Friday, December 25, 2009
There are many awaiting that glory this morning, missing family, wondering where a family member is today, or in general trying to set aside the worry of joblessness, debt, and fear. We were reminded last night to, "Fear not" but today's special space doesn't seem to last long when it comes to worry and fear.
I wish for everyone a moment of peace like I've found this morning and time to explore God's message that comes through scripture but more so through people. I trust that in our comings and goings, visits and gift-giving, the Christ child will appear in the eyes, hands, and hearts of friends and strangers. Christ the Lord is born today! Thanks be to God.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
You know it’s the Christmas story when you hear, “In those days a decree went out. .” Using today’s language, we might say, “back in the day an executive order went out”.
The words, “In those days,” are a clue for us to settle in and listen to the story we love. Tonight we broke it up in order that we might also sing the story by inserting some of our favorite Christmas carols into the text.
I was reminded by Charles Campbell in Feasting on the Word that “In those days” tells us this story is set in chronos time, the Greek word that means chronological time with a beginning, a middle and an ending. This is the time we are used to and in which we live.
Yet this story is not about chronos time, it’s about the beginning of Kairos time, God’s time. God’s time is “shaped by the character and quality of the new event” .
Luke gives us details to locate the story of Jesus’ birth in time and place; in the history we know. Mary and Joseph lived and died in that chronos time. This story is the story of their timeline and their hectic travel schedule.
Like last weekend’s travelers, they got stuck in a town with no room left. Everyone was on the road and every spot to sleep was already taken. Only someone’s compassion led them to a stable, perhaps under someone’s home because it was obvious Mary needed to lay down. Their journey in ‘those days’ was interrupted by the pangs of birth which made ‘THIS day’ the most special day of all time.
There would be no business as usual for Mary and Joseph and it wouldn’t be a small interruption in their schedule. Jesus’ birth was the in breaking of the heavenly realm. Nothing would be the same ever again. The physical location didn’t really matter because Kairos time had come.
Kairos time challenged the Emperor’s time just as Jesus’ presence challenges the emperor’s lordship – any emperor, then or now. “In ‘those days’ life was governed by fear. Political powers play on fear to get their way. There is fear of the emperor, fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants or any one who is ‘the other’. [There’s fear of hurt, of pain, of death.] But with “THIS DAY” comes a new possibility.” (Campbell)
When we hear this beloved story we are reminded that we no longer live in ‘those days’ and we are no longer subject to those fears. We need not live according to the emperor’s decree because we have been changed by THIS DAY and this holy night’s event. We have a new Lord who has brought Kairos time to earth.
Our lives should NEVER be business as usual. We must take the angel’s message to heart and ‘fear not!’ We live in and are part of God’s new reality where worldly power doesn’t rule; - vulnerability reigns supreme – even the extreme vulnerability of a newborn. Now, because of THIS DAY, the beginning, middle and end of our lives are set within Kairos time, and we are different.
We are different because of THIS DAY. Now, WE are shaped by “the character and quality” of God’s gift. Now we have the courage to proclaim “Do not fear” and live that way too.
This night and every night we hear and share in the angels song, “Fear not, for unto us is born THIS DAY, a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”
Reference: Charles Campbell Feasting On The Word, Barlett & Brown, eds. Homiletical (Louisville: WJK, 2009) p. 119
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I don't imagine shepherds had to deal with mounds of snow, just white and black sheep who might have been a bit unruly after experiencing the Glory of God and a host of angels. Big things change life very quickly and nothing looks the same on the other side.
I hope our Christmas will be a big thing (not another snow event) that will cause everything to look differently on the other side. Our whole lives are on the 'other side' of the first Christmas and everything IS different. It just takes a reminder to pull us away from the priorities of shoveling and getting out to work and the store. Big events are good things when they cause us to reexamine life.
I trust that all the earth will be blessed with God's big event as we are drawn into a day of remembering and reordering priorities on December 25.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Advent commentaries have drawn me into the whole Christmas story which will be part of the service. We won't hold anything back or worry about repetition on Christmas Eve. There are too many people waiting to hear the good news again so we will tell it with story and song.
Meanwhile, there are so many things to do in my personal life regarding homes and set up and clean up at the 'old house'. But we are getting there and today may be the 'last day' for cleaning. Here's hoping that my personal turn toward Christmas will begin today. Maybe a tree will even get put up and decorated..one day soon.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Church traditions in the Advent and Christmas seasons can be a bit mysterious. Today I plan to unlock a few of the mysteries. Even calling the season Advent or Christmas makes a difference in church circles. We are in ADVENT, the ‘season’ of Christmas begins at Christmas and extends until Jan 6 which is the day of epiphany. (Epiphany is always Jan. 6 whether or not it is a Sunday. We tend to celebrate it on a Sunday near by.)
The Advent Wreath is another tradition. We are used to seeing the wreath and it’s pretty purple candles and that one odd pink candle. Why the pink candle?
You may know the answer, pink is for joy. (roses; joy of being here 1 year) Even knowing that pink is for joy, did you ever wonder how a pink candle ended up in the wreath among the purple?
• First you need to know a little more about Advent. The season of advent was modeled on the church season of Lent as a time of penitence and reflection leading up to Christmas the way Lent gives us a special time to prepare for Easter.
• In early Lenten seasons, fasting was a big part of the tradition. The church decided that since Lent holds the hint of hope since resurrection is the essence of Easter, there should be a break in the fasting and a FEAST should be celebrated.
o On that Feast day, the Pope began to give someone in the congregation a PINK ROSE.
o Later, pink vestments were worn and other things in pink became inserted into the Royal Purple of Lent.
When ADVENT began, the Pink day among the purple days was continued so we have a PINK candle in the wreath of PURPLE candles to recall the JOY of that comes at Christmas.
I can’t promise to answer all your questions today but here’s another one:
Why do we read so many passages from the Prophets, specifically why today’s text from ZEPHANIAH?
The prophetic message has always been a big part of Christmas. When people experienced Christ, they recognized him as the fulfillment of prophecy. So we return to Isaiah and Zephaniah, Micah, Jeremiah and others to hear their words predicting destruction and yet promising a reason for hope, in light of the story of Jesus’ birth.
ADVENT MAY BE THE ONLY TIME WE CAN REALLY STAND TO HEAR THE PROPHETS. “Prophets say what no one wants to hear or believe. They point in directions no one wants to look. Prophets heard God when every else concluded God was or is silent. Prophets see God when nobody else does and they feel God’s presence when everyone else is numb.
Prophets also feel God’s compassion, anger, and joy. They dream God’s dreams and utter a wak up call to us. They hope God’s hopes and announce a new future even while we are still in the bleak present. Prophets will God’s will and live it against all odds. They sing GOD’s SONG and sometimes interrupt our program with a change of tune.” Deborah Block wrote those insightful words about prophets and her message is true about Zephaniah.
Zephaniah prophesied at the time of King Josiah of Judah (2 kingdoms, north and south). King Josiah became king when he was 8 years old Some scholars believe Zephaniah prophesied in the early years of his reign when Judah’s idolatry, corruption and injustice were severe. When King Josiah was 18, the high priest found a book of LAW in the temple while it was undergoing repairs that showed them how far God’s people had strayed from God’s teaching. Josiah’s reform in 621 BCE returned Torah observance to the center of life.
Often we can’t identify with ancient Judah and Israel. It was so “long ago and far away.” Yet we can identify with corruption and injustice. I saw a movie on TV recently about modern slave trade where young women traveling alone were followed and ‘taken’ captive. They were brutalized and kept as sex slaves, a pure money-making operations for their “owners.” It is easy to see the owners and perpetrators as evil but what of the people who bought women or used women and enabled the business of slaves to be so profitable.
It doesn’t take news reading or watching for us to think that the pride, idolatry and corruption of Josiah’s time is not so different than our time. It’s just that many of us are insulated from the horror. It takes a movie or tragic news story to wake us up and realize the problem is real. When we do face the reality, we can feel helpless to do anything about it. Slave trade, starvation, medicines held from needy people because of religious differences, walls built between countries; there are so many stories of desperate people and desperate acts that we get overwhelmed by the images.
That God judges and laments the way of humanity is as real today as ever. God is not absent from the pain of rape, poverty, and killing rages. God hates it as much today as in the time of Zephaniah.
We must hear his finger-point condemnation and accept our parts in the evil of the world. We bear a sense of guilt for whatever part our silence adds to the horror or where our piece of the material chain means some child is abused in factory work. We have to accept that our preference for ignoring the stories behind our goods and products is merely a way of escaping reality, it doesn’t change that reality for people who are suffering.
There comes a time when we must realize that however innocent our behavior is, we are all accomplices in the ways of human and that we deserve the harsh judgment of the prophets. We can appreciate their longing for justice to be restores and people healed. WE TOO long for a time when wars will cease and people will stop hurting each other.
All this prophetic judgment leads us to a final question;
WHERE IS THE JOY in this 3rd Sunday of advent? Where can we look for the joy of the pink candle in the midst of the longing for wholeness, justice and peace on earth?
Joy comes for Zephaniah as he looks ahead to a remnant being preserved from the destruction that will come.
Joy comes as we realize “God comes and is WITH US, Immanuel, and God’s presence among God’s peple makes all the difference.
Joy comes from our hope, that life will not always be held captive by evil and that we will and DO glimpse moments when people act with love.
1. We know there are times when compassion rules the day
2. When giving triumphs over stealing
3. When life is more important that killing and
4. Love overcomes hate.
Our joy is rooted in the experience of the life that is born at Christmas.
In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is a statue about 19” high of the Virgin and Child. I read that it was purchased in 1858 in Paris and is made very simply. No one knows who made it.
When people see it they laugh. People laugh because the child is laughing. The baby Jesus is looking at you as you look at him, and HE IS LAUGHING. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
Our joy is rooted in the Christ who is, who was, and who is to come. It’s not that we have escaped most of the horror of the world, but that the horror can be stopped each time someone experiences the God in our midst and repents, TURNS around, and lives differently. Only God can intiative that kind of redemption. Our joy is in knowing that God Rules and reaches out thru people like us to bring change.
That’s the joy we see and it’s where our hope lies. That our simple acts of kindness multiplied by God’s endless love, can make a difference. When lives are restored to right relationship with God, new life is born.
We need the PINK candle to remind us of joy even when we are experiencing the hopelessness of evil.
‘but’ if you will allow me one more question;
We might ask, is that all there is? The HOPE of joy while we wait?
Actually, there IS more.
It is the picture Zephaniah paints of God’s Joy, “God as the one who bursts into song with joy over God’s beloved: (v. 17-18) “GOD will rejoice OVER YOU with gladness, GOD will renew you in his love; GOD will exult over you with loud singing.”
This is not God at a distance but God so intentionally involved in humanity that Divine Love is birthed into a human and IT – GIVES - GOD – JOY!.
Picture the scene in pink if you will, God, laughing with us in delightful joy.
The God who knows us so well that God forgives our Unfaithfulness and our love affair with things,
God forgives our complacency and corruption,
God’ forgives all the injustice of the ages,
EVEN the execution of the gift of Jesus.
THIS God rejoices when relationship is restored between human and The Divine.
THIS God rejoices when we act with love and we allow
DIVINE COMPASSION to be BORN IN US.
THIS is our wonderful God, the source of our Joy, because we are the source of God’s joy.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Meanwhile, snow has me feeling more like Christmas among the boxes that are still piled high at the house. But oh how nice it was to drive over to the church during the heavy snow this afternoon. Very, very nice to be so close.
The move is very disorienting. I guess 22 years in one place tends to make one feel strange to move. Still, I can't help but wonder if increasing age makes the feeling worse. I see it in elderly who have to move and I'm feeling a bit of it myself. There's joyful surprises too, like finding old pictures and discovering things in the back of the closet. Then sad stuff, like the dishes that broke. And needing so many, SO MANY rolls of shelf paper.
I'm ready to watch a Christmas movie, and drink tea. But there's more to finish in the kitchen. I'm determined to get a bit more done tonight even if my ankle hurts.
Snow does seem to make things magical.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Signs of time to come are all around us, Jesus said. Fig trees or any tree tell the story of what is to come. He saw the sign of his own destruction and like prophets before him, he saw the sign of Jerusalem's destruction. To this day Jesus 'sees' the sign of our destruction. We make our own destruction imminent when we vote for policies that legislate inequality. The sign of the ever widening gap better haves and have nots is as visible as a tree in leaf. The sign of people desperate for health care and willing to do anything to get medical attention for their sick family members couldn't be more visible. In fact the only less visible sign is that of war; a war we've been in longer than WWII. Even though it hasn't been 'in our face' it kills and destroys while we continue to suffer as we pay for it. What is wrong with this picture? Everything.
Where do we find hope in our world or in these texts? The signs of Jesus' advent are mixed in with the push to purchase Christmas gifts and stimulate the economy. The sign that God has entered into humanity in the form of a child, the weakest most vulnerable creature on earth is a promise to us still. There is hope in each person who faces another day and says I will make a difference in my world, even if it doesn't seem like much to others. Each person who offers aid, disaster relief or effort on a work camp gives us a positive sign. I believe that each recycled bottle helps to save the world. I believe that we graduate to larger acts of compassion from little ones and that each loving act helps to change us as much as others.
There is hope this Christmas because I am part of a community that works hard to reach out to people in need, locally and nationally. People who respond with care and compassion are signs of the times for me. I see the trees around me budding with leaves in the midst of winter and these signs are at the center of my hope. Jesus' people ARE signs of what can be. They- you, are my hope.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I will try to embed the link to Prof. Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary talking about Advent texts for Luke (Year C) or put it to the side. Listening to him makes me glad I attended a Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg) because it helps me understand a context that is not always found in progressive Brethren churches; Christ's 2nd coming.
Now you wouldn't think the 2nd Coming would be a topic for the celebration of Jesus' 1st coming. But it is for Lectionary year C. My sermon title is planned to be, "This Year Give Hope" and reading Luke 21:25-36 I have trouble finding the hope. I have some ideas about making Christmas celebrations real and bringing our hope from 'Disney-movie' expectation to reality. My ideas need a good bit of simmering to reach the point of sermon delivery. Meanwhile, my life mirrors the chaos of Luke 21, or so it seems as I look around this morning.
I'm surrounded by boxes and have so many more to pack. (Getting the boxes takes as long as packing them.) I'm about to contract with movers for one week from today. There's a house to get ready for renters when all this does get moved. It all seems quite impossible and yet I'm living with hope. I still hope and plan for the move to happen next Monday. And, as impossible as it seems right now, I am working toward that day.
hmmmm maybe there's a sermon in there. . .
Saturday, November 21, 2009
you will find a great portrayal of Pilate's wife's version of Sunday's text, Jesus' trail before Pilate.
I can’t help but wonder if she was right. I wonder if Pilate and Jesus could have identified with each other if they had met under different circumstances?
On Sunday, 11/22, we end the Church year AND prepare for it’s beginning by celebrating the REIGN of CHRIST.
We do so by recognizing that Jesus’ reign wasn’t recognized during his time. His Kingdom, as he said, is not of this world. Hear the dialogue between the two: (now that you have the perspective of Pilate’s wife from which to hear the story.)
(John 18: 33-38)
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and said to him, “You are the King of the Judeans.”
34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be violently contending[i] to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.”
38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.
Pilate needs to know if Jesus is a threat to him and his little piece of the Roman kingdom. Perhaps others might see Jesus’ as a minor disturbance, not hardly a threat. But Pilate has faced trouble before from these Judeans. He is not above a little paranoia about how this particular disagreement could turn into a major revolt.
Can you put yourself in his shoes?
He sees that Jesus has incurred the wrath of the Judean Officials,
As the governing authority for ALL the people in the territory, he has a few options.
- He can determine if there is a valid case against Jesus, for which he can apply punishment.
- He can evaluate if Jesus is of any political use to him.
- He can work WITH the Judeans, possibly making them indebted to him
- He can even decide if Jesus really has a kingdom and how that fits (if it fits) into his world.
Barbara Brown Taylor calls Jesus a mirror (in this story):
She says the dialogue that day between Pilate and Jesus
“involved a collision between religion and politics. While Pilate and the chief priests conspired to solve their mutual problem
while managing to remain enemies,
Jesus stood at the center of the stage like a mirror in which all those around him saw themselves clearly for who they were.”
She challenges us to look into that same mirror, “One way we Christians have avoided seeing our own reflections. . . is to pretend that this is a story about Romans and Jews. As long as they remain the villains, then we are off the hook -- or so we think.”[ii]
We may not preside over trials, nor anything as significant as what Pilate faced, yet moments come when we are faced with the truth, and the opportunity to decide for truth.
All Thru Jesus’ trial, the world (as represented by the Judeans AND Pilate) operates on self-serving versions of the truth. The WORLD (THEIR world) “supposes it has placed Jesus on trial and condemned him by its own criteria. .” When we move from identifying with Pilate to identifying with Jesus, OUR KING, we recognize that it was “the world on trial that day and in condemning Jesus, it condemns itself.”[iii]
It all hinges on how WE view the truth.
For the Judeans, the high priests and leaders of the People who are Jesus’ opponents, the truth is expressed in chapter 11 when this same high priest, Caiaphas says,
“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (11:50)
This is THEIR truth. They need to keep power and control because in their ‘truth’, only keeping control will protect the people. AND save their own interests. Therefore, no threat to their power can be tolerated .
For Pilate, Truth is the potential that any political situation can evolve into a revolt that will get back to his superiors and ruin his reputation. Perhaps even resulting in his removal from office. (Which history tells us does happen later.)
Truth is Pilate’s power over everyone in the territory, the power of life and death and yet it is THIS power that Jesus’ rejects.
Jesus’ compares the truth of the world’s kingdom and its violence when he explains that IF his kingdom WERE of this world, violence WOULD be used to gain his release. But that is NOT the case.
Jesus’ power is not based on violence, his kingdom is not from this world, his truth is not based on relative position or political power.
For people in power, truth is what they make it. We see it in our time too.
- Truth can be any statement that is repeated enough times until people believe it.
- Truth can depend on which news channel you watch or which newspaper you read. It should not be so, and in
- a court, we trust that ‘truth’ does come out. But for people my age, we have learned to have doubts about what people call ‘truth’.
Truth is a major theme in John’s gospel.[iv] (25x’s in John)
“Those who do what is TRUE come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (3:210
“The hour is coming , and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. .”
Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (4:23-24)
Pilate’s that can be clearly stated.
This is not the understanding in John’s gospel.
Jesus’ doesn’t teach the truth, he doesn’t ‘have’ the truth, Jesus’ is not just a great teacher who conveys ‘great truths’.[v]
JESUS gives himself.
He said, “If you continue IN MY WORD, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free.” (v. 8:31-32)
TRUTH , not a ‘what’.
“Truth is a personal encounter and a relationship with the Holy Spirit who guides’ ALL the disciples of Jesus into ‘truth’.
TRUTH is doing, it is ethics and following what we term, ‘God’s will’ or what is later called ‘Jesus’ Way’.
For Pilate, “Truth is not an axiom that can be proven. Truth is the one who stands on trial before him.[vi]
We have to answer Pilate’s question, What is truth?
We can not avoid choosing between the truth of the world and Jesus’ truth by saying this story is about Romans and Judeans.
We can walk in someone else’s shoes to see if THEY recognize truth.
We can analyze situations and make decisions based on the world’s truth.
But we can only Know What Truth Is by Knowing Jesus and Following Him.
Unless we know ‘truth’ in the person of Jesus’ - we will never understand the that makes Jesus’ crucifixion ALSO his exaltation.
Jesus is ENTHRONED on the cross.
That contradiction in terms is as the heart of Jesus’ truth.
It makes this story that leads up to his crucifixion, the perfect story for “Christ The King Sunday.”
When we know Jesus.
When we are baptized into his community,
Then TRUTH is at the heart of WHO we ARE.
All The truth of Jesus life, his priority on the poor, his rejection of violence, his embracing people of all kinds and his ‘telling the truth’ to people who thought they had the power of life and death over him,
ALL this, is the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom.
This Truth makes a difference in our lives and they way we live it, and it comes at a very high cost.
Giving up the priorities of the world,
Even giving up life itself, is HOW Jesus’ Reigns.
Pilate, poor, poor Pilate, with all his wealth and power, he couldn’t pay the high cost of entering this Kingdom.
He didn’t see THE truth.
[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor Barbara Brown Taylor teaches at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. This article appeared in the Christian Century, March 18-25, 1998, page 283; copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
[iii] Boring and Craddock, People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2004) p. 349
[iv] Boring and Craddock, see above, p. 350
[v] Boring and Craddock see above p. 350
[vi] Paul Berge, Emeritus Professor of NT at Luther Seminary on Working Preacher.org
Saturday, November 14, 2009
How can we comprehend what it means to hear God’s call without knowing the story of the burning bush that wasn’t consumed.
How Moses asked God, “Who shall I say you are?” and God’s answer, “I am who I am”How can we hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message without the knowledge of Moses confrontations with Pharaoh asking him to, “Let My People Go!”
How would we know the appropriate response to God without Moses and Abraham or Samuel’s story, when he answered God’s call in the night with “Here I am, Lord”.
How do we deal with periods of confusion and feeling lost without having Israel’s history as part of our story, knowing they wandered for 40 years in the dessert to learn dependence on God.
How do we face tragedy and sorry without understand the Exile, and Israel’s cries to God for justice, and restoration and God’s steadfast response.
How do we comprehend the depth of God’s love for humanity without the Christmas Story?
All these wonderful stories that describe the major trauma and celebrations of our life are from this book, the B-I-B-L-E.
But (and but always negates what came before it) But, if this book doesn’t contain GOOD NEWS for you, then why revere it, or even read it?
And if you don’t find hope and help in these stores, can you even call this the Good News?
Because if you find no meaning here for your life this isn’t Good News for You.
And if these core stories don’t touch you, or speak to your life, then where DO you go for Good News? Where can you find it? In that case, You may just be categorized as ‘the lost’.
Today we lift up the Bible, our source book for guidance and wisdom, the place we go for meaning, and the stories of our faith. The New Testament is as close to a creed as Brethren get, saying we take the ENTIRE New Testament as our rule for faith and living. (which means we embrace the contradictions we understand are in there as part of humanity’s experience and varied understanding of God.)
Today I invite you to think about the Bible and how these words are Good News to you. We each have our own experience with church and pastors and the authority of scripture. I can only tell you what this Bible means to me.
This was my father’s Bible. It’s not the first one I remember him carrying. We, mom, brother and I, gave this to him on the 20th anniversary of his ministry in September 1979. Three years later, in September 1982, he died of cancer. For those last three years, and thru the 6 months of his illness, this was his source of comfort and questions. It was the place where he tried to make sense of life and what lay beyond.
As his young daughter, I remember Bible stories from SS and especially from VBS. Don’t all of us who had the good fortune to attend those special summer weeks, have memories of acting as disciples, or crawling around as sheep or some other lively encounter with these stories.
I remember having to memorize psalms that return to my mind at surprising times to this day. (From the ‘Lord is my shepherd’ to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’
My mother told me how afraid I was of Samuel’s story when I came home from VBS one year. “I don’t want God to talk to me in the middle of the night,” I said to her. I’m sure I spend a few nights in their bed after that particular fear.
As a young adult, I turned to words of promise in the gospel during difficult times, hearing Jesus speak the words,
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”
As a young mom, working in the outdoor setting of a Christian camp, I listened again to the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the starts, which you have set in place…”
And over the years I heard God’s voice speak to me, and I wasn’t afraid of the sound any longer. It was a persistent call that grew louder and louder and came from friends and from this BOOK and from sermons until I thought I’d run screaming from the sanctuary. (Never something a preacher wants to see!)
Until one day, walking down to the camp lodge in the season before camp opened, the voice calling became loud and persistent until I feel to my knees and said, “OK, if this is what you want, you are going to have to make it happen somehow.”
And I soon found myself in seminary unsure of where I’d work next but knowing that each step of the way was working out, just as I leaned my weight onto the foot ahead.
(I used to complain that I wanted to hear the stories in this book as if for the first time. I wanted to hear them new, not with all the memories of childhood, but really fresh, like the disciples heard them. I found myself in GREEK class, not enjoying God’s sense of humor. Be careful what you wish for.)
Thru life and thru death, these words have offered me substance and comfort.
“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is MORTAL may be swallowed up by LIFE.”
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, endures all things. Love never ends;
These words, this book of books and letters, of poems and songs have offered hope and meaning to humanity for millenna. What has it given to you?
What is the good news of the Bible? Can you name it? Do you claim this as YOUR good news?
The Good News comes through all the stories in this book, that God’s love for humanity can’t be undone by human unfaithfulness.
Whether in a desert worshiping a golden calf or
Running away from arresting officers in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Good News came again when God entered into humanity in the life of one man; in a way difficult for us to comprehend, but that people experienced in Jesus.
And because of that story, HIS STORY, there hope for my story. And hope for yours for everyone who calls this book the GOOD NEWS, can ask for strength to live another way than most of the people around us.
When love seems far away, we can turn to the Good News and see the Love of God made human in Jesus, the Christ.
When the world calls us to concentrate on wealth, we can hear another voice that calls us to focus on people.
When the world is fixated on vengeance, we can find strength to reach out with compassion.
When violence rips through the fabric of your life, we can find courage to speak the words of peace instead. We can help others find this other way, the way of non-violence and non-resistance.
Because Jesus absorbed the violence that took his life, we too can lay ours down in trust that God can make sense of it all. That even death is not the last word.
All this, because the stories in this Book, The BIBLE, tell of the never-ending love of God for us. I call it, GOOD NEWS,
And if this is GOOD NEWS for YOU, then THIS – Is – YOUR- Story, too.
Friday, November 6, 2009
To put on good program? To enact mission that feeds the hungry, nurtures Christ’s disciples, and proclaims the Good News in word and in DEED?
And HOW should a church balance that cost without requiring a widow’s last lepta?
As we usually do, we look at the big picture of scripture, not just the few verses marked off for today. We began by reading of Jesus’ exchange with another scribe, one who was commended for his understanding. That scribe reminded us that everything starts with priorities, namely - by putting God first.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is ONE and you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. AND You should love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 29-31)LOVE GOD. LOVE NEIGHBOR Simple words, but it is not so simple to keep priorities straight in a world where church can be as corrupt as financial institutions. Where the people entrusted to protect your money are found to have squandered it. Where those designated to care for widows, take their last penny.
Surely Jesus would condemn any church that teaches the poor to contribute ‘all they have.’ Unless a church is about caring for the most vulnerable of society and offering nurture for their body and spirit, today’s temples will face destruction too. Does that make a stewardship message difficult? I don’t think so. Jesus loved the temple. He went there daily when he was in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful place of worship; a holy place for loving God with ritual sacrifice and prayer. He hated the corruption of the ancient priesthood when it became infatuated with perpetuating itself instead of WORSHIPing GOD and CARING for neighbors.
We must constantly evaluate our priorities as we do in each budget season. We compare what we do with our mission remembering, As St. Francis said, to “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words”. We are entrusted with building up a community that lifts others up, that is why we are here. Our pledges and promises today are part of it. But they must not be ‘cost-less’ pledges. Unless our pledge cards include the promise of ALL we are, (heart, soul, mind and strength) we risk falling into the category of the scribes who were insincere and the rich who gave without any ‘cost.’
We need a regular reality check to keep our priorities straight. If we pledge our time, talent and treasure, (as we do today), to God’s Glory, Keeping our priority on Worship and Service, then regardless of the amount we give, small or large, God’s work will go forward. We can pray, like Jesus did, for God’s kingdom to come on earth, and trust that we – are – part – of - it, giving and receiving as we have need -- - Loving Our God and loving our neighbor.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
This week I have more than enough time for reflection. Thanks to our dog, affectionately nick-named 'Devil Dog', I have cracked bones in my ankle and am in an air cast and on crutches. When I can put pressure on the foot without pain, the cast will allow me to walk on it. This is the good news. The bad news is it still hurts and is very tender to the touch so I hobble around getting up only when necessary.
I'm settled into the cuddler of the couch, which is the perfect place for a semi-invalid. There's pillows all around and plenty of room for my leg to be elevated. I have books on all sides and a power cord for times when the laptop needs charging. It gives me the illusion of independence when actually it takes only a simple pang of hunger to realize I am dependent on my family for food and drink.
Life is a similar illusion. We are "independent" souls, creating our way in the world, learning to fly on our own by getting jobs and homes and creating families. Our lives are wedded to the priorities of work and play. We "make our own way" and strive to "be all that we can be". We are "self-made people". We live a deception that we create for ourselves.
The reality is life is only a breath. We are as fragile as being knocked to the ground by my dog proves. We are a heartbeat away from death and delude ourselves into immortality by planning for the future. Recalling the Saints of the past reminds us that we too are mere mortals that depend on God for life. Not only that, we desperately need each other to live with any fullness and happiness for it is only in community that true joy is found. This is why our remembrances are important. They reunited us to a community that extends on both sides of death. The community of God's creation of all life and the promise of something beyond the last breath.
What will that 'more' be? We don't know for sure, only that the Christ promised it is found through him. Dan R. Dick (writing in Lectionary Homiletics volume XX, no.6) says,
". .of all the gifts e have been given by God, among the greatest is each other. Our relationships give meaning and purpose to our lives, filling our days with rich and rewarding experiences"
On Sunday we name the names from the past relationships that have given meaning to our lives then and now. We remember by looking back and we pull back the curtain of delusion by looking ahead, not fearing an end but trusting in a love that continues.
Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Sunday the story of the organ project will be told. It involves people who will be sitting in the pews and those who have moved on to the next life. Dreamers and visionaries worked with practical concerns. Roadblocks were there and the 'impossibility' of it all loomed large from time to time and yet a great deal of money was raised off-budget, a great deal of labor was volunteered, a great deal of talent went into the rebuild and we have an incredible instrument with which to praise God.
I like hearing the stories, some I've not heard before being the 'new kid on the block'. I understand the importance of telling them. Our church, like so many others, is in a transition time. The days of a full sanctuary are memories, not current reality. The dreams for the future may need to look different than the past. Stories remind us of the heritage that brought us to this place. Stories remind us of God's faithfulness that never ends. Stories inspire us to continue in faithful response to God, trusting that whatever new thing God births in the world will be good. Even when we can't see what it is, or recognize anything that looks like 'church' to us, we can trust that our God, who acted in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and so many others, CONTINUES, even now, to act in our lives - always steadfast, always faithful.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
After some serious downtime today, I've got some preparation to do for a big church event next weekend. But now for some zzzs.
Friday, October 9, 2009
They worked on hiking skills, traveling around the camp over rough trails. They worked on endurance by canoeing for long stretches. They swam and played and cooked meals together becoming a close and well-functioning group. They created worship times around the campfire and had quiet times alone in creation. They divided up tasks and truly lived in Christian community, just like all our brochures said they would.
I knew their parents would be pleased that they had become such a tight-knit group and I was sure their trip to Old Rag would be successful. This small group might be the best of the summer, achieving every goal and enjoying the highlight of the week; the view from Old Rag.
The day before the big hike, one boy sprained his ankle. He wasn't sent home, but it was serious enough that he would not be able to hike the strenuous trail of Old Rag. We made the best of it, telling him he could spend the day in the center of camp with the Health Hut attendants and visit the pool as often as he liked. He was even promised ice cream while his group was away on the hike. It was sad to think he wouldn't get to realize the goal of the week's camp.
The next morning I saw several members of the group pulling a ponycart (with their breakfast) and traveling across the field. I asked why the group hadn't left earlier for the drive to Old Rag. "They aren't going." I was told. I was shocked. All I could do was wonder what happened and try to think of what I would tell their parents. I was sure to field a few complaints that the kids didn't get their money's worth. I had to know more and asked what had happened.
The group met for their daily planning session and they decided that it would mean more to all of them to be together on the last day of camp than to hike Old Rag. They didn't want to leave their friend behind, even in order to accomplish the hike they had prepared for. They decided to do some more on-site hiking and all have ice cream together. There was extra swimming for everyone and much more time for friendships to deepen.
I was surprised, but I realized that they HAD accomplished the intended purpose of the camp. They were to learn to live in Christian community during the week and hiking Old Rag was part of it. It turned out they had something to teach me. Christian community meant they could easily 'give up' the accomplishment of hiking Old Rag because they had already received much more in the deep relationships that had formed among them. They didn't give up in order to get - their priorities had been transformed by Christian living.
In Mark 10:17-31 Jesus looks at the man intently and invites him to shed the baggage of wealth. He is invited to be less - that he might be whole. These kids showed me how that is done and they didn't miss what they gave up at all. The hike to Old Rag would have held them back from being all the group could be. Living in Christian community, that's treasure in heaven.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Here's a story I think I'll tell, about communion in a different 'world'. We easily forget how Jesus used common elements to reinforce the idea that he is always with us. Our occasional ceremony may remove the significance of the everyday. I think coke, pretzels, grape juice and bread will be the visuals for tomorrow.
As for high Christology, I'm working on those words. . .
and if you are interested in the full sermon, it's here.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Anointing is a covenantal rite.[i] There has to be a partnership between us and God for true healing to take place. God always offers restoration.
We see it each time Jesus heals. He send the healed person back to community in some way, restoring both their health and their life as part of the larger body of God’s people.
When pastors and deacons come to pray, they represent the covenant community of Christ’s church. We participate in the covenant by turning to God in prayer. It is here that James’ words really help us. He not only tells us when to pray, he reminds us that the praying community engages in all these types of prayers, not just one type. And for James, who is concerned about what we say and the trouble the tongue can get a body into, these words on prayer are an example of the proper use of God’s gift of a voice.
Our prayers are of praise and thanksgiving,
Our prayers are of confession
Our prayers are for ourselves and
Our prayers are for each other.
What stronger way to bind a community together than to know each other so intimately that we are comfortable calling on friends to come, and then to pray together.
[i] Deacon Manual for Caring Ministries (Elgin, IL: ABC, 1998) p.192-210
Monday, September 21, 2009
Hopefully, I can embed this Youtube video with some good encouraging music.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Lord, Messiah, King, Savior
What do we mean by any of them?
It is important to know someone's identity and I think Jesus was assessing the disciples understanding in the passage from Mark 8. He had just been reminding them that they needn't be concerned about bread when they misinterpreted his statement to avoid the yeast of the pharisees. And Mark's rapid-paced narration will soon have Peter, James and John seeing the prophets on the mountain top with Jesus, as if to show that he isn't them but is ONE of them.
Putting things in historical context it appears that the early christian understanding of Jesus was greatly influenced by Qumran's expectations that a mashiah would be a future anointed leader and their expectation of multiple mashiahs of Aaron and of Israel became included in the concept of the Messiah. Of course Paul's early writings influenced all the later understandings too and so we get Mark's Peter saying, "You are the Messiah." (My words don't do justice to the scholarship out there. See the H.C. Bible Dictionary for a nice summary.)
Jesus kinda corrects Peter's assumption maybe because he knew Peter was using the title as lightly as we do, without really understanding what it means. Jesus instead speaks of the Son of Man as his title and predicts his own suffering in that role. Again, historic use of "Son of Man" in Daniel is for an end-time judgment by a heavenly figure. This description begins to fit with one who comes to suffer before returning from death and the eventual expectation that he will come again to judge humankind.
I like that all these descriptions challenge me to think about the names I use for Jesus. All the predictions of suffering are not to be taken lightly just because we are familiar with the story. Jesus tries to share his 'upside-down kingdom' (Kraybill) concept with the disciples by speaking about the cross before it became common to use the term by its association with Christianity. We need to hear that "any who want to be my followers need to deny themselves and be executed". Then we might ask ourselves what would it mean to be executed? Is it a literal statement or metaphorical?
This is the challenge for Christians and the challenge of this passage. How do we 'lose' our lives for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the good news? What in us needs to be denied?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
This is a draft of tomorrow's sermon.
After reading the scripture in James, it is easy to feel scolded. In one way or another, we are convicted, knowing we DO judge people based on their outward presentation.
Perhaps it stems from the ancient need to size up a predator or a competitor for limited food sources. But in today’s world that lacks saber-toothed tigers, we can’t really justify our internal tendency to judge someone based on their clothes or color.
The book of James is our guide for this very human affliction and others because it is full of instructions to help us deal with the tendencies that are most detrimental to Christian communities.
For THIS 2009 community who seek to follow the Way of Jesus, it is helpful to understand what these 1st century instructions meant to the people who first followed Jesus. James offers us a closer look at that early community than you might realize.
(A little investigative reporting gives us a fuller picture.)
First, we assume, with many scholars, that the book was written by James, the brother of Jesus. James led the early church in Jerusalem before he was killed for his faith. His martyrdom occurred prior to the great Jewish War of around 70CE when the Temple was destroyed. If he, or a close colleague wrote it, it is older than all the gospels by at least a decade, maybe more. It is comparable to a 60 year old person writing about their impressions from when they were 30. (This is pretty fresh as ancient writings go.)
We easily see that the book of James places high importance on Torah- JEWISH law. This resonates with James and Jesus’ upbringing as devout Jews. Jesus easily quoted Torah and observed all the festivals with travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. So we aren’t surprised to find an emphasis on the teachings of the Old Testament from his brother, raised in the same household.
As part of this emphasis on OT Scripture, we (might) remember that Jewish Law is practical and specific. Hospitality to strangers and love for one’s neighbor promote strong community. This was important to the early nomads that followed Moses and was important to the first Christians – who (remember) were Jews following a minority religion that faced persecution from both orthodox Jews and the majority of people who followed other religions.
A key to remember is the very important part of Torah – that of keeping Sabbath laws. We forget that Sabbath Laws included a
o Sabbatical from slavery
o Welcome for resident aliens
o A 7th year sabbatical call JUBILEE where ancestral lands that had been mortgaged were returned to the original families.
(Try putting that into context in this day of 30 year mortgages and credit card debt that increases as you pay it off due to compounding and fees.)
IN God’s Law, the poor are incorporated into the Lord’s benefits as part of the entire community. The Law is FREEING and equalizing, not oppressive. It makes sense of the phrases in the Psalms that say, “I love your law, O Lord!” And it helps us understand James’ irritation if the RICH were being favored over the poor.
There is also a scholarly line that says the rich who entered the early Christian congregations may well have been Roman officials really their to spy on this illegal religion. There are layers upon layers of meaning in the words we heard today.
Our investigation of James relevancy to the first church and to ours is enlightening and helps us understand what they heard and what we hear today.
What I LIKE BEST about James is the Echoes of Jesus’ teachings. Some scholars believe the words and phrases in James may be closer to Jesus’ actual language than any other NT writing. After all, who better to recall the way Jesus’ spoke than his brother.
When I first heard that comparison, I began to read James with more reverence. And at times, that makes me feel all the more SCOLDED by its teachings. Yet we know Jesus’ teaching are meant to lift us up into greater alignment with God, not dress us down.
Last week we read, “Be doers of the word, not merely hearers.” And I can envision Jesus sitting and teaching with his disciples all around him using just those words to help them make their walk match their talk.
I read today’s
v. 5 “Has not God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom promise to those who love him.”
IN that I hear the core of Jesus’ own theology wrapped deeply in his experience of walking from small town to small town and seeing the STRONG FAITH and RICH LIVES of those who had literally nothing but a single tunic and perhaps enough bread for one day. And yet, these people took him in and gave him what they had. Why was it so natural for them to offer hospitality?
Perhaps it was this experience that Jesus’ shared with his brother from which the words “faith and works” come. These are famous verses and have been batted back and forth like a volleyball in a match.
v. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say your have faith but do not have works?
Martin Luther read those words and called the James The “Epistle of Straw” Because he read them as speaking against salvation by faith instead of hearing the integral relationship between the conviction of faith and the action of works.
Brethren do not put one over the other but believe firmly that one’s faith is made visible in the actions of our lives.
And it is our actions that are being “scolded” in James. The not-so-imaginary woman or man who walks into worship, dressed in fine Italian fashion, with the best hair style you’ve seen in a while and we (it could be any of us) escort them most graciously to a seat in the middle of the church, offering them a bulletin, a brochure, nametag and even a church mug – all the while answering the door with suspicion if the man who occasionally sleeps outside on our bench steps in. Which response is ours? Could we pass James test?
JAMES didn’t write the illustration about us but it does challenge us to examine our practices for we are self-preservationists of a sort. Maybe we CAN’T help first noticing their style, manners or even their smell.
The answer lies in Jesus’ life and the story from Mark so excellently portrayed by our talented readers.
In this story, (maybe my favorite) we are shocked to see Jesus doing some judging. It appears that way, doesn’t it?
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Excuse me, but didn’t Jesus just call her a dog? It is pretty hard to get around that.
Opinions vary greatly among scholars as to what was going on in this exchange. It is certainly NOT the kind of response we are used to when someone asks Jesus for help.
Some authors remind us of the inappropriateness of a woman approaching a man in those days without going thru another man. They say Jesus would have been startled and caught off-guard. Yet gender didn’t seem to bother Jesus elsewhere. And cultural conventions never seemed to stop him.
Others say Jesus response related to the imbalance between WEALTHY GENTILES (including this woman) in Tyre (Tire) and the poor Jewish peasants living in the region. In this case, Jesus’ inference is not to Gentiles not being worthy to be fed, but the wealthy. That certainly challenges our standard interpretation.
Gail O’Day takes a different path of understanding and says we must look at the bigger picture of the woman’s boldness and Jesus’ openness to change that mimics the story of the Israelites when they would petition God and eventually God would hear and answer their plea. Jesus apparent change of heart reminds us of God’s answering the Jew’s time after time.
I find each interpretation fascinating and helpful and yet I find one important piece that is part of each interpretation.
HUMANS TOUCH EACH OTHER BY THEIR PRESENCE IN A WAY NO WORDS OR PREFERENCE CAN.
When we engage someone and allow them to enter our life with their presence and their concerns, their need and even their smell, we are touched by their humanity and it fosters change.
When someone enters our life with a petition for help or merely the request to sit in a pew nearby, they become our neighbor. And the GREAT LAW OF LIBERTY that turns the worlds demands up-side-down, becomes the catalyst of transformation.
The closeness of touch and communication, renews the human connection that is built into our genes. We are changed when another human looks us in the eye and asks for help. No matter what ‘natural’ response we have to overcome, we cannot remain the same when another person enters our life.
Whenever and however the challenge comes to us to live our faith in the action of our works, - there is only one response to someone who becomes ‘our neighbor.’
“Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
If only this would publish with my reference notes intact.
Charles Raynal, Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Brown, eds. (Louisville:WJK, 2009) p. 28
Haruko Nawata Ward Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Brown, eds. (Louisville:WJK, 2009) p. 38
Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Brown, eds. (Louisville:WJK, 2009) p. 49and www. workingpreacher.org