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gatekeeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold, by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.   The one who enters by the gates is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  John 10:1-4

I certainly enjoyed a recent exploration  of this text.  In the exploration, I was pouring over all the familiar characters of these four verses when I noticed, as if for the first time, the role of the gatekeeper.  My Sunday School mind kicked in and I was trying to sort it all out.  Sheep equal God’s people.  The Shepherd surely suggests church leadership.  Sheepfold equals the Christian church.  The text overtly declares that Jesus is the gate.  The very thing that can be open and shut by the one character I had not thought much about….the gatekeeper.

I can imagine that some gatekeepers pride themselves on just leaving their gate wide open….this can be hard on the hinges.  A gate that is always open ignores what purpose the gate might serve.

I can imagine that other gatekeepers like their locks.  They take seriously when the lock is released and latched.  They don’t expect the world to hang upon its hinges.  They can explain the importance of the gate for safety and security.

But I hope to be a certain kind of gatekeeper.  I want to be the gatekeeper who enjoys the swings of the my gate.  To be the one keeping watch excites me.

  • There are surely those coming who are bringing easy joy and confidence in the fold.  Their woolly warmth will benefit the entire flock and they will arrive to shear and deposit gifts that the flock may give their warmth and security to others.
  • There are surely those coming with specific burdens.  They are coming to the enclosure of the gate so that they can wrestle well and faithfully with their burdens within understood confines and boundaries.  They will need the gate to hold the tension for a while until they, like Jacob are transformed.  Only when they have wrestled into their larger name will the tension of a closed gate no longer be required.

Wait, do I gate-keep for others?  If so, who are these people?  Am I really so powerful as to manage the gate for them?  Such foolishness!  The most fundamental gate is the Christ gate that I have accommodated to my own heart and mind.  This is the intrapersonal gate-keeping that sets the stage for the interpersonal gate-keeping of the 221st General Assembly.   Through my Christ Gate arrives those things with which I need to wrestle.  Then I have opinions about how others should wrestle.  Through my Christ Gate, I learn, live, experiment and having my being.  Then, I imagine what others should experience and learn.    Through my Christ Gate, I experience an abundance that runneth over the rails and I then imagine how to shear others.  In all these ways, I  have made Christ my own and gate-keeping becomes more complicated.

John 10:1-4  is inexhaustable…but my imagination is exhausted …. for now.

Most all of us will arrive to Detroit through certain airline gate numbers.  In our hearts and minds, we will arrive through the Christ gate.  Pragmatically, we arrive as gatekeepers and we will decide what arrives into the fold so that all who are included can be led out by various shepherds.  Isn’t there somewhere ….anywhere…a variation on this text?  I don’t want so much riding on this gatekeeper within a gatekeeper.  24 days!

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made alive in christ.jpg

 

I am privileged to stand with Kelly Allen for Vice Moderator of our General Assembly this June.  I have come to know and appreciate her sensibility in this election process.  Kelly is not one to make herself the hero of own story.  She is careful to be a candidate who is ready for the people.  If elected, she wants to be one who participates in the hope and witness of the Presbyterian Church USA as it seeks to be a faithful body.

Her logo by which she invites us to know her best declares,  “Made Alive In Christ”.  There is joy and celebration in this Christian phrase drawn up from the various epistles of our New Testament and specifically, for her, from Ephesians.   Joy and celebration characterize Kelly’s ministry and life.  More than a catch phrase for the Christian faith, this particular phrase is the key to understanding election and what it means for reformed people.

It was Karl Barth who most powerfully drew out the doctrine of election from Calvin’s work.  Barth reminds us that our election begins in God’s election of God’s self to be One who loves freely.   For Barth, and perhaps for us, we understand this love as Christ and the love arrives for the sake of community.

As I have come to know her, I believe Kelly Allen carries this primary understanding of election into her own circumstance when standing as Moderator for our 221st GA.  Jack Haberer said in a recent gathering in Austin Texas, “To stand as Moderator of GA is to present oneself as a sacrifice”.   His humor and energy carried that moment and that statement, but it left me thinking .  Our reformed theology carries us beyond the imagery of sacrifice and into a doctrine of election.  This doctrine reminds Kelly, and all of us, that we are elected to give ourselves completely into loving the Church and feeling the vitality of Christ as we do it.  This is the essential element of election that relieves us from the false moves of contest.

24 days!

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Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

I enjoyed writing these prayers after reading very helpful commentary from  The Interpreter‘s Dictionary of the Bible vol. 2 “Holy Spirit”  and The Lord of Life:  Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology David H. Jensen Editor and specifically chapter five “Guests, Hosts and Holy Ghost: Pneumatological Theology and Christian Practices in  World of Many Faiths” by Amos Yong.

 

 

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Leader: Some say that faith, in the larger world,  has lost its tact.

People:  Our parents always told us to mind our manners.

Leader:  Minding manners allows individuals to arrive at shared understanding and behavior.

People:  Even in Jesus’ day there were a diversity of beliefs and this required etiquette and manners.

Leader:  There was no Emily Post, but there was and is attunement to the Holy Spirit.

All:  Let us reconnect with the Holy Spirit who inspires bold tact, as we worship the God of Jesus.  Amen.

 

PRAYER OF PRAISE:

Holy Host, you are not an ethereal ghost but a salient connector.  When we have a need to be loved, you connect us with those who need love from us.  When we need adventure, you connect us with demanding individuals and circumstances that build stamina.  When we are in need peace, you present us with people in need of comfort that only we can give.  Hear our praise that when you connect us though we seem to be meeting the needs of others, our own cup runneth over.  Continue to come and connect our lives o Great and Hospitable Spirit.  Amen.

 

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Church does not often like to compare itself to other societal organizations.  We declare theologically that we are the Body of Christ drawn together by Christ‘s call upon our life and the striving of our shared ministry.    While the Body of Christ is a  this is surely what we hope to be, I contend that we must also acknowledge that we are an organized group of people by virtue of culture, denomination (or lack of it) and our context.  For this reason, the rigor of Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change is worth the church’s time and review.

A challenging work, the book provides a look at organizational life from some of the keenest scientific minds.  These authors are actively bridging the gap between biology and sociology.  The importance of this bridge is that historically, sociology has rested upon the research and assumptions of Darwin’s biological research.   Lauding Darwin they note that his work allowed  scientists to “parallel evolutionary research:  laboratory scientists explored the genetic basis of variation mechanisms, while field researchers investigated the past history and present operational changes through selection.” (18)     Most exciting to me is that authors of Complexity Perspectives are also critiquing Darwin’s work which has now become orthodoxy for so many.

Their critique is a splicing of variation at the molecular level from selection at the sociological level.  They splice variation and selection as they detail the rise of dog breeding.  Breeding on the one hand is a manipulation of the genetic of dogs.  On the other hand, there is a culture and a context that rises up in the “dog fancying” culture that has nothing to do with genetics but everything to do with interpretation and information sharing.   That is, dog breeders began to make decisions about what was preferred among genetic variations.   “They were less interested in producing dogs well-adapted to hunting than in satisfying the growing demand for household pets, and so they selected for features that appealed to the non-sporting dog-loving public: “cute”, human-like facial features and a glamorous full coat.”

Leaving many important details out of their first chapter, suffice it to say that I believe that Complexity Perspectives.  Has great relevance for the church will may also rest upon assumptions of organizational development theory that in turn rest on Darwinian orthodoxy that has collapsed the biological and sociological.  The most powerful example may be found in copious Google images charting a congregation’s (or another organization’s) “life cycle” beginning with birth moving through a prime toward an ultimate death.    Such biological assessment of the church has contributed to a bias toward new church development or revitalization as resuscitation.    Both these models are becoming increasingly difficult for the church.  New Church development is difficult because of economy and increasing religious competition.  Revitalization is difficult because it is understood as  reversal of the life cycle process.

Complexity Perspectives offers another way to view organizational vitality when they draw you and I into the dog breeding metaphor. The vitality of organized life is not just at the molecular, genetic, biological level.  There is something unique about the sociological life that is under-addressed by Darwin and by the church.  That is a flow of information and communication that allows organized groups to invent tools, understanding and ascribe meaning to those inventions .  These inventions can then present new challenges that then require new tools, understanding and most importantly a new ascription of meaning.

It seems to me that the church of a living God  is evolving but those of us that manage the church are using outdated tools, understandings and meaning to try to manage the evolution.   We are not actively participating in the sociological selection process of adapting tools, understanding and meaning.  (Even secular organizations do this better than us)  What is worse, we refuse to be as nimble as Jesus was in the realm of investigating sociological context.    Issues of membership, tradition and finances are just some of the subjects that I hope to approach with the help of editors, David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain and Geoffrey West.

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 Almost 3 years after it is published, in the new year,  I will begin a review of a book Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, editors David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, Geoffrey West.  I first learned of this book by listening to a master’s class interview with Geoffrey West on the website www.edge.org devoted to multidisciplinary conversation among innovative scholars and scientists.

The book argues that innovation (the way that invention spreads through a population) is the driver behind urbanization.  My goal is to make this book applicable to the church which has, since the time of Jesus, been dealing with social change.

Today,  the church, it seems, can easily become a reactionary institution.  This is quite ironic given the progressive pictures of Jesus in our new testament scriptures and the progressive images of God in the Hebrew scriptures.   Fundamentally the church confesses a faith in a  living God with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Once organized we understand ourselves to be part of  a larger vitality.  Individual members become part of the Body of Christ.

In this critique I will be assuming that the church has a great deal to do with the urban environment that the editors have collected in this book.  Further, I will be assuming that the vitality of a localized congregation is found in its ability to innovate in response to its environment and its tradition.   I am sure I am not alone in this second assumption.  However, the challenge for the local congregation is the how-to of innovation and what are the necessary elements for innovation to flow through a congregation.

I hope to discover important questions and learn as I blog about this book.

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Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kin...

I am jumping ahead to what are traditionally the epiphany readings.

Call to worship:

Leader: Expectation is such a difficult experience from which to recover.

People:  It has been, at least, weeks of expectation.  For some of us our expectations linger on.

Leader:  When Mary is no longer expectant she is surprised by what arrives into her life.

People:  Gift-bearing wisdom makes its way.

Leader:  Wisdom is a warp in time.  A place where past and future are conjoined in the present.

All:  Let us worship our God of wise men and women. Amen.

PRAYER OF PRAISE (easily adapted to become a prayer of confession if that is what is needed)

Holy Spirit of intuition and initiative, we praise you for the Christmas offerings of gold frankincense and myrrh presented to the Christ child and thus to us.  May gold remind us of our priceless place as your disciples and thus servants to the world.  May frankincense keep us mindful of our world ever holding others in prayer.  May myrrh leave us courageous enough to give our life and energy into our community for your glory.  May the wise men’s gifts symbolically guide our own lives into the fullness of Christ.  Amen.

 

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The final petal of Calvinism‘s TULIP is the “P” i.e. the perseverance of the saints.  For Calvinism, this is the idea that the “elect” never lose their salvation in the eyes of God.  Back tracking through Calvinism, however, we come to understand that perseverance of the saints emerges from Calvin’s idea of ongoing sanctification throughout the believer’s life.   (Our previous review of the “elect” in my blogs of  10/25/2011 and 12/13/2011  are a sufficient critique of the difference between Calvinism and Calvin for this blog as well.)

Sanctification is, for Calvin, the continual renewal that goes on in the life of the believer as they are increasingly persuaded by Jesus’ life and ministry.  Calvin would say their heartfelt union with Christ provides for the continual sanctification but sanctification does not stand alone.   The essential twin to sanctification is justification.  While sanctification is the renovation of the individual believer, justification is a gift that Calvin imagines is bestowed by God through the life and ministry of Jesus.  Said yet another way, Calvin does not imagine that a human responsiveness as in sanctification is possible without the generous provision of God i.e. justification.

I have, for a time, had a brief but indelible friendship with a gentleman who committed much of his life to the work of the church.  When talking about the joy of working in the church, he, having been a sailor, likened his joy to scut work.  As he told me not long ago,  “Scut work is a euphemism from Navy parlance for garbage”.   Scut work within the church has an essential nature  that exemplified his industry among good Presbyterian folk.  The essential scut work of congregational and denominational life is found in the tasks that keep us connected to one another.

  • In the records of a meeting or concern for the vitality of congregations other than our own….scut work has a sanctifying effect in that we are involved in a bigger picture than our own immediacy.
  • Scut work of the church involves interpreting the rules and order of being a church in  personal way that allows people to value and honor their relationships more deeply and with greater complexity.  Such was the scut work of Jesus as he traveled house to house…. that continues into the present day sanctifying us when we take it up within our own responsibilities.
  • Scut work in the church is the giving of ourselves (our specific gifts and talents that are organized uniquely in each individual life) trusting in the gifts of others that when compiled realize not only the industry but also the joy of what it means to be the Body of Christ to which the Apostle Paul called the Corinthians and thus us.
  • Scut work is persevering for some 71 brief years, as one welcomes the Holy Spirit to hone the mind, heart and behavior  toward a loving and inclusive God.

One of process theology’s essentials is that truth is emerging.  The world changes and we, as Christians, are challenged not to resist change and hide unnecessarily within an orthodoxy.  Rather, process realizes that each orthodoxy began as a response to changes in world view and individual understanding within it.  What becomes orthodoxy began as a suggested framework by which we might wrestle with and pray about the new world views that continue to challenge the tradition of the church of Jesus Christ.  The perseverance of the saints from a process perspective might be exemplified by one who loves what has been and that same person, with courage, welcomes God’s next thing with a discerning, open  and joyful heart.

I believe that my friend was actively editing his own life, the life of his congregation and his denomination not only because it was what came naturally to him, but also because Jesus was the finest of editors.   Scut work is an unending process attending to the mundane so that the extraordinary may emerge.  Such work ironically produces a sweat-equity sort of joy that is perhaps our finest evidence of sanctification and the continued imagination for Calvin’s notion of justification.

It is my prayer that as I persevere, I might never be talked out of scut work which now has such a joyful face and life associated with it.

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