Go Out in Joy, posted August 9, 2017
When I leave my home to walk over to the church building, or get in the car to drive to an appointment, I try to pause for a few moments in order to get my bearings. At times like these I’m not thinking so much of physical destination as spiritual orientation. Am I heading out alone, or do I believe that I will be accompanied by God? Am I anxious and, if so, am I willing to discard that fearfulness for an openness to the Spirit and wherever it may lead? Am I looking forward to greeting all people (strangers and friends alike) with grace and care? Do I see myself as part of a great global drama in which God seeks to create a world of peace and well being for all?
The prophet Isaiah, who lived six centuries before Jesus, was a voice of hope for the people of Israel, and gave them a visionary way to greet the day. “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” I suspect these words may have seemed hopelessly idealistic at best, and utterly unrealistic at worst, to those who first heard them. Perhaps they strike us in the same way. But hidden in this promise is the message that joy is not only something that comes to us by way of surprise: it is an orientation of the heart. It is a way of seeing and opening ourselves up to the wild complexity of life, and of choosing hope and trust and decency over their opposites.
There is an old prayer that states Isaiah’s vision in slightly different language: “amid the passing changes of the world, let us set our hearts and minds where true joy is to be found.” By making room in our lives for the activities and passions that make us feel truly alive, we can orient ourselves to joy. By dreaming about how to bring hope and peace into the lives of people close to home and far away, we can orient ourselves to joy. And the good news is that when we receive each day in that spirit, we shall be led back in peace: a peace that is so deep and rare and satisfying that it passes all understanding.
Ambassador of the Heart Set Free, posted August 2, 2017
Over the summer I have joined with the other members of the staff at Round Hill Community Church to plan our worship services for the autumn. These discussions bring me a lot of joy, and spark directions I never would have conceived if I undertook this journey alone.
Our autumn series will focus on one of the most complicated and misunderstood figures in the history of Christianity: St. Paul. Although the growth of the Christian movement in its first century was largely a result of his leadership and influence, he has sometimes been referred to as the apostle we love to hate. As Garry Wills observes in his book, What Paul Meant: “Many people think that Judas was the supreme betrayer of Jesus. But others say Paul has a better right to that title. Judas gave Jesus’ body over to death. Paul, it is claimed, buried his spirit.”
Full disclosure: for most of my ministry I have given St. Paul much less attention than he deserves, and when opening myself to themes for preaching, have routinely searched the imaginative parables of Jesus rather than the carefully argued letters of St. Paul. But now I plan to rectify that imbalance. I look forward to reading the love letters that he wrote to growing congregations nearly 2000 years ago. I hope to open myself to the wisdom, passion, and pastoral insights of this man who is still referred to as the apostle we love to hate, but has also been called the apostle of the heart set free. It was Paul who said, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That vision has endured over the centuries, drawing people of Christian faith to live non-anxious lives, to struggle against injustice, and to enjoy a rich and evolving relationship with God. The freedom of faith makes possible a life of hope, love, and imagination.
From time to time I’ll offer reflections on St. Paul in this blog, but I hope that you’ll dip into his letters and discover in them rich resources for growth in a Spirit-led way of life. Of the thirteen letters in the New Testament that are attributed to St. Paul, at least seven seem likely to have flowed directly from him (the others were written by Christian leaders in the early church and attributed to him as a way of enhancing their authority). These seven letters are:
The First Letter to the Thessalonians
Letter to the Galatians
Letter to the Philippians
Letter to Philemon
First Letter to the Corinthians
Second Letter to the Corinthians
Letter to the Romans
Welcome aboard, and let the journey begin!