Friday, March 26, 2010

Just Around The Bend

The palm branches are still waving as Jesus rides over the last in a long line of coats strewn in the road. The path is leveling out from its downhill plunge and a scenic bend is coming into view. From just ahead all of Jerusalem can be seen. The men and women surrounding Jesus are excited about the days to come. It's Passover season and they are following their Lord into the Holy City. Jesus pauses at the curve in the road and looks out over the city and begins to weep.
At this pregnant moment all the monumental events of the coming week are just potential. The glorious moments of Jesus teaching in the temple, the Passover supper in the upper room, the darkness growing in Judas' heart, and the final plot to take Jesus' life. These events have yet to be fulfilled. Still Jesus knows the way of humans and clearly sees the divine necessity of which he is a part.
He will take just a moment to reflect and mourn over Jerusalem for what will not be. Then he will finish the journey around the bend and enter the week we call, ‘holy’.
We sit at the edge of the dramatic week from a distance of two millennia. Our worship returns us to the day of triumphal entry. We sing ‘Hosanna’ and wave strips of palm. We smile at Jesus’ commanding presence when he silences the Pharisees’ objection with a few words about shouting stones. It is a beautiful day for our Lord, the King, the one who brings God’s kingdom to earth.
Next Sunday you will return to an even bigger celebration. There is no greater Sunday in the Christian year than Easter. We rejoice at the door of the empty tomb. We run with the women to tell the GOOD NEWS to the rest of the disciples that he is risen. But today, we aren’t there yet. There is still a curve ahead in the road and we have a choice to make.
We can leave this Sunday's parade and come back to next Sunday’s breakfast to celebrate Christ’s resurrection without much thought for the week in between. OR
We can spend time with the details of the week, reading the five final chapters of Luke’s gospel and remembering how the plot against Jesus’ unfolds. For the events of this week are at the heart of our faith. We should not take them lightly nor rush through them in our hurry to celebrate the resurrection that will come.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an Easter preacher, You are Easter people. It is the resurrection that fills us with the assurance of God’s promise for all humanity and for the close of our days. I don’t worship a Jesus who still hangs on the cross. Nor do I take lightly the example he left us. I want to remember the whole story because it informs the choices we make in life.

All during this week Jesus makes choices. He teaches openly in the temple, and condemns religion that protects status while ignoring need.
He warns of the times to come as his vision of the future becomes increasingly clear.
He gathers his closest disciples together for a final tangible teaching on what it means to be a servant, wrapped in a towel. And he takes bread and wine to give us the symbols of his new life.
Jesus doesn’t turn away from the consequences of his actions. He prays and prays hard that the time of trial won’t come but when it does, he remains faithful. He does not resort to violence, he doesn’t command his people in worldly ways, and he never backs down from the message he came to bring. And it gets him killed.
We have the choice to enter into the full story this week and refresh our understanding of the Jesus way. We surely can set aside enough time over 7 days to read and walk the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus again. We can even ascend the hill of Golgotha and stand for a moment at the foot of the cross. Then, when we have journeyed again with Jesus, we will be ready to celebrate his resurrection with understanding and renewed commitment.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Holy Season

I wonder what it means that I've come to work without my contacts or drying my hair. I was going to take a Spiritual Retreat Day and go walk a labyrinth today. Ah but the forecasted thunderstorms have arrived and my energy level is so low that I don't want to travel anywhere. Since I didn't even remember my contacts, it's a good thing I didn't go far today.

This isn't the way I hoped to continue my planning for all the big services ahead. Hmmm, I wonder what it means?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Parents and Children and Saints

You never stop being a parent, do you? No matter how old or young your kids are, they are still your kids. It is scary how much we affect their lives even when they are adults. I still hear echos of my mom's voice and she's been gone nine years. My dad died 28 years ago and I find his 'voice' is mostly silent. Except that now I'm in his profession of pastoral ministry, I think of him often with great understanding. My grown-up 'kids' still need me from time to time. It is a on-going cycle and a good one most of the time. When it goes 'wrong' and the relationship ruptures, then the patient side gets the 'saint' label and the other side might be called the sinner. And yet we move between those sides depending on perspective and circumstance. Saints, sinners, parents, children, a jumbled soup of relationship.

If we feel so strongly about our kids and our parents, how must the Almighty God feel about all God's children? I know that as I think of the people on our prayer list, God is loving each one.  Whether sick or angry, lashing out, or feeling abused, God can touch each on and never, ever stops loving.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What does it take to reconcile?

What does it take to reconcile with someone.   
     Can you remember one particularly wonderful reconciliation?
            Do you feel the release in your body when you remember that coming together?

Reconciliation releases our spirit. . . .
            It removes the obstacles to a whole relationship. Reconciliation comes from the stuff of apology and listening, of taking time to spend with each other and honest communication about hurts and feelings.
            Initially reconciliation of estranged people can be painful. We either have to admit we are wrong or we have to confess that we’ve been hurt. We have to own our feelings and recognize someone else’s.

The very root of the word means “to bring together”

This was very, VERY important to Paul. He had a rocky relationship with the Corinthians. The 1st letter dealt this many of their dysfunctions and tried to help them see they could live a new way because they were new creations in Christ. Today’s letter (2nd Corinthians) is actually part’s of several letters in a serial correspondence where hurt feelings abounded.

We don’ t have all the letters and none written by the leaders of the Corinthian church so we have to interpolate (thanks to scholars) the content from what we have. Paul got angry and wrote in anger, then he apologized as did they.

In addition to the restoring of relationship between Paul  and the church, he reminded the Corinthians that they were reconciled to God. They no longer lived estranged from the Holy One thanks to what Christ did.

We are reconciled to God. How lucky are we?
            Reconciliation is the essence of the ‘good news’. It is the bringing together of humanity and God.
I have a super simple definition for reconciliation with God which uses the theological word “atonement”? AT – ONE – MENT; Reconciled to God means AT ONE with God.
            Reconciliation with God is what Christ accomplished, even as we realize that our theologians differ on how exactly reconciliation was accomplished. For this time, we can be more like the old Brethren than our 20th century enlightened minds and just accept that WE ARE RECONCILED TO GOD THRU CHRIST.

Paul says it like this, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,”
This is good news for anyone. AND THERE is MORE.
“in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;

It sounds like we don’t have the option of allowing disagreements to continue.

Brother Roger was a founding priest in the Taize France prayer community. He said, “the scandal for Christians is our separation from each other”  … “It is easy to say we love God and go about our daily business as if nothing had changed.

      We cannot say we LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR and not help them in their distress.” [i]

It doesn’t matter that we are not the cause of their distress.
      We don’t have to be at the heart of conflict to be responsible for the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul says we are God’s agents, God is making God’s appeal to humanity THROUGH US.
Tomorrow in worship we will take this idea further and explore in conversation the mission we are given. Set your clocks an hour early, we've got a lot of work to do!

[i] Quoted by Dirk G. Lange Feasting on the Word Homiletical Barlett & Taylor eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2009) p. 113

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thirsting for God

I think it is important to hear a whole psalm. When we listen to all of Psalm 63, we are reminded that the people who wrote the psalms were real! Life was not all sweet and happy, they had real enemies and real trouble. They recognized that even if the words of a poem couldn’t bring down judgment on them, they could at least state that God’s righteousness should and would some day make all things right.

All this reality helps us identify with the theme of the psalm, thirsting for God.

I believe we have a deep need for communion with God. Whether that is a “God-shaped hole” I don’t know. I know that I feel connected to the psalmist when I read,
"God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

And yet with all the thirst in the world, we don’t hear much about thirsting for God.

One pastor, Lindsay Armstrong, said, “our gusto for God can be remarkably small, particularly when contrasted with the joy and delight in God that we discover in the Psalms.”
Anyone looking down on our daily lives might see us thirst for cola or hunger for a new electronic toy. They are more likely to see or hear me craving for my first cup of coffee in the morning, than to hear me talk about my thirst for God.

Our desires, our hungers and thirsts are “disordered” and misdirected for the most part. We have the whole advertising world working against us. How can we help but want to surf the internet faster, or have a cell phone with more features when we are bombarded with images and sales pitches everywhere we look. We hunger for movie channels and thirst for cappuccinos drizzled with chocolate, but we don’t hear anything about the craving of our souls.
In our super-sized world, “loving God more than life still feels foreign to most of us.”
Pastor Armstrong is right when she says our desire for God has rarely been so full-bodied that it feels like hunger or thirst. Instead, we are more often overwhelmed or embarrassed by the religious passions exhibited by some. We may be tempted to downplay the importance of cultivating a ZEAL for God.” (L. Armstrong in Feasting on the Word, Yr. C vol. 2 p. 84)
But I find hope in what she says because she reminds me that our zeal for God CAN be CULTIVATED and it comes with spending time with the object of our love.
There is a one-word definition for the relationship between God and humanity and it is PRAYER.

Whether we want to recognize our thirst for God or quench it, we need to spend time in prayer.
Prayer is talking and listening.
Prayer is intending to hear God and
Prayer is responding to God.

Prayer does not make God be present, God is absolutely present to all people. Prayer is consent to a relationship to which ALL are invited. Prayer is grounded in the expectation that god speaks to us and we can hear God.” Urban Holmes says that expectation that we can hear God is called FAITH.

Today we cultivate our Zeal for God when we quench our thirst at the fountain of God’s presence. Today we both petition and we listen for God. AND we sharpen our expectation that we will hear God.
You may remember that we that we are each drawn to a different style of prayer depending on how we are made. (and remember we are made in God’s image)
Some of us are thinking-prayers and some focus on what we feel.
Some prefer a prayer of emptying and others imagine God when they pray.

We set aside some prayer time for silence and it is healing for some and jarring for others.
Some of you sing your prayers while others just listen.
Many of us will write our prayer requests and walk forward to place them in the offering plate as a symbol to remind us that our prayers are given over to God.
For some, walking up is too demonstrative, maybe they will choose to text their prayers by phone or just sit with their requests.

Some people simply feel most connected to God when they offer up the work of their body in service. And that too is a prayer.

There is No ONE-RIGHT way to pray.
The rituals we use in the church are designed to reach us in places that words can’t. Our prayers don’t actually go “UP” ^ as if God is UP there somewhere, and yet, I use the language of offering UP prayer as a symbol of our God who is so much greater than what we experience on THIS level.

We use actions and symbols because God reaches us beyond thoughts and words. And when we don’t even know what to pray, we are told the Holy Spirit handles even that for us, with “groans too deep for words.”

It is in these deep places beyond words that we thirst for God.
Because we have faith, we can turn over all our concerns to God.
Because we have faith, we trust that God hears us and wants us to be whole.
So we take time in prayer to listen and we spend time petitioning God. We ask for healing and wholeness, we talk to God about our hurts and our fears. We seek God for us and for our friends. And through our searching, we find that even our thirst can be filled

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Behind the Times

I keep opening this post page and wondering what to write. Then I look at the clock and decide I don't have time. What this about?

This Sunday requires reflection and prayer in order to talk and pray with the congregation. Perhaps I am sending myself a message to close the computer and pray.