September

  September 8, 2011

Dear Centenary family,

So, how are we to talk about heaven in a meaningful way?  How are we to think of the "sweet by and by"?  No doubt, the church has distorted the conversation.  Jesus spent very little time discussing the concept.  His emphasis was on living within the context of the Kingdom of God in the present moment.  He actually dismissed those who envisioned the Kingdom life as belonging solely to the future. "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven."

Rudolf Bultmann, a highly respected theologian said in 1941, "There is no longer any heaven in the traditional sense."  N.T. Wright, an orthodox theologian has argued recently that any thought that Christian hope is about "going to heaven" is biblically unsupported, theologically bankrupt, and ethically corrosive.  (That is pretty strong language!)  Marcus Borg has written, "If I were to make a list of Christianity's ten worst contributions to religion, on that list would be popular Christianity's emphasis on the afterlife."  Rob Bell, an incredibly successful pastor and author, dismisses traditional evangelical notions of heaven and hell in his most recent book, Love Wins, calling them "misguided and toxic."

In spite of Jesus' emphasis on bringing the Kingdom on earth, the church in the past 200 years has been obsessed with creating a distorted picture of heaven.  Those who become obsessed with heaven in the future miss the point spiritually.  But for many, the obsessive hope for heaven dies hard.  Polls show that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in heaven, regardless of religious influence.  85% of Americans are persuaded that they "will personally go there." 

Pie in the sky ain't what it used to be.  Christopher Morse's new book, The Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing the Gospel as News, shares a wonderful way for us to think of heaven.  Morse maintains that heaven in the Gospels is "not about blue skies or life only after death."  Heaven is the life that is now coming toward us from God.  It is a life that overcomes the present age.  The opposite of heaven is not hell.  The opposite of heaven is the "world that is passing away."  If we become enamored with blue skies or life after death, then we miss the in-breaking of heaven in the present day.

Now let me tell you why I like that understanding of heaven much better than traditional conversations about the nature of heaven.  First, it is biblical.  I think that N.T. Wright is correct:  any thought that Christian hope is about "going to heaven" is biblically unsupported, theologically bankrupt, and ethically corrosive.  Second, it reflects how we are to live in this world within the context of the Kingdom of God.  Heaven, according to Emory homiletics professor, Tom Long, is God's unbounded love breaking in to every situation, even death. 

Therefore, we don't go to heaven.  Heaven comes to us.  Now.  Morse sums it up this way:  "We are called to be on hand for that which is at hand but not in hand, an unprecedented glory of not being left orphaned but of being loved in a community of new creation beyond all that we can ask or imagine." 

Why do we do what we do?  Why do we give like we give?  Why do we serve like we serve?  Why do we live like we live?  Why do we love as we love?  Why do we speak as we speak?  Why do we accept as we accept?  Why do we worship as we worship?  It has nothing to do with "going to heaven".  It has everything to do with God breaking into our lives and into our world.  Heaven comes to us.  Heaven help us all.

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This Sunday is September 11.  Our national psyche was deeply scarred by that horrific day, 10 years ago.  Shock, grief, anger, righteous indignation, and confusion were experienced by all Americans.  This Sunday we will remember and, I pray, move to a place of some healing with what happened on 9/11/01.  My sermon title:  "Looking for a Christian Response to 9/11".  Let's explore it together in worship.

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Ginny Hathaway will begin teaching a new study on Marcus Borg's new book, Speaking Christian, on Sunday, September 18, at 9:45.  (I've read the book and it is EXCELLENT.)  Borg begins with this introduction: "Christian language has become a stumbling block in our time.  Much of its basic vocabulary is seriously misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Big words like salvation, saved, sacrifice, redeemer, redemption, righteousness, repentance, mercy, sin, forgiveness, born again, second coming, God, Jesus, and Bible... have acquired meanings that are serious distortions of their biblical and traditional meanings."  Interested in a conversation about these words?  Come be a part of Ginny's class.  Want to know more?  Contact Ginny at ginny@centenarymacon.org  

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org   


September 14, 2011

Dear Centenary friends,

I came across a poem by Mary M. Brown that made me think deeply.  How does it strike you?

Conversion experience

Suddenly we find ourselves in love

            With fresh cilantro, both of us,

 

and now we put it into everything –

            salsa, of course, but also into salads

 

and sides, and we find ourselves

            eating it all by itself and putting

 

the fingers that have handled it,

            steadied it while we chopped it, up

 

to our noses, breathing deep.

            The crispness of its leaf's become

 

an unexplained addiction, a mystery

            so citrusy, of scent or secret spice –

 

and we are high on how it dawns

            in us anew each time we think

 

to add it to the soup, and we're

            embarrassed by the way we feel

 

because we both remember clearly

            another time, though not exactly when,

 

in which we'd had a very pointed conversation

            and agreed we didn't like it in the least.

 

I am going to resist dissecting this.  I want you to encounter it from your perspective.  Just know that this poem is about much more than cilantro.  Where does it strike a chord for you?  Now read it again.

 

This poem is my gift to you this day...

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Ginny Hathaway will begin teaching a new study on Marcus Borg's new book, Speaking Christian, on Sunday, September 18, at 9:45.  (I've read the book and it is EXCELLENT.)  Borg begins with this introduction: "Christian language has become a stumbling block in our time.  Much of its basic vocabulary is seriously misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Big words like salvation, saved, sacrifice, redeemer, redemption, righteousness, repentance, mercy, sin, forgiveness, born again, second coming, God, Jesus, and Bible... have acquired meanings that are serious distortions of their biblical and traditional meanings."  Interested in a conversation about these words?  Come be a part of Ginny's class.  Want to know more?  Contact Ginny at ginny@centenarymacon.org  

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Centenary is an activist church.  From the beginning, that is what the church was intended to be.  We don't always agree, and that is ok.  But I am putting in front of you something heavy on my heart... and then you have to make a decision. 

Too Much Doubt

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row — even though the case against him has fallen apart.

clip_image001The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, 7 out of 9 witnesses of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.

Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Support for Davis has come from all corners of the world. Notable leaders include Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Pope Benedict XVI, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr; former FBI director William Sessions; the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery; Ron Hampton, former Executive Director of the National Black Police Association; Stefan Trechsel, International Criminal Court Judge; Bishop Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, Roman Catholic Church; Bishop Bolan, Bishop of Savannah, Roman Catholic Church; and Larry D. Thompson, former Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

Rep. John Lewis(GA-05) and Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) yesterday sent a letter signed by more than 50 members of the U.S. Congress to the Georgia State Board of Pardons & Paroles, urging clemency for Davis.

As word of the case has spread, so has support from all corners of Georgia – be it in the form of letters to the parole board from former President Jimmy Carter and Norman Fletcher, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, to Tweets from R.E.M.

As you can see from the list above, support for Troy Davis crosses all political boundaries... Republicans, Democrats, Independents... all are against the state taking this man's life.  So, if you prayerfully find yourself concerned, join me in signing the petition to stop this death sentence before it happens on September 21.  Visit this site to "sign" the petition.  http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=12970 

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org    


September 28, 2011

Dear Centenary family,

You can't talk about loving people and not fight for justice.  Cornell West says that "Justice is what love looks like in public..."  Cornell West isn't the first or only one who reflected on this multi-dimensional understanding of love that moves beyond sentimentality.  Jesus lived a life of love and justice.  Justice, for Jesus, was relational, creative, liberating, and restorative.  When a woman was accused of a crime and about to be stoned, Jesus stepped in and stood for love/justice.  His perspective on love and justice ran counter to the sentiments of those in the crowd.  What they were doing was within the law.  "In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women." (John 8:5)  Taking a huge risk, Jesus challenged the system and the Law of Moses even more than he challenged the crowd.  "Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone."  They hung their heads and shuffled away.  When the crowd was gone, Jesus then called her to radical, restorative change!

We do a lot of charity work at Centenary.  It is good work that is birthed in love.  But when you get down to it, charity work is maintenance.  Jesus, while he encouraged acts of mercy and charity, was not about maintenance!  Jesus propels us beyond charity to justice.  We become advocates, taking on systems and laws that create and promote the need for charity.  Justice work is messy and it takes time.  Justice work is not for the faint-hearted.  Charity is fine, but does nothing to address the deeper systemic issues.  Justice takes on the system.

Within the context of the Kingdom of God, Jesus took on the "powers that be".  He challenged the political community (Rome) as well as the power of the religious community (Pharisees and Sadducees).  Ultimately it was not love and charity that got Jesus killed – it was his activism and commitment to justice.  Jesus was a threat to the political and religious systems that were in place.  Love and charity were clearly not enough for Jesus.

Listen to Jesus as he summons us – "Come, follow me."

I am in the habit of saying to people as I end a conversation, "Take care."  A new friend and I were in a conversation and I followed my habitual ritual as the conversation concluded.  I said, "Take care."  He looked me in the eyes and said, "Take risks."  All these years I have ended tens of thousands of conversations with "Take care" and in one conversation I realized that I have been wrong all along.  So I am trying to break myself of a very bad habit.  I don't want to live my life "taking care".  "Taking care" is not a worthy goal for any Christian.  I want to be a follower of Jesus so I am called to "take risks."    From now on, I want to end conversations by saying "take risks."  If you hear me say "Take care", please call my hand.

Here are some questions I am mulling over – "Do I practice love by being involved in justice?  Do I live my life "taking care" or "taking risks"?  Am I willing to get involved in the messiness of asking questions that challenge the powers that be?  Specifically, about which justice issues am I vocal?  What am I risking?  Does my lifestyle accommodate or challenge?  What does it mean to be molded by Jesus?"

Take risks, my friends, for justice is what love looks like in public, according to Jesus.

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Ginny Hathaway continues teaching a new study on Marcus Borg's new book, Speaking Christian, this Sunday, October 2, at 9:45 in a classroom below the sanctuary.  Borg begins with this introduction: "Christian language has become a stumbling block in our time.  Much of its basic vocabulary is seriously misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Big words like salvation, saved, sacrifice, redeemer, redemption, righteousness, repentance, mercy, sin, forgiveness, born again, second coming, God, Jesus, and Bible... have acquired meanings that are serious distortions of their biblical and traditional meanings."  Interested in a conversation about these words?  Come be a part of Ginny's class.  Want to know more?  Contact Ginny at ginny@centenarymacon.org

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In worship this Sunday, you will hear many different languages.  It is World Communion Sunday and we will gather around the table with Christians around the world.  I am preaching a sermon titled "Enough". Let's talk about manna.  Hope to see you Sunday!

Take risks!

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself. Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org