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.