Sunday, August 30, 2015

communion and sacrament


I am applying for ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church. As part of the process I am required to write a “Licensing Paper” by which I respond to various theological issues. I know this sounds really nerdy but I’m having lots of fun doing this paper. I love playing with ideas.

One of the question-prompts reads as follows:

B. Sacramental Nature of Communion:  Communion is viewed as a sacrament in the ECC.  What does this mean to you?

I thought I’d share my response, in case it fires your imagination. Read below:

……………………………

To answer this question, I need to tell a story I use in my ministry. The story was originally written by Sofia Cavalletti but I have adapted it slightly. The story presents a synthesis of three key Scriptures: John 10:11-18, Luke15:4-7, and Psalm 23. 
It goes like this: The Good Shepherd leads a flock of sheep from the sheepfold to a large table. “This is the Table of the Good Shepherd,” I say. “The Table is big enough for everyone. This is where the sheep share a special meal together. This is the meal of the Good Shepherd.”  I place a chalice and a small plate with bread on the table.
“The meal does not look like much but it is enough to feed them all, all they need and all they want.”
As I say the words, I begin replacing the sheep in the story with the people of the world.
“The people of the world come to this table—the old and young, big and small, people of all colors. They come from east and west, north and south. They come to be with the Good Shepherd here.”
As I say this, I remove the figure of the Good Shepherd from the story and draw attention to the plate and cup.
“In fact, the Good Shepherd is in the meal itself. Sometimes, when people come to this table they feel they need to put something on the table besides the meal: a picture of the Good Shepherd or the words of the Good Shepherd or a cross. But really we don’t need to put anything here besides the meal because the Good Shepherd himself is in the meal.”
I pause because invariably the face of someone in the group who is listening to the story with imagination will light up somehow. It’s good to be silent and wonder about this.
“The people of the world love to be with the Good Shepherd here. There is only goodness here, no evil. The Table might be placed in a lush, green place, by the refreshing water, in the sheepfold, or even…in a dark place. Yes, He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies sometimes. Either way, He is here with us and that is enough.”


I see the notion of “sacrament” embodied beautifully in this story.
The presence of Christ is Real but we do not need to understand fully the theory of it. We know beyond reason.
A sacrament is “a means by which we receive the grace of God.”
In the story, it remains implicit that anyone gathered at the table is reconciled. You cannot really be at the table and harbor enmity towards the Good Shepherd or another person. This table brings us together. Sacrament is an embodiment of the Gospel, the good news of the ministry of reconciliation. As we make peace with one another, we are truly The Body of Christ.
Therefore, the Bread and Wine are Christ to us—but so is the People of God. As we become Jesus to one another through sharing the meal, Jesus is Real and Present. This is sacrament—Jesus…real and present.
Communion, as a meal signifying the death and resurrection of Christ, enables us to be nourished by Christ’s forgiveness and new life.
When we share communion together we do so “in remembrance” of Jesus. The word “remember” literally means “re-member”: that is, “become members again of Jesus and his family.” So, communion (as a sacrament) is the means by which we participate in the life of Jesus.
Finally, sacrament means “sign.” I take the word “sign” in the classical sense. A “sign” is a reality that points to another reality by participating in that reality. Communion is a sign by which we experience the real presence of Christ.


Friday, August 21, 2015

a letter for my daughter who is all growed up

This is the kind of letter a father gives his daughter when he drops her off at college and when he is an amateur theologian and likes to make stuff up. 

Sharing a piece of my heart for a remarkable young woman who is truly her own person, strong and wonderful.

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Photo by Kelly Maier


Dear Meaghan,

I’m looking out the window at the trees. The sunlight catches the leaves so that, as the wind blows, the light reflects and seems to shimmer as the leaves flutter. It is unavoidable that one side of the leaf will catch the light while the other one will remain in shadow—the light comes from one direction. Maybe that is why the wind turns the leaf—so that, in time, the shadow side will become the side that is enlightened. Thus, the shimmering reflection of the light is predicated on the turning of the leaf.
The wind is blowing, Meaghan. You are a tree with turning leaves. I know we will see new colors in you, new sides that have until now been hidden. You are becoming more and more shimmering, a reflection of the Light of God. You shine God’s light, lovely to behold.
Like the tree, full of life, you are entering a season of fresh growth. This is possible because you’ve had a life of growing roots that go deep. You do not need to worry about being uprooted right now. This is a time for remembering the soil in which you’ve grown.
Here are some things I hope and pray you will remember.
Remember: God is the Ground of All Being. Nothing grows apart from God. In fact, anything that is grounded in God grows of its own accord. Those who are planted in God do not need to worry if their life will be fruitful. Anything planted in God grows. That is all there is to it.
That does not mean your life will always be easy. Far from it!
I do not know how young trees survive strong winds, biting cold and searing heat—but they do. Your life has not always been easy. We have moved you from one place to another yet you never complained. I especially think of that first year we lived in the States after our time in Europe. How hard that must have been for you! I’m grateful that God gave you strength, that you kept your eyes on Him.
There will be more storms to face, and no one knows when they will come or what they will bring, but we do know that if you continue to be grounded in God, He will give you strength to endure.
Endure…that is a good word to remember. This new chapter in your life will take some time to finish. It will require perseverance, renewed resolve. I have no doubt you will stick to it, even when the going gets tough. You are a strong woman, Meaghan. Never forget that.
Remember, too, the Bread and the Wine—that is, after all, what Jesus asked us to remember. Jesus gave of Himself…for you. That means He loves you, He loves you, He loves you.
We have done nothing to deserve His incredible love, but He loves us all just the same. Always remember that He loves you, no matter what. If you stray, He will still love you. God is the perfect Father—how could He do anything else but love?
Since Jesus gave Himself for you, give yourself to Him. Since He is eternally giving in every place, give yourself to Him every day, in every place. Don’t worry, you won’t run out of things to give Him from yourself—because He gives you so much more than you could ever give Him. With Christ, we are always filled to overflowing, even when we feel we have emptied ourselves.
And remember: Jesus gave Himself for others, too. Serve as Jesus served. Love as Jesus loved. Jesus saw the sick and hungry. He worked to heal them and feed them. Show compassion for the down-and-out. See the lonely person and be their friend. Cheer on the weak. Encourage the doubting. Practice generosity. Be gentle.
And give by forgiving, too. Remember that no one is perfect. You will meet people who will annoy you, who will be cruel, who will ignore you or hurt you. Jesus loves them, too. To become like our good Savior, he invites us to learn to love those we now love least. He invites us to learn to love as He loves. Be patient and ask Him to love others through you.
He loves others through you. That is the point of the Bread and Wine. It is something we can touch, taste, smell. It is goodness we can get our hands around. I know Jesus says that He is the Bread and Wine, but the point of faith in Him is that we become the Bread and Wine, too.  You are what you eat: you really are. We become “little Christs” when we eat of Christ.
That is what God wants. He wants you to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus. So remember, Jesus has no Body in this world apart from us.  Carry yourself in this world as though there is no other person to be Jesus to others than you. You are His hands; we are His Body.
That sounds burdensome, maybe, but it isn’t—because Jesus says that when we yoke our lives with Him we discover His burden is, indeed, light—because He does all the heavy lifting. So, don’t ever worry or think that “being Jesus” is all up to you. All that is up to you is to have faith and He will do the rest.
That is when you discover joy. Always remember joy. I have just finished saying that God is love, but I also want you to remember that God is joy. Never forget that God plays and dances. God is the source of all true enjoyment. He created pleasure, not us. When we are in God’s will, we know true joy. When we go our own way it will feel pleasurable for a time, but the pleasure always fades leaving you empty in the end. God’s pleasure is eternal, it never fades.
So…enjoy God as much as you can. Sing and dance with Him. Create! Laugh with God as you would with a friend, because He is your Friend.
There is little else I can think that is important to say right now. You will notice I hardly wrote about Mom and myself. That is because anything of value we have to give you has its source in God.
Yes, we will always love you. We will miss seeing you each day. But, even though you will only be a short distance away, we still treat this time as if you are moving across the country. That is because we know it is best for you to have space to become a unique individual. We know that we will always be a part of you, just as you will always be a part of us—but this is not a time to cling. It is a time for you to grow stronger, stronger in your own person. That is our gift to you in this season: space to grow to become your own person.
To a certain measure you have already become your own person, but there is more to come and I look forward to seeing how God works in and through you to flourish for Him.
So, instead of writing to you about us, I wrote to you about God. No matter what happens to us, you will always have God. And God will never fail you. Always remember that.
I love you more than words can say, Meaghan.



Monday, August 17, 2015

what i would do again

If I had it all to do over again—
the last twenty six years
eleven months,
one week
and four days
since I first saw your face—
I would repeat every moment,
except for those I hurt you.
I would not speak the words
“I love you” with my mouth
without adding two more
loving acts to my hands.

We met at just the right time:
if we had met earlier
I would not have been ready
to be loved patiently
as you have loved me.

I cannot count the things
I would do all over again
since we first met
but let me try:

Let me cheer you on again
in your study to become
what you already are—
a true spiritual companion.

Let us grout the shower walls again
in our own style—
me with persnickety application
and you with your smearing gusto.

You can roll your eyes again
at my attempts to be funny;
I’ll try all over again to make you laugh,
develop new shtick.

Let’s dance again in the kitchen,
chat on the porch,
fold laundry,
bail water,
plant flowers,
weed gardens,
mop floors,
house hunt,
budget and shop
froth milk and drink coffee.

I’ll fry eggs and do the dishes;
let’s road-trip to Chicago again
on one tank of gas.

I would take you on that picnic
when the day is
colder than planned.
We would remain in the park,
defying the wind,
determined to prove our friendship
is stronger than the weather.

When I don’t know how to uncork the bottle,
I’ll just break its neck.
Let’s have another wasteful celebration.

These things I would do all over again.
I only have one request of you,
just one thing I want you to do once more:
startle me again
with fresh freedom,
an understanding of God
whose grace,
rightly grasped,
makes one tremble,
devoid of fear,
shaken by hope’s tremors.



what i would do again
by troy cady
for Heather on our 24th anniversary
August 17, 2015
  



Saturday, July 25, 2015

people like us

People like us
had no right
to live in a place like this

but Jim, the stepdad,
was a good con man

so we signed the lease
on a four bedroom
two bath rambler
with a swimming pool out back
and a fireplace in the center
of the living room.

We had no right
to live in this place.
We never had
warm company
over to dinner,
never made the most
of Lakewood.

People like us
had been spit out
of places like Texas.
Drunkards we were,
brawlers.

Someone like me
awakened at night,
confused by pleading sounds
in the kitchen,
cries to stop,
curses and clapping noises.

Someone like me,
eleven years old,
in the bedroom closest to the kitchen
figured out what was going on
in the next room.

People like us
who live in nice homes
for the time being
think of taking knives,
ridding the world of wife beaters.

Little boys
think about killing at night.

Big brothers
stop little boys
from being so foolish.

People like us
live in houses like this,
waiting until morning
when the beating stops
for the time being.


………………………………………………..


people like us
by troy cady








Thursday, July 23, 2015

awakening

Overnight the
overhead fan
moved the right panel of
the deep red curtain
just inches from closed.

When the sun rose
light’s lips kissed
my closed eyes
till sleep’s mist lifted,
leaving only
the ground of Hope.

The fresh day
has enough alarm
to awaken me from apathy
so I thank you, God,
for the wind
that opens this room up to the Holy
in the night
so I may rise to Rest
in the day.


…………………………………………….


awakening
by Troy Cady
written during The Creative Call PlayGroup
July 23, 2015




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

on our island

Cross the short bridge with me
to the small island
off this curving lakeshore,
the line of the water shaped as if God’s hand
held a fine jewel for us to enjoy.
The lake is still this spring night
as we return
to climb the rungs
of the lifeguard chair.

As we sit in silence
and understanding
let’s kiss the tears away,
wordless and holy
as the old chapel uphill--
tender friendship,
fine as the sand below--
hope like the waxing moon above—
love, untraceable and clear
as the stars.


………………………


on our island
by Troy Cady













  

Monday, July 13, 2015

the One who was and is and is to come


Note: in the Exodus text, when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, He refers to Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Later, when Moses asks for God’s Name, the Lord replies with a phrase that could be translated in two possible ways: “I AM WHO I AM” and “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” The Hebrew text suggests both meanings.

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Artistic rendering of Moses at the burning bush
by Troy Cady

The One Who Was and Is and Is To Come
by Troy Cady

We spend most of our time living towards the future…planning ahead, predicting what will come next. Why do we do this? I believe it is because God made us to live towards the future; after all, God is there already. Somehow we have a sense of meeting God in the future, even though the future is the one thing we can never catch.

Still, the God of the future draws us out of the present into something we don’t have yet. This is a God who knocks on the door, compelling us to open it. We don’t know what awaits us on the other side. We will only find out if we open the door. When we open the door, there is a God who draws us out, who invites us to join him on an adventure, a God who invites us to wander and wonder with him because, as Tolkien says, “Not all who wander are lost.”

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this God as the God of Hope. Moltmann has developed a whole theological paradigm around the theme of hope—that’s how powerful it is. Hope is like an experiment, Moltmann says. You can’t tell exactly how it is going to turn out but you’ll never find out if you don’t commit to the experiment.

Hope requires commitment. It takes courage to hope. Hope is risk; hope is faith-with-moxy. Hope is childlike and playful—daring and bold, open to something new.

Hope says, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out but let’s just try it. We’ll never find out if we don’t try.”  

That’s when the doubter asks, “But what if we’re wrong?”
  
And Hope replies: “Well…God is still God. So we may as well try.”

May as well hope.

The future: hope or fear

The strange thing about the future is that we live towards it but it is also the source of our biggest Fear. Mostly, we fear the Unknown.  

At the end of June, the Supreme Court of the United States reached an important decision and the internet exploded with opinion borne of fear.

But what are we afraid of? If the Supreme Court decides one way, God is still God. If they change their mind next year, God is still God. What are we so afraid of?

I have a confession to make: I’m a professional worrier. “Hello, my name is Troy and I’m an anxious-holic.” Who else is with me? I spend my days oscillating between present contentment and worry about the future. I worry things aren’t going to work out. When they do work out, I’m happy and content. For a while…until I start worrying about the next thing that might not work out.

But Jesus asks worriers like me: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Do not fear. What are you worried about? What are you afraid of? Give it to God now. God is ahead of us. God is to come. Good is to come.

So, “seek first God’s kingdom,” Jesus says. That is what you can do now. Seek. In fact, seeking is something you can only do now. It’s not something you put off for the future. If you keep putting it off, you’ll never do it. Seek. Do it now.

Jesus says, “Seek and you shall find.”  Pascal wrote there are three kinds of people in the world: the first is the person who does not seek and will not find. The second is the person who seeks but has yet to find. The third is the person who seeks and has found.

I think all of us are, at various times, all three people plus a fourth. Ultimately, I think God is the Primary Seeker and we are the Found. But, because God wants to make us like him, he bids us seek like he does.

The present: abide or hurry

So, how does God seek? That is the key question. Here is how God seeks: God seeks moment-by-moment and he never stops. Jesus used the word “abide” to describe it. God abides and invites us to abide with him the same way he abides with us: moment-by-moment.

Let’s try it. Take a minute now. Pause, truly. Each moment, with each breath, think: God is near, God is here. Now. And now. And now. Try it. Just abide, just seek.

And remember: “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Notice that when we seek like this, we do not hurry. In fact, you can’t hurry and seek at the same time. Seeking is not something you do in 17 seconds. If you’re hurried in your seeking, you’re not truly seeking. Seeking is slow.

And, anyway…why do we need to be in a hurry? All we have is right now and now is never hurried. So don’t worry and don’t hurry; just abide. Just as Jesus rested in his Father, so he invites us to rest in him. Just rest. Just trust. Abide.

The irony is: when we live this way…in the present…we are leaning towards the future. The apostle Paul described seeking as “pressing toward what is ahead.” We do that now, though. Seeking now is how we practice hope for the future. But, we can only do this present-and-future living as we make our peace with the past. Paul says that the flip-side of pressing on toward what is ahead involves forgetting what is behind, specifically all our misguided ways…the mistakes and sins of the past.

The past: redemption or regret

I think living in the present and hoping for the future is hard because we all have regrets that keep us chained to the past. Our regrets pertain to things that have been done to us, or things we have done to ourselves or others. These are things we wish we could change…go back and do differently.

For example, I had a fight with my wife once. Okay…more than once. But this one particular time I said something I wish I could have unsaid. Okay…more than that one particular time.

And there are more regrets, too. For example, I have a friend who needed some help once and I just carried on, ignoring him. I wish I could go back and help him when he needed it. When another friend betrayed me, I harbored resentment. In my youth I nursed lust and in my adulthood I reared envy. I wish I could do some things over again.

The biblical patriarch Jacob had the same experience. When he met his brother Esau after so many years, I suppose he wished he could have done some things over again. I suppose he wished he hadn’t used deception to get God’s blessing. But he couldn’t undo it. He had to come to terms with the truth: that he would always be a wrestler.

We are all Jacob. We all have various deceptions in our past. We all have a history of wrestling with God and others. To live in hope and trust we need to make our peace with the past.

How do we do this? Through forgiveness. Forgiveness is no simple thing, though. Genuine forgiveness is not like a snap of the fingers and…voila…you’re forgiven. No, it’s a process.

Think of the apostle Peter. After he denied Christ, Jesus pronounced forgiveness while hanging on the cross, but it took Peter time to apply that forgiveness to his own life. In fact, the rest of his life was spent coming to terms with the grace of Jesus.

The amazing thing about the grace of God is that it will never run out and it has been there all along. Even in our deceptions, even in our regrets…grace was there, always there.

When God says he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he is saying in part that he is the God of imperfect people who lie and doubt and worry and steal. If he is their God, he is our God. He was there all along, loving, extending patience and hope.

What are your regrets? Bring them to God. He is the God of the past. He was there and he loves you, so bring him your regrets.




Using this labyrinth as a visual aid, pretend you are on the outside and begin walking in your mind’s eye towards the center. Don’t worry, this isn’t a maze. You can’t get lost. It will take you to the center if you just follow the path. Just walk towards the center.

And pretend you are carrying your burden…all the burden of the past. What are you carrying? Pride? Arrogance? Resentment? Fear? Betrayal? Deception? Shame?

Carry it to God. You don’t have to carry it far because you are already in God.

Now, you are at the center. This is holy ground. You are at the heart of God, the burning bush. Just abide. Just rest here. You won’t be burned up. Love and be loved.  Whatever it is you carried here, God knows it. He invites you to leave it with him. Jesus, on the cross, bears that burden.

Now, the burning bush begins to move. God becomes a column of fire, leading the way forward into something unexpected. Imagine you are walking outward from the center now…unburdened, with fresh hope…something uncertain but good. You don’t know the whole way; the road will twist and turn, but you know the final destination is good. Hope, follow…

What hopes do you carry? What courage will you need?

God remakes all things

What we have made cannot be unmade but it can be remade…by God. That is what God is doing. That is what he has been doing and that is what he will keep doing: remaking all things. He is the God of the past, present and future.

He is remaking the past in the present so that in the future all things will be made new. He remakes the past by forgiveness and grace. He remakes the present by abiding, resting and seeking to love and be loved by us. And he remakes the future by hoping, inviting us to hope with him for a day when there will be no more sadness or pain. The old has gone, the new has come.

So let us worship, know and follow the God Moses met in the burning bush: the God of our ancestors, the I AM and the I WILL BE. The God of the past, present and future. The One who was and is and is to come.

Amen.