Saturday, September 22, 2007

Claiming our prophetic voice

Claiming our prophetic voice:

a congregational theology

Discussion Series by
James Hilden-Minton, member
St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta


Prophetic voice depends on being

  • a people of memory, mindful to the ways God has led and redeemed in the past;
  • a people of covenant, faithful to God’s voice and deeply aware of our present situation; and
  • a people of hope, caught up in God’s compassionate vision for the world.

In this discussion series we will explore how a congregation, our congregation, is called to live out a specific and concrete a prophetic mission. Prophet ministry is not abstract or timeless, it is embodied and timely. Consequently, we will listen to each other and the stories we share. Together we will discern the unique vision of Christ that is emerging in our midst, in our time and culture.

Congregational Theology is

  • Contextual: We are aware of our time, place, culture, and community.
  • Narrative: We see God in the stories we share, the sacred memory we cultivate.
  • Congregational: We gather as a worshiping body with specific needs, gifts and aspiration.
  • Theological: We share in the discovery of God and the confession of our faith.
  • Missional: We work and bear witness together, partners in the Gospel.

A word at the foot of Sinai & our journey

4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. ~ Exodus 19:4-6a

Discussion Series

Discussion 1: A Time for Reflection

“You have seen…” ~ Exodus 19:4a

Just as God revealed Godself through the stories of the Israelites, God is at work within our congregation. At the base of Mt. Sinai, God in words given through Moses directs the Israelites to consider what they had seen God do for them.

What do our stories tell us about God and God’s presence with our congregation?

Encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai, Exodus 19

Call to memory – God rescues and leads

Call to covenant – God forms a people for faithfulness

Call to service – God’s vision of a prophetic and priestly people

Doing congregational theology–culture, church tradition & the Gospel

Listening to all our voices

Gathering resources for reflection–stories, reflections, creative works, etc.

Taking it all in and appreciating the tensions

Seeing the Gospel anew

Finding our congregational voice

Overview of the discussion series

For next week:

Throughout the week keep running list of things that wear you out and lead you to doubt God’s presence in this world.

Discussion 2: The Cry of the Culture

“…what I did with the Egyptians,…” ~ Exodus 19:4b

So what are we doing in our Egypt? Even in our culture of abundance, souls groan in misery, and we despair thinking nothing will change. Mostly we cope by distraction and desensitization.

What social forces lock us in and compel us to participate in cycles of violence and oppression? How do we as a congregation address this? What of our experiences and practices open us to seeing our own pathos and that of all our neighbors?

For next week:

Bring some object that reminds you a time when God drew you near and carried you.

Discussion 3: Rescue & Redemption

“…and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

~ Exodus 19:4c

God rescued Israel from their bondage in Egypt, only to leave them lost and bewildered in the desert or so it seemed. Yet God was drawing them near to Godself. In a way, they wanted to be rescued but not fully claimed by God.

What are our congregational stories of redemption? In what ways do we both long for and resist full redemption? What practices help us to deepen our trust both God and each other?

For next week:

Select some Bible passages that have been meaningful to you, especially ones you remember from childhood.

Discussion 4: Faith & Formation

“Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant…”

~ Exodus 19:5a

In the Exodus story, the Israelites literally followed the Spirit in the form of a pillar of clouds and fire.

We often speak of “following the Spirit.” We like to claim the fire and spirit of Pentecost as our own. Others will remind us of the rigors of discipleship, the place of Scripture, and the true teaching of the Church. Can we trust both the Spirit and Scripture to lead us into a fresh vision of Christ?

How does our congregation discern the authentic voice of the Spirit from our own fears, fancies, and other self-serving projections? How well are we as a congregation both empowered by the Spirit and disciplined by the Word?

For next week:

Throughout the week keep a running list of little things God is showing you or whispering in your ear.

Discussion 5: Treasure & All Creation

“…you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine…” ~ Exodus 19:5b

On one hand, Israel as a people of covenant is a special treasure of God, but on the other hand, all the peoples of the world are God’s possession.

How are we of particular value to God? In what sense are we treasured, in what sense common? As a congregation, how do we practice being both welcoming and distinctive? What is God’s vision for the world?

For next week:

Identify three people in your workplace, school, or community: someone you feel good about, trust or enjoy; someone who really irritates you; and someone you’re not particularly close to. Pray daily for each person. Pay attention to what might be Christ’s presence within them wherever they may be in life and matters of faith.

Discussion 6: Priestly Service

“...but you shall be for me, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

~ Exodus 19:6a

God’s ultimate vision for Israel was that they be a priestly and holy people. Not simply that Israel would have some priest and some “holy men” or prophets, but God’s call was to the people as a whole.

As Christians, we too believe that God calls us to holy and priestly service. A key issue in Luther’s day was to re-assert the priesthood of all believers. What does this mean to us in our generation? In what practical ways does our congregation live out a prophetic or priestly call? In what ways does our congregation authorize us for ministry?

For the weeks to come:

Live the presence of Christ.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

We are an experiment

This is an experiment in finding the prophetic life of a congregation.

Can God be seen in the life of an ordinary congregation? If so, how is God seen in this liberal, yet traditional Lutheran congregation? Perhaps we can listen to each other, remember with one another and see how the Gospel is unfolding about us. Perhaps we can gain greater sensitivity to and regard for the work of the Holy Spirit within this body.

Does God have a vision for ordinary congregations? If so, how can we begin to see what God sees in us, around us and through us? Perhaps that word comes from a preacher, perhaps from a first-time visitor, perhaps from a child in Sunday School, perhaps from a hidden poet down in the next pew. Perhaps that vision is right infront of all of us. Perhaps we can name that vision and share in seeing that vision come to be.

I believe the answer is Yes. God has a vision for us, and we bear a revelation of God in our midst.

We live in an age when the most successful churches pay more attention to marketing trends and slick packaging than they do to the subtle ways of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community, to scripture, the liturgy and our hardy spiritual traditions. American religion is in the belly of mass consumption, neither in the heart or the mind. We are no more worshipers than we are consumers of religious products and productions. Our God is our belly. And some of us are sick.

Ok, here we are, a small congregation of no great importance. We don't want to get big or become influential or even fix the sagging floors in our fellowship hall. Yet deep down, we really do hunger to see God at work within us. We thrist for the Spirit and the Word with us in our worship. We long to hear a fresh Gospel of wholeness and inclusion to resortore people to rightful and loving covenant. And we know that such a gospel is only good news if it takes root within us, in our lives individually and in community. Only then is it news worth sharing, the rest is empty packaging and posturing.

So we are a just an experiment. We must wait and see what God will do. We must take some time for observation and reflection. This is not a time for our "visioning", for our projects and programs, or for our image or agenda. No, we are an empty petri dish with a swab from the soil of this and a few yeast cells from the life above. God watches us to see what will emerge. This is what God does in the laboratory of the lives in of our ordinary congregations.

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