Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Church of the Word-made-flesh


Most Christians today speak of attendance at a Sunday gathering as “going to church.” I suggest the phrase is misguided and its common use is indicative of a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the church as Jesus imagined it.

For starters, the word “church” (ekklesia) in Jesus’ day was not specifically a “Christian” or even solely a “religious” phenomenon. It could be used in reference to the synagogue as well as in reference to gatherings of various civil societies. The word, generally speaking, had to do simply with “assembling” a group of people together for a specific purpose. In that sense, any kind of  “assembly” could be called a “church.”

But the church of Jesus departed even from the first-century way of understanding the word. In the “church” that Jesus created, he was (as usual) being phenomenologically expansive with the idea compared to the way most people defined it.

Whereas each synagogue gathered people together around Scripture and the teaching of a rabbi, Jesus was a different sort of rabbi in that he claimed to be the Word-made-flesh. Thus, the synagogue he led was always on the move. It was literally embodied but, paradoxically, there was no routine physical location you could meet at during a certain day of the week at a certain time of day. It was a synagogue he could convene in any place at any time on any day of the week. Jesus’ “church” gathered wherever he happened to be at the time. Sometimes large crowds would gather by the lakeshore to hear rabbi Jesus teach and other times he’d reserve his teaching for just a few of his closest followers on a hillside or in a garden.

Thus, Jesus’ church did not extract people from the everyday stuff of life like today’s “church” does. Rather, the real world served as the context for the church Jesus established. The church that Jesus led was more like a living, holistic organism than a segregated, hierarchical organization with a special event once per week.

In that vein, Jesus’ commission to his disciples to make more disciples was intended to follow the same trajectory. Christians today translate the famous commission in Matthew 28 as “Go and make disciples” but what Jesus actually said was more like: “As you go, make disciples…” The phrasing implies that the church (those who are assembled to center themselves on Jesus) will make disciples in the course of everyday life.

Though Jesus’ followers do “gather," an indispensable aspect of Jesus’ teaching involves his “sending” of the church to be fully present to the world-as-it-is. Consequently, church in the Jesus-way is a phenomenon that is "gathered to be scattered." It’s a mystery: Jesus’ ekklesia is created through diaspora.

My prayer is that the church of today would recover the full sense of that great commission and live according to what it really means to be the church in the spirit of Jesus. My prayer is that the church of today would be and act more like Jesus, the Word-made-flesh.

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The Church of the Word-made-flesh

reflections by Troy Cady

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*Photo by Cassie Boca via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

 

 

 

 

     

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost: God Dances Like a Flame

 Today is Pentecost! It's the day Christians celebrate God's gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. Here's how I tell the story when I'm working with folks in an intergenerational setting. It's part of a series I'm making called PlayFull Faith that describes how "God dances and invites us to join the dance." 

I hope you enjoy the video and I pray you let the light of God shine brightly in your heart. 


Sunday, May 16, 2021

to mask or not to mask?



The question on my mind (and heart) this afternoon is: “How may we live in hope when our society seems incapable of any sort of collective action?”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Since then, I have seen no shortage of strong reactions from all kinds of people.

What seems to be at issue is the updated guideline that a fully vaccinated person “can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.” This is the case even when in public places such as theaters, shopping centers, restaurants, and sporting arenas.

On the one hand, there are those who have opposed CDC guidance thus far who are quite happy about the new recommendations. Many of them seem to be saying, “Well, it’s about time!”

On the other hand, there are those who have followed CDC guidance thus far who are upset about the new recommendations. The general response in this camp has been: “I don’t care what the CDC says, I’m still going to wear my mask in public.”

I see no small measure of irony in both responses, and I must confess I am more than a little distressed by this.

For starters, neither “side” seems to be taking into account the many exceptions there are to these guidelines. For example, the CDC stipulates that the public should abide by all “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance” that may require mask-wearing and/or impose physical distancing restrictions. Among those general exceptions, the CDC notes that mask-wearing will continue to be enforced in this interim period on buses, trains, and airplanes (including any respective transportation hubs).

But I think what distresses me the most is the way we Americans take something as simple as mask-wearing to further divide us. Incredibly, we have turned it into a wedge issue; we politicize it. We seem to have a kind of soul-sickness that frames any kind of call to collective action as a reason to go to war with each other.

What’s so scary about this most recent wedge issue is how we will be able to physically identify the “liberals” and “conservatives” in our midst. All we will have to do is look to see who is wearing their mask when they don’t have to wear it. You could scarcely find a better recipe for “Instant Othering.” God help us!

We are in the midst of a major culture shift that has been going on for decades already. But the unusual stress of the pandemic is bringing into full relief the nature and depth of that shift. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the likelihood of seeing people masked in highly populated public spaces is here to stay, even if the venue in question does not require it.

It doesn’t even have anything to do with COVID anymore. Friends of mine who are still going to mask after being fully vaccinated will do so any time they are ill or any time they especially want to avoid becoming ill. This will apply even to the common cold.

This is the norm in many countries and I dare say most Americans think that the practice is strange. I suggest that countries who practice this kind of voluntary masking have a higher sensibility to the impact of their actions on the collective. As a highly individualistic culture, Americans will have a hard time with this.

Given that masking will now be common even after the crisis of the pandemic has passed, my concern lies with how this new practice can draw us together and how it can also divide us. It is crucial that we find a way to come together. We must stop tearing each other apart. We need to be wise about the battles we feel compelled to fight and the absolute judgments we are prepared to make.

As someone who aspires to follow Jesus, I want to appeal to all of us to live by his timeless words: “Judge not.” You don’t even have to claim Christianity as your religion to see the wisdom in such an admonition. Of course, we need to make decisions and be wise, but what Jesus is talking about here is the spirit of condemnation. He was speaking against certain religious leaders who were prone to condemn others because of their life situation and/or the choices they have made.

We have got to stop judging each other and learn to look at one another through the eyes of love…with compassion and understanding. To do this we must admit that we never know the full situation with another person or a group of people.

I am convinced that the spirit of condemnation feeds on the toxicity of ignorance. If we could really see what’s going on inside each other…if we could really identify with the challenges they face, the aspirations they possess, and the reality of their history…we would not be so quick to judge, to look on another with disdain, mockery, and ridicule.

As we head into this new reality, we need to remember that we will not be able to pigeonhole someone based on whether they have chosen to wear a mask or not. Labeling another is easy but it always prevents really knowing them. It also hinders your own wellbeing—whether mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Remain open to others who are different than you. Refuse to make snap judgments. Enlarge the capacity of your soul to provide a hospitable environment for others. We may not be able to find a way back to true “collective action” as a society again, but let us do all we can to humanize one another.

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to mask or not to mask?
reflections by troy cady
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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

practice grace

 


I believe the road of true holiness is the pathway of love. Since God is love, we can only be loved into the way of becoming more like God. A harsh rebuke does little to change anyone. A judgmental spirit only makes matters worse. Love has a gentleness about her. She is companionable. She knows that growth takes time. We do not become mature by cold fiat, impersonal declaration. Friendship transforms us.

God is our friend. If I can be a friend, I will be more like God. You might say, “Yes, but sometimes a friend needs to say hard things to their friend.” And that is true. But if the hard sayings of friendship begin to outweigh the simple acceptance and affirmations of friendship, I dare say it will not be long before you will lose the friendship. If history teaches us one thing, it teaches us this: judgment is so destructive because it is addictive. Once we start, it is hard to stop.

God is not like that. God is not some frowning person always reminding us of how we are constantly falling short.  If that is your image of God, it is not an accurate image. God is the one who not only loves us but God is the one who /likes/ us, imperfect as we are. After all, we are God’s children. How could God not like what God has made?

Because God is love, God is patient with us as we respond to the ways in which God is inviting us to grow. As one author puts it: God has "a surplus of warmth" towards us. God believes in us; that is what Jesus showed us. Jesus showed us that “sinners” become “saints” not by condemnation but by grace, acceptance and true friendship.

“I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends,” Jesus said. This is an appeal to those who desire to follow Jesus. Let God renew within you this way of grace…not only towards others but also towards yourself. God does not bring down the hammer on you. Let’s not bring it down on others. Practice the way of grace.

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 practice grace

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Josue Michel via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

the critique of a funeral

 

Prince Philip’s funeral was held yesterday and millions watched it, thanks to the wonder of broadcasting. And today I am disturbed by the kinds of comments many people are making about it, some of whom claim to be Christian.

If I may, I would like to log this request in advance for when I die: if you attend my funeral, please don’t critique it on social media, with your friends, your family, or even in your heart and mind. Better still, just don’t critique anyone’s funeral. And don’t compare, either.

A life has been lost. Different people have different ways of marking the significance of this. Respect those differences. Honor and esteem others, even if you would prefer your funeral to be different than theirs.

And, please, please respect the particular faith tradition represented. You may not share the same faith, but this does not mean the faith of others is any less deep and truly in touch with the heart of God.

Just be a space-holder for those who are most keenly affected by loss. We do this through reverent, gracious presence. Space-holders know that these special times of remembrance are, in fact, the holy ground of eternity. A funeral is no time to analyze and evaluate. It is a time to pray for the hurting, to just be with them. Though it is fine to offer a few words of comfort, it is also good to keep in mind that words tend to fail. Just be present. Your presence is enough. Look and listen with love.

 

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the critique of a funeral

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady  

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