Friday, March 16, 2012

Sick on Sermon day

I've acquired my husband's cold. At least it is coming on strong! I am always amazed at how much a sore throat and the beginnings of a stuffy head can mess with my brain. Perhaps all the coffee I'm drinking will help me through the fog.
Meanwhile, it is sermon-writing day. fortunately from my home office. I am very grateful that thanks to a generous gift from the congregation at Christmas, I have someone coming to clean the house today. (A new friend, Maria, who will help me learn Spanish I think.) I actually did a bit of cleaning on Tuesday because I couldn't stand the mess, but not like she does it. She is really a pro! So I will head down to my office after I pick her up and see if my brain clears. Perhaps I will take a jug of water, some "EmergenC" to drink, and more coffee.
For now, I sit at the window, drinking my 2nd cup, listening to the dog down the street bark endlessly (she sounds like ours who is laying quietly at my feet.) and contemplate the day. We finally have a cooler breeze befitting March. Maybe we will be granted some needed rain.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Born For Passion

John 2:13-22,  Lent III,

I was once accused of having too much passion. No, this is not a story for mature audiences only.
    It's a Vacation Bible School story!

At the church I served 5 years ago, we had a story-telling station where every day we LIVED a different Bible story.
    We invited the children to enter the past when they waled into the room and became part of the story.
To do this, we built a completely new set everyday so we could explore
    Joshua and the Midianites
    Daniel and the nearby Lion's Den
    and the 1st Century world of the disciples.
Each day got more exciting. For 20 minutes the children LIVED in another world and another time!
    Walls crashed down around the children while they were in a prison cell with St. Paul.
    Guards broke into the room to arrest the children along with Daniel for praying to the One God.
One day, we were to bring the children into the catacombs to experience the clandestine meetings of the early Christian community. My intern, Adam, my daughter and I brainstormed the layout. We covered the floor in plastic dropclothes, turned over the sofas and joined them to make tunnels, and draped painted sheets over a variety of framework until we had a 8' by 6' cave which you crawled to thru a damp 15' tunnel that even included a dead-end. We tied a rope to the the first person in and each child (and unhappy adviser) crawled along a dark wet tunnel floor until we reached the small cave. It was AMAZING! 

    I had a PASSION that week and my co-workers thought I was CRAZY. To have those 20 minutes for each group (repeated 4-5 times each day)   we spent 6 HOURs (or more) creating the set!      (none of my other work got done that week and still I was exhausted)
Have you ever had a passion that consumed you so much you didn't mind the exhausting work?
Have you ever driven you friends and co-workers crazy with what consumed you?

Where is your passion today?
 Is it vacationing in a certain place, maybe the beach - where you run off to at every chance?
Is it gardening,      or bicycling,       or marathon running?
    or work? or maybe its playing "Angry Birds" on your cell phone?   (an addicting game)

I am sure you can recall that feeling of being consumed.

Long after Jesus' "Cleansed the Temple," his disciples put prophecy, scripture and his actions  together to say, "We remember what was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'"

Regular 'house cleaning' may not be YOUR passion, but cleansing the 'House of God' certainly was for Jesus.
    I hope the re-enactment with the children helped you envision what a shock it must have been for the clergy of the day who watched it happen.

A little background investigation tells us that this story appears in all 4 gospels, but only in John does it come at the beginning of JESUS' ministry. The others report it during Holy Week, but John is trying to tell us something special with his story that reaches beyond the CHRONOLOGY of the event to the THEOLOGY OF the event.1
    Jesus’ objection (to what was going on) went far beyond money in the temple, after all clergy had developed the money exchange in order to OBEY the 10 commandments. Roman coins had the emperor’s face engraved on them, therefore it was an idyllic image. - AND
    the Temple Tax wasn’t an arbitrary amount to sustain an oppressive institution. The small tax enabled the daily sacrifice for the SIN of the community to be made - which is also COMMANDED in the Law.
    If anything, the clergy were being meticulous in their observation of the Law and they were HELPING people be obedient by providing animals for sacrifice that were ‘perfect’ unblemished specimens which would never make thru the long journey to Jerusalem.
    So, if all this activity of money exchange and animal sacrifice was right according to law, what was Jesus’ problem?

The gospel’s author’s THEOLOGICAL point, is
    Jesus “disrupts business as usual to present himself as the NEW source of Divine presence. He is the new ‘House of God’”.
    Therefore he can speak coded words about tearing down of the current house of God = Temple and rebuilding it with his resurrected body.
    Remember ALL of John’s gospel is written from the perspective of those who have peaked at the ending. Jesus, and the story narrator talk as if Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have already happened. - even while the events of his life are still being written. (This is one reason the language of John sounds ‘coded’ & can be hard to follow.)

    Actually Jesus isn’t ANTI- Temple at all, he’s so PRO-temple that he can’t stand anything or anyone to distract worshippers from the real point of worship.
    One commentator brought the message home when he wrote, “Surely we can be honest enough to acknowledge that we often put ourselves and our institutions at the service of powers that are decidedly less that God.”2

We have a passion problem; not Jesus.
We get embarrassed at such a visible display of passionate devotion.
again we get a nagging feeling, what could  drive us into passionate acts for God?

I think someone at our church retreat said, "wouldn't it be nice to be passionate about something again?”

Our passion-problem, isn’t too much, it’s not enough!

New Christians, or new members, like new employees, or new converts to any discipline - enter with passion. They often are more passionate than those of us who have been at it awhile.
    Whether we were convicted and ‘born again’ in a moment of dramatic conversion or
    our Christian belief is a gradual and incremental process, we can’t sustain Jesus’ level of passion.   We lose traction or something happens to turn us away from God. Even when what takes us away, is good work.
    This ‘turning away’ from God is the definition of SIN. It is what we confess, not just as individuals, but for our part of humanity.
    The corporate SIN of facing away from God is why a daily sacrifice was made at the Temple on behalf of ALL God’s children.
    We can’t sustain the passion for obedience, by ourselves.

You remember me telling the story of the little girl who was excited about her new little sister who had just returned from the hospital with their mom. She asked to be alone with the baby. . . the curious parents allowed it, but turned on the baby monitor to listen and heard her ask the new baby, “please, Tell me about God...I’ve almost forgotten.”
    We do forget, & get distracted
And we lose our passion.

We feel it in our souls, an emptiness that fills us.

It’s an oxymoron. Being filled with emptiness and yet knowing that something else belongs there....something we have felt before.
It is an ache of loss because we miss what we can’t seem to get back on our own.

The loss is described in stories and parables all through the Bible.
We are in darkness and need the light.
We are hungry and need the bread of life.
We are thirsty and Jesus is living water.
We are lost and Jesus is the way, the door.
We need healing and Jesus makes us whole.
We want to enter into God’s presence again, and Jesus is the New Temple and somehow also the sacrificial lamb.3

In theological language, we need salvation.
In heart language, we need to feel God’s love.

    The only solution is to be ‘born again’ and we can’t make it happen, it’s the Spirit’s work.4 Marcus Borg, a scholar and author says, “we can’t make it happen by determination or by learning and believing the right beliefs, but we can ‘mid-wife’ the [Spirit’s] process. Spirituality is midwifery. .. it’s purpose is to help birth the new self and nourish the new life.” Borg defines Spirituality as becoming intentional about a deepening relationship with God.5

If our commitment has been a gradual process, so gradual that we hardly know when to say, “I want to be baptized”, then we can pick any point to recommit and ask to be ‘born again’.

And with this new birth comes new passion. It is born from the ache of the soul. Perhaps the ache is a labor pain. And like any new or RE-newed relationship we become ‘intentional’ by paying attention TO the relationship. We spend time on it.    We are thoughtful about the one we love.
We change our habits and practices to MAKE time for our beloved. Very soon, we find we are transformed.
“Spirituality is the process of being ‘born again’ and again and again." (Borg)
From the point of our baptism, and again from our renewal, and again each time we confess that we have turned our faces away from God.
We turn around and are welcomed home to an ever deepening relationship with the one who loves us completely. This One, doesn’t forget what we are like, even we have completely forgotten.

Do you need rebirth into passion?
How can your practice of ‘paying attention’ during the remainder of Lent increase your participation in Christ’s passionate life?

During baptism I ask three questions of the candidate who is committing their life to Christ.
1.- 1st is about belief, who do you say that Jesus is? The Christ! the Revelation of God’s eternal love and promise for humanity.
2.- the 2nd is about how you promise to live. For Brethren, not by a creed or merely a FEW words but by ALL the collected words of scripture that tell us in story and people about God.
3.- thirdly is the vow to community; to support it with your
prayers and presence,your substance and service.

These are the words of passion.   
Like marriage, there will be good days and not-so-good ones.
There will be life...and death, sickness and health.

Thru it all God promises to never leave us.
    THIS 3rd vow is the foundation of passion.
  Our Presence HERE, our prayers TO God and FOR each other,
the Service we offer to the world
    all comes from the SUBSTANCE of our lives.
    These are the elements that build passion.

Passion is craziness to those around us who can’t see what we see, who are still lost, in darkness, hungry and thirsty, and searching for the way.
We get fired up with the passion of frustration with a world which turns and walks away from the God, while pretending to be holy.We get fired up when we listen to the memories of the young - who are come fresh from God,   and the stories of the old who are moving ever closer to God.

Passion comes to us, again and again, when we are immersed.
    Whether in the waters of baptism or the life of christian community.

We CAN FEEL that passion again, when we ACT like the passionate One, the Christ,
    who WAS, who IS, and who is to COME -
        always on fire with the Spirit of God.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Sunday Coma

A missed call just woke me from my Sunday afternoon nap. I know many people, especially preachers who need this weekly rest. After a morning of being 'out there' I need alone time and rest. I turn from my typically extroverted self to a total introvert on Sunday afternoon. It is my sabbath rest and a time of doing next to nothing. My daughter calls it my 'Sunday Coma'.

I don't even talk to the family much. I don't fix dinner and often don't eat dinner. I lay on the bed under warm covers and read & nap. If I. Feel particularly energetic, I will watch TV. I'm much like a slug, I'm just here and not going anywhere- no matter how tempting the offer would be on another day of the week. Almost nothing can pull me from my coma.

But tonight I've accepted an invite to join a neighborhood group at dinner. Sigh. I've given thought to this and almost cancelled several times yesterday, but so far I plan to put my suit back on and go. I may not be good company, I don't need to eat again, and will need more coffee to get there, so we shall see about this. But I have a few hours left to my coma. And my afternoon cup of coffee can't put a dent in this much loved coma. Adios

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thinking A Head

There was a time, about 10 years ago when I wanted to ‘be delivered’ from my friend. We were at the beach and there was little to no recycling at the time in South Nags Head. So my friend, refusing to throw anything away that COULD be recycled, packed bags of garbage into their car (it could be composted at home), she loaded  cardboard boxes full of cardboard and cans (that could be recycled at home), and stuffed in bags of plastic bags because she knew a place on the way back that would take them. . .
    I was embarrassed and frustrated at the INconvenience.            

How my mind has changed!

 Now, I am one of those people who hate to throw anything away that I can recycle -

so my car is often full of bottles and cans, boxes of cardboard and paper, and bags of plastic...I haven’t yet begun composting in our yard like we did in Warrenton, but I know Joan will do another ‘backyard composting class’ at the Reevesland Learning Garden ...soon.

I watched a series on TV that is set in the 1960s. I was horrified to watch the family get up from a picnic, shake out the blanket and walk away leaving all their trash on the grass. They tossed cigarette butts out the window into the park. (Where was Smokey the Bear?)
    and then I realized that many of us lived this way once.
Mad Men Cast

(Times change as I was reminded looking at pictures of my mom’s bathing suit from the 1940‘s and mine from a younger and thinner day.) that times changes and minds change.
Today, if I see a bag of trash that has cans and bottles in it it makes me feel. . .    frustrated and mad, and if I have on gloves, I will often dive in to rescue and recycle the stuff.

What about you? What is it that makes you cringe about things we once took for granted?
How have you changed - in your lifetime?
Most of us now think twice before throwing things away. “Can it be recycled? Better yet, can it be re-used?”
    And we have started “voting” our displeasure with manufactures that use needless packaging.
    Notice how all the deodorants that once came in boxes are now...

Our minds have changed.. .
    Yet today’s dialogue reminds us there are still things we need to pay attention to. Like gas usage and power consumption.
    Did you know Univ. Park CoB was petitioned by their neighborhood to allow solar panels on the roof of the church? They are part of a new energy coop that has their electric meter running backwards!
    For their church, times have REALLY changed!

Today we have heard and read from the Psalms. It is good to listen to these words because the Psalms express the full range of human emotions as we face life and change.

Ps 22 taken as a whole, is a bit of a see-saw, moving back and forth between trust and complaint. By the time we get to the verses we heard today, the writer is expressing praise and adoration for God AND for ALL God has created.1

In the psalms we hear feelings honestly expressed to God. We need reminding that we can tell God exactly what we are thinking - at any point in our journey.

As your spiritual guide, I know that our thoughts and feelings are important. They help us deal with life’s changes & help us recognize how and where we need to change.
    I won’t tell you where to change or what to think, but today I want us all learn something about the process of thinking our way into change.
How we THINK is foundational for how we act.

I read an interesting article by Frances M. Lappe’ who wrote Diet for a Small Planet and I want to share some of her thoughts today.

Lappe’ says we humans are creatures of the mind. How we perceive or think about our world is based on who we are. Some of us grow up in situations where there is not enough (of things or food) and we learn to compete for what is there. We can become territorial and soon we are acting a lot like our dog, Maggie with her football.
    Maggie’s football was a Christmas gift and it was love at first sight.
       She immediately began to be possessive. No one else could play with it, unless you were throwing it for her. Soon, no one could even be in the same room as the football, or she was sure you were going to steal it.     In no time, her territory expanded to the entire yard.     Poor Cole, our little and rather old dog, can’t even go out in the yard without a growling attack from  Maggie, who is afraid of losing what is hers.
We may not resort to growling, but at times we think & act as if the earth was our own, to do with it as we please.     When this happens we have forgotten the psalmist’s words, “When I look at YOUR heavens, the work of YOUR fingers.” and instead we have taken over ALL “Dominion” forgetting who the real owner is. “For dominion belongs to the LORD...” v. 28

When we think possessively, we can use WHATever we want, WHENever we want.
We can exhaust fossil fuels in a few lifetimes -that took countless years to form.
When the earth’s yard is ours, we can dig holes in the ground and fill them with trash, not caring if it will decompose.
We can take what we want from the oceans and put back into them whatever contaminants we choose.
    All because the earth is OUR yard.  It’s an issue of HOW we think about what is ours and what is God’s.

My car is an example. Beside often being filled with recyclables on their way to the Blue Arlington Bin, the backseat often gets full of trash and office supplies like resource books. the back has my gym stuff (not always the best of odors) and I have a large supply of reusable bags scattered across the back.
    What this means is that when I offer you a ride, the car is a mess. and truthfully, I don’t mind leaving it that way. It’s MY car. And if I offer you a ride...well . . .
    But my son has learned to keep his car in a different state. Other than a scarf and sunglasses, there is rarely anything laying on his seats. His trunk is organized with a plastic box for roadside emergency supplies and his reusable grocery bags. When I borrow his car I am careful to remove any trash, take all my stuff with me and return any grocery bags I use. Why? because it’s not MINE.

I believe we all act that way, whether we are borrowing a car, someone’s vacation home, or a tool. We try our best to return them in the same - or better shape than we found them. Am I right?

So, is the reason I act differently with my son’s car, because I am afraid of him so I cooperate?
    is it because I care more about his car or about him?
        Is it a matter of what is fair?
What is it about How I think that

Lappe’ says humans have ways of thinking that result in our ability to change.
Do you like to cooperate? (Sounds like a K-garden evaluation; “does the student play well with others?”)  Science has discovered that “when human beings cooperate, our brains’ pleasure centers are as stimulated as when we eat chocolate!”2 
    When we cooperate, we separate ourselves from God’s other creatures by letting our THINKING effect our actions.
    We can even change our thinking to accommodate each other’s needs or to recognize God’s sovereignty.

We humans also distinguish ourselves from God’s other creatures by our empathy. It is so ingrained in our beings that babies cry at the sound of other babies crying but rarely at a recording of their own cries.”3

How we think is effected by our “Mirror neurons” that respond to other people’s emotional states as well as their actions. We can think differently because we can care.
      it sounds a bit like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? ‘Happy are those who are merciful for they shall receive mercy.’ So cooperating and caring for each other can change the way we think. (Maybe it explains why I now care about recycling.)
When we cooperate and care we quickly learn that Injustice destroys community. We know that when trust is eroded and we are fearful, life is NOT good. Some of it comes when we fear losing what we THINK is ours, but we also find our contentment is based on experiencing life as ‘fair’.

the Psalms often lament to God that life is UNFAIR and ask God to render justice. We too ask God for justice. I wonder if we are prepared for God to act if we turn out to be the UNjust culprits who DON’T CARE for God’s earth.  
You may have heard of a speech that Chief Seattle  made to President Franklin Pierce. The exact text is a matter of great debate. We don’t know his exact words but supposedly the Chief said,
    “All things share the same breath, the earth does not belong to man but man to the earth. all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Man did not weave the web of life he is merely a strand in it.”
    it sounds a bit like the psalmist, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD.” (Ps 22:27-28)

All God’s creatures and all creation are in this life - together. How we think about the earth can result in justice for the earth.

Lappe’s goes on to say that humans are basically doers, we like to care for things, not just observe. She says we are “creatures of meaning, seeking ways to give our days value beyond ensuring our own survival.” and that ultimately humans are able to change’.
Change is the “Key to human nature at every level from brains to minds to societies.”

We think, therefore we are? Hopefully, we think before we act. Our thinking includes imagination. So, we can envision a life different from what is “and make the changes we must.”     Because we can THINK about how we act, we take pleasure in the challenge of change.

We humans have changed a lot since the psalmists’ words of long ago and we’ve changed since the 1960‘s. Yet we know there is a lot more to do.
    When our THINKING recognizes our Creator as the true owner of this earth, we can discover meaning for our lives by living in harmony with God’s creation.
    Our empathy and mutual cooperation can result in doing what is just for the earth. And our God-given ability to THINK will enjoy every challenge.     I THINK change is on the horizon, what do you THINK?