Ember Blog

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Watch this space for occasional reflections based on our current feature text.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’ (but not as quickly as we’d like)

Here we are, 54 years after Bob Dylan wrote “The Times, They Are A-Changin’”. It was a rallying cry for the Civil Rights movement in 1964 and shows defiance and idealism in equal measure. If we take the lyrics at face value, we hear about a rising tide that will sweep away injustice and all that stand in its way. Yet in 2018, we’re confronted by the stark realities of Anti-Semitism, the continuing stain of white supremacy, perpetrators of sexual assault who aren’t held to account, and leaders whose callous rhetoric causes harm and unrest. The flood Dylan imagined was (and is) compelling for the promise of a newly ordered world where the first will be last and the last will be first.

In similar fashion, Mary sings a song in beginning of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1: 46-55) that envisions a radically changed world. The coming of the messiah was supposed to change the fortunes of the downtrodden and usher in a new era of peace and justice. And yet, in the intervening centuries, while there have been changes (advances in medicine, the rise of democracy, and technology that improves our lives in ways ancient people could scarcely imagine to name a few), our world is marred by oppression around the world, the specter of climate change, political instability, and a climate of incivility. We are far from living in the age of peace and justice we hope to find in the Kingdom of God.

The earliest Christians believed Jesus would return in their lifetimes and fulfill this prophecy and promise to usher in an era of perfect justice and peace. As years became decades, they needed to deal with the fact that while something had changed with the coming of the Christ, the perfect peace and justice they longed for was not yet a reality.

For the next few months, we’ll be reading the Gospel of Luke and wrestling with the idea of what it means to live in a world where change has occurred but has not yet manifested the full measure of peace and justice. Please join us at Reology Studio every Sunday night at 7pm as we journey through the Gospel of Luke together!

Sunday, January 21: Ephesians 4

Embodiment is central to Christian faith. On one hand, our faith holds that God so loved humanity that God’s own self became human and lived among us as Jesus. On the other hand, as believers we are asked to witness to God’s grace by embodying virtues of kindness, justice, and mercy in our world. Most of the time, I’m painfully aware of how I fall short of those virtues. Sometimes, I am aware that I am part of something that is bigger than me and I am present during moments where the community around me has momentarily embodied something of the peace and unity God intended.

 

Sunday evening, our conversation centered around Ephesians chapter 4. Initially, a number of us had reservations with the way the author talks about the Gentiles starting at verse 17. The general consensus was that it seemed to be elevating the body of believers by denigrating another community. The conversation shifted to the echoes of unity and oneness in the early Christian community. We wondered what it means to respond to a call for unity when expressions of faithfulness are at odds among different groups of Christians, clearing grievances daily as a spiritual discipline, and rang back to the idea that we are called to witness against injustices in our own time as an expression of gratitude at the grace that’s been given to us.

 

For the past few months, conversation has become the main feature of our gatherings. Since we began celebrating communion together again, we’ve added more music to our gatherings again. Our community loves to sing together, and harmonizes well together. As much as communion, it’s a symbol of how each of us is a member of the body of Christ as we sing our parts, play instruments, or quietly enjoy the music around the table. While we have distinct voices, together they add up to something more than the sum of their individual parts in a beautiful celebration of unity through song. I’m so grateful to be with this group, sharing stories, reading and growing together, and joining our voices to express all of the joys and laments in ways words alone can not express.

Sunday, January 14: Ephesians 3

Last night we continued our exploration of Ephesians, by taking a look at the third chapter. Our conversation jumped from different ways of understanding the idea of fullness, to the irony of Paul praying that his reading will have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that in the next sentence he says is beyond understanding, and we spent a lot of time talking about what it means to be made fellow heirs and members of the same body who share in the promise of Christ Jesus.

 

The general consensus was that God’s love should be extended to all, and while that is a beautiful aspiration, we all had testimony that revealed that the Church has fallen short of this high ideal. We talked about the way the homeless aren’t as fully welcomed into the life of the church, how often people suffering with addiction and mental illness are treated with condescension and suspicion rather than welcome. We talked about the way the Church has failed to fully welcome LGBTQ people into the full life of the Church. We talked about the way systemic racism persists. If God’s favor has been extended to all people, we realized that it has serious implications for how we conduct ourselves. If we really believe all people are heirs to the blessing of Jesus, there is a reciprocal duty implied that at the very least, we learn to be more respectful of each, if not love each other.

 

On the eve of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, recognizing the way we still struggle to free our worlds from webs of oppression was especially poignant. One of our regular practices at Ember is to share in a word of confession and assurance. Last night’s words, offered by Kelsey Wallace, are especially relevant:

 

Eternal God, we confess that our sin and pride hide the brightness of your light. We turn away from broken places and broken systems; we ignore cries for justice; we do not strive for peace. Let our fear and inaction melt away in the face of your love. Embolden us to do your work in this world. In your mercy, cleanse us, heal us, shape us, make us new. Baptize us once more in your spirit that we may be sent forth anew as bearers of your light into a dark, dark world.

 

The wideness of God's mercy, the vastness of God's forgiveness, the infinite love of God, the heart of hope which is never empty: even though we do not deserve them, all these gifts are ours in Christ Jesus as God restores us to the fullness of life. Amen.

 

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear how we can be agents of the peace God intended in our world!

SUnday, January 7: Ephesians 2

Something I love about our Ember gatherings is the way the group explores the text together, wrestling with questions and sharing insights about scripture. Last night was no exception. We read Ephesians 2 and within a few minutes, we were looking at the phrase “the rulers of the air” from verse 2 (NRSV translation). Initially, there was some talk about how early Christians would have heard this phrase and the historical context that framed it. In the ancient Mediterranean world, it was believed that there were various supernatural powers between earth and heaven, and that they had influence over events on earth. The conversation then moved into the modern world, with a discussion about the various influences that exert themselves on us by our leaders, the media, and popular culture. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, he talks about the undue influence the world at large has on us. We noted ways in which the Church has sometimes veered into questionable directions, when stated belief and practice seemed to be at odds; how Christians can be blind to injustice, how some preachers have called for Christians to carry concealed weapons despite claiming to follow the Prince of Peace.

It’s probably safe to say we all took comfort in the way God’s grace was presented as a gift to humanity that has nothing to do with anything we’ve done (or left undone). As we dug deeper, we talked about how our lives should reflect our joy in knowing about God’s grace, that there is an underlying invitation to live lives that are reflections of God’s love. How are we showing love to our neighbors? How are we witnessing to justice and mercy? If Christ has truly made all one people, what implications does this have in a modern world that fears refugees, is trapped in systemic racism, and is marked by polarizing politics?

Afterwards, we prayed about our joys and concerns, and I heard echoes of our discussion throughout. It highlighted the way ancient scripture still has the power to inspire not only faith, but a desire to try to live it out. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of a community that is willing and able to come together and interpret scripture together!