Saturday, July 31, 2010

Predicting The Weather with Jesus

I confess an addiction to weather reports. Each morning I reach for my Bible and prayer book and there sits my ‘i-touch’ which puts me only a click away from the current weather report. Should I bother having my coffee out on the deck? Of course, I could just open the door and check.. but its so much more fun to hear the latest weather channel predictions.

I think it’s more than just wanting to wear appropriate clothing for the temperature. Perhaps we are all interested in knowing the future?

Jesus relates our human tendency to predict the weather to our lack of understanding about the forecast for God’s coming reign. And THIS is a forecast that effects our present AND our future.

We encounter a few problems when we read these two sections in Luke. It would be easy to stay puzzled and ask, “Did Jesus mean for there to be family conflict? Was fighting between parents and in-laws ‘meant-to-be’?”

I like the explanation of one commentator, Audrey West, that this passage is “descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, - it is not Jesus’ purpose to set children against their parents, or parents against their children, but this sort of rupture can be the result of the changes engendered by Christ’s work.”[i]
We have only to look at the story of the ‘prodigal son and forgiving father’ to realize that even as one son is welcomed home; the beneficiary of expansive grace, - the other son’s reaction is one of alienation and anger.
One wayward son is reconciled and the other’s reaction builds a wall between he and his father.

Those of you familiar with Systems Theory will recognize the signs of a triangle D in these situations. When there is conflict between two people in a ‘system’- the SYTEM seeks stability by finding a 3rd person to involve.
 One of the parties in conflict will reach out to a 3rd person – increasing their bond with someone else while the first relationship is strained. And all too often, reaching for the 3rd person is a way of ‘getting someone else on our side.’ A 3-legged stool is stable, 2 legs are too wobbly to sit on.

“A ministry that reconciles long-standing enemies will inevitably rend relationships that depend on the old status quo.”[ii] (Bonds strengthened between 2 sides of the triangle, strain the 3rd connection.)
When this occurs on an international level we have the situation Everett encountered in the Holy Land; Israeli guides unable to enter Bethlehem and Palestinian people unable to cross into Israel even for basic needs.

We see more than the ‘rumors of war’ mentioned in the Bible, we have seen the real thing, over and over again and today the Holy Land is partitioned by a giant wall.

Did Jesus plan for this? Is war and conflict God’s will? . . .

I don’t believe God PRESCRIBES alienation or war for God’s people, especially not in the land that is so precious to all of Abraham’s descendents.
Jesus DESCRIBES the deeper nature within humans, one that he worked to crack open, expose, and HEAL.

Jesus brought an equalizing love. His grace, forgiveness and sharing of God’s love was without exclusion and without walls.

He stepped into situations to extend love and grace and was ridiculed for the company he kept.
He stepped outside the boundaries of polite society and entered doors that were jammed shut by years of hatred.
And when those doors began to crack open the fall-out caused division.
                        “father against son, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.” (v. 53)

Even the most basic elements of human relationship break down when WE – humanity, fail to accept the inclusive love of God.
            - Jesus ate with gentiles; the ultimate outsiders
            - He touched lepers; the most unclean
            - He lived away from his family; which was totally against social convention
And  - He offered God’s forgiveness to adulterer and thief.

Jesus continues to offer forgiveness to us; which gives us a warm feeling of grateful inclusion. .
But, Jesus also offers forgives to our enemies – which raises our hackles and pushes our discomfort into anger.
            “No one expects to see their enemies in heaven.”[iii]  . . .

Today, we celebrate communion.
This table is about GRACE, LOVE, and INCLUSION.
            And yes, this table has been used to exclude, with all kinds of explanations and theological reasons.
Jesus was right in pointing out the human inability to read the signs of God’s Reign.

We are to accept the grace offered by God, which is symbolically re-enacted here.
We are to extend that grace to the people we label as OTHER –
            Outsiders, immigrants, enemy,                        traitor, sniper, terrorist,             Judas, gentile,
            Or even mother-in-law with whom we disagree, or brother who just plain doesn’t understand God’s inclusive love.
YES, even those who don’t accept the openness of Christ, get to be included WITHIN his LOVE. Such a wonderful GRACE-FILLED paradox is the HEART of the gospel.

We are all equally worthy or Unworthy of God’s grace. And when we interpret God’s love like Jesus did, we too can expect division and dissention, even here within THESE walls. AND when we extend the all-inclusive grace of God to OTHERS -
We can expect walls to be built around us.
 We will be given labels that exclude. We will be called,
            “Peace-mongers, immigrant-lovers, welcomers of ‘just anyone’”

Yet our discipleship calls us to be faithful to continuing Jesus work, even when the result seems to be predictable.
Even when all the signs of our work point to failure, conflict, or to the cross, we MUST share the love we receive.

So receive God’s grace renewed today in symbol and element so you may go and extend that grace tomorrow.

[i] Audrey West Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. Theological, (Louisville: WJK, 2010) p. 360
[ii] ibid p. 362
[iii] ibid p. 360

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You know you're tired when

You know you're tired when you can't even blog. You know you're old when kids are coming home from youth conference all excited and you are just glad you didn't have to go. And you know it's hot when the forecasters predict a cool down into the low 90s.

Life is relative and it takes perspective to see the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything. It takes the faith of saints to face the reality that "all is vanity" (Eccles. 12) and say "Thanks be to God!"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Visit, Luke 10:38-42

When a Visitor Comes, What do you do to prepare?
How do you feel just prior to their arrival? (and) What if they just dropped in?

Jesus’ day required hospitality at a moment’s notice. One should always be ready to receive the guest, and yet, could you be?

We know this story of Martha and Mary and their guest. Many of us can relate to Martha’s anxiety and distracted preparations. We sympathize with her on many levels and you’ve probably heard all kinds of takes on this story. (Maybe you’ve even thought of a few new ones on your own as you prepared for a last-minute guest.)
            What this story is not: I think its worth mentioning what this story is NOT. It’s
                        NOT, about 2 sisters in opposition to each other –
                        NOT, a competition between 2 ways of being; contemplation and service,
As if they were two teams on a field in opposition to each other.
                        NOT, a commentary on gender, although it has been taken as such in both directions. One way was to put women in a passive role, so they would not be recognized as Christian servants or deacons. The other way to discount the service of women putting “women’s work” secondary to prayer and contemplation.
None of these things are the point of this story.

            This story does seem to be evidence that women were disciples. “Sitting at Jesus’ feet” is a way of saying Mary was on the disciple path.
            It IS another story about Jesus as a “unique” guest who once again has snubbed his host. As we’ve said before, you never knew what Jesus was going to do or say next. He was not a “politically correct visitor” by any means. His mission surpassed polite conversation.           
            This IS a story about balance for every disciple who calls himself or HERself a servant of Jesus.            And (perhaps most of all)
            It is a call to focus, for when we are focused on the ‘good thing,’ the ‘one thing,’ or the ‘better part,’ which is Jesus, our center, THEN we are empowered FOR service.
Such focus takes careful balance.
            When I was on the Benedictine Pastoral Center Board, we held an event on the different ways of being spiritual. There were 12 different presenters over the course of the one-day event. Knowing that Brethren and Benedictines share many of the same values, the sisters and the board asked my colleague to present the final segment of the day - on balance.
            Now, we were keeping some pretty crazy hours at church that year. When I heard he had accepted the request to speak on balance I laughed (LOL) and said that his idea of balance was that of a bicycle racer;
If you go fast enough you can LEAN as far as you want in either direction and stay upright. . .

Do you LEAN more one way than the other?
            Do you find yourself drawn to hours of contemplation and unable to get anything done? OR Do you spend hours and hours at tasks and duties and find quiet time hard to come by? I believe we do tend to lean in one direction and this text calls us to a place of balance by asking us to FOCUS.

            Altho many of us tend to lean toward the busy side, Jesus’ is not calling on Martha to forget her hospitality and sit down. While it seems like he is chiding her, he cares deeply and he notices that Martha is “distracted by many things”. He hears her child-like complaint against her sister and calls her back to her center.
            “Martha, Martha, you are LEANING too far in one direction and you are going to crash.”
 Jesus knows that “Worry and distraction” pulls us away from our center.

 Service, when it becomes frantic, is not hospitable, no matter how nicely the table is set. Hospitality is about focus on the guest.
Hospitality offers a comfortable place of welcome.
Jesus relied on the hospitality of friends and even strangers. He didn’t need a 4-star hotel, just a place of welcome. Yes, there was work to do, and a meal to prepare, AND there was a guest to welcome.

This text is not against work, hospitality or service. After all, SERVICE is at the heart of the way we live out our discipleship.
            TRUE Hospitality calls us away from a PLACE of “worry and distraction” to FOCUS on God, OUR ground and energy FOR effective service.[i]

            Hospitality requires clear focus and it seems that in this short story, Mary was in balance because her FOCUS was on Jesus.

How often do we get out of balance in our lives and in our church work?
            Cynthia James, a commentator on scripture, describes a typical situation,
 “a church that has been led to be ‘worried and distracted by many things’ (v. 4.1) inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution. Decisions will be made in meetings without a hint of God’s reign.”[ii]

We are NOT the church Pastor James describes and let’s not LEAN that way. Yet it is a constant temptation or maybe a threat - to our spiritual journey as a congregation and as individuals to get out of balance with too much of a good thing. When in fact, the BEST thing, sits right before us, inviting us to pay attention and FOCUS.

[i] James A. Wallace, Homilectical Perspective Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2010) p. 267
[ii] Cynthia A. Jarvis, Pastoral Perspective  Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2010) p. 266

Monday, July 12, 2010

Behind the Curve

I'm behind in blogging. Life comes at you fast as they say and post-conference has been that way. I did rest a bit between bouts of work on Friday and Saturday. Sunday's big ecumenical service with St. Hildegard's Old Catholic Church was a success. (my perspective?) Almost everyone stayed for refreshments and the service project of bagging rice after the long service. We didn't get pictures, but that's ok too. Evidence of me doing "high" (really high) church might not be something I want on the record. ;-)

Ecumenical work is a joy tho, even as it stretches and stresses. I'm so grateful for a congregation which embraces 'the other' and loves to learn even through discomfort. So many people expressed gratitude for the teaching liturgy yesterday. It was beautiful in many ways. Some really loved it. I think there is a sense of community that comes with a full liturgy. While others didn't like being tied to the page and having responses so scripted. This Sunday will be a return to Brethren tradition, although I've promised a short sermon to go along with a 10 minute Annual Conference report by our delegate.

Today's 'work' is a drive to Charlottesville and the return for a Nurture Commission meeting this evening.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Webcasts and Annual Conference

Annual Conference is winding down. Tonight's worship service was well attended and I was very warmly greeted by many friends. It was so nice to look out and see a couple rows of folks from Arlington and Manassas and Nokesville. It was also really cool to know friends were watching  by webcast. Christ Douglas said about 1000 people have been watching by web, at least on Sunday. Arlington used the webcast for Sunday's worship, even if the sound was a little out of sync.

When I used my 'i-touch' as an illustration tonight, several people came close to texting me while I was preaching. ha ha, but wifi wasn't free so it wouldn't come through!

Many thanks to all the folks from our congregation who came up just for tonight's worship. A special thanks to Robyn and Diana for coming to be in the skit. It really seemed to work! Humor can bring a point home the way nothing else can.

It was a little strange to literally get a cheer when I came out to the section where Arlington was sitting. How often does one get cheered after a sermon? Ha, THAT's a once in a life-time happening!

I hope the sample hearing went well tonight during the insight session. I wanted to go but really need to eat so we went to Primanti's to get a crazy sandwich that included coleslaw and french fries ON THE SANDWICH. Life is good and that part of it is done. Tomorrow winds things up for Moderator Shawn Replogle and the gavel gets passed along with blessings and the laying on of hands to Brother Robert Alley.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Too early to blog?

Is it every too early to blog? I don't think well at early hours but I just finished my first cup of coffee so maybe I can put a few words together. Today is the last session of the Ministers' Pre-Conference Event with my friend, Nancy Ferguson. She has laid the ground work for the way to build a community that can form disciples. Last night she started to connect the pieces so we could see that the games we play create a safe and welcoming place in which we can share our stories of faith. As we get into the biblical stories of the faithful we can begin to connect themes to our lives and see where we have acted like Hagar and tried to preempt God, or like Saul and had to be knocked off our horses and struck blind before we could 'get with God's program'. Today there will be more connection making along with the importance of connecting disciples of God to God's creation.

Meanwhile, I keep reading my sermon for Tuesday night. I need to retype and pay to print it, but alas, it will be worth it, right? I can't keep marking up my copy with pens and expect to follow it...
Oh, and I saw them setting up the chairs in the big room yesterday and caught my breath, its a lot of chairs! No risers, everyone is on one floor level (for better or worse) with 3 big screens. I need to get up on that stage and look out for a feel of this. My heart is pounding even thinking about it.

Well, time to get a move on and get more coffee.