Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Climbing the hill to the Acropolis

"Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, Athenians, . . . " So we, five clergy women on a SPE trip, began the walk up the hill from our hotel in Athens, one year ago this week. I never made it to the Acropolis. My desire to see Athens and it's people was stronger than my wish to stand where Paul stood. Maybe I was following Paul in my own way.
"For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.'" (Acts 17:23)
As I went up the hill I found the Church of the Transformation.
It drew me in because I knew the word, metamorphosis. And it drew me in because we were studying how "Story, image, and place create an opening in us for transformation." The doors were locked, but there was a fascinating pillar outside with a picture of Mary(?) holding the Greek evil eye; or so it appears.
Take a look:
It was faded and weather-stained, but there was a bench right by it so I sat and contemplated the meaning. Perhaps you will shed light on what you think you see as the eye looks back at you.

I let the group go on without me and I began to explore this hill of Ares. It is interesting what you find when your eyes are open to seeing. Perhaps that was Paul's gift, to see budding faith, right in front of him. The Athenians were seekers and open-minded at that. In order to speak their language he paraphrases their poet, Epimenides (6th century) with a quote we still hang on today. "In him we live and move and have our being."

My seeking took me around a corner and into a Greek Orthodox church where a special service of healing was about to begin. I took a seat in the small sanctuary and listened to the lectors chant back and forth across the front of the church. It was an eye-opening experience. My limited Koine Greek left me clueless for most of the service. But I didn't need the language to understand the act of worship and I could join in praying and standing in reverence as the gospel was read. The fascinating part was the continual stream of people coming through the sanctuary, right during the service, to venerate before the icons. Each one set down a briefcase or shopping bags, to pray, kiss the icon, cross themselves, then leave. It was an act of worship as part of everyday life. Like Paul's observation, they groped for God and found God and no worship service, or clergy could get in the way. These people were living and moving and having their being in God.

This church on the hill of Ares was a place of transformation for me as I sensed the unity among all people who worship God. It is a picture that my mind won't soon forget. And it is all about a story, of One who changed lives. Metamorphosis.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Soft as a Rock

It is a week to be glad I'm not preaching, too much to do! Still I spend time with the texts and while the John 14 text has many interesting dimensions, the 1 Peter 2: 2-10 (or 1-10) brings an image to my mind. A year ago I stumbled off a plane in Milan about this time, with four other women pastors at the start of a two-week-Lily Funded trip to Italy and Greece. In Milan there was INCREDIBLE coffee (true thru-out all Italy), in Florence we met an angel at the train station, and in Rome we saw "Living Stones".

Cold hard white stone stood in every corner of the Borghese Galleria. The stone looks so cold from a distance one can imagine all the warmth being drawn away from the body if one were to lay on a slab. Yet the sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, crafts the heat of violent action into his work. Proserpina struggles desperately to get away, pushing hard again Pluto's face and creasing it. Pluto reacts with a stronger grip on his prize; digging his fingers into the flesh of her thigh. Muscles ripple in his body as he holds fast and tears stream down her face. The wind blows Proserpina's hair away from the body held tight in Pluto's grasp. All the while the three-headed dog, guardian of Hades, barks loudly underfoot. I stood before it breathless looking at LIVING STONE!

The myth of 'Pluto and Proserpina' is a welcome spring-time reminder that life is a mixed blessing. The earth mother welcomes her daughter Proserpina's return for half the year with blooms and flowers. And yet she is returning from being abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld. A reminder that death and life are part of the same cycle. The gift of Bernini's work is the same promise of 1 Peter; stones can live! Death is not final - at the end of human existence NOR during it. No darkness or earthly defeat can keep us from the life-giving God who is present in Jesus the Christ. We are "God's own people" called to "proclaim the mighty acts of the one who calls us out of darkness into divine and marvelous light." (v.9)

God calls, God breathes, stones live, and so do we.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Post Sermon Debriefing

With my colleague on vacation, I'm left without a debriefing partner so bloggin is' it.' The canoe story from summer camp worked as an example of community as seen in the Acts 2 text. It was easy to make comparison (altho rather light) with being taught to canoe; "devoted to teaching", breaking bread e.g. lunch on the river, and sharing all things in common. The most comments came from canoe folks and summer campers. I suspect it was just a nice story for others. Hopefully they (someone?) heard the challenge to build community by meeting the needs of the people who come to us. "God IS adding to our number; opportunities."

Anyone who has been to camp knows there is no better example of Christian community than that which forms in a week's time at camp. My stories of caring behavior and remarkable changes are numerous so I try to use them sparingly as to not overload.

As for the sermon, if I just think about the nice comments, I'm ok. But if I remember that my litmus test person didn't even go out my door... well, then I'm more discouraged. Oh well, for what it's worth, I felt good about it and there were enough thoughtful comments to help my post sermon blues.

AND the children's story worked; even if it was put in to fill space then left in even after the extra music was added. BTW, the special music, "The Lord's Prayer" sung by Mandy and Sean North, was incredibly moving. It was a little hard to come out of that special place of prayer.

So it is finished. Now all the stuff piling up on my desk can return to priority status. I've been treading water on much of my work and its time to catch up. Visits are up to date and assistance calls have been very time consuming. We shall see what this week brings.

Rambling for my own sake today...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Holy Math

I've been thinking about the early church as I prepare for the sermon. My narrow focus is "And day by day God added to their number those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47) It seems natural to contrast that sentence with the North American protestant church which is dwindling in numbers. But as I contemplated an Invitation to Give for the offering time, I thought instead about the number of opportunities God gives us.
People come first as opportunities and they are not just pleasant visitors walking thru the church doors because they've seen our ad in the newspaper. More often the "opportunity" is someone in need of help. When I think of "those being added to our number" lately, they are people in need of financial assistance, someone in need of compassion, one who needs to tell a difficult story to a listening ear, someone who needs to be believed, someone who needs to be recognized instead of dismissed, one looking for other people of faith who do not demand uniformity of belief, one following their child's request to come and learn with other children, someone looking for community after losing their spouse of 40 years, and others, each with a special need and unique story. "Opportunities" that take work and care and people to share the love and compassion of Christ.
I used to wonder how it would feel to sit back and enjoy God's addition. It appears that God adding to our numbers is going to take a lot of work. Praise God for Holy Math.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

what to do

What to do when the sermon just won't come together and it's THIS hour on Saturday night.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

From This Moment On

The Road to Emmaus is such a wonderful story. As I study it a couple segments jump out at me. When the un-recognized Jesus asks, "What things?" (. . have they been discussing?) the travelers STOP and stand still, "looking sad;" frozen in the moment, all action stilled by over-powering loss. It is the kind of pain that catches your breath in your throat. We've felt it at a friend's, parent's, spouse's, or child's death. Even the death of a dream can trigger the frozen response when it tears the future or a relationship away. Luke doesn't tell us how Jesus unfreezes these travelers but they continue telling their story. It seems to be a cathartic telling because the walking and talking continue and the dialogue gains energy. The travelers freeze once more but it is to stop Jesus and compel him into their home. Their moment of freedom comes as Jesus' gives thanks, breaks bread and gives it to them and in the breaking of bread he is known.

When we know Jesus and are known by Jesus, it is a moment frozen in time; a moment of transformation after which nothing is the same. It may be a dramatic reversal of direction or a moment of enlightened awareness when our hearts are touched, opened, and transformed.

Of course, the joyful response to such new vision and new direction is to jump up and run to tell everyone we know. . isn't it?
If so, we never tire of telling the story.
If not, why are we still frozen?