Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pic Stitch

PicStitch Hebrews 2:10-18
As we sit here nestled between Christmas Day and the start of the New Year, we are surrounded by memories. They may form a pretty collage or they may be jagged at the edges torn in half to delete a person, or with some blacked out faces or places we would rather forget. In the age of computers, that is the joy of apps such as pic stitch. With this app, on the fly, I can sort through the photos taken on my phone, make my image skinnier, prettier, bigger or smaller and blot out that ex or the person photo bombing my favorite picture deleting the unwanted background or person from a shot that was supposed to show special time with a best friend.

Magazines and media review the year in pictures. We review highlights and biggest news events and look forward with hope of what is next. Even though we are still in the season of Christmas, Christians quickly move past the baby in the manger. As Theologian Johnny Hill puts it we have shifted our attention from the manger and the baby and can now “truly marinate in the glory and mystery of incarnation.” So perhaps it is fitting that the scripture today is a collage of images for Christ – an overview from his life on earth – what he meant to us. Stitching together images/different roles Jesus held for us in a collage of sorts What does it mean to follow Christ? How do we marinate in the incarnation? The author of Hebrews summarizes well what the incarnation means by weaving together pictures/images of who Jesus was and is:

We are brothers and sisters. Christ was one of us, desiring relationship, wanting to be with us. Rather than sitting on a mountaintop and viewing human lives from afar, Jesus came into our world as a human in the muck and struggle embracing the average and underprivileged. This means to us that we are never alone. Throughout our lives in times of darkness, we are promised a light. If you have siblings, you know that not being alone doesn’t necessarily mean things are a bed of roses. A life of ease is not what this promises. Brothers and sisters, challenge and prod as often as they support. Yet, Jesus as the ideal brother will never abandon us. We are never alone. Jesus claims us and praises us in the midst of the congregations. The brother who deeply loves us.
A second part of the picture is Christ as the pioneer. Yet this Greek word meant a bit more than we give it today – it is translated differently by the major translations of the bible – meaning captain, author, leader or pioneer. Yes, he will lead the way. He leads the way in life through turmoil, suffering as a human alongside us. As author, he is still writing and re-writing the scene. And as captain he is part of the team not simply giving instruction and watching others carry it our but travelling alongside us. He leads to the goal.
When we think of perfect, we think of things being orderly and organized without flaw. Perfecting here is more like accomplishing a goal. Jesus came among us to accomplish a goal of reconciling us with God. Christ does not lead the way by getting out front and telling us what to do but rather pushes from behind and holds our hands in our midst with parables and as an example. He was a pioneer in forging into new territory, an author rewriting the story encouraging us to see things differently. Dwelling among us and in example after example working with the poor and outcast to overcome lives of fear. Jesus turned the norm on its ear showing leadership by grace rather than law and obedience through fear.
But that is far from all: Christ shatters the biggest fear - hold of death on us. We tend to be ruled by this greatest of fears, what happens after? Especially in our modern culture, we work to do everything to postpone death with medical treatments and even extremes of life support. Once someone has died, we are largely uncomfortable talking about it using many euphemisms rather than saying the words he or she died.
By coming among us and suffering death, Jesus conquered death and led the way again. Death does not mean separation from God but the opposite of openly being with God. No longer something to be feared but a final comfort, a culmination of this precious relationship. In his Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis said, "On this night, let us share the joy of the Gospel. God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us his son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats, 'Do not be afraid,' ... And I, too, repeat, do not be afraid,'" the Pope said.
The pope continues, "Our Father is patient. He loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightened the darkness. Our Father forgives always. He is our peace and light."
My first call as a minister was to a church in West Fort Worth. To get there, I had an hour commute each day. Along the way, I saw many things. One of the most profound was one day when traffic we seemed to slow to a crawl for no apparent reason. Slowly I saw the reason why. One of those trucks that carry mirrors and windows had lost one of its windows – shattering the glass across the highway. Rather than just speeding along on his way, the drive had gotten out his push broom and was sweeping the lanes. All alone in the highway with cars racing by, this lone man was gathering up each piece of mirror.

For St B. Christmas Eve service, Tom Gibbon’s illustration spoke about how Jesus is the light, and we are the mirrors, reflecting that light into the world. The light is the most important, but each reflection has value too. Like the man out on the highway with a single broom, Christ carefully tends to each of us despite the odds or seeming impossibility of each piece mattering. In a world of millions of pieces with divisions constantly happening. God is gathering and holding us all together, melding us back into one big picture. Perfection, the goal is working toward unity in a world where that is not a priority or goal of the powers that be, unity with God and with others.
And, each and every scattered mirror piece is important to Christ, and has a job in how it reflects His light back into the world. Take the simple example of the man sweeping the street, he reflected God’s light into the world with something as simple as making the street safer regardless of how large the task. Look at Pope Francis. There was a record number of people lined up to attend his Christmas mass. He leads not by dictating, not from a platform on high removed from people but by speaking their language. Instead of staying behind protective barrier, he shuns many of the signs of his office and the glory of his position, By example he mirrors light in the world reflecting God’s love in his service - kissing the afflicted, washing feet of women prisoners and feeding the poor.
As we continue this Christmas season, we celebrate the miracle of the messiah. We sing and rejoice on the gift of a baby. We celebrate a brother, leader and conqueror. Moving into the new year, the light shines brightly conquering fear of death. And the Author of all creation continues to write the story reflecting off each of us We are the pic stitch woven and being woven together to reflect the light and love of Christ back into the world. Amen

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Xmas Time

Christmas Eve Sermon on Luke 2:1-20

I think it took maybe 5 minutes before there was a knock on my door after turning in today’s sermon title. Ever careful, our church secretary Carol wanted to just make sure that I really meant it when I put the sermon title down as Xmas instead of spelling Christmas out. Rightly so, she wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing printing the title this way. Yes, it is on purpose!

With a husband who works retail, I am very aware of the retail side of Christmas. This year has been especially interesting watching the news and social media grab the argument and embrace the season in a so-called War on Christmas. News channels debate the reason for the season, comedians have a heyday picking apart their words, televangelists and even politicians – maybe especially politicians - all want to have their say on the importance of Christ and not letting our secular society heist the season and leave out Christ.

Rachel Held Evans notes that perhaps leaving Christ out may not be such a bad thing! What would happen if the Christian holiday was made distinct – completely separated from the consumerism and holiday hoopla? They can keep the candy canes, Christmas trees, Santa, frantic parties and commercialism. Maybe, just maybe then Christmas would be more authentic. In the time of Jesus it wasn’t a matter of forcing the mighty Roman empire to acknowledge this group as a force or power to be reckoned with – indeed, Jesus was placed in a manger because Augustus demanded a count of citizens so that he could get as updated a count for taxes as possible.

The important part for us is not the recognition or the authority of the group to be equally represented. The importance for us as Christians is to take the time to remember who Christ was and is in our lives. Christmas is a time of radical hospitality, amazing grace and love that defies all norms. Jesus the Messiah did not have to mandate equal time in the society with laws and representation instead HE was a magnet that attracted and amazed despite being so very counter-cultural.
As Frederick Buechner said, “Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.… The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery …. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful.”

Why now is it so important to us that Christianity is a culturally accepted thing? Yes, I find it comforting, and I am not giving up my cookie exchanges, decorated tree or manger scenes. But Christmas is about more! Let’s take a fresh look at the words from Luke. A historian pointed out that the most important messages in the Christmas story in the gospels is not the history of the tale but the theology. For example, he pointed out that for a census, Joseph would most likely not have drug his pregnant wife across the land. He simply would have registered for her as the male of the family – he certainly would have had that authority to do so without her there in that day and age. So, why was Mary there?

Mary with Joseph is not only showing the loving support of family but also the protection that Joseph offered under the circumstances by keeping Mary close to him. It’s all about relationship – and that’s the theology. The main way we form and show our love in relationships is through our time – how we spend it, who we spend it with. Time, that most precious of commodities, seems in especially short supply in a season when we are called to be remembering and celebrating the wonderful miracle of Christ. The man who called upon us to turn our priorities upside down from what society expected. A God for whom relationship was so important that Jesus was born in human form to spend time among, with, and as one of us.

How was this gift of time spent? The Luke passage emphasizes suddenness and haste in the angels presenting their message and in the shepherds getting to Jesus to see. Amazement and awe were the emotions present. Here, presented to them, the common man - shepherds who weren’t the most desired of company – given to them to see was this amazing gift of a baby.

There was no room at the inn, but Jesus was born surrounded by a family who loved him. We lose the importance of this message when we try to plan everything and have it all be in an acceptable format – the main street with the proper banners, the highway with appropriate billboards accepted by society. WE want a Christmas party not a Holiday Party in our schools and workplaces. In trying to defend the faith, we are losing one of the most essential components. Jesus wasn’t about being accepted by the powers that be or the most popular message in town. Jesus was about taking the time to offer an amazing message of awe and grace to the least of these. Not the equals in power but the outcast – often the very people who nobody worries about how you talk to them! Are our inns full of trying to make sure everything is planned and fits with society? What do we need to make room for in our inn – in our banks of time, how are we spending this commodity? How are we using our time to further Christian relationship?

What does Jesus coming among us move us to in relationships? What do these relationships demand of our time? The significance of a humble birth demands central place – Christ fits into our messy chaotic lives more than into our planned, orchestrated moments. We like our happy, planned manger scenes with everything arranged just so – after all isn’t a part of this that there will be peace on earth? Maybe we have even tamed the word peace!

Our cultural understanding of peace definitely implies the absence of chaos. Yet Jesus had deep, abiding peace in his life and it was definitely chaotic. The Greek word used here emphasizes more a reconciliation between people rather than the absence of trials. This is the Good News of Christmas. The counter cultural, the use of that precious gift of time with all people in relationship of love not law. God took time to spend with us. In this birth story of Christ, the Messengers of God declared that through the birth of Christ, God and humanity would be united again. Amen

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

YOU should work for it

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
I find it intriguing that the lectionary texts this year all seem to elcit the responses from my study group of: "Oh no not that one!" or "That text is so misused." What is it about this particular set of scripture that is tempting to 'misuse'? Today's text is a letter to the Thessalonians about the community and imitating the example of the disciples who started the church. It exhorts us to be willing to work for it has been heard that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies. Those who are not willing to work it continues, should not eat.

In the current era in America, this is used to belitle plans such as Obamacare, assistance such as food stamps and an array of other services. Others are quick to rationalize or latch on to the term 'willing'. They may be willing but unable at this time to do work or to find work. However, in doing this, we miss the point. The misuse is applying scripture to judge everyone but ourselves. The point is not to focus on 'they' but on me. This letter is to each one of us. We jump quickly to placing ourselves in a position of the person doing the right and refusing to feed the 'other'.

That is not what Jesus was about. Jesus was all about helping the poor and fighting for justice for those who were unable to help themselves. This scripture is all about community. How do we relate and interact with one another. Rather than being quick to judge, look at the work that we are doing ourselves not focusing in on the lack of another part of the group to 'pull their weight'.  We define ourselves in this modern world so much by our jobs, that introductions usually entail a job title or job description even if we are in a completely social setting. That skirts awfully close to pride of position.

And, that is exactly what this passage is warning against. The writer of this letter is warning against such a feeling of entitlement that we rest on our laurels. This does not mean that if I run around and look really busy that I am doing the right thing and can point the finger at those unwilling who I can shun. What exactly is a busybody? What is work?

Our work changes at different ages and our willingness to perform our role in our Christian community may look very different from how our society defines willingness to 'work'. Sometimes indeed it is harder to receive than to give, but that is what we are called to in that time and place. Our pride often stands in the way of doing that gracefully.

Rather than jumping up and down and refusing to support systems that provide for those less fortunate, this text should be taken personally in its first portion more heavily than in the second. We should examine the work we do. Am I flitting from job to job rather than working for the good of the whole? Am I working for work's sake or doing something that enables my passion to ignite love and caring in the world? Am I willing to get my hands dirty to further the Kingdom of God?

When it comes to warning, we should warn our brothers and sisters who stand in the way of the work of the Kingdom. However, nothing here says to force others to do the right work or to deny them food or care. We are the ones being warned, look to ourselves and how we are furthering the relationship of the whole. Do what brings value to you and to the whole body. For relationship is what it is all about and how we work for the whole rather than against each having their place. Remember - the greatest command is Love - Love you neighbor as yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

O Ye, of Little Faith

Luke 17:5-10

Following a passage where they are brought to task to rebuke those who sin, and then to forgive them if they repent. Okay - but then how often? We are admonished that 7 times  a day isn't too much. C'mon isn't that  bit much? Even the apostles must have thought so because that is where verse 5 begins. 'Add faith to us' ask the apostles - if you expect THIS of us.

Jesus' response at first glance sounds like another rebuke, and yet it is not. He says - 'If you have faith of a grain of mustard' you would have asked this, and it would have happened. And this isn't a hopeful 'if only you could have had enough faith'. The intent behind these Greek words in this type conditional statement is that - yes, you do have this faith! And that faith is enough.

In these verses, Jesus is telling us that we are powerful enough. Matthew and Mark would have us move a mountian with our faith, and for Luke it is just a tree. However, watching my neighbors dig up a simple little tree last week - it may be equally impossible tasks for me physically to accomplish.

So we are left thinking that we aren't powerful enough, and Jesus immediately tells us - YES you are. You have all the power of God behind you if you but trust it. So we puff up our chests and begin to issue the commands. But oops - the next parable is enough to take anyone down a peg or two.

Does a slave get praised for doing what is expected of them? Does the slave expect gratitude and reward for doing what the slave is supposed to do? I just don't know. Not only am I cynical that my faith doesn't measure up, I don't get slaves. Thankfully, I have never been one nor in a situation that has slavery.

Yet, we are all woefully familiar with people NOT doing what is expected as the basis of their jobs. In any service industry these days it is more the norm for employees offering me a service to seem as if they need superior thanks to do just the basics of their job if htey can be bothered at all, and our government seems paralyzed beyond ability to do their jobs of working as a body together to coordinate and run our nation.

When we are empowered and know it, we want thanks for using that power. But it is our responsibility to use all the power we do have in serving others. We are all guilty here with those two sets of people I mentioned above. We feel inadequate for the big challenges and need to trust. Faith the size of a mustard grain - yes the size of yours and mine - gives us the power. The power to change lives, the power to stand trees in the ocean, and to move mountains. The power is given for us to serve. Not for thanks, not to differentiate us one from the other. Not to stand in judgement of one another.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit - with enough faith to live side by side. To repent and forgive, to build relationship together. We have enough faith to serve without expectation of a return favor, or a bonus on the other end for us. We are to serve as Jesus served, looking out for the weak and the lowly. We are to be in community with all without separations of rungs of power but each harnessed together doing the work of the Kingdom of God on earth. Amen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Open Eyes for Blind Justice

Luke 16:19-31

Luke has grabbed us by the throats and refuses to let go with the texts from last week and this (last week was Luke 16:1-13) We are being called once again to justice. Rather than leaving it alone, we are being pushed a little more and a little harder to look honestly at ourselves and the role we play in life. How do we make money decisions and what are we controlled by in our daily lives?

The rich man walks past Lazarus every day yet does nothing. Do we have to do works for salvation? My whole tradition says that it is by grace alone that I am saved. And yet, how can we claim that grace if we do not recognize and embrace our connectedness. What exactly are all of the structures for government and for non-profit aid we have set in place for if not justice? Let's begin with a definition of the word. According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, justice is the concept of each person receiveing what is due with a Biblical emphasis on right relationships and everyone receiving a share of the resources of society.

Us capitalists have a hard time with this one. So many times we balk or flat out refuse to share our resources with those who are lazy or don't pull their weight. It is easier if the person is like Lazarus - wounded, not able to care for himself. But charity often comes with strings attached and restrictions whereas justice should not. And then, we often rely on the agencies of non-profits and churches to do the work. Perhaps it would be easier on ourselves to look at it in terms of relationship.

A common tale is of the college professor who is teaching a sociology class. The first question on his final exam is "What is the name of the janitor you walk past everyday to enter this classroom?" Few if any of the students can answer this simple question. Can we even begin to work for justice and sharing our wealth if we refuse to even acknowledge our neighbor sitting and struggling right next to us? Who do we walk past everyday with blinders carefully turned up?

I still believe that we are saved by grace alone, but I think these Luke parables are  wake-up call to the importance of prioritizing people over money. Open our eyes and truly look at those around us. We are to work for systems and structures, and yes - a government - that cares for the people or creates systems that allow equal opportunities for individuals to be supported in the basics.

The call to use all of our gifts - be they skills or financial wealth - is a strong one. I think that the Confession of 1967 does an excellent job of summarizing:

The reconciliation of humankind through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation.  Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples.  The church cannot condone poverty, whether it is the product of unjust social structures, exploitation of the defenseless, lack of national resources, absence of technological understanding, or rapid expansion of populations.  The church calls all people to use their abilities, their possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to them by God for the maintenance of their families and the advancement of the common welfare.  A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God.  Amen.

My approach to the parables is to take the lesson from it rather than scrutinize each piece literally. For our context today, I believe that Luke is hammering home the importance of our relationships with one another. God desires us to be in relationship with one another and not to be schismatic and devisive. This is often work of welcoming in and supporting those who are different and those who disagree with many of the values we hold dear. Respect and allowing everyone common dignity through the sharing of our wealth for relationship rather than extravagance or purely for personal benefit is just the first step toward the justice summarized in the confession above and encompassed in Jesus' instructions in the parables about the wealthy.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Left Behind - I Don't Think So!

Luke 8:26-39

What a ridiculous tale of demons asking to be thrust into pigs? How can we possibly relate to this scripture in modern times? I am not as quick to doubt the existance of demons as I once was because of people whom I respect reporting interactions and exorcisms. However, I do remain skeptical. This is not something that I have any experience with in my world today. What in the world can I pick up and carry as the lesson learned from this scripture?

I start by backing up and looking at where this lesson fits in the overall gospel of Luke. Luke had very definitive things to say about the authority and power of Jesus. At a quick glimpse, the hint of Legion as a name seems to imply that even the all-powerful Romans weren't enough to overcome Jesus. Perhaps a little tongue-in-check political commentary that they are pigs? But setting that aside, the most pressing issue for me here is the value of the individual. Jesus doesn't turn aside from this man who has been left naked and chained in the tombs.

He had basically been left for dead by the community. If that doesn't define unclean and misunderstood, I don't know what does. Look at Chapter 8. It begins with the parable of the sower. What is fertile ground for the seeds - for the Word of God? After the telling of this parable, Jesus is told that his mother and brothers are looking for him. Instead of going to see them, he re-defines family as those who hear and obey. He turns toward followers and away from biological family. Jesus nexts gets into a boat with the disciples. They fear for their life and ask him to save them from the storm. He calms the winds and waters but chastises these his closest followers for not having faith. These two groups are what we would expect to be those closest to Jesus!

We then have the demon possession story of this scripture selection. It concludes with the exorcized man wanting to follow and spread the word but the others are afraid. In the very next story, Jesus heals a woman of faith who touches his hem, and then he resurrects a little girl. Whew - what a loaded chapter. What is the thread through these stories? It seems to be emphasizing Jesus' power to heal and resurrect, but it also seems to point out that these miracles are not with the persons one would expect.

The fertile ground is not Jesus' mother and brothers, nor is it his disciples. The most faithful and those who receive attention here are the possessed man forgotten by others, the hemhorraging woman and a child. Luke seems to be pointing out yet again that the Messiah is not what we expect - not someone who rubs elbows with the powerful, not someone who shouts his accomplishments from the mountaintops, certainly not someone who gives any special privilege to those who are related to him.

Jesus is a messiah who did not leave even the least of these behind. He sought out those forgotten and overlooked by society. Those on whom the rest of us had given up. This chapter is chock full of hard-to-believe stories, but the point is clear. Jesus does not give up on us even when the world has long since passed us by as a lost cause. This should give each of us pause should we ever begin to point a finger in judgement. Or ever look at someone as a lost cause. Jesus does not give up on anyone. Jesus can overcome our demons, our illnesses, social stigma and even death. Following Him means seeing through a different lense and seeing the true worth and value of all as our brothers and sisters. Nobody Left Behind! Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Unexpected Places

Romans 5:1-5

How dare a scripture on endurance and suffering - one of being tempered in a pit of suffering and fire if you will - begin with words of peace and grace and conclude with love and hope? Yesterday, businesses and schools in my Texas hometown were a bit frantic and paranoid over a basic thunderstorm, and rightly so. The disasters of Oklahoma tornadoes earlier this week and the national disasters of the past few months have been more than enough to make anyone wonder where is God in all of this. But isn't that exactly where God is? In our wondering and searching and even shaking of our fists in anger. Isn't that where God is? Right beside us.

But that is so hard to see for the person who lost a loved one, the person who has nothing left, the person who is unemployed and has a family looking to them for support. How do I keep my faith through evil, disaster and the misfortunes of life? Where do I see God outside of my meditations and reading - real life? Where is God in the world?

Oh, I get it, I see God in the face of the teachers who despite their own suffering were willing to sacrifice for others, for the children. First responders live their lives giving this type response. They are the hands of God in our world. and, not to diminsh their bravery and service, but is that enough? When I am down in the muck and surrounded by fear? Where is God in the midst of this?

Do I have to retreat, go away to look for my thin place? A thin place to me is one of those 'whens' or 'wheres' in which we are drawn closer to God, a time or place where we don't have to search but the mystery and awe of faith seems to sparkle just a bit more clearly. The feeling of peace sneaks up on us and washes our souls. As I once read, Kierkegaard was cited as saying  he is drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments he can loosen his death grip on life, and can breathe again. Unfortunately, there is not a Fodor's listing of those places. The more we try to manipulate or plan such an experience, the more we seem to fail.

And, often it is not in my retreats or planned relaxation that I most experience thinness. How do we get better at recognizing these thin places more quickly? Do we not see them until well after we have passed through the fire? Do we have to already have the new eyes to see the grace we were experiencing before we can truly appreciate the times when we are more closely in touch with the Holy Spirit?

I associate thin places not with the trial and tribulation but with a bit of Irish brogue and a touch of magic. My fall-back stance on faith is that so much of it is outside of our understanding. I find this comforting personally, but as a pastor I find that it often fails to comfort those who look to me for solace. Perhaps it is a thinness in and of itself that the first response I have is anger with God.  At least it is where I look first?!

In the moment, turning to God in sadness or fear and struggling with the 'why' is a moment of faith. A moment of growth toward a stregthen character. I much prefer the peace and love of a moment appreciating the glory of God in creation on a mountaintop or on the sandy beach of a coastal town. But for me those are places of vacations. Thin places can sometimes be found there. My personal challenge for this week is how to find, or maybe better how to recognize a thin place in the midst of disaster. God is here and in our midst, with us. We are not alone. Sometimes we have help seeing the thin place through the selfless acts of others. Sometimes it just may take a little longer to see how the Holy Spirit is with us now, working through our thickness in love.

Many moments of neighbor reaching out happen in times of disaster or in the aftermath that never would occur in normal circumstances. I don't believe that the disasters were arranged by God for that purpose, but this is the Holy Spirit with us to strengthen us and help to pull down our barriers. We can't create the thin spaces, but we have hope and through grace we know that in love those thin spaces are more abundant than we realize. Our God of wonder and mystery is ever present with us and constantly poking through our thickness to make Herself more known to us. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Special Language

Romans 8:12-17
Acts 2:1-21

The Holy Spirit rightly plays a dominant role in our Pentecost traditions. This advocate that we have been sent is appealing and yet elusive. We are adopted into the family with all of the peace and with all of the strife. This family is not one where everything is promised to be easy. It does bring with it assurances of the peace of the Holy Spirit, but it also comes with the suspicion of drunkenness because we are not living according to the standards and expectations of the world.

These men with flames dancing on their heads speaking about the deeds of Christ so that all are able to understand as if in their native tongue - how are they normal? Wouldn't we look at such a scene today and think - that is one really bizarre family? Why in the world would I want to be adopted into that? Similarly looking at the images that media gives the Christian church today - why in the world would I want to be adopted into that?

What does it mean to be adopted into this family? Family identity is a lesson that we would do well to take from our Jewish brothers and sisters. It means honoring the past by not forgetting the traditions. It means embracing a great, far-reaching family. Sometimes it means being seen as the stranger or the different one. It means standing up for justice even when that isn't necessarily what society agrees with at that given time.

Christian family is a language all its own but one that is open to all. A friend said it well when talking of her travels to her childhood home. The first few days  she said she speaks the language, but about the third day she starts to think in that language too. Then, her grammar, syntax and actions begin to match her words. Our faith is like this. It takes practice to match actions, syntax and thoughts to words. We are blessed by the advocate of the Holly Spirit with us.

We don't always pay attention and remain aware enough of that part of being in the Christian family. It is the ideal when we are speaking and living the language. It's not easy. Taking the Christian stance and living as the body of Christ puts us in a counter-cultural position. Our suffering may not be as extreme as Christ's but we are not promised freedom from suffering. However, our lives need not be controlled by the fear nor driven by enslavement to earthly expectations.

Rather than a fear or denial of the literal flesh, this is speaking of allowing us to live free from expectations and enslavement to our worldly possessions, human expectations, finances, peer pressure, and idols. Part of speaking this gift of the Christian language is that we will never be alone.We will be encouraged out of our slavery over and over to push us back into living the language to work to free others as well. Always aided and yet pushed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in all and through all, by our side as we call Abba! Father!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

All Filled Up?

John 14:15-27

Given all of the options for this week, why do I feel myself pulled back again and again to this lectionary text? Isn't this just a pullout from an exceedingly wordy discourse in John? We seldom hear Jesus go on and on in sermon style. Rather than cutting to the chase or telling a neat parable, that is what these verses of John seem to do. But they contain so many nuggets. The words from this scripture have found their way into many things as words of comfort, frequently in funerals to comfort the bereaved. But while this scripture promises peace and comfort, it goes beyond that as well.

As a mother of two, I remember looking back to when I was pregnant with my second child. How am I going to find enough love, time and energy for another? My heart is surely already filled to bursting with my husband and daughter. Pete and I semed to spend hours just staring into the amazing eyes of our daughter when she was first-born. Will I be able to love another child as much? Amazingly, the human heart seems to have an ever-expanding capability. Larger families are often proof of this - I have a friend with 11 children, and she would gladly welcome more.

I am reminded of the school tale about a jar. The teacher asks the students if the jar is full when she puts as many rocks into it as it can possibly fit. The stuudents' answers are split with some thinking it might hold more. The teacher replies no that the jar is not full and adds some pebbles. She asks again. More students think it is now full, but the teacher pulls out sand. The sands shift between the rocks, filling in the crevices. "Now," the teacher asks, "Is it full?" The class responds that yes the jar is full now. Not quite - the teacher pulls out water and adds it to the jar. The water, gently condenses the sand, trickles between and fills the pockets left . The jar is now full.

What is going to fill the empty space in the disciples lives when Jesus is gone? How are we to exist in this world alone? Jesus offers comfort by saying He will leave us His peace and the the Father will send us the Spirit. The Spirit will teach us and remind us of what Jesus has said. The translation of the Greek parakletos is Advocate or Comforter. This is what the Spirt is for us - both a comforter, challenger and defender.

Think to your favorite teacher - be it in school or a special life lesson. I am reminded of my father teaching my children to fish. He began with the knowledge of equipment needed and how to dress and prepare yourself for a day of fishing. You need proper clothes and sunscreen to protect yourself. You also need a life jacket if you are going to be on the water in a boat fishing. He carefully protected my children.

No - not my family - but cool fishing pic....

You need to be prepared with the fishing pole, the bobber, the hook, and proper bait for the kind of fishing you are going to undertake. He prepared them for their work in the world.

But, then the real lessons begin. How to place the bait on the hook, how to select the right spot to try for a fish, how to cast the line to that spot. And then... the teacher sits by your side - sometimes in silence of accompaniment, sometimes in friendly conversation, sometimes in challenge of task at hand. The work of the task alongside the teaching of patience.

The gift of time and being with us is the closest comparison to how the Holy Spirit is with us for God does not give to us in the ways the world does but in ways beyond our wildest expectations. Sitting with us throughout our life journey, comforting us in times of need, bring peace to a world that seems to overwhelm with tumult and then pushing us to open our hearts to be willing to expand and then expand some more. The Advocate will be a defender when we need protection, but then much like our many teachers will push us out of the comfortable nest to fly and work in this world.

For isn't the best teacher the one who works themselves out of a job. The one who teaches us to serve and work for justice in the world. To be the tools of God - so filled by the Holy Spirit that we do not feel alone, and we serve so that none of the children of God are allowed to feel abandoned and alone. The Advocate is with us forever, we are never alone. The Spirit abides with us and is in us.

This Holy Spirit moves beyond and is more than our imagery of a peaceful dove, beyond and is more than the protector, the vengeance of a roaring flame, expands beyond the giving waters of life to imagery of a breath. A powerful breath that expands us and then expands us again to be more and more filled, never alone but filled with the love and power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tell Us Plainly

John 10:22-30

Interesting that the Jews in the Gospel According to John should be saying exactly the same thing so many of us today are thinking. Why can't Jesus just tell them clearly and succinctly that He is the messiah? He says in his reponse in verse 25 that he has said this, but for the life of me, I don't know where it was ever stated that clearly. Jesus speaks to us in parables and through the way he lived his life. Jesus showed us repeatedly and often but doens't use the clearcut statement.

Messy thing faith. No wonder so many of us start trying to map out things that the Bible says to specifics in the world today and in history. As a former computer programmer, wouldn't life be grand if it were a series of clearcut if/then statements? There would be no ugly terrorist attacks without warning or explanation. Death would happen in its expected time and never too early.

I have heard so many people this week falling back to the Psalms - even did so myself. In response to the horror of the Boston bombs - Do not fear! I am guilty of fear and need to read these words over and over. Fear is exactly why terrorism works and why we want our bibles and scripture to be succinct and clear. If it were all laid out for us, we would understand. Wouldn't we? We could point to an action or experience that would cause evil.

What we have trouble with are the experiences where evil can't be explained away in our world. God is with me - I know this, but in times like these it feels much like a platitude. We turn to prayer, anger, we join together and honor the heroes. All of our responses to hurt and the fear of 'why' are realistic attempts to understand the why and overcome the fear.

In the valleys of life being angry at God is natural and healthy. Questioning and being there with one another is what faith is all about. Life as a series of clear if/then statements reduces the mystery of God. The wonder of miracles that surround us everyday shouldn't so quickly take a back seat to the horror when evil rears its ugly head.

'If/then' does not leave a place for miracles. It limits our God and tries to box God in to rules that we understand. We want to define the relationship. Wanting a God who announces that Jesus is messiah in a way we like and who doesn't allow terrorism is trying to not only force limits to a God we build - a mere idol who follows our rules. But it also is not acknowledging that we are a player in the relationship and given freedom of will by our God. God is not the author of disaster and terror.

God sits beside us and comforts us, mourns with us, struggles with us. But God is beyond our understanding and relates to us weak humans in ways that push and challenge. How are we stretching to meet God in that relationship? The Koinonia of our faith is working it out to be in relationship with those who hate as well as with those who love. How do we grow in the world to be in relationship together as God's tools  - as comforter, teacher, caregiver, friend to all? How do we work it out with one another to understand those who feel driven to desperate actions. How do our various religions work together to stop resorting to only a relationship of retaliation and action against one another?

This is a week of struggle and challenge with wanting clear-cut answers: Why did this happen? I picture a God who feels the same way of Her children. A God who is also asking - Why? God desires a relationship and love with all people. Rather than handing it to us on a platter defined for us, the mystery and wonder of our relationship with God is that it is genuine and something we have to come to with our whole selves.

God does not reach out and define our lives but gives us freedom to muddle or soar. Each of us in our own ways, working together in community in a mixed up world. Clear answers aren't always the best for us bumbling humans who are struggling through life with good intentions. Our journeys together are all about working faith out together. Working out how to live together in this world.

God does not cause the evil but cries and struggle with us as a dynamic part of the relationship with humanity. Koinonia calls us to table together, to life together to love one another in ways that explore and challenge rather than hand simple answers and coddle. We are still growing together in love.

Why didn't Jesus tell us exactly who he was? He did, just not in the crisp way I wanted to hear it and when I wanted to hear it. For after all if I look enough it is within the message: John 10:30 "The Father and I are one."

Look for the love, push ourselves this week to reach out in new and maybe uncomfortable ways. Expand the relationship in love, koinonia together as we struggle through difficult times with God
as the children of God. But bound together - always together.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Breakfast

John 21:1-19

Breathing a sigh of relief last week I set about cleaning my desk to find the surface again, catching up on e-mails, cleaning laundry, shopping for food to actually feed my kids something other than fast food. Pastors are probably worse than anyone else in getting so caught up in Holy Week that everything else goes on hold. And, perhaps rightly, this week should get special attention and hold a prime real estate in our priorities for the year. Yet, here I am back in my routine.

Much like those disciples, when all else fails - it's back to the norm. The disciples had trouble recognizing Jesus on his first two appearances, but he spoke to them and charged them and sent them out into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit in John chapter 20 verse 21. This week, we are in the very next scene. Instead of doing something profound, inspiring and motivational to change the world, we find the disciples fishing.

Much like me, and I would guess many of you, after the celebration of Easter, not much remains to show the transformative power of this event in our lives other than maybe some leftover ham or Easter candy. The discpline of Lent is quickly thrown by the wayside or slowly being whittled back by the demands of daily life.

Take comfort in these passages from John. Here is Peter who is grilled by God but turns out okay in the end. Peter is that character in the plot who is enthusiastic, good intentioned, and jumps in with both feet - in this case quite literally. Maybe he should look before he leaps. He always seems to accompany that enthusiasm with awkwardness or to instinctively take wrong turns. He is the only disciple who is both charged to be the rock and foundation of the church and rebuked as Satan to get behind Jesus and quit tempting him.

I see us in modern society as Peters - bumbling along with good intentions but often taking the exact wrong actions. Our churches are perfect examples of this. We developped a system. It seemed to work for so many years. For us Presbyterians, if there is a problem we are willing to reform ourselves - yet decently and in good order with a few committees. That dreaded word change. Easter demands change of ourselves and our churches.

I would love to hide in my work with a task list, but Easter and the miracle of resurrection screams at me in its gruesome reality and amazing miracle to look at the world around me. We are sent into the world. Sent implies moving from my comfort spot behind my desk, or for the disciples away from their nets and boats. Jesus knows this is hard for us. His third appearance may seem tailored to Peter's need for forgiveness. Peter denied Jesus three times and is now asked if he loves Jesus three times. The parellelism indicates that this is an important place and necessary for Peter.

Yet, it goes beyond just Peter. In verse 12, even though Jesus asked them to join him for breakfast at the fire, the disicples don't join him there. The fish and loaves are like communion, followers feasting together. Yet, it has lost the comfort of the Last Supper during Passover. The disciples are no longer comfortable now that they are facing a resurrected Jesus.

Jesus sees our hesitancy after Easter and loves us still. Jesus asked the disciples to take a leap of faith, make a change and throw their nets off the wrong side of the boat - relying on left hands to drag in their catch. And they did, but the steps to the campfire on the beach felt longer and longer as the disciples approached. Jesus actually, in verse 13, comes to them. Jesus didn't abandon the disciples when their faith wasn't strong enough to carry them across the beach. He reached out to them.

Funny thing about Jesus coming to them - those Greek verbs in verse 13 are all present tense. Jesus comes to them, Jesus takes them bread, Jesus gives it to them. And again when Jesus is talking to Peter - there is lots of word play with the Greek words used for love and knowledge. Jesus stretches Peter to a new kind of love, a deeper love beyond just simple friendship. At the same time, he pushes Peter to a knowledge that is stronger and spritual rather than objective and basic.

We are comfortable with the simplified English translation that loses the depth of the original Greek, yet the message in verse 13 of active verbs is a powerful reassurance that regardless of where we are in our faith journey Jesus will meet us there. And then, the challenge - Jesus comes to meet us but doesn't stop there. He prods and pokes at our awkwardness and harnesses our enthusiasm. We are sent out of our comfort zones into the world to proclaim a deepened love and to share a spritual knowledge. We take comfort in the Last Supper, and
we are called to a First Breakfast - Jesus gives us sustenance to go out into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit to promote justice and change. He is Risen!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter - Is it all symbolic?

John 20:1-18

Why do we as pastors look at this week and scratch our heads? Perhaps it is the challenge of saying something 'new' at the biggest Holy Day of services in our year. Seasoned pastors struggle not to repeat, huh? Weird, but there it is. Even our Bible study this morning had some awkward pauses of 'what to study'. Don't we deal with this same story every year? Leave it to the inspiration of an honest friend in our midst to start the conversation rolling. Not - what new can we say, but - how do we really understand resurrection? And, more importantly, what does it mean to us?

Okay - so the way she worded the question was, "My friend is an intellectual who just can't believe in a bodily resurrection, but she still identifies herself as a Christian. How do we see this? Symbolically, literally? Are you still a Christian if you don't believe in bodily resurrection?" There was a collective sigh in the room as 20 people began to struggle with the elephant in the room. Is Christianity an outdated religion that has been proven wrong by science and is only believeable if you suspend intelligence? I firmly believe NO!

Sooo is everything in the Bible reduceable to symbolic fluff that has a good intent on teaching us through metaphors and loose stories? Gee - I have no bias there, NO again! It is not totally symbolic. Something must have happened after the death of Jesus on the cross that was so amazing that it captured the attention of the world and has held it for so long. We weren't all dupes in the largest scam around. Nor are we all doubting Thomases who have to touch to believe.

So where do we stand. Was Jesus resurrected in a physical body? Some in the room in my study said absolutely. Some said absolutely not. Some fell in between with a resurrection in a 'heavenly' body. Some were silent or perhaps fell into a gray area somewhere in the middle. What I find amazing and proof in itself that the resurrection exists and is powerful and at work among us is that the room still sat together and discussed/debated/analyzed despite our differences of understanding. In respect and love together struggling with God's Word.

The conundrum of proof, literalism vs symbolism vs some compromise. I dare say it doesn't matter. I firmly believe that God is capable of bodily resurrection, and I also believe that it wouldn't be required for the miracle of Jesus' resurrection to hold the same power. My intellectual meets my faith in that I believe God stands outside all rules and understandings of science. I believe in the miracle and in the limitations of understandings of humans. Time and again our hard and fast rules, our knowledge, facts have been proven erroneous.

Our gospels don't describe a physical body. In John, Mary who one would assume should recognize Jesus mistook him for the gardener and is then told not to touch Jesus. Luke tells us He is risen, and then the disciples' "eyes were kept from recognizing Him." Matthew has women grasping a 'raised' Jesus' feet, but some of the disciples doubted. Mark simply says He has been raised, and the women run away in fear.

Wouldn't it be easier to have hard and fast answers in black and white about why Jesus might not have been recognized? Woudn't it be better if we could all touch the nail holes like Thomas? EEuw, perhaps not. (Gross in physical repulsion and fear of daring to demand such.) We live in a world of gray. God has presented us with many ways to understand creation and love and to grow closer to God. Certainly not the least of these is Jesus who proved that even the largest limitation placed on humans - death - has no power over God. All gospels have an empty tomb in common.
How we want to see God - physically, symbolically, whatever is far less important than the fact that God came in human form, overcame death and is Alive!

The empty tomb is the point! Like our divisive denominations who get caught up in side issues, I think we tend to have an eye slip. We are diverted from the main point because it doesn't fit our rules/our norm. This messiah wasn't what we would think of as kingly! This messiah didn't defend against all enemies and instead went to death on a cross. This messiah didn't follow our scientific rules and stay put in the tomb. We think and want so much to understand our world and to define our God. I want every t crossed and every i dotted according to the established decorum of my time. But God is outside of our understanding. My eye slips to the argument and piece I can try to define and hold in my hand. God can be and do in ways that are beyond anything we can begin to grasp.

Instead of giving us up for a lost cause, God came in human form. My personal understanding is that the 'body' that was raised was a body like that in whose image we are made not necessarily a normal physical human body. But after death and resurrection, our eyes too would have trouble recognizing Him. I'm okay with not fully being able to describe that because it still shows a God not afraid to get down in the dirt with common man and live in order to understand us fully. And to then triumph over death. It gives me hope for what is beyond. It gives me hope for a vision of a future earth where all are welcomed in love and the door is barred to none. Nothing can separate us from this all-powerful, extravagant love. Nothing - not even our own lack of understanding or judgments of ourselves or peers.

That, that is the amazing gift of Easter. A grace from which none are turned away. What an incredible love so vast it encompasses all our understandings and keeps going, knowing no bounds. He is Risen!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

You Like Her Better

Luke 11-32

Studying this text in various groups this week has allowed me to glimpse a shared theme of family expectations. Family is so hard and so vital! One of the main cornerstones of my faith is koinonia - relationship. The tangled web of interrelatedness among friends and family and our connectedness to God. And, isn't that what we are all about as Christians anyway?

The complex way we influence each other in biological families is just the tip of the iceberg as we extend that to our church families and the dynamics within the church. How do we relate, interact, love and worship together?

Teaching confirmation last night, one of the youth asked for clarification on grace and what it means. Struggling with that with her and then continuing on my own meditations has led to some insight on family. I explained to her that an easy illustration comes to us from Romans 6 - we can't be sin free. But that does not give us carte blanche to go about lives like we want relying on Jesus forgiveness and not trying to live following His example to the best of our ability.

Think of it like this I continued - Do you always behave in a way that your parents approve of? No. Do your parents get angry with you and sometimes not like you very much? Yes. But do they ALWAYS love you? Yes. (I'm sorry for groups where that is not true of all parents, but I knew it held with these particular kids) That is something like grace. Grace is the gift we receive through Jesus Christ - an invitation into the love of being in relationship and in the Christian family.

In Luke's story of the prodigal son, the story is similar. The younger son is surprisingly welcomed back with feasting. The son who remained and 'did what he was supposed to' is disgruntled and doesn't understand. Our God is a mysterious yet gracious God. It is not for us to decide who deserves the love of family, nor is it for us to try to earn that grace.

It's easy to put myself in the shoes of the sibling doing what I was supposed to - I am big on following rules. But, being human, I have fallen short. Iamgine yourself in the shoes of the prodigal son. How was I received in family and friends when this happened? I don't know about your experience, but when I was welcomed back or forgiven, it was almost harder than facing expected consquences. We have trouble with gifts.

How many times has someone asked if you needed help and you said no when the answer was really - YES! Most of us get tied up in our pride and don't take money handouts or help. We are taught that we should earn things. We should be independent and not burden others. Even in our Christian family, we prefer to be the giver than the recipient. Think on the words of the scripture today - the prodigal didn't come back for a handout. He came back because he thought that his father's servants had it better than where he was serving. He completely abased himself and expected to be a servant instead of welcomed in as a son.

That grace thing - even though we know we should expect it, we grapple with the concept of something competely undeserved, unearned. We want to rank, justify and prioritize. American society certainly teaches that we should be like the older son in this story. And, Jesus does not turn this son away. The father tells the older son that everything I own is yours. He pleads with the older son to come back inside. That nigling feeling in the back of our mind that gets out the scales and measures what we are worth,and what others are worth, and worse that assesses what we are worth by looking at others - this feeling need to be set aside.

The parable is not saying one son is better than the other or more deserving. But, I can't think of even one family where I at least one if not all of the siblings have said/thought the famous - 'but you love her/him better' when measuring how they rank up in family. The grace of the Father is offered to all His children. We are not in a position to judge and rank. God is the great flattener -the equalizer who give us an undeniable gift. When even the least one goes astray, they are welcomed back. Grace is favor, kindness, love extended to all. God's saving grace is extended to all through the faith of Jesus Christ. There is abundance and plenty.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Repent Ye!

Luke 13:1-9

Let's just start with some honesty - there is nothing worse about religion to me than when God is used to justify a disaster. Really - did God intend for innocent children to be shot, or those going about their daily lives to be swept up in a storm having their lives abruptly ripped apart? Does God need to stoop to petty retaliation if we are misbehaving? What comfort is there to be found in looking at bad things that happen in our lives and thinking we are being punished? The wrong kind of comfort!

If we need to be in control so much that we must have a 'why' to every occurance, then we are not trusting in God at all. We want for everything in our lives to be understandable by our rules and concepts of how the world works. But there is chaos, there is random misfortune, there is evil. I don't believe that God is the hand controlling any of these. From 1 Corinthians, we are told that God's ways are beyond us and God's thoughts are above us. True power is found in a God who doesn't have to exercise complete control and act as a puppeteer. This powerful God does not feel the need to explain to us the mystery of 'why'.

Instead we should focus on what is more important. We are told to repent. Icky word repent. I picture Bible-thumping, fear mongerers of television evangelism at its worst. We are to repent or face true damnation. What in the world does that mean? Is Jesus saying that these disasters in Luke weren't punishment, but if I don't repent my disaster will be? I can't help but struggle with that. I do not believe that Christianity is meant to be a faith driven by fear.

Believe or else. Give up your sin, or else...

When all else fails - go back to the Greek! What does this word 'repent' mean. Manteo - to turn toward. With the Christian spin being to turn toward God. Okay - so that doesn't appear as threatening. I've softened it enough to be palatable. Uh-oh. It continues with to turn your life toward God - this is impossible to do without embracing change on what such a turn means. It means a completely different kind of life from before the turn.

Being a good Presbyterian, I've always embraced Christ. What turn is needed? I do not think as is a common interpretation that repent means to turn away from sin. If this were truly possible, grace would be meaningless. I would not need Jesus if I could accomplish such a turning on my own. Forgiveness comes with confession of sin. But as Romans 6 tells us that forgiveness does not mean we can just rest on our laurels and live however we want. Repentance is to remember to focus our lives on God - perhaps not to get so confident that I feel I have been turned that way always. This is surely only a message for others....

So, what is this Luke passage asking of us? To repent - to turn toward Christ. But that means to live in a way that is oriented toward Christ. Rather than trying to map out an explanation and spin our wheels with a 'why', we should focus on orientation of our lives. The 'why' is not for me to know - but the comfort is that it is not a vengeful God as the 'easy' explanation. Not an easy equation do x - God will destroy you, don't do x - get to heaven. There is gray, lives full of gray in our uniqueness and interactions.

Further comfort comes with the story of the fig tree. Such trees are usually abundant in production of fruit. Yet, even when this one is not doing as it should, it deserves the nurture and care - maybe even a little bit more time to turn the right direction. We have a reprieve - more time to turn our lives toward God. Looking at the Greek again, we humans have made it a 'year' but the Greek is much more vague. It implies to wait into the future. We are all unique, we are all special enough for caring without a calendar deadline and specific steps required to accomplish the goal.

Take comfort. Ours is not to know 'why' or even 'when'. Rather than focusing on the helplessness we sometimes feel of not understanding bad things that happen in the world, turn toward God. Take God your anger, your fear, your tears, your love - and your lives. Share all of your lives with God and then turn to the world in a response of service. Share God's love rather than worry with pointing fingers and justifying events, and this world can't help but be a better place. We aren't promised an end to struggle and strife, but we are promised relationship and love to help get us through.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ole Mother Hen

Luke 13:31-35
Philippians 3:17-4:1

Wow -what to do with this scripture reading? Jesus derogatorily calls Herod a fox. Then he refers to himself as a hen trying to gather in her brood. When I take these pictures deeper with what they mean to me today, I do not at all get a favorable picture of either Jesus or Herod. Herod is a wily fox that uses its cunning and intelligence for power, conquest and control. Calling Herod a fox still sounds insulting today and would have been at that time as well.

But then - when I look up mother hen and think about it, that imagery has morphed in our world to not at all be a favorable thing either. A mother hen is an over-protective mom using what meager intelligence she can muster to coral and heard - yes control her offspring. This type of mothering is not something that we aspire toward today as parents.

Yet that same hen is sacrificial - willing to insert herself between danger and her children no matter the cost. And, here is Jesus using feminine imagery for himself! Imagery of trying to gather in those who refuse to be herded or protected. Ouch - let's turn to Philippians and see if the message for this week is any easier there.

Paul speaks with tears of those who live as enemies of the cross. That's not me - I cry indignantly. I am that little chick who may or may not be obediently huddling under the mother hen's wings. I am certainly not an enemy of the cross. Or, am I. What is an enemy of the cross? This morning's study group addressed that question, and we couldn't really come up with people in our everyday lives who are true enemies of the cross. Until I tried to define what that means.

When we go about our discipline for Lent, we focus STILL on the Easter. And, this is a good thing. But if you are a Presbyterian like me, or I suspect from many other traditions, we like to focus on the celebration too much. We are more comfortable with the mystery, awe and wonder surrounding resurrection that we are with the nitty gritty of crucifixion. We are enemies of the cross in its ghastly ugliness as a torturous means of death. Remember the outcry that the movie The Passion was just too literal?

I like the imagery of a mother hen rounding up her chicks and beating her wings in ferocious denial of the fox. Yet, I cringe at the imagery of the slaughtered hen with chicks safely hiding from the predator.

Jesus has that power of protection, the power from resurrection - power over death. The tears in Paul's eyes are from those who refuse to accept the gift of this power of protection. Jesus did not give us easy imagery or words that were simple to decipher. Our majestic, all powerful messiah - a hen! From the littlest of things to the grandest - God is there connecting us all, inviting us in. God works through all of creation to enter into relationship with you and me. Scripture forces us to face the imagery - ugly and beautiful that encompasses our God. As we go through Lent, the challenge is to remember the ungainly ole mother hen, let her into our lives and not leap too quickly to the sailing, swooping dove!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Greening Time

Luke 4:1-13

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in Lent. Popular culture will be asking you 'What are you giving up for Lent?' A Facebook post by Texas Presbyterian Foundation pretty much summarizes my thoughts on that quite well - FAST from judging others, FEAST on Christ dwelling in them. So many of us get into the 'feeling' of this season but really don't stop to think what it means.

Barbara Brown Taylor helps some - "'Lent' itself means 'spring' - the greening of the human soul, pruned with repentance, fertilized with fasting, spritzed with self-appraisal, mulched with prayer." I can't help but jump back to my theme from last week's transfiguration. Jesus shone brightly white, but the rest of us are an ordinary green. Perhaps this ordinary green is not so easy either! I take the words of another superstar - Kermit the Frog. "It's not easy being green. You blend in with so many ordinary things.

Greening of the soul - in the past I've given up Coke, red meat, chocolate. What did this really mean to me? It was a discipline and reminder, but was I really venturing into my own wilderness of temptation? That is the essence of these 40 days. To follow the example and discipline of Jesus by focusing our own efforts on a 40 day intentional practice. Forty days is what it takes to truly work at a practice or sacrifice to see differently.

I have heard many people this year giving up Facebook or a cell phone. When is something a wilderness, and when is it just a convenience of life? I suggest that the difference might be in how we use the items we are chosing to give up or take up. Instead of just going through the motions of tradition, are we working at leading a life that doesn't jump to the familiar to fill time? Are we truly interacting with people, really seeing them or just filling time in a mind-numbing blur? FEAST on Christ dwelling in others and ourselves.

The wilderness for me is a place of beauty. It is where we see the creation all around us. We get a first-hand, up close appreciation of God's miracle of life. Yet, wilderness is a place of temptation - a temptation to ignore this beauty and faith reflection. Perhaps to use phones, music, tv, Facebook etc. to fill the time instead of looking around us. Awareness of others, of creation, of how the Holy Spirit is moving in and through us. That most precious gift of our time.

How is the Holy Spirit present in our world today? In ways that we don't see without practice? In ways that a little discipline of any sort, of giving something up or embracing something may help us see more fully? God works in the green of human ordinariness, in the green of wilderness. In the metaphor of a garden: pruning, training and fertilizing us. Green is here everyday, but 40 days of focus helps us to see it through new eyes. To pay attention and see Christ in others. Even Kermit decides in the end that "Green is beautiful, and it's what I want to be." May the Holy Spirit be with you in this Lenten Season.