Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Search of Good News

Most of the time I am quite happy with life.
Some of the time I am in search of good news.
Today I've avoided the news since the Sequester begins. Here inside the beltway, the sequester means many, many of the folks I see in the pews, in the neighborhood and coffee shops will be furloughed one day per week. While it is agreed that is better than losing your will be tough. I also worry about those employed by firms that are getting defense funds in some form.

Having said that, I think we desperately need to cut into the every-growing defense budget. It is ridiculous, more - sinful, that we are in debt beyond everyone's eyeballs and their great-grandchildren's eyeballs, to finance war! War is killing. Christians are supposed to be against killing. Debt-ridden mindsets have everyone willing to accept the unacceptable. Poor, hungry, and out of work. And I have little faith in those who seem to control the defense spending purse strings.

Biased? Undoubtedly, but how can it not be a sin to spend so much on death while we begrudge and cut funds that support life? today, in this regard at least, I'm looking for good news.

F is for Fox

The fox and the scorpion 
OPEN: The Tale of the Scorpion was an old Native American parable that went as follows:
A scorpion was walking along the bank of a river, wondering how to get to the other side. Suddenly, he saw a fox. He asked the fox to take him on his back across the river.
The fox said, "No. If I do that, you'll sting me, and I'll drown."
The scorpion assured him, "If I do that, we'll both drown."
The fox thought about it and finally agreed. So the scorpion climbed up on his back, and the fox began to swim. But halfway across the river, the scorpion stung him. As poison filled his veins, the fox turned to the scorpion and said, "Why did you do that? Now you'll drown, too."
"I couldn't help it," said the scorpion. "It's my nature."
. . .    . . .   . . .   . . .   . . .
I tell this story about animal and insect nature because today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke invites us to consider our natures and the Nature of God.

2000 years ago people saw God in Jesus. 
For some it took awhile to understand what they had seen. Some did not really ‘SEE’ until much later.   Some watched a great man die and that was all. Some people did not see anything special at all. . .

Yet at some point in life, especially for people raised with stories about Jesus, we must decide for ourselves how we ‘SEE’ (understand) the nature of God thru Jesus.
An imagining exercise:
Rather than put up lovely art work with artists’ renditions of their images of God, I want to explore an ‘imagining exercise’ with you. Take a moment and Think about God. What do you see? What image comes to mind?
Your images, call out
 It might be a description or a simile; 
God is like... Be as descriptive as you want.
Your images, call out

You’ve heard me tell the story of asking Jr. High group to tell me what God looks like. Expecting mostly typical ‘old man’ images, One young woman said when I invited people to pray, she ‘saw’ a big purple cloud settle down over everyone in the congregation. That was her image of God...a very different kind of ‘Purple Haze.’

Now, Let’s name the various images from the Bible that describe the Divine Presence. They may be images that characters in the Bible understood to be God, or similes used in biblical stories. 
What do you remember?

wisdom, mother hen, shepherd, stillness, wrestler, cloud (pillar), fire, soldier

Text  Let’s look at today’s text to find an image of God. . .
1st we note in this brief encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus things are not always as they seem.
 We find many puzzling contrasts in a few brief verses.

  • Pharisees warn Jesus, they seem concerned for him. (Do you find this puzzling? Why?) It could be if Jesus’ left town their life would be easier, but still there’s the sound of genuine warning by those who were often opposed to Jesus.
  •   Pharisees do not understand Jesus' nature
  •  They don’t SEE his identity nor understand his mission. They assume his best course of action is to avoid death.   (“Dont take that scorpion up on your back..”)
  • If we had been reading Luke as a complete book, we would have just ‘heard’ Jesus say, “Look! Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last.” Then we read this sharp image from Jesus about Herod, the ruling Tetrarch. You’d don’t get any closer to ‘first’ in line that one of the rulers who sit just below the Emperor. Hmmm, what’s Luke telling us?. . 
It’s almost as if this passage were written in code. Why does Jesus call Herod a FOX? ASK   (Hospital, Dr. red on the floor?)
Sly, cunning, vorciously destructive, maybe crafty, 
mostly - ‘as one who is impotent to carry out his threat.’

  • Also-There’s meaning behind Jesus’ use of “today, tomorrow and the 3rd day”    Can you tell what he’s implying? ASK 
- Foreshadows 3 days before he rises from the dead
-But also a surface meaning about time. Time is short!

We know in Luke, Jesus’ ministry is only a year. He is already on the way to Jerusalem and we know what will happen there.

Jesus’ attitude and response also tells us that he is not afraid of what Herod can do. He will go on about his work, (Healing, Casting our Demons) He will keep on keeping on, today, tomorrow... Even tho he knows his time is short.

Time is not only short for Jesus, Time is short for Jerusalem too. Jerusalem seems destined to repeat its history of rejecting the people God sends to save it. We are reminded about prophets in the past who warned Jerusalem ---and were killed for their words.

Jerusalem is unable to really SEE Jesus. They can’t see, understand, or accept his mission.  Beverly Gaventa points out that, "Ironically, tragically, the city that houses God’s Temple also houses a persistent refusal to hear God’s word.”
 Jerusalem loves to HATE the people God sends.
We have to ask ourselves if WE REALLY see Jesus? How do we know him? Is it by his name? Is he ‘Jolly Jesus’, ‘Judging Jesus’?    Is he Judicious Jesus or is he just Jinxed?

It’s tempting for us to point to Jerusalem and shake our heads, after all we know better. (many scholars point out) "Jerusalem is guilty of continuing to work, to operate by their own definitions of what is right and faithful, even when their definitions are contradicted by 'God's own agents".

Yet how different are we? How often have we kept on living by OUR own defintions of what is right, what is just and appropriate to religious law, -OUR interpretation of Holy Law? - - - Even when we are sent those who would open OUR eyes and hearts to another way of justice - for the 1st and the LAST?

No wonder Jesus shakes his head as HE points to Jerusalem, then reaches out his arms to offer a tender embrace. . . “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,...How often I have wanted to GATHER your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. . . . . . . . . But you didn’t want that.”

The tender image of a mother offering shelter and protection is the IMAGE Jesus leaves us with as he rejects the warning & journeys ever closer to the threat.
This is the IMAGE of God that we see in Jesus---
Who - even tho he was sure he would be STUNG, he carries all humanity on his BACK - the very same people who will turn and sting him. . .

THIS THEN, is the true NATURE of God, the Divine One who offers us LIFE - a way across the stream, a new path, a chance to be more than what OUR nature suggests.

And this Beloved Jesus offers new life again and again, to the least likely of all people, to the ones standing LAST in line; the outcasts, the sinners - and he offers it to us again and again. 

Which brings us back to the tale of the scorpion - an ALTERNATE tale of the Scorpion and the Monk. 

END: Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. 
He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk SAVED the scorpion and was again stung. 
The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it's nature is to sting?"
"Because," the monk replied, 
"to save is my nature."

1 Beverly Gaventa Texts for Preaching Year C (Louisville:WJK,1994)206-208
2 Joel Green NT Commentary-Luke (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans,1997)538
3 ibid 537
4 unsure ref, Feasting?
5 Gaventa 206
6 J. Green, 538

Thursday, February 14, 2013

We Are Revealed

A week behind in posting...sigh

What's believable?  . . . And does it not depend on what you have already experienced?
  •   Thundersnow - did you see any of the video? Would you believe it if you had never heard thunder during a snow storm, or seen lighting flash in a blizzard?
  •   Even snow totals that were reported yesterday are hard to beleive without the visual of Al Rocker standing at the edge of 2 feet of snow in downtown Providence.
  •   We saw devastation after the ‘super storm’ Sandy that was hard to believe, until we SAW pictures, heard 1st-hand reports.

What is believeable often depends on how close it is to what we have already experienced, seen for ourselves, or heard from someone we trust.

What's supernatural?
  •   Space ships? Aliens from another planet?
  •   Ghosts? (Maybe you’ve heard or experienced a ‘ghost story’ that is now quite believeable to you?)
I suspect there are many things that we take for granted that even our parents and certainly our grandparents would find ‘supernatural’. Comparison to historic acceptance and now which would be inconceivsble then.
  • My grandmother died in 1983. We got our first microwave oven in 1985. Would she have found it supernatural to have a box on the counter in which you placed food and heated it up to consumable temperatures within seconds?
  • My materal grandmother died in the mid-1960’s. Would she have found the power and range of this iPad, supernatural?
ASK: what in your memory has become so amazing it would be supernatural or paranormal to the YOU of back ‘in the day’?

We have been raised in a modern and even post-modern period where critical observation is the way of the world and Supernatural is for Science-fiction. Our tendency is to stick to the natural, unless we are lost in the latest SCI-FI movie.
So what do we do when we encounter a story like Luke, Matthew and Mark give us - with Jesus have a conversation with 2 dead people.
 Jesus glows brighter white than ANY modern laundry commerical could show us. Then, He and 3 disciples are overtaken by a mysterious cloud from which the voice of God thunders.
What do we do with it?  (Do you want to answer that or have me go on?)

So far Jesus miraculous moments have been more ‘down-to-earth’ events, amazing as they have been, they are events that leave people ‘normal’ healed, put back to regular life. But what’s normal?

Is reality only what we can see, taste, touch, and feel? . . .

In our tendency to be strictly 'Earth Bound', Can we admit that there is more to life than we can see? . . .
Will Willimon says, “Might it be the case that we modern people have not succeeded in explaining away and demystifying that usually unseen realm, but rather we, unlike our spiritual anestors, have simply lost the means to have contact with that realm?”

I can text, I can email around the world, but sitting still in contemplative prayer. . .in contact with the Divine, is harder to master than any technology I have yet encountered.

“Christians believe that we have indeed been contacted by someone from another world, from the realm of the Kingdom of God. We have been contacted by God in Jesus the Christ.”
 . . .

Willimon says this is more than having a “kind of primitive, simplistic worldview. Christian could be regarded as having a more subtle, complex, and courageous way of thinking than that which passes for thinking in the modern world.”

It is a different worldview than we might normally have. One worth accepting in order to EXPAND our worldview BEYOND this world to our membership in the realm of God. It offers our world something more than they are used to getting from many Christians.

Jesus didn’t fit into the typical worldview of his day. Just last week we recalled the story of his rejection and his rejecting any worldview that does not include the poor and oppressed. 

This week we find Jesus’ revealed as the authenic connection to ‘another world’ and our identity as Christians reveals us to be ‘wonderfully open to what the world calls ‘supernatural’ because we fully expect God to impinge and intrude into our world in all sorts of creative ways.”

And we WANT to be part of the supernatural transFIGURING of this world into a realm of justice and peace, freedom and health, food and water equally for ALL.

When we glimpse this realm, or participate in it, we hear the voice of God reassuring us, even when we can’t see glowing glory, like disciples did.
I supsect you have been to just such a mountaintop in your life. I invite you to share a brief story, a sentence or the name of a place where you heard God’s voice thunder.. in some way.  Either reassuring or challenging you? 
Hard to answer, be brave and try, no wrong answers.
...ASK: Where have you glimpsed the holy? Workcamps...

When Jesus is revealed to us, it takes us beyond supernatural to see Jesus for who Jesus the Christ really is.
 The veil is lifted in those moments when we eliminate the (old elightenment) need to be shown, to prove, examine, & analyze everything. 
Perhaps it is inded a gift, a supernatural gift to accept the Spirit's movement ---- to embrace the Holy, right here down on solid ground.

It’s important to be grounded. Even Jesus didn’t stay on the mountain. In spite of Peter's desire to build booths, tents, or dwellings - to preserve their glimpse of transcendence up there on the mtn, God interupts him with the word, LISTEN, “this is my chosen one, listen to him.” (V. 35)

Do you want to know What happens when Jesus comes down from the mtn? . . 
"Unimagined possibility at ground level."
   Here’s the rest of the story;
Review rest of story or tell it here! V. 37-43a

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 
“Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulsees him until he foams at the mouth, it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 
“I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were ASTOUNDED a the GREATNESS of GOD.

We see in this story that the "Transfiguration, the GLORY of GOD -seen in Jesus, was never meant to remain private,
 it was a vision to carry us down the mountain” and out into a broken world.

"The glory of God's presence and the pain of a broken world cannot be separated"

When they are united, in mystery and active Christianity---

. . When WE are revealing Jesus's presense, everyone around us will be astounded at the “Greatness of God."
1 W.Willimon Pulpit Resource Vol. 42, No.2, Year C, Jan.Feb.Mar.2013 p.26
2 ibid

3 ibid p.27

4 ibid p.27

5 ibid p.27

6 inspired by Thomas Long in Pulpit Resource p.28

7 Lori B. Hale, Feasting on the Word-theological (Louisville:WJK,2009)456
8 Sharon Ringe Feasting on the Word - exegetical (Lousiville:WJK,2009) 457

9 Sharon Ringe Feasting on the Word - exegetical (Lousiville:WJK,2009) 457

Saturday, February 2, 2013

We Are: Rejected

Luke 4:21-30 “We Are: Rejected” Epiphany IV 2/3/2013

It is hard to believe that this intense conflict between Jesus and his hometown neighbors happens at the beginning of his ministry. At least it does in Luke’s gospel - and he puts it there for a reason. Let’s see if we can discover it -together. your clue for participation..

Last week we saw how the content of Jesus’ inaugural message in his hometown sets up his year-long ministry...and how his mission statement is also our own mission statement.
You recall: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring ______(good news) to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim ________(release) to the captives and recovery of _____(sight) to the bling, to let the _________(oppressed) go free, to proclaim the year of _______(jubilee or the Lord’s favor.”

Gutenberg Bible

This quote from Isaiah doesn’t upset the local listeners in itself.  Then what does? _______?

Some likely begin to wonder what he meant when he says ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. (Using a passive perfect verb that Luke often employes to indicate God is doing the action.) It’s when Jesus start telling stories, a good rabbinic way to interpret scripture, that he gets into hot water.

It may have been some time since you read or heard these stories to which he refers. So a brief Bible Study ‘pop-up’...

  • Elijah and widow of Zarephath in Sidon. (1 Kings 17:1-16) a time of drought & famine in a land of many widows, God chooses a non-believer for Elijah to gift with oil and flour, that does not run out until rain comes again. And when the woman’s sons gets sick and dies, Elijah prays and brings him back to life. 
  • Strozzi
    • Sidon is Gentile territory in the land of the Phoenicians (Modern Lebanon). Traditional enemies of the Israelites. Jesus’ hearers know this story well because it is one of Elijah’s famous miracles.

  • Jesus’ second illustration is equally provocative because Elisha, Elijah’s successor heals Naaman of leprosy, a serious skin disease. Naaman is commander of the army of the king of Aram, who has taken an Israelite girl slave for his wife in one of Aram’s raids in Israel. 
    • Naaman afterward becomes a believer, but again, this is an example of God acting miraculously among the Gentiles...when at the same time there are many needy Israelites, suffering with the same illness.
(end of Bible-study window)

It seems that Jesus is VERY intentional in his choice of stories. In fact, I think Luke is giving us a pre-view of what kind of preaching we can expect from Jesus.   (perhaps should ask the search committee that hired me, if they’d hire a preacher like this...)

Certainly we see a preview of where Jesus’ minsitry is going to get him. . . Taken to the ‘brow’ of a hill..with execution in the mind of his neighbors, his ‘friends’ from home. . . .

I began my ministry at Manassas during my last semester in seminary because I had already completed my requirments during the academic year. I organized my ordination service rather quickly because we decided it would be great to actually BE ordained before I led Annual Conference worship in Charleston, WVA. 

I asked Warren Eshback, then dean of the Bethany satellite in Elizabethtown, AND an ad junct professor at LTSG to be the preacher at my service. He choose this text! . . .He knew I was returning ‘home’ - Manassas was the congregation where we raised our children. They called and licensed me to ministry. Now they had called me to be one of their pastors. . . When Warren told me he planned to preach from Luke 4, I was not amused!

I already had some fear of what life would be like as a pastor among the people who had nurtured ME. People who had struggled alongside me to get thru potty-training, and parenting teenagers. People who had sat with me as we all struggled with issues of faith; the death-penalty, to tithing.

And I was coming out of a Lutheran seminary (even with all my Brethren classes) and the Lutherans would NEVER let you go back to your ‘home’ congregation as a pastor...

Even tho I knew it was part of our tradition to ‘call out’ our own..I wondered, 
“What was Warren thinking???”
(Can you take a guess?)

I think Warren had the same idea as Jesus’ did when he decided what storeis to tell in the synagogue. 
(No he didn’t expect Manassas to reject their hometown girl.) In his message he made the point that today’s preachers need to risk being out on a ledge, led to the ‘brow’ of a hill, RISK...being rejected and that goes for ALL God’s ministers, every baptized beleiver who is ‘ordained’ to ministry at our baptism. His message, as ironic as it seemed in that setting, was for every follower of Christ

If we are truly ‘continuing the work of Jesus’ we can expect to be dragged out to the cliff-edge, REJECTED, just like Jesus - our identity falls under this unlikely word - rejection.

So now I ask, are you brave enough to share your own stories of rejection today? _________?
. . .

Rejection today takes many forms, some are actually confrontations.
Some are quiet rejections...didn’t get the job, 
.You don’t hear back from the person you were trying to befriend,
...You aren’t included on the next invitation list.

Thursday’s Y.A. Gathering; 
Talked about rejection due to mis-understanding; someone ASSUMES you are Christian by their definition, their experience, what they have read or heard.
(What can you do when your IDENTITY is shaped by someone else’s perception of Christianity? Does’t this sometimes result in rejection?).... Or rhectorical

Jesus’ initial steps in ministry, in his home-town, are thought provoking. They not only inform our reading of the rest of Jesus’ story, they inform our living of the JESUS’ Way.

1) Jesus is REJECTED right from the start.
He is take out to the brow of a hill to be THROWN down.
The story foreshadows the Ultimate Rejection he will receive on the brow of another hill, called Calvary. . . And we who follow can expect no less, IF we are truly following in his footsteps.

2) Yet there another side to this REJECTION. 
Jesus has already been to a hilltop, even before his ministry began. It’s the pinnacle of the temple, from which the Devil, the great antagonist, challenged him to ‘THROW himself down’ because God has promised ‘angels to protect him and bear him up.’

. . And Jesus does the REJECTING. . Answering ‘NO’ to this temptation to use his status for his own glory.

Again and Again in Jesus’ ministry he will REJECT the same temptations that we face. 
He will REJECT
  • Religious status quo, 
  • He will reject, doing what all the other rabbis ‘have always done’
  • He rejects ‘righteousness’ that is defined by social status or religious status 
  • He rejects any righteousness that does not include JUSTICE for everyone.
  • And he REJECTS priorities that don’t include the poor.

This is what get’s Jesus hauled to the hilltop and almost thrown to his death. 
This is WHY he chose stories that were intentionally provocative.
Because he REJECTS identifying with a ‘domesticated’ God who is partial only to the well-off religious elite.

Because Jesus really KNOWs God’s priorities. . And HIS IDENTITY is formed by them, . . No matter how much rejection he incurs.

(Here or previous) The late Peter Gomes, Harvard professor and pastor said, 
“the people (in Jesus; hometown) take offense not so much with what Jesus claims about himself, as with the claims that he makes about a God who is more than THEIR OWN tribal deity.”

Our Identity, as followers of Christ, CHRISTians, must include our own REJECTION of anything put forth in God’s name. . That does not meet Jesus’ standards of mission.. To the poor, oppressed, capitive and blind. . .
 . .
And that is likely to get US dragged to the top of a hill. . . . .And REJECTED.. . Jesus’ name.