Sunday, March 30, 2008

Carefully Crafting Community

I'm thinking about community after yesterday's sermon. (Nice job Jeff.) My thoughts combine with my reading on narrative leadership (Congregations Magazine by Alban) and how important are both the stories we tell and the way we teach others to make stories of their life in community. People make meaning of their lives by interpreting events in terms of stories. They also place themselves into the community by understanding the community's stories and placing themselves within them.
It reminds me of a Star Trek, Next Generation, where Capt. Picard meets someone who speaks ONLY in story and its analogy. All life's experiences are described in terms of events that have happened in history because their meaning is known. Therefore, meaning of a current event or crisis can be understood in relation to the story that is already part of one's life. Many say this is the old way of being; living in meta-narratives which are now gone. Perhaps it is in mini-narratives that we need to focus our attention.
So how do we invite their (congregation) stories in that period of worship designated for the preacher's words? As I look towards next week and the wonderful eye-opening story of Emmaus, I will endeavor to catch the congregation up into the mystery of Jesus' resurrection appearance on the road AND invite them to imagine telling the stories of their life transformations in a new and creative ways.
My challenge is to make this happen. And such a busy week ahead with four nights out, ah well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pastor's Post: The Thrust Of Things

Pastor's Post: The Thrust Of Things

The Thrust Of Things

John 20 and Acts 2 contain incredible stories because we are peeking into the window on the earliest days of the church. We get to visit those days in the weeks after Easter and imagine what it was like based on the stories we have been given. How can I not love Thomas? The author of John places all the doubts of succeeding generations upon his shoulders. I find it interesting that I read the text differently depending on my place in life.
Is Thomas tentative about his faith or determinedly resistant? Does he look away from the other disciples, jealous that he was not present to see Jesus and scoff at their revelation and excitement? Or does he stare into the eyes of his friends and dare them to prove what they have seen?
The Greek word translated as 'put' (as in "unless I put my finger..") is balo; the root for throw. So we could translate the end of v.25 as ". . . unless I thrust my hand into his side, I will never believe." Not a tentative statement at all! I have always been impressed that Jesus then comes and offers Thomas exactly what he has asked for, or should we say demanded! Take a look at Caravaggio's painting of the scene. It's even more dramatic than my imagining.

The disciples have amazing experiences in and out of their locked room. They cannot hide from the risen Lord. They cannot rest in their fears and sorrow. The Risen Christ makes demands on them. Perhaps this is why he is so willing to meet Thomas' demand.

When I read on into Acts and the text for Sunday from chapter 2, I see just how faith forming the post resurrection experiences have been for the disciples. Peter speaks in a sure and certain voice when he says that God "raised Jesus up having freed him from death because it was impossible for him to be held in its power." (v.24)

What conclusion do I draw? If we are as honest about our doubts and as passionate about demanding answers as Thomas, we can end up as as passionate and inspired about sharing what we have learned.

I wonder what title that concept would get in a faith-forming discipleship book?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Unexpected Easter Children's Story

(Dialogue with children.)
“I found an Easter basket this morning.
Did you find anything special this morning? Did it look like this basket?
What do you think is in it?”
(Inside an Easter “goodie” bag are candy canes, candy hearts, and candy corn.)
“Let’s look inside.”
(Pull out candy canes.) – “What are these?
That’s not what we expected to see, is it?
When do we usually see candy canes?......
Well, that was certainly a surprise.”
“Let’s see what else I have.”
(Pull out candy hearts.) – “What are these?
That’s not what we expected to see, is it?
When do we usually get candy hearts?
Well, candy hearts were certainly a surprise.”
“I wonder what else is in here?”
(Pull out cauldron with candy corn.) – “What are theses?
That’s not what we expected to see, is it?
When do you usually eat candy corn?
That was certainly a surprise.”
“I didn’t find what I expected in my Easter Basket this morning.”

In today’s scripture story Mary and Jesus’ disciples didn’t find what they expected either. What did Mary see when she went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried?
The stone was moved away. She was surprised.
She went and got Peter and the other disciple (John) and they RAN back.
They were surprised too!
So today we proclaim Christ is Risen and everyone answers, “He is Risen Indeed”
Let’s practice again.
Now You turn around and Say, “Christ Is Risen” and see what happens.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Looking At The Cross

Entering the unknown in trust.
All his words convey his oneness with the Holy Parent,
he understands divine intention and he acts.

The inevitable happens.
Events crash together in a rush of action,
in less than a day;
questioning, beating, mocking, desertion,
carrying the cross.
He is alone.

The certainty is shaken,
he understands -
yet cannot help but wonder.
His heart and "The Father's" are one -
yet he is so alone
"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"
a gulp of air, a final cry,
"Into thy hands I commit my spirit."

Entering the unknown in trust.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Holy Turmoil Week

We are in the last few days before Holy Week. For clergy it is a week of stress containing extra worship services and the pressure of a sermon and service for the largest crowd of the year. "Holy Turmoil" seems an appropriate title.

In Matthew's Palm Sunday text, (21:10) Jesus rides into Jerusalem and "the whole city was in turmoil, asking, 'Who is this?'" Thus begins a week of turmoil for Jerusalem. Jesus throws the temple into turmoil by driving out the sellers and buyers and overturning the money changers' tables. He raises the already high anxiety of the religious authorities with his clever answers to their questions and his sharply pointed parables about wicked tenants. Even vegetation is thrown into turmoil when Jesus curses the fig tree and it immediately withers. Who does not 'wither' when reading the 'woes' of Matthew, chapter 23? By the time the disciples gather for the Passover meal and learn there is a traitor in their midst, the anxiety in the plot is begging for release.

In place of release comes more turmoil but Jesus takes the anxiety of the system onto himself. From his own 'deeply grieved' prayer comes a calm presentation under arrest, interrogation, mocking, and beating. Then the turmoil shifts to us and we become bystanders at his execution. And we wait in our own deep grief for the promised release.

Humanity struggles to understand this week of turmoil as an act of compassion. Authors Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison write that the turmoil of
"honest, direct confrontation is a true expression of compassion. . . The illusion of power must be unmasked, idolatry must be undone, oppression and exploitation must be fought, and all who participate in these evils must be confronted. This is compassion." (A Reflection on the Christian Life)
They make the point that we cannot join Jesus in solidarity with the poor and oppressed or participate in releasing captives unless we confront the oppressors and the system of inequality that inhibits God's Kingdom from being realized.

Jesus began the work of confrontation that leads to freedom and release for all people. It is a work that Christians continue; it is our mission. Matthew's witness tells us that we can expect nothing less than turmoil when we join Jesus in his work of confrontation. On that day at Golgotha, even the earth shook and split when he carried confrontation to its ultimate end. Can we expect any less?

Happy "Holy Turmoil".

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can these bones live?

"Can these bones live?" Lazarus (John 11) moves his now-living bones out of the tomb in answer to Jesus' summons. Recall the phoenix that rises from its own ashes. Dumbledore (in The Chamber of Secrets) gives thanks for Fawkes death saying how bad he has looked in recent weeks and he is grateful for the phoenix's death that it may now rise again. Usually, I prefer to avoid anthropomorphizing God but am wondering if God gives thanks at my many 'deaths' on this journey of the spirit that I may have the opportunity to resurrect?
In Ezekiel 37, God resurrects life and hope in a valley of scattered bones which are cursed by their lack of proper burial. In this vision, as will be true in Israel's history, God's people are formed and re-formed by the re-creative hands of God. Their hope is assured when they look back at their journey and see God's faithful presence which has saved them again and again. We look to the future in hope of God's faithful response, calling it trust when we hope that God will show up somewhere on our journey. Yet Dale Andrews in New Proclamation (Minn:Fortress,2004) says, "When hope is confined to the future, it lacks trust. Hope in a future with God changes the present." Hence, resurrection- new life in the here and now!
My problem continues to be my keen sense of smell that is stopped, like Martha, by the stench of death. I am human, and as such cannot see beyond death. My own fear limits my vision to what I can 'see' instead of believing in what God 'sees'. It takes tremendous trust to believe in my own resurrection; in God's ability to bring new life from death. I must recognize when it is time to leave the comfort of warm ashes and lift my head in trust. St. Paul might tell me that I rise from the waters of baptism the way Fawkes rises from the ashes of death--- to be born again; made new, by the breath of life.
Thanks be to God.