Why Jesus received the Baptism of Repentance

Jesus went to John at the Jordan River to be baptized by him. The bible consistently understands John’s baptism as “a baptism of Repentance” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 2:38, 13:24, 19:4). In Ephesus Paul found some disciples who had not received the Holy Spirit – did not even know about the Holy Spirit – but had been baptized with John’s baptism, and Paul explicitly states that John’s is a baptism of repentance (Acts 19:4). John is resistant to the idea of baptizing Jesus, perhaps for this very reason. Yet Jesus insists. (Mt 3:13-14) It is only Matthew who tells the story this way, perhaps expressing his own theological interest in righteousness – Matthew uses the word 20 times, more than the other three writers combined. By the time Hebrews is written, the faith proclamation included the idea that Jesus was “tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). But Jesus’ contemporaries certainly wouldn’t have thought of him that way. His sinlessness was not something that would have been notable. His family and friends and neighbors did not recognize him as special in that way – indeed he was simply “the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6:3).

What then is the reason for Jesus to be baptized?

  • Some have said that it was so Jesus could enter into the tradition of John
  • Others argue that is was a symbol of Jesus’ own humility
  • Still others suggest that it was an opportunity for Jesus to be publicly affirmed by God

     

    All of these are likely true

     

Beyond them, though, there is something else. Jesus had been living a life very different from the one he was about to begin living. He would make a change, a turn in the course his life was taking up until that time. This change of direction requires a turning from one way of living toward another that is focused on God in a new way. It was like Jesus himself was being reborn as a new person – someone his family and neighbors didn’t recognize. This change is what repentance is all about, and thus Jesus received John’s baptism of repentance to symbolize and solidify publicly his own change of life – dying to an old way and being born again to a new way.

 

You see, repentance reshapes life.

You and I cannot truly be followers of Jesus unless we repent of the old way of our life. And unless our lives are qualitatively different because we are followers of Jesus than they would be without Jesus, we have not really repented. Jesus turned from how he understood his relationship to family, to community, to vocation, to home, to the present and the future, to God and how he would live a faithful life. He did not reject any of these things, he simply transformed how he thought about and related to them. His baptism marked that shift, for himself and for those around him. Repentance reshapes life.

Dream Discovery Process Discussion – 032812

“What would you do for Jesus if there were no limitations?”

 

Imagine that over the next three years we have lived into this question. How would you complete the following (Read them all and then answer the ones that most speak to you):

 

The ministry of Forest Grove that most impacts our community is:

 

The thing Forest Grove is known for in the community is:

 

The major ministries of Forest Grove, besides regular Sunday morning worship and bible study, are:

 

We share the gospel with our community by:

 

We integrate new people into the life of our congregation by:

 

Our worship service is:

 

Our leadership is:

 

Our facilities are:

 

My favorite thing about FGCC is:

 

The thing I am most excited to tell others about our church is:

 

My ministry is:

 

Shorter Version:

Dream Discovery Process Discussion –
“What would you do for Jesus if there were no limitations?”

Imagine that over the next three years we have lived out our answers to this question.

How would you complete the following:

 

The ministry of Forest Grove that most impacts our community is:

 

We share the gospel with our community by:

 

The thing I am most excited to tell others about our church is:

 

I have grown in my faith at Forest Grove because:

 

My ministry is:

Ministry of Spiritual Direction

(written as part of my application to the Perkins’ Certification in Spiritual Direction Program)

Scripture is filled with stories of people who serve as guides. Moses guides the people from Egypt to Canaan. John the Baptist directs the gaze of his followers saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Jesus says, “Follow me…” Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The spiritual life is about moving in a direction – toward deeper experience of our life embraced by God. As the stories in the Old and New Testaments suggest, this journey is one of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, dead ends and glorious vistas.

The journey toward oneness with God is simple, but not easy. Our lives are filled with competing claims from within and without. As Paul writes of his own experience (Romans 7) we hear the struggle of one who is sorting out the right path from the various options, seeking to make sense of powerful compulsions to choose this or that path – and he admits that he fails regularly, though not every time.

During his own ministry we do not see Paul humbly seeking the guidance of any human. He admits to having been brought up at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and to having traveled to Arabia and returned to Damascus, where he had previously literally been led by Ananias while Paul’s eyes were still covered with scales (Galatians 1:17). In this we see some evidence that Paul had those whom he considered wise guides in his spiritual journey, first in Judaism, and later in his early formation as a Christian. He even admits to surreptitiously meeting with Peter (and briefly with James) in Jerusalem without coming before the whole Jerusalem council of Christian elders (Galatians 1:18).

These examples illustrate some of what I understand spiritual direction to be. Spiritual direction begins with the premise that we are on a transformative spiritual journey, one made easier when we are helped by others who bring insights and knowledge to which we lack access otherwise. As the biblical journey stories demonstrate, this process is not a quick one, but is marked by seasons of days or years of exile, of fasting, paring down, chosen or forced deprivation, so that the participants might come to rely less on temporal supports and more on the eternal Spirit. It is noteworthy that in these stories some choose their guide while for others the guide seems actively chosen by God. Perhaps this apparent distinction is simply one of awareness and perception – in reality we are choosing, and God is choosing, simultaneously. Either way, or both, spiritual direction involves one being led, and one leading. Even when practiced in community, this one-on-one relationship is still primary in the direction experience. A group of peers may come together for spiritual support on the journey, but it is difficult for me to envision how several people gathered together could effectively direct one another. This would represent too many voices muddling things rather than moving us toward the clarity we seek in the midst of an already existent cacophony.

The nature of this directive relationship and the resources brought to bear will vary based upon the background of the participants. Christian spiritual direction will necessarily be in conversation with the Christian Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Along with this will come the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) found through the Jewish and Christian theological and spiritual traditions. I personally am drawn to the Ignatian tradition and have worked with spiritual directors from that perspective. Among contemporary writers, Merton and Nouwen and Foster are primary for me. Spiritual direction will often present new authors or traditions to the directee, but this needs to be done with sensitivity and respect for where that person stands now and from whence she has come and how. The role of these authors is often to point us toward God with new language, articulating insights we may approach but cannot put in words. They are perhaps, like the “Road to Emmaus” story illustrates (Luke 24), walking companions who open the scripture to us so that our hearts burn within us.

Spiritual direction also must honor the diversity within the Christian community. Directors will each have personal spiritual practices that resonate deeply – these may or may not connect for a particular directee. Part of the early relationship is coming to understand these differences and determining whether a productive relationship can be established that supports the person seeking direction. If I as a mainline protestant lack knowledge of or appreciation for Pentecostal traditions, for instance, it may be very difficult for me to offer direction to someone who comes from and still feels deeply rooted to such a way of understanding God and self in the world. If the directee and I are both are open, this could be a wonderful learning experience for us.

For some, openness to other religious and spiritual traditions provides additional resources and companions for the journey. Much wisdom is to be found beyond Christianity and Judaism in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, African and American spiritualities, to name a few. It may be that these are brought into the direction process by the directee who has a casual interest or a deep sympathy for the history and culture from which those beliefs and practices arise. The director will want to help the directee listen for what is life-giving and redemptive in those traditions and seek connections with the broad and diverse river of Christian faith and spirituality.

As an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a natural part of my vocation is offering spiritual direction to parishioners and others in the community. As I preach and teach and interact with people around town, they often have occasion to seek further conversation in support of their spiritual journey. It may begin with a conversation in person or by email regarding something that was stirred by the sermon. Or they may simply reach a point in their life when it is time to begin another part of the climb up the “seven story mountain”. As people pass through transition times – adolescence to young adult hood, beginning a family, having a family disrupted by divorce or death or other crisis, career change, “midlife crisis”, “empty nest syndrome”, retirement, declines from old age – they often want to reinterpret the place of God and self in the world through a spiritual lens. This work is supported by spiritual direction.

My own calling draws me toward people who are asking questions, who understand themselves on a journey which will not find its final destination in this life. I believe that mystery, paradox and ambiguity are inherent in the spiritual life, and exist within the Christian scriptures. “Systematic Theology” has always seemed something of an oxymoron to me – how can we presume to systematize time-bound human words about a God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts are not our thoughts, existing both within and outside of time? How can we summarize the theology of the bible in pithy phrases when the bible itself represents a long and difficult development of theological understanding from a pantheistic “our God is the strongest among the many gods and everyone goes to sheol when they die” to a variety of New Testament understandings of “eternal life and bodily resurrection through the grace of the one and only God, beside whom there is no other, who by the way is not just one but three-in-one”? God’s name as given to Moses is like a Zen Koan – “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be” and the very notion of the trinity is shrouded in incomprehensible mystery. These instances seems to be to suggest a God who actively resists our efforts at systematizing, categorizing, codifying, and cataloguing for all time what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, who is redeemed and who is damned.

My own spiritual journey has very much been “working out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) – well, perhaps not fear and trembling, but certainly awe and humility. I understand my call to ministry in general, and spiritual direction in particular, to be about supporting others who are on the journey. It is difficult to offer direction to people who don’t know they are lost, or who are not searching for a better path, or to walk the path they are on with peace and grace and hope. I’m reminded of the scene where Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) I hear a note of irony in his tone – all of us are sick and sinners, it’s just that some (Pharisees) are oblivious to their own state and thus not receptive to what Jesus seeks to offer them. Similarly, spiritual direction can be offered, but not forced or coerced.

My ministry is marked by several characteristics which those around me recognize. Perhaps the first is the aforementioned openness to ambiguity. My anxiety is not raised by it, and so I am able to create a safe space for others to wrestle or rest, as they choose, until they find a place of equilibrium. This capacity of mine causes frustration for some in the midst of administrative processes in the church where people want to be told what to do and how, or just want to “make a decision already” without taking time for prayerful reflection and God’s unfolding revelation in the midst of the community. There certainly are times to direct by telling people what to do and how – generally spiritual direction is not one of them except at the very early periods, when new skills are called for. When asked to teach them to pray, Jesus offered his disciples a concrete and specific and simple response. Other times when speaking of the kingdom of God and life of the spirit he spoke in parable and metaphor filled with ambiguity and open to a diversity of interpretation.

Another practice of my ministry is what now is called coaching, a way of asking powerful questions and doing “appreciative inquiry” to help another person explore place and path. In my ministry I have always sought to accompany others and help them build their own capacities for life, faith and ministry – including ways of seeing and experiencing the spiritual in life. I think all life is spiritual, whether or not we recognize or embrace this reality. Part of spiritual direction is helping people to see with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18) to recognize God in the whirlwind and in the silence (1 Kings 19); to learn to ask, “Where is God and what is God doing?” This work of learning to think theologically is, I believe, an important strength that I bring to my work of spiritual direction.

Lastly, I would emphasize my work as a writer, and my ability to put into words what others are thinking but have trouble articulating. Whether in conversation or through poetry and essays, this skill offers, like other spiritual writers of present and past, new ways to view past and present experiences, along with a window into possible futures. Working toward the Certificate in Spiritual Direction will give me an opportunity to continue this work of reading, reflecting and writing within a community of likeminded sojourners.

In June I will begin the Doctor of Ministry Program at Perkins. My project direction is toward a “center for suburban spirituality” where people come together to practice spiritual formation, theological reflection, personal emotional and relational growth, and ministry discernment and development. This is a “beyond the church walls” kind of ministry that includes but is not limited to folks in a particular congregation – many of whom would currently classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. I’m interested also in what spiritual direction might mean among these folks. The work toward a Certificate in Spiritual Direction will complement and help strengthen my DMin experience, providing a different way of approaching these topics. Along the way I would hope also to be able to support my peers in the certificate program as we form a community during our time together, developing relationship as colleagues and as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Learning to serve the poor

When I was in college I was fortunate to serve as Mission Intern at a big-steeple downtown church. When people came to the door seeking financial support, I was their liaison with the church. I had afternoon office hours and a monthly budget – I always exceeded both. Each month my supervisor would meet with me, show me the budget and how much I had given away, point out the overage and grimace in a way that expressed compassionately, “This can’t happen next month.” “I know,” I’d smile back, both of us recognizing that it probably would, and it did. I also coordinated the church’s running of a Saturday Soup kitchen, using the model known as Second Helpings – where restaurant food is collected, deep frozen, and reserved to those in need. A small group of us from a campus ministry, full of the idealism and indefatigable spirit of the young, cornered the senior pastor of the above mentioned church and said, “We’re going to start a soup kitchen, and we’d love it if you all help.” Without missing a beat the pastor responded, “We’ll do it at our place!” and sure enough, over time that’s exactly what happened.

These experiences, along with time spent as a volunteer coordinator for a Habitat for Humanity chapter, left me frustrated. I kept feeling like we were putting on band-aids, doing triage, but not helping people to address their foundational issues that put and kept them in need of help. I wrote my senior thesis on “The Socialization of the Homeless: A Call for Change” wherein I argued that the homeless in general, and the poor more broadly considered, need more than for someone to hand them resources; they (like all of us) need to participate in a community of support where transformation can occur and inner capacities can be discovered and developed to their fullest capacity. This is also the argument made by Robert D. Lupton in TOXIC CHARITY: How churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it).

Dignity is a key theme for Lupton – he emphasizes maintaining and even enhancing the dignity of the poor through all policies, programs and practices intended to help alleviate poverty. This also results in heightened dignity-with-humility for those who serve – doing for is dehumanizing for those with power as well as those without. This focus on dignity then leads to numerous shifts or outright reversals. from “doing for” to “doing with”; from focus on need to focus on relationship; from emergency assistance to development assistance; from focus on meeting our needs to meeting the needs of those being served; from “charity to parity”; from “going on tourist mission trips” that displace local labor and leave little long term change to sending skilled community developers; from food pantry to food coop; from gentrification to re-neighboring; from “experts” leading to community leaders leading with “experts” (i.e. people with knowledge, skills, resources and networks) serving in support capacities. All of these shifts result in heightened dignity for all involved.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, a phrase oft used in literature and perhaps originating with Bernard of Clairvaux, certainly applies in this present context. Churches and charities (and governments and individuals) mean well. We need to look at the unintended consequences of our actions before we take them. We need to act in partnership and community with those being served. We need to develop opportunities for reciprocity wherever possible. We need to build on strengths while filling asset gaps.

I am also now fortunate to serve in a community where some people understand these premises and are seeking to develop community awareness while enacting policy and developing program. We have much to learn. Jesus called the adults around him to learn from the children; I think a parallel principle applies here – the poor have much to teach those who would want to help them. Needing help does not make one helpless – meeting needs unilaterally does.

Why writing is important…

 

via Why Talk Therapy Is on the Wane and Writing Workshops Are on the Rise – NYTimes.com.

I recently began leading a new workshop composed of students in their 50s and 60s. All have children and busy careers. And I sometimes wonder, as I look around the room, why at this late stage they’ve chosen to write at all. I fear that perhaps I’m giving them false hope. But it’s hard for me to remain cynical when I think about their motives. What they’re seeking is exactly what I wanted: the refuge of stories, which remain the most reliable paths to meaning ever devised by our species.

A few weeks ago, we critiqued a novel excerpt about a trio of fractious sisters who travel to a family reunion in the country of their birth. The author was prone to comma splices and garbled exposition. But I spent most of class gently suggesting that she work to expose the dynamics roiling beneath the family bickering. Afterward, she told me she was grateful the class had discerned what the piece was really about. She paused, shifting from one foot to the other. “It’s tough with my sisters. There was a lot of unhappiness.”

I have no idea whether my student will do the lonely, dogged labor necessary to get her novel published. I’m not sure that’s what matters in the end. What matters is that she and her comrades have found a way to face the toughest truths within themselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty. In a world that feels increasingly impersonal and atomized, I can’t think of a more thrilling mission.

How can this experience be made more accessible to folks who don’t think of themselves as writers, but have this same need? Are there ways that congregations and community groups can offer, teach, model and recommend this way of working through our individual and collective angst? What place does story telling have in our lives? Where are we telling and participating in stories rather than just being passive observers?

The Daily Examen – IgnatianSpirituality.com

The Daily Examen

“The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.”

The following link will take you to a wealth of resources on Ignatian Spirituality: The Daily Examen – IgnatianSpirituality.com.

Dream Discovery Update 03202012

The Dream Discovery Process formally launched in September of 2011 with the selection by the congregation of the Dream Discovery Leadership Team: Curtis Allen, Fran Barclay, Cindy Kyle, Julie Morren, Greg Pearson and Kim Rodenbaugh. After several weeks of preparation, the DDLT lead the congregation through an initial season of discovery, including unified Sunday school lessons coordinated with our sermon theme and the presentation of personal testimonies by the DDLT on Wednesday evenings. This season was called QUEST – Taking the Census and Scouting out the Land. We began

In our yearlong theme schedule, we are now moving through the season of strengthening as we journey with Jesus through Lent and think about the role repentance plays in our lives. Had things gone according to plan (mine, not God’s?) the preceding season of Epiphany would have brought us some big revelations of God’s overall dream for us, toward which we are now being strengthened. That hasn’t happened, which is ok. We are still in waiting mode: watching, listening, praying, sharing, asking and wondering together – what is God’s dream for us, individually, as a congregation, and as a community? One of the lessons of this Lenten season is that often, when things aren’t moving as we think they could or should, then repentance is a way to clear the runway of our hearts and minds so that God’s spirit has room to land. It may be that we have not heard God’s dream more clearly because we have not embraced prayerful repentance fully and completely. God isn’t interested in working with us half way. God wants all of us if we say we are signing up for God’s program.

What is next? More listening and praying and an effort to embrace repentance more fully. Easter is still three weeks away, so there is yet time for our hearts to be turned toward God. Each of us needs to take some moments to reflect on our lives in prayer and ask ourselves and God if there are areas still in need of repentance. We as a congregation will need to do this exercise as well. God is calling us to be a community that practices radical humility, which means confessing our sins against one another, and our corporate sins against those beyond and outside us. This is scary work, but it is the Exodus journey of liberation from slavery to guilt and sin. In the church that God is calling us to be, there is not room for continued self-righteousness. There is not room for arrogance or stubborn pride. The old camp song says, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up, higher and higher.” During Lent we have been praying psalm 51, which says in part, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” If we acknowledge that the spirit living in us is not yet fully redeemed, and we ask God to put a new and right spirit within us, then we must also be ready to repent of the thoughts, words, actions, systems, habits and attitudes that separate us from one another and from God. Until we fully embrace repentance, God will not be freed to give us the gifts that are ours as an inheritance with the saints (Ephesians 1:18).

Next steps?

  • Come together to share the dreams we are dreaming
  • Get to know our neighbors and discover what they need
  • Understand more fully what and how we are to teach the Good News of God’s Love

 

We are a community who embrace theological diversity under our shared confession that Jesus is the Christ, Son of God, Savior and Lord. We live out that shared faith in the following ways:

We affirm that every follower of Jesus is a minister called to serve others in His name

We love and serve each other in ways that become notable in the community

We love and serve the community in ways that are liberating and life-giving

We practice building relationships across social boundaries

We ask others what they need before we try to help them

We leverage all our resources for the furthering of God’s kingdom

We teach in varying ways to meet the varying needs of those who are here

We encourage and practice mutual accountability, starting with our leadership

We training and support people in the development of their ministries

We have high expectations of those in leadership – leadership is a privilege, not a right

We look for and live ways of supporting other congregations who are different from us

We partner in ministry with non-Christians, affirming that God is at work in every life

We share and pursue ministry dreams, even if we don’t know where they may lead us

 

It’s tempting at a time like this to look around and list who else could be doing more than they are – unless we are in a strong covenant relationship of accountability with them we ought to refrain from such judgments. Rather, let each of us consider our own lives and measure our commitment to Christ against his commitment to us. Think back over your life, season by season. Consider each relationship and sphere of activity where you have spent time and energy. Were you all you could be in each one? If not, then there is room for repentance, and perhaps some unfinished business