Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Are you preaching sheep? We saw little chicks and ducks today at the Family Farm Center. They were so cute! Yet we seem to remember that ducks can be mean when they grow up. It's always interesting to realize when you look into the aspects of sheep, how unflattering Jesus' referencing them was to the rest of us humans. Dumb? yes. Really dumb? yes. hmmm, I guess we do need a shepherd.

And why is it that we so love to hear that Psalm when life takes a turn for the worse? Lack of responsibility as related to sheep? Maybe that's it, but I think its just a plain feeling of comfort from the shepherd. How sweet it is to imagine God that way.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Coffee and Prayer

It is interesting how well coffee and prayer go together. On a beautiful morning, when the birds interrupt the silence and no heat or AC is needed, I sit with a cup of coffee and the Psalms. It has to be good, rich, fairtrade coffee and there is a balance between the amount of coffee it takes to wake up and too much to sit in silent prayer. When the combination is right, perfection.

And the large red-headed woodpecker is back asking why have I not refilled the sunflower seeds? He's the only one with a beak long enough to get the seeds in the middle. The trees look brushed with green. (Partly because I'm not wearing my contacts.) And the woods are dusted with the white of the dogwoods. All these beautiful trees are, of course, causing my eyes to water constantly. Yet, now, with the sun over the roof sending bright shafts of light a few trees and lighting up the depth of the woods, it is beautiful. September may be my absolute favorite month, but spring is in the running for first place today. Listening to the silence broken only by birdsong is truly a prayerful way to open the day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Who Are You?

Who are you? How do you describe yourself to someone when they ask?
Do you mention your career, your family? I recently read a short reflection about a woman who died and ended up at the metaphoric gate of heaven with, of course, St. Peter. When asked who she was, she first said, “Mrs. Smith, wife of John, the attorney for the city of…”
St. Peter said, “I didn’t ask whose wife you were. Who are you?”
The woman answered, “I’m Mary, mother of John Jr., and Sarah”
St. Peter said, “I didn’t ask whose mother you were. Who are YOU?”
The woman was confused and couldn’t answer. She has identified herself through her relationships and her family, for so long, she couldn’t say who SHE was.
So, who are YOU?

At times, I’ve answered that question by a few words of personality self-description.. Are you familiar with the Myers Briggs test? It is a way of determining your personality preferences within 4 categories. Imagine 4 see-saws lined up together.
Each one has an extreme associated with the seat, and balance comes in the middle.
Extrovert and Introvert
Sensing and Intuiting
Thinking and Feeling
Judging and Perceiving
They are just words to describe certain characteristics that go together. I first tested as an ESTP.
You probably know me well enough to recognize I’m an extrovert, that’s the E and although some of the other letters change, that one stays the same. E
I must sit at the middle of the see-saw on the S and N, Sensing and Intuition. I test so close to the middle that a single answer to a question can swing me one way or the other.
I’m also close to the middle on the T and F, I tend to come down more toward the thinking seat than feeling, but it’s close.
The interesting feature is the J and P. I used to test as a P. P’s are always perceiving. (I’m sure I won’t give this category a full description so if you are well versed in MB, please forgive me.) P’s like to gather info from their surroundings. They tend to live in the moment and seize the day.
While J’s, “judges” sounds a bit harsh, J’s tend to plan in advance. They carry day-planners and keep to a schedule. They eat on time, not just when they are hungry. They have certain times of days for each thing that must be done and days of the week for certain tasks. Theirs is a well-ordered life.
In recent years I’ve tested as a J. Now if you know me as well as my husband you’d be shaking your head because you know at heart I’m a P and can get distracted by a task that can fill a day and disrupt any plans. But as a friend told me, “Nancy, you can’t get thru seminary, and work and raising a family without becoming a J, at least to some extent.” So, much of the time I’m a J, a planner.
If you ask me my plans for retirement, it’s to someday become a blissful P again.
Who are you?
Are you a planner, an introvert, do you feel your way thru the world, do you identify with logic, do you intuit what is going on or do you need to feel and touch to understand who you are and where you are?

John’s 1st letter has an answer for us. He says we are children of God and that is all the identity we need. Whether we are the life of the party or content to be alone, we are children of God. Whether we plan our days down to the last detail or live life on a whim, we are children of God. We are marked by God’s love for us!
Trans: We need a separate category that starts off the MB description that gives us a new set of letters GC, God’s Child, ENTJ, God’s Child INFP. Because this description of being God’s child is not one the world really understands. We need a book about it, and John’s letter may just do the trick.
See what love the Father (I prefer to use God but we need the parental image to understand John’s picture) See what love our PARENT has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
These are the thoughts I'm developing for Sunday with great and attributed help form Ronald Cole-Turner, professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgy Theological Seminary.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Well it looks like I'm missing good texts on which to preach and a good sermon that will be delivered by Jordan Blevins from NCC. oh well, vacation is worth it. AND sub-letting the Richmond apartment would be even better.

Hopes up, hopes down. It's an interesting thing. One gets excited hoping that one of the responders will actually want to rent the place, then hopes crash when only one of the group show up. Perhaps another day. I used to worry about getting my hopes up and once decided it was better not to hope, not to get too excitied so that one wouldn't get disappointed. But it's a prescription for 'blah'. Life is meant for ups and downs which means good and bad times. "For better and for worse" just like marriage.

We certainly try to avoid the downs and disappointments. We may also find that the lows are learning experiences and provide needed perspective for the highs. It would seem that resurrection can only be appreciated following the experience of death. Rightly so.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Easter Surprise - for adults

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That is NOT the story we expect to hear. The whole story of Easter is full of surprises, but this wasn’t what we expected.

-This resurrection story is incomplete. It feels wrong to not see the risen Christ at the conclusion of the gospel.

-It feels wrong for the story to end with fear and silence.

    1. In fact, generations of Christians before us felt the same and wrote additional endings to Mark. (Your Bible probably lists two endings; “a shorter ending” and “a Longer ending” that try to fill out the story.)
    2. But we’ve been following Mark’s gospel and know he writes with purpose so we have to believe that if he left the end of the story this way, he did so for a reason.
    3. We need help to unravel this Easter mystery and we find it . . .

In an EASTER BASKET – this is the adult Easter basket (you have those right? Where the ‘good’ candy lives?)

This Easter basket is metaphoric. It represents a gospel full of clues where we can look for Mark’s deeper meaning. First, a half sandwich (peanut butter and jelly). Mark writes in sandwiches. They are ‘frames’ where we find stories within stories. A story begins, seems to stop, another story begins and concludes and then we return to the scene of the 1st story.

Surprise! there was more to the first incident.

An easy story to identify is the Fig tree. We barely notice it when we read it, except that is seems a bit strange.

1. Jesus, is outside Jerusalem in Bethany and he’s hungry. He sees a FIG TREE in LEAF. He goes over to it, but it has no fruit and he CURSES it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” A bit of a surprise.

2. But the story continues with Jesus entering the Temple and driving out the sellers and buyers so we forget about the fig tree.

3. The next morning the group of disciples pass by the fig tree and Peter is surprised to see that it has withered. Jesus tells them they can do anything if they believe and ask in prayer.

It’s a Fig Tree Sandwich, with a temple story in between. AND the two stories inform each other if we spend time thinking about them. We often miss these framing sandwiches because we read only short portions of the gospel.

BACK to today’s story of the Empty Tomb.

If we read the whole story of Mark from beginning to end, we would have discovered that Jesus has been telling the disciples what was going to happen to him.

He tells them 3x’s that he will be arrested and crucified,

he will die and will rise again.

Thereby telling us, the hearers of the story, what to expect.

Is our sandwich just an expectation?

Well, if you’ve ever woken up to a house where a busy pastor has forgotten to buy candy, you would know that EXPECTING an Easter basket and FINDING one, are two different things! So let’s return to our basket for another clue to Mark’s mysterious ending.

Second, a White linen cloth. Where do we find white cloth in Mark’s empty tomb? --- ON the young man dressed in a white robe.

a. While at first we identify him as an angel because we are accustomed to expect angels at the tomb from the other gospel stories and we associate white clothing with angels.

b. But remembering that Mark’s gospel was written before the other gospels, and not finding other angels in Mark’s story, perhaps we need to rewind this account to understand this clue.

c. Let’s go back 4 days to the night when Jesus was betrayed. (14:50-52)

i. “All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

The unidentified young man, who almost seems out of place in the story, represents ALL Jesus’ followers when he runs away in SHAME.

In those days nothing was a shameful as nakedness and this man was so very AFRAID, that he left even his clothes behind in order to get away and save himself. It seems he’s the very opposite of Jesus.

Yet here in the empty tomb is a young man, clothed in white. It’s a surprise to the women. He represents restoration, cleansing, lack of fear, lack of shame. He is clothed in white which even reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration.

It seems we have some extra sandwich ingredients that remind us of being transfigured in a glorious manner, including a white cloth ‘brighter than any human could make’ which is now on the young man who ran away.

Mark is telling us that even the shame of the deserting disciples has been transformed.

This clue leads us to believe God has acted here at the empty tomb to transform a shameful death into new life. God has acted in a way that restores the people who ran from the execution, AND the people who approved it, all by the transformation of the person who endured it; -JESUS.

There are some strong clues here to God’s powerful action at this empty tomb.

Another clue.

Third clue, a small bottle, shaped to pour. In Mark’s story the WOMEN who are greeted by the man-in-white, brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. These Women are faithful to the job of anointing that honors the dead. But they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the unexpected, the empty tomb.

They arrive to complete something, that had already been done to Jesus at Simon the leper’s house, where an unnamed woman came in w/costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head.

He said her act would be remembered.

He said, she was anointing him for burial.

The task of anointing was not needed this Sunday morning. The women came, expecting to finish something and instead were handed a beginning.

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Go, tell, there you will see him.

In the telling you will find Jesus there ahead of you, just as HE TOLD YOU.

It is here that we often find ourselves in Mark’s story. We like they have –

“fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and(we like) they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

We too have been afraid and have run away from the story that seems too good to be true. We find hiding places in news stories that say the world has turned away from church and doesn’t worship God anymore and we agree and say nothing to anyone.

We too have feared we’re not strong enough to tell Jesus’ story or brave enough to risk taking on the established powers that rule us with fears of death and scarcity.

We have been afraid that we’re not tough enough to serve the world knowing the cost (of living the Jesus Way) could be our lives.

And like so many generations of Christians before us, we find this ending unsatisfactory and incomplete.

We too want to re-write the ending of Mark’s gospel and there’s one more clue in our Easter basket to help.

Final clue, is a mirror.

Mark’s final sandwich piece is US.

We are the women at the tomb.

We are the transformed young man.

Before we can take a step away in fear, we hear Jesus’ words from earlier in the story.

“ I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, have confidence that you have received it and it will be yours.”(11:24) and

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”(10:27)

God brings new life into the dead places of our lives every time we ask.

Christ transforms our fear and shame by his resurrection within us. We are given the strength we need to live the Jesus’ Way.

Easter isn’t about believing in Christ, it’s about Christ believing in US.

The surprise of Easter is God acting in Jesus for ALL humanity and then trusting US to tell the story with our transformed lives.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

1st Easter

It's not the first Easter, but it's my first Easter at my new call in Arlington and the sermon is done. I agonized over which direction to take, but am done. At least the other direction will be around (ha, in my mind?) for another Easter. Inshalla, so will I.

So blessings to all preachers and listeners for new life to come. My sermon will publish automatically in the morning. For now, for some, Easter Vigil.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Time Marches On, a sermon for Palm Sunday

Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
With palms in OUR hands we can hear the echoes of the people who spread their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus’ triumphal entry. It was a joyous event and full of smiles. It was a parade.

And why not? Jesus followers were overjoyed; he was finally entering the city, their city, the city at the heart of their “political, economic and religious life.” The people’s hope for deliverance from oppression was riding into the city in triumph.
Everyone knew that their deliverer would return the throne to Kind David’s royal line and remove the Romans who had conquered Jerusalem 40 years before AND get rid of all the priests who collaborated with Rome. Best of all, The new KING was THEIR FRIEND! He lived with them, he walked the streets of peasant villages, he was one of them!
Hosanna, blessed is he!

The people are sure of Jesus, they trust him and are ready for him to confront the powers that oppress them. They have given him their hopes and dreams to bear and are sure that God is with him and will bring change to their lives of misery. In expectation they throw their coats on the ground to honor Jesus’ path. They create a royal carpet on which he rides the colt, - a donkey, hardly a royal animal and their coats are old, ragged really. But they throw them down in an act of adoration. They recognize in Jesus the one spoken of by the prophets, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (V. 10)
. . .
There was another parade that day, coming into town from the west. If you read any of Borg and Crossan’s book, The Last Week, you would learn about this other, much larger parade. It was a very intentional show of force by the Roman Governor.

Remember it is Passover week in the biblical account. This was the week faithful Jews flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate their deliverance and release from the oppression of the Egyptians. And now,-- that Jerusalem is ruled by another oppressive government, the Passover season carries the potential for revolt.

History tells us that Passover was a time when riots were common. And some were large and lethal. It was too dangerous for the Roman Governor, Pilate, to leave the city for underlings to rule. So on this first day of the week, Pilate rode to Jerusalem with a cohort of imperial cavalry and troops to reinforce the garrison that towered over the temple. This way Pilate could oversee the happenings himself, insuring that any uprising would quickly be suppressed. The sheer number of troops and the power displayed as his parade rode into town would likely be enough to deter trouble.

DID JESUS KNOW OF THIS OTHER PARADE? Surely he did, it happened every time a new conquering general took command of the territory. And it happened before every Passover as pilgrims poured into the city, soldiers marched in to prevent an uprising.

The fact of life for Jerusalem was although it continued as the center of religious life for Jews, it was also (since 6 ce) the center of collaboration with Rome. The temple authorities and the elite Jewish class became the ones in charge of maintaining good relations with ruling Rome.
The temple had come to represent a domination system (as Borg, Crossan and Wink use the term). It was a system responsible for collaborating with Imperial Rome by paying tribute taxes, keeping the peace, and maintaining order – which meant continuing to exploit the peasant class so that the ruling class could make the payments and keep revolts suppressed.
This included the delicate balance of acknowledging the Roman emperor as a God. Caesar was earthly king and heavenly Lord; a God and was to be worshipped as such. So Jews, who acknowledged only ONE God, had to find ways to justify the fact that they ‘pledged’ an allegiance to the Emperor. It was this “balance” that Jesus raged against which leaned far too heavily in favor of the Emperor and took almost ALL the life resources from peasants. In his teaching and in the next chapter of Mark Jesus will speak against the religious leaders when he “cleanses the temple.”

So YES, JESUS knew of the other parade; Pilate’s parade of power, of wealth and domination and he drew the contrast even more sharply when he made plans for his un-ridden colt to be picked up by the disciples. Jesus also knew the scriptures and so his parade is a parody of opposites:
Pilate rides a fine war horse.
Jesus rides a borrowed colt, a small donkey where his feet likely drug the ground.
Pilate was surrounded by elite troops, the royal guard that marched in with him.
Jesus’ crowd were fishermen and children waving branches, peasants and WOMEN; those of NO value.
Pilate is in his finest royal clothing and military splendor.
Jesus wears a linen robe, surrounded by the cloaks of people who owned nothing else.
Pilate, the official ruler, designated Governor by Imperial Rome, who welded Caesar’s power. Jesus, from the small town of Nazareth, who is called a King, in David’s line which is the royalty of the people’s heritage.
Pilate is greeted with official acclamations that recognized his power as the conquering Ruler OVER the people.
Jesus is welcomed with hymns that promise deliverance.

Can you hear the sounds of these two parades as time marches on?

Horses clopping, troops marching, the heavy sounds of power.
And One Lone colt, surrounded by the voices of children singing and the almost silent brushing of branches.

THESE TWO PARADES will COLLIDE in a few short days when these two rulers of different kingdoms stand face-to-face.

Jesus’ vision for the future of God’s kingdom is vastly different than Pilate’s, than Herod’s or Caesar’s great empire.
• Jesus vision echoed the prophet’s warnings for those who strayed from the ONE God to worship lesser things.
• Jesus vision included the lives of all those who surrounded him on this “Palm Sunday”. It was a vision that required food for everyone equally, it meant healthcare for the sick, and inclusion for the outcasts of society. AND it included enough Love for ALL of earth’s people, even those who marched in the Western Parade with Pilate.

Jesus Vision included the CROSS. We hear it in his predictions that foretell his death and resurrection. The cross is still in the distance on this day of celebration yet it is never far from his mind and begins to color each action of the week ahead.

Very quickly (in Mark’s gospel where everything happens “Immediately” indicating GREAT URGENCY) - Jesus will take on the power structure of the temple, which means taking on the combined political/religious ‘powers that be.’
He will,
“cleanse the temple” (Mk 11:15) and drive out the buyers and sellers, not because he was against the required exchange of currency for sacrificial rituals, but because it had become a place to cheat the faithful peasants who came to worship God. The whole system had become one of oppression and collusion with the Empire and Jesus’ wanted to tear it down.
He will be questioned about his authority to teach and he would speak against the scribes challenging them – while listeners gathered around him.
And he will compare himself to God’s temple, making apocalyptic predictions about its destruction and his own.

I wonder how many young men listened to him and then looked up at the walls of the garrison that stood higher than the walls of the temple. I wonder if angry young men raised their fists at the soldiers or voiced threats? Yet throughout this week that MARCHES on towards FRIDAY, Jesus would speak of a hopeful future and command that people forgive their enemies. He never backs away from the confrontation that HAS to come and all the while, He remains faithful to God’s Way; the way we now call the Jesus’ Way - even in the shadow of the cross.

There’s a sadness and heaviness that descends on us today as we lay our palm branches down.
We feel the tears that are reported in Luke’s gospel when Jesus looks over the city wishing for an alternative future.
We also feel the excitement in the community that draws closer around him to hear him teach of an alternative LIFE. IT sounds like a way out of the hopelessness of their economic future. They delight in the way he can twist the challenges that come from the scribes and turn their own words against them, even using a Roman coin with Caesar’s face on it to point out the difference between Caesar’s Kingdom and God’s own.
We even begin to feel HOPE, that the Way Jesus describes CAN work, that we can gain power OVER the powers.

But there’s the sound of Pilate’s cohort marching up on the walls of the garrison. There are the demands of the world waiting right outside the doors of this church.
The sounds of two parades echo in our ears.
They lead us to two different paths, two ways of engaging the world.

ONE is the way of power and conquest that says ‘might makes right’ and money is power. This way rules OVER people, suppresses dissent, and refuses to hear the cries of the powerless – because it doesn’t have to.
The power of the Empire is greater than the need to listen.
Even life is taken and used for power’s own benefit.

The OTHER WAY, is a way of life that takes on power by refusing to value it.
This way lifts up every life, demanding equality of treatment, of resources for those deemed to be of no value in the Empire.
This way embraces even death, if it should come, knowing that God’s power is greater than death.

In Lent we repent of living in the wrong kingdom and of having pledged allegiance to the wrong Lord. Today, when we hear the sounds of two parades.
WE are confronted with the choice between kingdoms once again.

We can take a palm frond and leave here with the sound of Hosanna in our ears and forget we’ve seen a glimpse of the crucifixion, or,

IN this HOLY WEEK that lies ahead, we can enter life in the shadow of the cross.
We can Walk in Jesus’ parade, accept the weight of our cross, AND bear the opposition and wrath of the powers when we stand up against them. . .

We can lay our palm branches at the foot of HIS cross and take the FREEDOM HE GIVES us - into the world.