me with the jarring awareness that my hope for some semblance of a relationship with him had disappeared with his speech.

 

One morning, as I quickly readied myself for the heartbreaking time we would spend together at the eye doctor€’s office that day, I felt what I have come to refer to as a God nudge when I applied my hand lotion.  It was if I heard the instruction, €”Take that lotion with you!”€  Bewildered, but too consumed by the clock to engage in any further analysis, I threw the little tube in my coat pocket.

 

What was supposed to have been a fairly straight-forward and brief visit with the doctor turned into quite an ordeal due to an unexpected and significant delay in his schedule.  An hour into our wait, as I shifted in my seat, I became aware of the lotion in my pocket.  I felt both confused and reluctant.  In his prime, my father had been a large, intimidating figure who took his roles as authority figure and disciplinarian in our family very seriously.  If words had been few between us, any sort of nurturing physical contact was almost unheard of.  Why would I think anything could change now?

 

Still, compelled by the God nudge and longing, always, for any possible form of connection, I haltingly asked my father if he might like a hand massage.  At this point in my adult life I had experienced the privilege of serving as a hospice volunteer and had witnessed the calming effects that hand massage had on many patients.  Before I could even begin the process of reaching out into the air between us to frantically retrieve those words, to get that question safely back into my mouth where my frightened self was sure it belonged, my father offered me both an affirming nod and his hand as well.

 

In that moment, I realized that while the dementia had seemingly taken that for which I had long hoped, it had also graciously dissolved many of the other barriers that existed between us.  Just to hold my father’€™s hand in such a tender way brought a flood of emotion I simply couldn’€™t nor did I even attempt to contain.  Any concern about the time evaporated as I focused instead on feeling the warmth of his hand in mine, sensing the pulse coursing through his veins, and studying his life as it was expressed in the shape, the texture, the lines, and markings of his hands.  Soon, not just my father, but the two of us together, were joined in a place of calm connection we had never known.

 

From that day on, I had lotion in my pocket at all times.  It helped ease long waits in medical offices; it reduced anxiety in unfamiliar settings; it brought peace and comfort during times of transition; and most importantly, it provided many opportunities for healing between us in the sacred space I never knew existed beyond words.

 

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.”€

Eph 3: 20-21

 

Questions for Reflection

~What person or situation in your life seems beyond your (and maybe even God’€™s) reach?

 

~How is this for you?  How might you share these feelings and fears with God?

 

~What about the idea of a God nudge resonates with you?

 

~How might you open yourself to the possibility of a God nudge in your specific circumstance?

 

Warm greetings!  I’€™m Tracy Mooty and the consistent thread woven through my life is soul care.  I’€™ve especially enjoyed sharing this with my husband, our three daughters and their husbands, our three grandchildren, and our two pups.  We’€™re an active bunch who enjoys golf, Frisbee golf, tennis, pickle ball, and most every card and board game!  Janet and I first met at Colonial years ago and, thanks to her mostly gentle prodding, we’€™ve partnered to offer all sorts of programs and retreats.  She’€™s also the reason I’€™ve entered into this adventure!

 

c Tracy Mooty, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Unexpectedly Falling in Love with Lutherans

 

A few months ago, a colleague of mine asked me if I’d be interested in doing a consulting project with her, supporting discernment and renewal with a large group of Lutherans. My first responses revealed some of my biases–that I see most mainline, U.S. churches as declining creatures without much vitality. I said I’d rather help them die than try to prop them up. My judgments are often a barrier that God needs to break through.

 

I’ve spent a fair amount of effort pushing away many of the United Methodist traditions that I was raised in. When I first heard about the opportunity to dive deeply into the Lutheran world, it seemed like what I wanted to keep pushing away.

 

God had other things in mind. As I wrote on this blog last month, I’m seeking to leave the cult of self-development, a mindset I can get stuck in, where I can see the process of improving myself and my community as idols above all else.

 

After I talked with my colleague about this Lutheran group, she passed on some of my provocative questions about what is dying and needing to be let go of to the leadership of the group. Since that time, I’ve been amazed many times at how much these leaders have boldly leaned in to those unsettling questions about what is dying and what disruptive new things are being born. To my surprise, my colleague and I have now started a two-year long consulting process with this group, which I’m finding very enjoyable and energizing.

 

Mainline, declining, white Christians in the Midwestern U.S are my people. I can try to run away from this, or I can find surprising life as I turn towards what I’d been afraid of.

 

My father’s health is slowly declining in a nursing home, where he rarely gets out of bed unless he has to. The lack of vitality and connection with the world that I see in my father’s life is one of my greatest fears. It is hard for me to be fully present with my father in the level of disconnection and depression that he lives with. It is hard for most people. I still love him and keep reminding myself to turn back towards him.

 

When we are living in clear decline, either in our health or in our organizations, how do we find life? When I’m with both my father and the Lutheran church, I’m reminded that self-improvement and trying really hard won’t get us there. Lutherans are reminding me that renewal comes from death and resurrection, and through God’s grace.

 

I’ve heard the Lutheran catch phrase “saved by grace, not by works,” many times. It didn’t really start sinking into until these past few months, when I saw that approach embodied by Lutheran pastors and lay leaders I’m working with. I’ve been moved by their willingness to face decline, let go of identities they’ve held closely, and be remade by the Spirit. Their Lutheran theology keeps reminding them that renewal comes as a gift of God, not by our best efforts.

 

In my quest to leave the cult of self-development, I’m finding unexpected medicine in Lutheran theology. The fact that the denomination I’m working within is rapidly declining in the U.S. (29% decrease in attendance from 2002 to 2012), while still doing lots of great outreach and service, helps remind me that human effort alone is insufficient.

 

Nadia Bolz Weber summarizes Lutheran theology in this way:

“God’s grace is a gift that is freely given. We don’t earn it, we just try to live in response to it… Nobody is climbing the spiritual ladder. We aren’t continually self-improving like Tide Detergent. Nobody is just getting better and better and better. God always comes to us and makes us new, and then makes us new again, and again. It is called death and resurrection. God is always coming to us. We don’t make our way to God.”

 

Thank you, Lutherans, for reminding me of my own limits and the necessity of God’s grace. Lutherans have also led me to the radical vision of a religionless Christianity that Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about. Stay tuned for more about that in next month’s blog post.

 

I’m a 40-something man who is ga-ga about his 2 kids and wife. I also feel warmly about bikes, mountains, and Jesus. I do consulting work with religious and secular organizations, walking with them as they look for where there is the most life and vitality in their work. My occasional blog posts are at: http://spiritofinstitutions.blogspot.com/.

 

I highly recommend this quiet Lenten experience.

A Lenten Prayer Journey: Praying into Transformation 

Come to Central Lutheran Church for a unique and meaningful prayer experience. Pray at six individual stations scattered throughout the quiet of the sanctuary – alone or with a partner. Stations focus on “transformation” through each of the following: repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, talking with Jesus, walking the Labyrinth and caring for creation.  Each station offers guided meditation and incorporates the theme of Psalm 51:10 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”.  Come and enrich your Lenten journey on any or all of the following dates:     

Thursday, March 19 – 4:00 – 8:00 p.m.  

Friday,      March 20 – 1:00 – 5:00 pm

Saturday, March 21 – 12:00 – 4:00 pm

Central Lutheran Church is located in downtown Minneapolis next to the Convention Center at 333 South 12th Street. Free parking is available behind the church in the south lot or ramp. Have your ticket stamped inside the church at the security desk.

 

A Baptist Discovers Lent

Growing up as a girl born Baptist, Easter was something that we celebrated with triumphant music, Easter-egg hunts, and ham. We were excited for Easter, but Easter always caught me by surprise. Maybe it snuck up on me because I never knew what day it would be falling on. I didn’t know how to look for it, except for in that brief space between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday. Even then, I didn’t know what to do with that space.

 

I have a feeling though, that what I have been missing out on all of these years is the invitation to participate. I don’t know that I ever participated in Easter beyond waving palm branches on Palm Sunday.   We Baptists celebrated resurrection–specifically Jesus’ earthly resurrection and our future heavenly resurrection. Celebrations are good. But we were mostly celebrating something that happened a long time ago or would happen someplace other than here.

 

I don’t remember being invited to participate in this death and resurrection here and now.

 

Is that what the season of Lent is about? An invitation to participate in death and resurrection? (This is an honest not rhetorical question. This Baptist girl is still learning about rhythms and the depth of ritual.) Isn’t that what Jesus invites us to every day?

 

To die. To Live. To let go. To wake up. To participate in the Here-and-Now Life of the Kingdom of God.

 

To empty ourselves of ourselves

so we have space to receive the

Life God longs to fill us with.

 

Death and resurrection happen. Ashes and beauty. New life. These are happening. And we are invited to participate.

 

Sometimes the things that need to die are part of what we do. A few years ago, I was an attorney with three small children and huge questions about faith and vocation. Both of my roles consumed a lot of mental and emotional energy. There was little space for anything else. I knew that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, but I was afraid of letting my career go. I think God had to pry open my grasping fingers until I knew I could no longer hold onto my attorney role. It died. For now.

 

Space opened up. Space in my heart. Space to quiet my mind. Space to listen. New life emerged from my soul. Words started working their way into my heart and mind and out onto paper. I started to see and hear poetry. This had never happened to me before. Or if it had, I was too distracted to notice it.

 

Maybe it’s foolish to trade a lawyer job for poetry and words, but I don’t want to trade back. Once I felt deadish inside. I felt like I was playing an ill-fitting role. Now I feel Real. Alive. Connected to the Source of Life. Ashes and beauty are happening in me.

 

“New beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die.” –Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent.

 

This Lenten season, I am asking what else needs to go? What needs to die to make space for New Life? What is taking up unnecessary room, preventing my heart from opening fully? Some of these things are buried so deep, I can’t just drop them. But I can name them, release my grip, and trust that the Creator and Sustainer of Life will do the rest: prying these old, false things loose to make space for the new life he calls forth.

 

The resulting emptiness is sacred.

 

Maybe that is why Jesus called it “blessed.”

 

* * *

Sacred Empty

 

With empty hands
and an empty heart
I lay myself at your feet,
an exhausted, empty heap.
Empty of words.
Empty of plans.
Empty of Amazing
or Courage or
Daring Doing.
And instead of
“You should”s
And instead of
“Why aren’t you”s
You place your hand
gently on my head
and whisper
Deep into my heart:
“Blessed.”
Blessed in my sacred empty,
I rest.

 

 

 

© J.L. Sanborn, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Hi. I’m Jessica and I am so thankful to take part in Janet’s blogging adventures. I am the mother of 3 little-ish people and wife to a great guy. I met Janet almost 2 years ago and am so thankful for that life-changing, life-giving encounter. I used to do lawyer things, and now I get to play queen with my daughter when I’m not transporting my kids to school. I share some of my musings about faith and becoming at jlsanborn.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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