Thursday, February 24, 2011

Looking Ahead to Lent

A Long Wait for Lent – Have you noticed that Easter comes late this year? April 24 is the date, which means the beginning of Lent, “Ash Wednesday” arrives on March 9. Perhaps only pastors and church musicians and liturgists notice the long season of “Epiphany” that occurs when Easter comes late.

The long pre-Lenten season has been a gift for me on two fronts. First, we didn’t jump from Christmas to Lent in only a few days as we do some years. This gives space to recover from one busy religious season before the next intense one begins. The other gift is the Lectionary we follow for our Sunday morning scripture readings engages more texts from Jesus’ teaching sermons when Lent and Easter come later in the year. One of the bloggers I follow noted that parts of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Hasn’t ‘shown up’ in 10 years because Easter has been “coming early”. It is a gift to hear more of Jesus’ words at any time of the year.

This month we do finally get to the 40-day period before Easter; March 9 is the first day of Lent.

I invite you to come to the TaizĂ© Worship Service at 7 p.m. that evening for prayer, song, and contemplation by candlelight. If your Lenten custom includes the imposition of ashes, they will be available following the worship service. I hope you will consider a “Lenten Discipline” during this 40-day period to enhance your spiritual journey. You will hear suggestions each Sunday morning. I trust that one will ‘call’ to your spirit to follow.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Jesus Lens

Leviticus is quite a teaching passage; it covers all the basics of life for the Jew and was affirmed by Jesus for those who follow him. Maybe it seems heavy for a Sunday sermon, but we can always find a new teaching when we turn to the Bible.

I LEARNED that EVERYONE needs to be taught when I was a t-ball coach
            Story- ….
--Teaching batting, ball sits on a T to make it easier to hit for these beginners
--Boy swung once and missed, early eye-hand coordination takes time to develop.
--He swung again and connected!
--It was a line drive to shallow outfield. The adults were all so excited. We screamed, “RUN!”
And he took off ;running – STRAIGHT  to the pitcher’s mound! . . .
He had never been taught WHERE he was supposed to run.
After that experience,  we ran the bases at each practice yelling out which base as we crossed it.
As a coach, I too had something to learn.

When God adopted the children of Abraham, they had a lot to learn.

God called Abram to follow, which he did and in the many years of his following he learned to trust God and take God at God’s word, even when it meant waiting until he and his wife Sara were in their 90’s to have children.

When he finally had a son Isaac, there was more teaching and learning for Isaac’s generation, until he too had sons to teach; Esau and Jacob.
            Jacob’s generation learned lessons the hard way, with fighting between siblings and stealing birthrites, but there was an underlying lesson about God that seemed to favor the ‘underdog’. Perhaps the real lesson was to obey God, regardless of whether it made sense in the world.

Jacob had 12 sons, who became the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel. One was Joseph. You remember that he was never popular with his brothers. He was too open about sharing his dreams and soon his brothers decided to ‘teach him a lesson’.

His long story is one of betrayal by his brothers, slavery in Egypt, betrayal by Potipher’s wife and imprisonment based on lies made against him. What lesson did Joseph learn during all these trials? Perhaps to trust in God alone.

Joseph keeps dreaming and ends up in a leadership position in Egypt just when famine is about to hit the near east. Remember the scene when his brothers come to visit in order to beg for food? That ends up as in a lesson in humility.

The family of Jacob ends up as a huge population of Jews in Egypt, but they are enslaved and over time, fear of the growing immigrant population, causes oppression by the government and the descendents of Joseph cry out to God.

God hears and sends Moses, or intends to, but when Moses claims a disability in the speaking arena, God allows Aaron to be his partner and they are sent to teach Pharaoh a lesson to, “Let my people go!”

It takes Pharaoh a few plagues to learn HIS LESSON, but he finally let’s the Jews go, with some gold to send them on their way and when he has a last minute change of heart, the water of the Red or REED Sea, envelopes his army and Moses and God’s people get away. The Jews learn that God is always with them, or they are supposed to learn this lesson.

Think of everything that was taught thru Israel’s rich history. Lessons that we still take to heart, but there is more and it comes from wandering 40 years in the desert. This is where the laws of Leviticus, like the chapter we heard today, were given. These were to be the WRITTEN LESSONS for Israel and they remain so today. 

One might think with such a full history of God’s intervention on behalf of the wandering people, they would follow obediently any command of God. But we know that wasn’t the case.
Over and over again, they lament the trip AND their freedom.
Over and over, in spite of Divine Anger, Moses is able to plead for their lives and they are granted forgiveness.
God gives bread in the morning and quails at night, water from rocks and Divine protection, each gift is combined with rules of obedience. “Don’t pick up more bread that you can eat in one day or it will rot.” 
Slowly the people learn to trust and obey.

We are not so different than they were. We tend to forget history and have to re-LEARN lessons that our parents and grandparents suffered through.

How many wars until humanity learns the skills of reconciliation?
How many must die of hunger before we learn how to turn swords into plowshares?
How long until we LEARN God’s intent for humanity and obey?

Leviticus is a book of law designed to teach and guide God’s people into holiness. It records more words from the mouth of God than any other book in the Bible.[i]
The laws in chapter 19 are part of a big picture; the curriculum of God, we might say. It is called the Holiness Code. Each chapter of Leviticus has a focus.

Chapter 18; The preceding one, was focused on the abomination of the Canaanites,
Chapter 19; that we just heard, is focused on social ethics
Chapter 20; forbids Molech worship and following the customs of other religions.
These laws were given a generation before the people found their way into the land of the Canaanites. The people still lost in the desert didn’t need these laws about a land they had not yet entered. So what was the point?

The lesson for the Israelites then is the same as for us today, we are to be HOLY and only God can define how that looks.

The primary lesson woven thru all the specifics of the Commandments, is HOLINESS IN HUMANS IS THE STATE OF BELONGING TO GOD. Israel was designated as God’s people, God’s property and they were to be holy as God is holy.

The lists of legal specifics were a way for God’s people to ABSORB God’s Immanent Presence. The theology of the Priestly authors of this book, believed that God presence was already in the world, - EVERYWHERE in and thru it. God was not thought of as OUTSIDE the world, but Wholly (Whole) in it. Therefore God’s presence could be absorbed and absorbing God is accomplished by performing God’s commands – obey your lessons.

We find it strange to hear some of the commands in Leviticus 19.
Why couldn’t different cloth be combined in a garment, was it a divine fashion statement against polyester?
Actually it had ore to do with separating HOLY garments from everyday ones. Priests wore combination cloth so the garments of people should not be like Priest’s garments.
Why the separation of seeds, planting, and even people?
These are specific lessons that convey the general sense that God’s people needed a separate identity from the rest of the world. They were to avoid any religious practice that resembled pagan worship.
SEPARATION became a practice itself, a discipline to TEACH them that they were God’s and God’s alone.  (Only God gets to define what is holy.)

AND the Israelites were to forever remember that they had been Aliens in Egypt and would be again in Canaan. They were to treat aliens as neighbors and neighbors as they would treat their own family. This chapter is ultimately the heart of Israel’s theology.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We could go into each section and explain its relevance but I believe there is a greater LESSON for us.
Jesus thought this chapter important enough to quote as part of his summary of the greatest law.
“Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus understanding of God’s command to be holy comes straight from the LAW. How many times was it repeated in the reading? “You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am Holy.”
Obeying God’s commands makes us holy or as one scholar put it, “The people’s life with God and with one another IS THE PRACTICAL expression of their holiness.”[ii]

WE like they, are to be holy by obeying the Law, yet  we ask which ‘Law’? or which laws?
Does it still matter if we separate the types of material in our clothes?
How do we interpret ‘gleaning’ laws; leaving enough crops in our fields for the poor to harvest - when we buy our food at grocery stores?
Are we really to avoid all tattoos? Or were those commands about temple hair and rounded beards and skin marking specific to the pagan practices of Moses’ day?
How do we interpret the law for 2011?

Some people say the law is the law, plain and simple and they stand by the words of Leviticus, at least SOME of the words.
            While I worked on this sermon, someone tweeted a picture of a tattoo boldly displayed on a man’s arm quoting Leviticus 18:22
“you shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman” it said, INKED permanently into his arm.
When a mere chapter later, in Leviticus 19:28 it says, “you shall not make any tattoo marks upon you,-  I am the Lord”
What do we say to those who take some of these laws, literally and ignore others?

As Christians WE interpret OT law thru the LENS OF Jesus.
You know what a lens is, (GLASSES) it’s something what we LOOK THRU.
Marcus Borg uses this metaphor when he lectures about the ways people read the Bible. One of his students commented that we all read the Bible thru a lens, but some people think it’s important to believe in the LENS instead of what it points to.
Interpreting for our living as Jesus’ People

We are to hold up the LENS of Jesus to literalists and liberalists. We hold up the Jesus lens anytime we have a question about Law.  His life and teaching point to God and his interpretations of these laws can be found in the Sermon on the Mount. We got into some of the specifics last week.
In the Jesus’ Lens
The Anger of retribution is transformed into reconciliation
Vulnerable people are protected against the powers that dominate
Living truthfully in word and deed is a way of life
Loving your enemies & praying for those who persecute you is how we ABSORB God’s presence today and LEARN to live like Jesus.

(But) We can’t use the Jesus’ Lens casually.

Whether we look at Old or New testaments, we have to agree that God’s demands are costly.[iii] Jesus never says otherwise. 

He called people to give up their livelihood of fishing to “follow me”
His charismatic call lifted a tax collector away from his lucrative business to “follow Jesus”
He even told a rich young man to give his wealth away.
Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Which equates to the saying in Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy.”

The only way we can live this kind of obedient life is by following Jesus in a deep-loving commitment so we can
view the world thru his lens until we see everyone as our neighbor.
When a couple promises to love each other for a life-time, each gives up other people. IT’s a cost we don’t mind, because we love. How much more does God’s love fill us and make us able to live obediently.

And when we find we are NOT yet PERFECT, Jesus calls us to HOLINESS thru WHOLENESS. God’s gift is the Holy Spirit and the deep covenant promise of Divine Love.
The lesson of obedience goes hand in hand with the gift of grace. Therefore we do not partake of ‘cheap grace’ that seems to allow us to live any way we want. But when we give ourselves to Jesus, we give up living OUR Way to live HIS Way. 

We give up ignorance and pay attention to the needs of the world.
We stop walking by people in need and turn instead to help.
We give up vengeance and replace it with hard-to-accomplish reconciliation
We give up ALL other ‘Gods’ to follow the One.
Christians LEARN the lesson of the Greatest Commandment by using the Jesus Lens.
And we become Doers of the Law, not merely hearers and in our Doing, we become Holy – just as the one we follow is holy.

(It’s a lesson we NEVER stop learning).


[i] Sheldon W. Sorge Feasting on the Word Yr. A – theological Bartlett & Taylor, eds. (Lousiville: WJK, 2010) p. 362
[ii] ibid p. 364
[iii] Walter Brueggmann Texts for Preaching yr. A (Louis:WJK, 1995) p. 146

Friday, February 18, 2011

5 Words

5 words that express my passion/interests specific to spirituality to play the "Friday Five" hmmmm

1. Incarnational - I believe we live Christ everyday and are meant to do so. The Brethren saying is "know us by our living".

2. Moment - as in THIS moment, Carpe Diem, seize the day because it is all we have. Don't miss a singe opportunity.

3. Open - to new things, ideas, TECHNOLOGY, people

4. Nature - as in creation and getting out in it. Which I fail to do enough, but when i get 'stuck' it requires me getting outside.

5. Caring - as in loving neighbor with care, another thing I fail at but feel is at the heart of who I am and am to be.

For very little thought, this was fun.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

iPhone fantasies

I admit I am possessed by the desire for an iPhone. Verizon finally gets it and I am waiting for an income check from a project that WAS to arrive at the end of January. It didn't so I missed the "pre-ordering" of the iPhone. I am possessed enough that my son asked if I could go just 12 hours without mentioning the iPhone - I can't. I am truly sad.

But the blessing of waiting is that I'm reading about what MIGHT be in the iPhone 5 that MIGHT come out by June. Since the check with which I plan to buy this phone, has yet to arrive, I am thinking of waiting for the next iteration. The question is, after all this waiting and longing, can I wait 4 MORE MONTHS?

I'm sure there is a theological lesson in here. And if I could get off the mac rumor-news websites long enough, I might just discover a contemplative revelation. Or maybe it is just the way of the world and technology. We are programed to wait and long for the newest and next thing. - at least I am.

So here I sit on my morning off. Reading, longing, imagining and grateful to have the morning to enjoy. "Enjoy" - am I? or is this all craziness?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Salty goodness

I'm trying to turn this passage about Salt and Light, which is so well known into a sermon. Meanwhile, I'm just recovering from a heavy-duty head cold and one of the first things I began to taste again was salt. Yesterday I wanted SALTY CHIPS! Of all the times there has been 'evil snack food' in the house, wouldn't you know there weren't any chips. But a found some crunchy Cheetos remaining in the bottom of the bag and I ate those. UMMM good. Today, I put soy sauce in my bean curd soup to add saltyness. I guess we do equate salt with flavor.

I don't usually cook with salt. I figure most of what we eat has plenty already in it. We eat enough packaged foods that I look to see how much salt we are consuming. So this passage that equates goodness with salt falls on ears that are learning to equate salt and bad health. What's a preacher to do? I guess we'll find out come Sunday when I pass around a couple bags of chips and see if anyone listens after I feed them just ONE Potato Chip.