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Blessings Upon Blessings

michael-heuss-424841-unsplash2 Corinthians 3: 13-5:1 and Mark 3: 20-24, 30-35

Who is Jesus?

Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of Mark, doesn’t make many explicit claims about who he is.  Mark was the earliest gospel written and is more focused on the actions of Jesus than theological speculation.  Most of the time, Jesus let’s those around him decide who they think he is, and then while they are considering the options, Jesus just keeps healing with power, preaching with authority, and caring for every person who comes to him.  Sometimes they figure out who he is by his actions and words – sometimes they still misunderstand and Jesus has to help them out a bit more.  In the Mark passage for this morning, there are two wrong ideas about Jesus and then Jesus tries to help the folks out – pointing back to his hearers then and now with a challenge about family.

What do you do with a problem like Jesus?

The passage starts by telling us that Jesus was acting outside of normal expectations.  People just didn’t know what to do with him.  His family didn’t know what to do with him.  They go after him – maybe because they are embarrassed, maybe because they are worried about him. They seem to think that Jesus has lost touch with reality and they are concerned.

Jesus, in simple terms, didn’t talk about God in the ways that people expected in his time.  He spoke about God as up close and personal, caring about people – ALL people – in an immediate way.  And he acted differently than was expected too – he attracted folks that most people wouldn’t give the time of day and persisted in teaching them, healing them, caring for them.  He wasn’t popular with the leadership of the synagogues or temple in Jerusalem because he challenged some of their traditional ways of interpreting scripture and doing ritual acts. For example, he would tell people that they were forgiven, which was a prerogative of the Temple and threatened their place in people’s lives. And he cast out demons – which made authorities suspicious about that kind of power. He thinks differently. He does things differently.  That is threatening to the status quo, if anyone pays attention to him.

In  Jesus Christ, Superstar, the temple authorities sing, “He is dangerous,” while the “blockheads in the street” are singing: “Hosanna Superstar,. Jesus Christ, Superstar…”

Caiaphas
Ah gentlemen, you know why we are here
With not much time, and quite a problem here

Crowd Outside
Hosanna! Superstar!

Annas
Listen to that howling mob
Of blockheads in the street
A trick or two with lepers
And the whole town’s on its feet

All
He is dangerous! He is dangerous!

Crowd
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Tell us that you are who they say you are

Priests
He is dangerous, dangerous
That man is in town right now
To whip up some support
A rabble rousing mission
That I think we must abort
He is dangerous

Crowd
Jesus Christ, Superstar

Priests
He is dangerous![i]

We all know people who didn’t fit the normal expectations.  Sometimes, if we know and love them, we call them free spirits, independent thinkers, or say they march to the beat of a different drummer.  If we don’t know and love them, we might say they are off beat, off center, or an odd duck.

The verb used in verse 21 literally means “to stand outside of” or “to be beside oneself,” meaning that they thought Jesus was out of his mind.  He was indeed off center – if that means having a different center. His center was to do God’s will, which is not the center for most of us, then or now. And because he was different, spoke differently, valued people in ways different than the customs of his time – he was perceived as a threat and accused of being in league with Satan.

Jesus didn’t fit the mold. He challenged expectations, and had a different center. He was perceived as a threat to the community, and dangerous.

It is easy to fall into the trap of condemning or accusing Jesus family and the religious leaders of his time. We see Jesus as Savior and Lord and wonder why they can’t see it themselves. But we do it too.

Before we are too hard on Jesus’ family or accusers, we need to understand the very human dynamic here.  When we get comfortable, we resent anyone who challenges our comfort.  We all tend to be defensive of our traditions.  Even somewhat moldy Christmas ornaments or one-eyed snowmen make their way onto the Christmas tree year after year if the memories they represent are strong enough, right?  In the same way, we get comfortable with religious practices that may have lost their meaning and we hold on to the forms for dear life rather like those one-eyed snowmen.  (No, don’t argue with me – we have them at our house too.)

We get comfortable with tradition to the extent that we turn a jaundiced eye towards the new things that God might be doing.  We feel threatened by new ideas or things that rock the status quo.  Even the brightest and best of us can fall into this trap.

Mack. At the time of the Bombing of Bagdad which began the First Gulf War, Mack was the Lay Leader of his church.  He took that responsibility seriously.  He was there almost any time the building was open.  He supported his pastors, whomever was sent.  He was involved in the community and had invited many people to worship over his lifetime in that community.  And after the bombing of Bagdad, he invited his pastor for lunch to beg her NOT to say anything about the start of the war in the service that week.  He knew that every leading denomination except the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and Missouri Synod Lutherans had already spoken out against the war.  But Mack was afraid that a statement on the war would cause conflict in the church – and so he asked his pastor not to say anything about it.  He was afraid – and that prevented him in that moment from saying or doing something that he believed in.

Even the best of us can get comfortable with tradition – afraid of change – and fall in the human dynamic of accusation of anyone that we perceive is rocking our comfortable boat.

  • Family, says Jesus, are those who do God’s will. Not those who are blood relations, but those who understand us and are united with us in living as persons seeking the kindom of God.  Those blood relationships that define our first family are not as significant as those real relationships that grow out of our shared life of faith together.

We understand this on an intuitive level.  I would guess that all of us have collected people along the way who aren’t on our family tree and claimed them as family.  Brothers, sisters, a few extra grandparents along the way….that’s what we are talking about.  And when those other relationships are rooted in a shared living relationship of Jesus and struggling together in the life of faith, they are closer than the brothers and sisters we grew up with. “Faith family.”

Many of you know that this past week I was on a trip to Washington, DC with some of the congregation from Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood.  Their hospitality was very gracious and the trip was valuable beyond my ability to explain as we seek to build the relationships among the Methodist churches in our cluster.  One of the learnings on the trip had to do with family.  I was introduced to a woman named Christine Hedgley – she introduced herself to me as Christine. But everyone else from the church who was a part of the group called her, “Mother,” or “Mother Hedgley.”  Her daughter just called her, “Mom,” but everyone else shared stories when I asked of the many ways that she had taught them in the faith, or modeled for them what it means to be a person of faith and conscience in a largely secular and unbelieving world.  Story after story of people who claimed her as their “mother in faith.”

Mark 3: 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

NOT that being a family of faith makes for a perfect family.  We have disagreements and clashes of personality just like any other family.  But Jesus reminds us, perhaps with an eye roll at the accusation that he, who cast out demons could not be in league with them.  He reminds us that a house divided against itself cannot stand – a family divided cannot offer the loving shelter that is needed to all of its members.  In fact, a family divided into groups that fight each other will fall apart. And St. Paul would add a few words of encouragement here – that we have the spirit of faith, and so we do not lost heart.  We do not let momentary troubles distract us from the Glory of God.  We fix our eyes on what is unseen, what is eternal – an eternal house not built by human hands.

Jesus invites us in this text from Mark to increase our understanding of family.  We can claim kinship with those who live in the presence of God. Doing the will of God together will help us connect with our true and deepest selves.  Doing the will of God together puts us in a kinship relationship with Jesus, and gives us the opportunity to keep expanding our kinship circle with others who are doing the will of God. We can move beyond the people we lived with in our formative years to those we grow with in faith. Then we find the blessings – blessings of family who understand and love us – blessings upon blessings.

ANNAS, one of the Temple priests, poses the question:

What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?
Miracle wonderman, hero of fools.

Perhaps we have found the answer:

Stop fighting him or denying him for who he is…. Instead Love him. Follow him. Find family – kin – through him. While things aren’t perfect and hard times come, there are blessings upon blessings.

[i] http://www.lyricsdepot.com/jesus-christ-superstar/this-jesus-must-die.html.
Photo by Michael Heuss on Unsplash

 

 

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Becoming a New Creation – “Living Out Loud”

val-vesa-624638-unsplash

I Samuel 17: 1, 4-11, 17-24, 32-37 and 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10

In  Driving Miss Daisy, Miss Daisy has to adjust to a good many things as she is aging and the world keeps changing.  In one scene, she and Boolie, her son, are talking about a dinner in the area where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is to speak.  She is eager to go, but when she asks Boolie to go with her, he explains that he’d like to – but doesn’t think he can. He is afraid of what other businessmen would think, perhaps take their business elsewhere.  But Boolie’s fear won’t prevent his mother from going.  But then, in the car, she asks Hoke if he wanted to go with her….and discovers with surprise that inviting him to attend the dinner with her didn’t occur to her until Boolie said something, and then when they are on the way.  Through the 25 years of the movie, Miss Daisy keeps unfolding layers of who she is to discover both her boldness as she lives towards her dying and her sometimes still foolish limitations.

[i]IN VAIN – Empty (kenos)

 Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 

From time to time, we all feel like our faith is non-existent.  We feel hollowed-out inside – empty of any faith we once had.  There are other times, when we may not feel empty, but we seem to be missing the mark.  Those who nurture us in faith are concerned when we hit an “Empty time.”

At the start of the morning reading from Corinthians, Paul expresses his concern that the church at Corinth seems to be lacking something in how they are living out their faith.  He is afraid that they are receiving the grace of God IN VAIN.  The Greek is kenos =  empty.  Their faith is empty. They aren’t living out the gospel.

In other parts of the letter, Paul explains that they are not demonstrating love and compassion or each other. That’s a HUGE problem for anyone identified as part of the church of Jesus Christ.  (LOVE)

After all, Jesus showed love rather universally.  He loved broken-down invalids and cast-away sinners, the followers who continually disappointed him and even those who sought his death.  For those who follow Jesus, the church which is called “the body of Christ,” love is a pretty good baseline.  We even sing it, “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love.”   A church that isn’t identified with LOVE isn’t living out the gospel. Their faith is pretty empty.

Trusting in God. Paul also accuses them of not trusting in God enough to let God work in their lives. He fully expects that God’s transforming (that means changing) grace would be VISIBLE in their lives if they are living out the gospel.

Instead:

  • the church is arguing over differences in beliefs, with people attempting to persuade, bully or browbeat others into their point of view.
  • divisions in the leadership, jealousy over positions and authority – as if power politics works with a leader who hung on a cross.
  • disagreements over worship with different thoughts over proper worship or what most honors God.

A church that has a spirit of criticism and division, that can’t seem to trust God enough to be working inside of them, isn’t going to be identified with living out the Gospel.  Paul’s concerns about the church in Corinth are rooted in their inability to BE the church where they are.  They aren’t BOLD enough. They are too rooted in expectations or their own preferences to let God work in their corporate life. Their faith isn’t vibrant with love and possibility. They look pretty empty.  Paul is afraid that God’s grace is IN VAIN.

SURPRISE! Paul wants all Christians to live boldly!  Paul, ambassador and missionary to as much of the world as he could reach, doesn’t want anyone to be held back by fear.  He wants the churches he began and those that he nurtured, to live as boldly NEW people – citizens of God’s in-breaking NEW AGE.

Paul would tell us that “Life is uncertain.” And advise that we make plans that matter. After all, tomorrow is never guaranteed. He might, if it hadn’t been before his time, quote Robert Herrick’s poem to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,”[ii] or give something like Mr. Keating’s carpe diem lecture “Seize the day.” “We are food for worms….everyone of us will die.” [iii] So we can’t wait for tomorrow – there may not be one for us. We have to live out our values TODAY!

“Poor, but enriching many,” Paul said of himself. Service to others matters, not the accumulation of wealth.

God is at work. “God is at work in the world. Be a part of it,” Paul would say. “The new life we experience in Jesus is available to all,” Paul would say.  While all too often we try to figure out how to exclude people from counting, Paul keeps drawing new circles to include everyone, or blurring boundaries that we thought were firm.  “Stop worrying about God’s business,” Paul would say.  “Your business is to show the love of God to ALL people,” Paul would say.

Not that this kind of living is trouble-free.  There are no guarantees that living faithfully, following Jesus and serving God makes for a happy-go-lucky or easy existence.  St. Paul has been referred to as the “prophet of disaster.”  Shipwrecks, arrests, beatings, imprisonment, attempted mob violence, escaping over walls from those who sought to kill him, and years of incarceration…. None of us would call that an easy life.  Certainly not a trouble-free one.

And yet this follower of Jesus would write,

18 I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  33 Who will bring any charge against God’s children? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8: 18, 31, 33-39

Live for God today!  Live with a focus on what matters – service to others, sharing the good news of God’s amazing love. Carpe diem – for we are more than conquerors and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord!

We have a strange paradox before us. The paradox of a life following Jesus, a Christian life, is that we are living by dying.  We find our lives when we are bold enough to, if not lose them in a temporal sense, at least decide that keeping them isn’t the most important thing. When we live out loud for God, we have a kind of strength that may otherwise elude us.

David’s story helps us uncover what this means.  David was just a kid in this story – a shepherd running errands to take food to the front.  And maybe, as teenagers tend to be, he was a bit arrogant and overconfident.  Perhaps he even thought he was immortal, as our teens used to be able to do. But he also took a deep breath and looked at the Philistine warrior and perhaps shrugged his shoulders and said, like the great warrior Crazy Horse before the Battle of Little Bighorn, “Hokahey, today’s a good day to die.”  Perhaps he said to himself as mythic raiders did before a battle, “Die Bravely.”  He just strode into battle with what he had, his weapons of choice, to do what he could.

This isn’t a sermon about David – he’ll get his own sermon this summer when we talk about Heroes.  But David gives us a model for LIVING BOLDLY – to do what is before us with all the honor we have.

And what is before us?  St. Paul already told us that.  We are becoming God’s new creation — by the power of God at work in us.  And so the work of God should show in our lives.  Love. Openness to God’s transformation.  Love for others that opens up new possibilities for them too.  Grow.  Opening hearts. Love. Live as witnesses of new creation. Love now.  There is nothing BOLDER than LOVE. Nothing better to show God’s work in us than LOVE.

We can’t be empty, friends.  No grace offered in vain for us. Instead, let us be DARING and BOLD in showing God’s love through our love for all people.  Now – seize the day for it is the one we have.  Carpe diem – for we are more than conquerors and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord! “Live boldly – today’s a good day to die.  And a better one to live out loud!” 


[i] Driving Miss Daisy,  1989. Play 1987.
[ii] https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/virgins-make-much-time. Robert Herrick. 1591-1674.
[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5t3ZzZv8_U
Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Earth Sunday – The World God Made

thomas-scott-515840-unsplashGenesis 1: 27-31; 2:1-15 and Colossians 1: 9-11, 15-20a

In A Hopeful Earth, Bishop Sally Dyck tells this parable:

A man spent years building a beautiful and structurally sound home.  “The roof and walls protected the house from the elements, and the foundation was solid, even against an earthquake.

Inside the home, he put a lot of care into choosing the floor coverings, curtains, appliances, furniture and art.  Everything was to be functional as well as beautiful.  Simplicity was the standard of beauty. Windows let in a lot of light.  The house was powered by solar energy.

The man put as much care into the surrounding gardens as he did into the house.  There were gardens of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees – everything good to eat.  He even installed a swimming pool for the enjoyment of those who came to visit him.

When the house was finished, the man decided to ask his son to watch over it while he went away for a while.  He encouraged his son to use it fully, enjoying himself and offering it as a gift to others.  He told his son to ear from the gardens, swim in the pool and “make yourself at home because it is yours for as long as you’d like.”

The son enjoyed the house and all it offered him.  He invited his friends over and they enjoyed it too, but they weren’t very careful about the way they treated the gardens, the swimming pool, and even the house itself.  They left food and papers around, and the garage began to pile up, smelling and looking terrible.  There were holes in the walls, the results of punches thrown by people who had gotten into fights.  All the furnishings were filthy, torn, or smelly because the son didn’t take care of them and his friends kept misusing them.

The son let the garden get overgrown with weeds because tending it was inconvenient. He never cleaned out the pool and algae grew all over it, so no one wated to swim in it anymore.

The son hadn’t invested in its upkeep.  The utilities were shut off and the bills were in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.  How would he ever be able to catch up on the expenses of repairing and restoring the house when he couldn’t afford to care for it in its current condition?

Then the father came home – and saw his beautiful house totally ruined.

We are living this parable as we live on earth today.”[i]

We bear the responsibility for the world in which we live. That is part of what Genesis creation stories are about. GOD made the world and everything in it: the skies and seas, the land with growing plants and trees, the animals that walk the ground and the birds that soar in the air. GOD created all things including human beings – and then entrusted it to the human ones to care for.

The word ecology  comes from the Greek oikos,  which means “house.”  The planet Earth, on which we live, is our house– entrusted to us by God. It is our responsibility. It’s odd that caring for the planet has seemingly become a political issue.  Earth Day began in 1970 with genuine concern about what was happening to the environment – by President Nixon. But now, concern for the environment has become a political cause that takes a backseat to concerns for multiplication of wealth, convenience and the well-being of the fossil- fuel companies.

All of the ecological systems of our planet are exploited for profit to great detriment of us all.

  • Famine is caused by soil erosion due to deforestation.
  • Floods are caused by deforestation.
  • Air quality deterioration is caused by the expansion of fossil fuels and deregulation of air quality controls in favor of industry
  • Water safety. We saw in Flint how the city’s officials knowingly put public health behind profit and endangered the health of their constituents
  • Renewable energy doesn’t get as much support or press as it did in the 1970s because some of our leading officials have their fortunes tied to oil companies
  • Native peoples are forced off their greatly diminished lands for huge oil pipelines that contaminate both land and water
  • And the people most affected by the highest levels of toxins in the environment are the poor

We are not in right relationship with God because we are not in right relationship with God’s creation.  We have turned our back on our responsibilities and the world suffers.  Our house, entrusted to us by God, is dying.

 It would be odd if your attention weren’t wandering right now. We don’t want to hear this. We don’t want to talk about it because we are guilty. We know that we human beings are the ones who have damaged creation.  And whatever minor damage was done over the centuries of human existence has been multiplied in our own time.  Plus, we know that we Americans are to blame more than any other nation. With less than 5% (4.4%) of the world’s population according to Politifact,[ii] we use over a quarter of the world’s fossil fuels,[iii]  and generate more waste than any other nation in the world, 80% of which goes into landfills.[iv]  Creation itself accuses us.

Dr. Ellen Davis, a professor of Hebrew scripture, said. “One day in the fullness of time, all creation will be given its voice and we will be called to sit down and table and listen, really listen, and hear the pain we have caused.”[v]

One of her students recalled Imagining hearing “the ocean weeping as it was clogged with billions, literally billions of pounds of trash that I have helped dump into it; the air choked with pollution I have pumped out; I would hear the pain of trees being clear-cut and mountains being reduced to sludge; I would hear icebergs melting, ground water rotting and I would have to hear the cries of animals being eaten into extinction.  I would hear the hunger of mothers and fathers and the thirst of small children, 5000 of whom dies everyday for want of clean water while I let the tap run just so the water I drink will be colder…”[vi]

  1. issues of the environment are complicated by our awareness of our own sin and guilt against God and God’s creation. That makes us uncomfortable – so we too often ignore it.  This is one where we do not want to repent – because that would mean change that would cost us: convenience, money, time, work. So we avoid the issue most of the time.
  2. Principles, after all, are inconvenient more often than not. And so we buy water in plastic bottles when we are out because we don’t want to carry water and we’re thirsty, and then throw away our plastic bottles because we don’t want to carry them home to recycle. If confronted, we might say, “They really should recycle at this _____ fill in the blank,” ignoring the fact that we wouldn’t throw away a coffee mug after we used it at a restaurant. We violate God’s creation for our own purposes.  We harm creation with microagressions daily to enrich ourselves, or for our indulgence, or convenience –without counting the cost.

We are guilty. We have sinned.  When we are honest – we know this.

The answer to our environmental problems may be a spiritual solution. There can be freedom in accepting responsibility instead of denying, avoiding or trying to shift blame.  We are responsible. So let’s be responsible.

The Colossians passage that we heard this morning has an interesting formula for living differently – for living as a part of God’s new creation.

It starts with prayer – which leads to knowledge of God’s will.

Knowledge of God’s will leads to living differently – in a matter worthy and pleasing to God.

Living to please God leads to good works, bearing fruit so others will see God’s work in us, as well as growing in knowledge of God –

And growing in knowledge of God leads to endurance, patience and joy.

To summarize:  If we grow in our knowledge of God’s will and our desire to do it, we will choose to do right and live more ethically.

This isn’t rocket science, and there is no suspense here.  This is a bit more like Stephen Covey’s idea to “Begin with the end in mind.”  IF we want to grow in knowledge and love of God, we will be looking for ways to live lives pleasing to God – which includes living in right relationship with creation, the world God made.

P.S. And prayer is the beginning, because we truly can’t live lives worthy of God WITHOUT God’s power at work within us.

Not that this is easy. It takes a paradigm shift – a shift in the way we look at things.  Not for our convenience – but for what is right. So we carry our recyclables around on vacation a bit more and we remember to say, “No straw, please,” at restaurants. But we also take shorter showers and turn off the tap and the lights a bit more.  And then we can consider what we really need – and not buy plastic junk because that NEVER ends well for the environment.

We need God’s help to put things right again – not the “prayer fixes everything” abdication of responsibility – but knowing we need God at work within us so we can get over ourselves and our immediate desires in order to do the right thing.

Part of being responsible for something is owning up to our failure to care for it.  And then deciding to repair the damages – to creation and to our relationship with God. Let’s begin with the end in mind – and then seek God’s will so we can choose to live in a right relationship with God and the world God made.


[i] Sally K Dyck and Sarah Ehrman, A Hopeful Earth, 41-42
[ii] http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2014/dec/15/jim-webb/webb-says-us-has-5-percent-worlds-population-25-pe/
[iii] http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_in_the_United_States
[v]  Where does the trash go? https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/26-trillion-pounds-of-garbage-where-does-the-worlds-trash-go/258234/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_in_the_United_States
[vi] Earth Day sermon. http://www.trinityepiscopalchurch.org/Sermons/Vinnie_s_Sermons/Earth_Day_Sermon/
Photo by thomas scott on Unsplash

April 15: New Life Through Healing

peter-kent-25193-unsplashMark 5: 21, 24b-34, Isaiah 41: 1-10

NOTICE:  In the very Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  In the male dominated culture of both Judaism and more so of Rome.  In a time when women were an expendable  commodity – this sick and dying woman commands Jesus’ attention in the middle of his journey to go heal the daughter or an important Jewish leader. Jesus isn’t just interested in saving little girls.  He is interested in saving old dried up women too. A message note for our country in which 10 million women and men experience abuse at the hand of a partner[i], in a world in which 830 women die of maternal mortality each day. [ii] And the healthcare gap for women of color in this country is deadly – cervical cancer twice that of white women, infant mortality twice that for infants of color – breast cancer 40% higher likelihood of death. It’s not economics – it’s race. Throw-away women….it’s still a thing.[iii]

Sometimes what looks like great courage or daring is simply desperation.  When we haven’t got anything to lose, we can and do take bold risks.  The woman in the story does this – we do it too.  Why not?  We’ve got no other options – we go for broke.

In the story of this woman in Mark, she has to act boldly to get attention. How else could she act?  There is no man to ask for help on her behalf in the story.  She was ill enough, and her ailment was the kind of thing that would exclude her from going out in public. She had seen doctors – for years.  She had experienced great suffering. She is bleeding to death. She is powerless to heal herself. There were no other options except this amazing man, Jesus.  So she reached out, just to touch the fringe of his garment – believing that here was the presence of God that could heal her. She goes for broke and touches the hem, the very outermost edge of his clothing.

Any of us who have struggled for years to get a diagnosis and treatment that would help can find ourselves in this story. For our family, one such struggle began when our daughter Carol was eleven.  She was weak and tired, and had trouble keeping up with normal activity.  She was hospitalized several times, had lots of tests, and it took a long time to find out what the sources of her problems were.  Finally the doctors told us that she had an impaired immune system which caused her to catch everything that came along – and that her liver was failing. There was no recommended course of treatment because the two problems interacted. They couldn’t do a liver transplant because her immune system was weak. They couldn’t do drug therapies for her immune system because her liver couldn’t break down the drugs. They basically told us that they could monitor her decline and do everything to make her comfortable – but that she wouldn’t live to her thirteenth birthday.  We heard about a remarkable physician whose methods were very “outside the box,” but who was willing to treat her.  It’s a long story and much of what he did is outside of traditional medical practice, although he was indeed a medical doctor. And the insurance didn’t cover much of it since it was either diagnostic or experimental.  But we went for broke. Of course we did. It wasn’t great courage or daring, it wasn’t that we were familiar with functional medicine at that point or that we had more than a cursory understanding of the therapies this doctor used.  It was that we had no other options. We were desperate enough to try anything.

We are, all of us, walking wounded. We carry a lot of wounds. We are a wounded people. And we don’t really want to talk about them, so they continue to wound us and others. “Hurt people hurt people.” And we have quite a collections of hurts in our arsenal.

Yes, this is hard.  We are more comfortable covering up the places that we hurt until we can almost – but not quite – forget about them entirely.  Unexpected things will remind us and we may find ourselves weeping at incongruous moments as something touched that not-quite-healed place in us.

Some of them are personal, individual wounds.  Perhaps things we have pushed to the back of our memory shelves for many years, but that have never really healed.

— They may be physical wounds that have healed up on the surface, but the scars remind us of the deeper wounding. Our physical scars tell our story, whether we want them to or not.

— We also carry emotional or psychological wounds that have held us back from reaching our full potential by causing us self-doubt or even encouraging self-sabotage.  We may be so accustomed to the negative self-talk that we aren’t even aware of it, often with echoes from past emotional abuse, “You aren’t good enough. You can’t do that.”

We hurt others in our woundedness, acting out of our own hurt.  We carry a lot of wounds.

Some wounds are institutional.  Churches and communities are injured by episodes from the past that do similar damage to the institution or community that we experience in our personal wounds.

–Congregations are wounded by pastoral leaders with boundary transgressions with finances or personal relationships. Those make it hard to trust and damage future pastoral relationships with clergy who are innocent of those betrayals.

–Divisions in congregations over social issues create a fear of being honest about what we believe. Even in the church we seem to have forgotten how to practice civil discourse and disagree in love.

In a workshop yesterday focusing on the health and wellbeing of clergy, there was a lot of conversation around the hurt carried by pastors due to the behaviors of congregations: unreasonable expectations, wanting all subsequent pastors to be like a past beloved pastor, unwillingness to consider the needs of pastors’ families, expecting pastors to be constantly available and tend for every expressed desire. And many of the hurt passed along to pastors came from personal or institutional woundedness.  We all carry a lot of wounds.  We all carry wounds – and if we don’t open them up to heal a bit past the surface, they will continue hurting us and others.

Jesus cares. God cares. FOR ALL. It comes through in this story very clearly.  When he felt power leave him, he turned around to find the person of faith who had touched him – not to rebuke her, but to commend her. Jesus encouraged the new life growing in her. In ALL.

This story points us to some teaching truths that may help us to heal.  Jesus wanted to help the people around him. It wasn’t that his clothes were magic or that the woman had some power of her own, but the presence of God brings healing. The life of Jesus, everywhere he went, the people he encountered, brought healing – brought new life. And this new life is for ALL. Just in this one chapter of Mark, Jesus heals a gentile wrestling with demons, the daughter of Jairus – a leader in the synagogue – and a woman who has been ill for a very long time. Jesus brings God’s healing, life-giving presence to a woman excluded from her family and community and unable to participate in normal life for many years because she matters to God. God cares for us all. And not just the physical healing.  He speaks to her to encourage her – to acknowledge this woman who has been relegated to the shadows of life.  “Your faith has made you well.” Affirmation – your faith is strong.  Your actions and your faith have brought you healing. You are strong.

It is perhaps the first century equivalent of Aibileen’s affirmation of a chubby toddler giving her the positive identity she needs to carry her through life, “You is kind. You is strong. You is important.”[iv]

Healing isn’t guaranteed. Nor is it immediate.  It is a process – and there are different kinds of healing.  And ultimately – the death rate is 100%.  The rest is details – important details, but details. So — Sometimes healing means letting go. Sometimes it means hanging on. Sometimes it means living stronger and sometimes it means dying here to find healing in death. The only constant seems to be the presence and power of God – which can make us stronger. And our fellowship with God does NOT end in death.

“Sooner or later, life breaks us all, but many become strong in the broken places.”    Ernest Hemmingway.

Sozo= salvation, wholeness.  Sozo= Tomake well. NOT the usual term for physical healing. Has theological tones. Shalom. This is the word Jesus uses in his blessing of the woman in the story – perhaps his blessing for us as well.  May your life be lived in meaningful relationships, with shelter to help keep you safe, daily bread, peace in your spirit, and fullness in your life.  Where you were an outcast, I name you daughter.  Be saved, whole and well. A blessing FOR ALL.

For all of us, God wants new life.  It can only happen if our wounds are healed. We can’t push them to the back of our memory closets or lightly cover them with bandages.  They need deep healing that only happens with the presence of God working in our lives.

Faith and wellness are mysteries. But that God wants them for us, yearns to help us find them so we are renewed and restored – that is no mystery at all.


[i] https://ncadv.org/statistics
[ii] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/
[iii] http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/322874-for-women-of-color-the-healthcare-gap-is-real-and-deadly
[iv] The Help. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMD0XtQqfkg
Photo by Peter ᴳᴱᴼ Kent on Unsplash

Easter Sunday: Being Saved, Becoming New

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Job 19: 23-27a, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, and Mark 16: 1-8

Running into the house after church, a little boy couldn’t wait to share what he had learned in Sunday school that morning. “Did you know that they tried to kill Jesus?” he asked his mother.
“Where did you hear that?” she replied.
“I heard the preacher talking about it in church.”
“Well, what do you think about that?”
“Some people tried to kill Jesus; but he sure fooled them, didn’t he?”[i]

Perhaps the best April Fool’s joke ever: Easter is the joke God played on the powers of the world and the forces of evil.  God limited death on Easter. Easter means that the powers of this world do not have the last word – YES! And that is wonderful!  But there is more to the meaning of Easter than just the vindication of Jesus with God raising him to life after the world’s powers put him to death. … It’s more than just a reversal of what the power of the world decided would be his fate. (Dramatic pause) …How we see Jesus affects how we understand the Christian faith, and Easter is at the heart of it.  If there were no Easter, Jesus would just have been another Jew executed by the Roman Empire because they thought he was a threat during a century that was extremely bloody by anyone’s standards.  Easter makes things different. Easter shapes how we see Jesus – and for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it affects what we think the Christian life is all about.

 What makes Easter so important? God is in charge. Vindication.

In the midst of the different gospel stories, Paul’s claims about the resurrected Jesus without any stories, and the interesting apocalyptic imagery – what does Easter really mean?  Why is it important?  This event has much deeper meanings than just a resurrection of a body or an empty tomb.The meanings behind the stories are more important, and offer us more help and insight than perhaps the stories themselves.[ii]

  • God vindicated Jesus. The tomb could not hold Jesus. The powers of the world tried to shut him down, and God raised him up and set him loose in the world.  Easter is God’s “yes” overturning the “no” of the powers of the world that executed him. Easter is not about the afterlife, or we would have some kind of description of heaven.  Easter is not about happy endings to the story either, or Jesus being alive again would be enough.  (J. is not among the dead…)
  • Promise of Jesus’ presence with the disciples. The disciples would see Jesus —  they have to go back to the beginning again.  (Galilee)  It’s not just that Jesus was raised to life with God – Jesus came back to the disciples. The mission isn’t finished!  We’ll talk more about that later.
  • God is God. No matter what. In the midst of trouble and tragedy, God is God. That important truth is why we read Job this morning.  You know a bit about this teaching story. Job’s life includes a full panoply of disasters.  And yet, Job sings this hymn of praise to God from his ash heap while scraping his oozing sores. His situation is beyond hopeless, and yet he sings, “I know that my Redeemer lives…” with confidence in God redeeming him, God having the victory, even if it is so far off that he can’t see it.  God is Job’s Redeemer, valuing him no matter what has happened or is happening. It is a foretaste of the Easter story, where hope lives because no matter the circumstances – God is the Redeemer. God is still God. And death is not the end.

Fear and death are overturned.  We don’t have to live in our fear.  This is a really big deal because we are a fearful people.  The fact that most of the things we worry about don’t ever come to pass doesn’t seem to slow down our worrying at all.  The experts say 85% of the things we worry about don’t ever happen. [iii] We still worry.  Some of it is a natural human tendency.  Some of us name worrying as a part of our identity, “I’m a worrier.” Science has now shown that worrying actually takes away our health and vitality.  The stress caused by worrying “causes serious problems.  The stress hormones that worry dumps into your brain have been linked to shrinking brain masslowering your IQ, being prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicting martial problems, family dysfunction and clinical depression, and making seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.”[iv] But if God overturned even death, what are we worries about?

Jesus in Gethsemane said:  Your will God, not mine – his trust was not in the outcome of the story, but in God who held him despite the outcome.  As Michael Williams explains in Spoken Into Being, “My trust is not in the outcome of the story but in the One who accompanies me through the story, no matter the outcome. Trusting in the divine presence is not an insurance policy against tragedy.  It is, however, the assurance that we do not walk through tragedy alone, but are accompanied by a God who knows loss and grief and knows us better than we know ourselves.”[v]

   Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through The One who loved[s] us.–Desmond Tutu

So yes! God overturns death on Easter!  Nothing is impossible with God! God is God no matter what else is going on in the world – and we are ultimately in God’s hands — no matter what happens. 

US. Being Saved is a continuing process.  It’s not a 1-shot deal.  That’s lucky for us – since we don’t seem to be ALL-SAVED just yet.  We may be a little saved, for some of us even “rather more than less saved,” (wiggle hand  back and forth) but none of us have reached spiritual perfection. We’re not “DONE” in this being saved process.

This is why Jesus keeps showing up with the disciples – they aren’t completely ready for this either. They are still being saved – just like us.  So he shows up especially at times when they are having a meal together.  In their time, perhaps in ours too, eating together was one of the best ways to show forgiveness and reconciliation.  So Jesus is revealed, disclosed really, in Emmaus at the breaking of the bread.  And Peter knows he is forgiven when Jesus is on the beach cooking breakfast – and then Peter is given a job to do.

Jesus kept appearing to the disciples – and especially Peter, who denied him – is so they knew that they were forgiven.  And now being recruited to continue the mission of Jesus in the world. The disciples who fled, denied him, hid – THOSE disciples are the very ones Jesus wanted to meet him in Galilee where they could start again. And they DID!  Jesus wasn’t finished with them yet. They learned and are re-commissioned and with Jesus’ presence with them, they continued his ministry – doing the things that he had done.

  • Just as God keeps working on us. And In us. Easter two thousand years ago may have broken through what we thought we knew about life and the world with something very different. (We call it resurrection.) But God isn’t done – God is still doing this. The presence of the Living Christ still surprises us – is still disclosed in unexpected moments. Often in the breaking of bread. Often in acts of reconciliation. Surprising us with moments of God’s presence in the midst of our grief. Easter continues to burst into our lives where we had thought death had the last world.  And comes in our moments of fear and confusion, upsetting how we think the world words, using unaccustomed words – and unexpected messengers, just as on that Easter so long ago.

Will Willimon tells a story about visiting a man as he lay close to death. He asked the man if he was fearful, and the man said, “No.  I’m not fearful because of my faith in Jesus.”  Willimon replied that “We all have hope that our future is in God’s hands,” but the man corrected him emphatically. “Well, I’m not hopeful because of what I believe about the future….I’m hopeful because of what I’ve experienced in the past…I look back over my life, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, gone my own way, strayed, and got lost. And time and again, he found a way to get to me, showed up and got me, looked for me when I wasn’t looking for him.  I don’t think he’ll let something like my dying defeat his love for me” .[vi]  All his life, he was being saved.  All our lives, WE are being saved. We aren’t perfect – far from it. We aren’t dedicated enough, selfless enough, wise enough yet…so God is still working on us — we are being saved.  Continually. Still.

You see, God’s kingdom is still the endgame – and we aren’t there yet.  It’s all about the mission.  God’s mission is unstoppable – and we are forgiven and invited to take a part .  God’s not done – and we aren’t “done” yet either.

Becoming New – an invitation. US.

Easter reveals God’s purpose of LIFE – new life – and nothing, not power politics, not religious institutions, and not even death will be allowed to stand in the way of what God wants to do for us. Easter reminds us that God is about the business of making all things new. We too can be new.

CONTRA. That’s VERY good news! Despite the sorrow and pain and all the things that are wrong in the world – despite the fact that even those of us who have pledged our lives to follow Jesus mess up with frightening regularity,  and our tendency to lose God in the midst of the activity of our lives – God is still inviting us to come and be new.  Even in the midst of the dying that is a daily experience for many of us – God is inviting us to new life. . Easter life can break into the world again!

But  — full disclosure here — the new life to which we are invited does involve some dying. After all, new life begins with the story of a cross.  God reminds us in Easter that dying to our old ways of being is a part of experiencing new life.  We are dying and being raised with the one who was crucified by the rulers of the world. This transformation doesn’t come without a loss – a cost. But, we are also reminded, this is not an ultimate cost – what we gain is FAR greater than what we lose!

We are invited to come and be made new, transformed, reborn into a new way of life – into God’s dream of the kingdom – and it’s possible. It’s REAL. It is even happening now unseen, like the seeds that begin to sprout before they break the surface of the soil.  Death doesn’t have the last word – new life is here among us. Easter life is breaking into the world again!

All of these Easter stories, not just the ones of Easter morning, and especially  the appearances of Jesus to the disciples and later to Paul, help us understand that God is still at work through Jesus making us new.  Our becoming new is a process, just as being saved is a process.  It doesn’t happen all at once. It is like gradual unfolding of a blossom.  And were we begin, what we look like now, is nothing like the end of the story.

Paul says that the resurrection reveals a whole new order “as different as a grubby dead seed from the glory of a flowering plant.”[vii] Easter wasn’t just an unusual day two thousand years ago. It is still breaking in to our world with the presence of Jesus.  Come and hear the stories, as we consider their meanings for our lives.  Come hear stories of Forgiveness and new purpose, stories of healing, of growth, of new relationships – of new life in many ways! Imagine this: God inviting us to a part of “Becoming the New Creation!” Part of the NEW ORDER! New life began as God broke through the normal boundaries of death to raise Jesus to life again, to do something wondrously new!

And it continues – Jesus is alive – and in ministry NOW through disciples forgiven and called again. God’s never-ending story of new life, new opportunities, new growth to help us reflect the one we follow and help the world reflect God’s kingdom dream.  The words echo down through time and find fresh voices today, “Go and tell. Tell the story of lives made new.”

 

As Ellsworth Kalas said, “Easter is not simply a holiday to be celebrated with church attendance and a festive dinner; it is a new power let loose in our world that enables us – to the degree that we are willing – to live a new kind of life.  Why?  Because the very power that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us”[viii]  —  saving us, helping us to become new.

Friends, God is God – and despite the look of things, still at work to bring about new life. Easter reminds us that fear and death are overturned – new life, unexpected, surprising live is let loose among us. The presence of Jesus is among us, and disclosed when we share a meal, when we forgive each other, when we act to serve others. And God is working in us to make us new as we are forgiven and claimed as the new generation of disciples empowered to carry out Jesus’ mission.


[i] Michael E. Williams, p, 25-26
[ii] See Jim Fleming, “The Context of Holy Week,” and the NINE theories of the meaning of the Life/Death/Resurrection of Jesus.
[iii] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-joseph-goewey-/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368.html
[iv] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-joseph-goewey-/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368.html
[v] Michael E. Williams, Spoken Into Being, 84.
[vi] William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter,” 48.
[vii] David Buttrick, Preaching Jesus Christ,” 58.
[viii] Ellsworth Kalas, “Easter from the Back Side,” 67.
Photo by: Ryan Yao from www.unsplash.com

Palm Sunday 2018 – A Tale of Two Parades!

tim-mossholder-603227-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Luke 19: 28-48

On the day we call Palm Sunday, there were actually two parades into the city of Jerusalem. It was a spring day, at the start of the week of Passover, the most holy week for Jews in what was probably the year 30. Parades at Passover were not unusual in Jerusalem, the city of David. Jerusalem, a city of around 100,000 inhabitants would double during Passover – with 100,000 people coming as pilgrims to the city.  Some stayed in rented lodgings or with relatives, but thee were also tent cities all around the area of Bethphage and Bethany, which were on the route from Jericho to Jerusalem, the route the pilgrims would take singing their psalms on the way.  Passover, the celebration of the deliverance of the Jews from slavery under Egypt, was also the time that Jews looked for the Messiah, “a new David” to come and deliver them again.  They expected the Messiah to throw out the Romans and rule over the nation in a new era of Justice and Peace.  Of the five attempted revolts against Rome in Jerusalem, the four that can be precisely dated were during the time of Passover. The time of the fifth is uncertain, but it was likely during Passover.  Something about celebrating deliverance from the hand of the oppressor by God seemed to remind the Jews that God’s purpose was freedom.  Passover was the ideal time to lead a protest against Rome. On the day we call Palm Sunday, there were two parades.[i]

Pilate’s parade
From the west, coming up from Caesarea Maritima, the new coastal city, sixty miles west of Jerusalem, where they lived in more pleasant circumstances, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the area of Judah, entered Jerusalem leading an imperial force of cavalry and foot soldiers. Here is how John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg describe it in their book, The Last Week.

            Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.[ii]

If you’ve seen any of the old movies about the Roman Empire it’s easy to picture this:   Ben Hur, The Robe, Sparticus,The Fall of the Roman Empire…. Big production scenes with light flashing off the shiny armor of a whole legion, 5000 soldiers dressed in red, gold and shiny armor, in full Technicolor.

It was a show of power. Yes. A military parade to show the inhabitants and visitors to Jerusalem that Pilate and the Romans were a force to be reckoned with and not get ideas about trying to overthrow him.  They came to hold the fort in Jerusalem during the Holy Days when things got  twitchy. Pilate and Company came to reinforce the Roman garrison that stayed year-round in the Fotress Antonia, which overlooked the Temple and its Courts. Any rebellion, however small, would be met with a show of force.  That’s the purpose of military parades.

But it was also a clashing theological system.  The official rhetoric of the Roman Empire was that the Emperor was the Son of God. It started with Augustus Caesar, who claimed to be the son of the god Apollo to his mother, Atia. He ruled 31 BCE to 14 CE. After he died, there were claims that he was seen ascending into heaven to take his place with the gods. Tiberius Caesar, who ruled 14-37 CE during the time of Jesus public ministry, claimed these titles of “son of God,” “lord,” “savior,” and the one who brought “peace on earth.”[iii]

From the west came the Imperial Parade, with swords and armor shining in the sun, red and gold banners waving, and Pilate on a war horse in full regalia as Roman governor. Designed to impress the residents and guests of Jerusalem with the power of Rome.  It was quite a sight.

Jesus
From the East, coming down from Bethany and Bethphage, was a pre-arranged counterprocession, a political demonstration full of symbols and prophetic connections.  The Jews were aware of the prophecies of Zechariah that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem as a humble king, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9.9)

 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jersualem, and the battle bow shall be cut off and he shall command peace to the nations. Zech 9.10

An alternative vision, this king. And all the stories of his ministry preceded him.  This was not a Messiah of power, not like the Maccabees and Zealots anticipated who would come at the head of an army. This was a Messiah who gave life.  The Romans were almost as afraid of Lazarus as of Jesus – for this Jesus brought a man back to life who had been dead, or so the stories said. [iv] Think about it – a power that they don’t have.  If you let that information get out, it’s liable to get you killed.

Palms:  symbols of Jewish nationalism.  (1 Macc 13:51, 2 Macc 10:7) – symbol used on coins for Jews because they wouldn’t use a coin with the image of Caesar on it. Palms were protest signs of the day. The people wanted to drive out Pilate and regain their independence as a nation. The Psalms they were singing were about restoring the throne of David. And chanting:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus was lauded in the previous chapter as the “Son of David.” (18:38-39) [v] Son of David versus the claims that Caesar was the Son of God. That kind of thing is liable to get you killed.

Parade Pattern: a Type scene.

Parades followed a certain pattern.

  • Escort of the leader by army or citizens
  • Hymns and acclamation – either paid cheers or Hallel psalms/ Psalms of ascent
  • Symbols of authority (Donkey, cloaks, palm branches)
  • Ritual of appropriation of power or a sacrifice – at the site of the Temple (Key to the city kind of thing)[vi]

According to the pattern, once Jesus had entered the city he headed for the Temple. Remember that part of Jesus’ message was forgiveness.  He told people their sins were forgiven.  That sounds okay to us – but in his day, the Temple system of sacrifice held the monopoly on the forgiveness of sins.  John the Baptist was a threat for the same reason. He baptized people for the forgiveness of sins – a denial of forgiveness as a function of the Temple. And yes, he was killed.

Accusations: Forgiveness. One of the accusations against Jesus was that he forgave sins – an exclusive function of the Temple.  He challenged the authority of the religious establishment. And that kind of thing is liable to get you killed.

Coded language.  Jesus’ message was about the KINGDOM OF GOD and THE WAY to find it. Hodos=way. “The messenger will prepare the way… Prepare the way of the lord… the Kingdom of God has come near.” Political and religious metaphors that challenge the status quo. That kind of thing is liable to get you killed.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the pattern of the ceremony was the one used to welcome a king – but all of the scriptural prophecies and symbols were for peace.  This parade was a prophetic sign and fulfillment, a kind of parable of God’s subversive activity and declaration that this man, Jesus, was a different kind of king. Not a warrior like David, who travelled with at least a small army, but a teacher and healer who came humbly on a donkey.

COLLABORATION. Which parade draws you?  We all WANT to be drawn to Jesus. We know that’s the right answer.  But the truth for most of us is not that simple. We are caught up in various degrees of bondage and collaboration with the powers that be.  We are all wrapped up in the expectations of the systems that we live within. “Life-style conformers,” David Buttrick calls us, “held captive by cultural norms.”[vii]

CAROL’S TRIP TO GUATEMALA.  Living out of a backpack. Freedom. Didn’t want to come home.

Right?  There is very little room in our overfull an ordered lives for the power-challenging, values-upsetting subversive message of Jesus. We are caught up in some many systems that the evil is unclear.  We feel trapped by a cultural value on the freedom to own guns even while we watch more children killed in our own country than soldiers in the military since 9-11. The more we talk about racism, the more we realize that we have to tackle the SYTEMS that hold it in place – because no white man was ever killed in his back yard because his talking on a cell phone was perceived as a threat. And we watch Congress pass budgets with billions of dollars for arms that seem to require another war to justify – so we have this sneaky suspicion that there will probably be one – while tax cuts for the wealthy become the reason to cut Social Security and Medicare. Trapped by the powers in systems of evil. Caught up in the bondage of systems we can’t control.

Let’s be clear: Jesus, then and now, is leading a resistance movement. Resistance to religious authorities, to social expectations and to the government.

RELIGION.Jesus was challenging the Domination system that put the religious authorities in collaboration with the ruling government.[viii] He talked about obedience to God not arbitrated by the religious leadership.

PEOPLE. Nor does Jesus seem particularly concerned with the expectations of the people.  He appears to have been extremely intentional in which religious symbols and prophecies he was connected to in his entrance into Jerusalem.  He never pretended to be the military leader the zealots wanted. He was the king who came in the way of peace. Nor did he choose his companions to gain approval – he was rather indiscriminate in who hung around him. He is the king of  a rather ragtag bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, blind men, harlots, demoniacs, cripples, women.  The clothing hastily flung on the road before him was tattered shawls, torn over-garments, and sweat-stained shirts. This is a king of peasants.

GOVERNMENT. Let’s also notice that he did not bow to the power of the government. Imperial power did not impress him.  He claimed his own identity in contrast to the claims of Rome.

His actos of appropriation of the city were to weep over it for not seeing the ways of peace, and to enter the Temple to drive out the merchants who exploited the poor for the profit of the Temple and themselves. He speaks to the city in the words of a prophetic warning. Not the kind of behavior likely to win him a key to the city. Actually, that kind of thing is liable to get you killed.  He ended his life executed by the government because they saw him as a threat.

Just as Jesus is a different kind of king – so this is a different kind of kingdom.

He stood up against the power of religion and the power of the government and told then that their domination system was illegitimate in the eyes of God and that God’s coming kingdom was one where the hungry were fed, the disabled were made whole, the children and women were welcomed, and the criminals were given a new life. He criticized their whole system of what it meant to be loyal to God.

Jesus said that God wanted peace for Jerusalem.  What would bring peace?

…repentance

…sharing coats

…fair taxes

…an end of military oppression

…good news for the poor

…a place at the table for outcasts

…sight for the blind

…end of subjugation of women and people of other races

…responsible handling of wealth and property so that all had enough

…reevaluation of what is holy to God

It was a vision of community that offered justice on earth.  It offered new beginnings and times of repentance when anyone and everyone could turn their lives around.  And a world of peace rather than military power. [ix]

Before we decide to follow, you need to know.  The powers of the world still do not take kindly to this image of a world of peace and justice.  On April 4, 1968 another man with a dream of God’s kingdom was killed.  And in Chicago, beginning April 5, the “Holy Week Uprising” swept the west side of the city.  The cross here at the center is made of bricks from burned out buildings from those fires.

The world doesn’t take kindly to people of peace – and speaking against injustice can still get you killed. 

Two parades entered Jerusalem on that Sunday.  From the west: the power and glory of Rome.  From the East: “a fool king riding on a donkey”[x]. Be careful here – it matters what parade we follow.  This Jesus is going to confront the powers of religion and Rome. Following him means walking “THE WAY,” complete with conflict with authority and the serious risks inherent with doing that. Following Jesus just could get you killed.  But it could also show you the way to die to an old life and begin a new one.

[i] John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, The Last Week. P. 5.  Hereafter, TLW.

[ii] TLW, 3.

[iii] TLW, 3.

[iv] TLW 3-4.

[v] Jim Fleming.

[vi] Jim Fleming

[vii] David Buttrick,  Preaching Jesus Christ, 32.

[viii] TLW, 18-20.

[ix] New Interpreters Bible, Luke, 370-4.

[x] David Buttrick, PJC,.

Lent V: Just Breathe

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2 Kings 4 and Acts 20 (Eutychus)

We DO get hooked on watching sports.  And not just former basketball players watching March Madness tournament games, either.  There’s excitement – all that energy!  When the Olympics come around, we all watch. We learn the names of athletes who have become world class without any fanfare, and cheer them on when they burst through the gates, and cross finish lines as if they were from our neighborhood.  For some of us, we envy them.  For some of us, we remember past athletic glory.  For all of us they seem to embody a greater intensity of life, more energy, vitality.  It draws us.

God’s purpose is to give us life…

“In the Beginning…”  It begins with the story of creation in Genesis 1 – in verse 2 the spirit of God breathes across the waters and then later, God gives all green plants for food to all creatures with the breath of life in them– or in Genesis 2 verse 7 God creates a human creature from clay and breathes into their nostrils. And so it begins – story after story in the Bible of God working to give life to creation, and to the human beings God loves.  And in many of these stories we learn, there is no life without breath.

There are a few stories in the Bible with people who are revived after they are not breathing.  Today we heard two of them. In Acts 20, Paul has come to Troas on his journey to Jerusalem.  The new faith community gathered together to have a meal together and hear Paul.  And Paul spoke until midnight about Jesus being present with the followers even after his death.  It was likely the only time the church community would have had a chance to speak with Paul directly and they wanted to get as much as possible out of it. You’-ti-kus (Eutychus), a young man who had been there in the room filled with lamps, perhaps a bit stuffy, and been listening to a long-winded preacher, however compelling, well past bedtime —  fell asleep and feel three stories onto the ground below.  Paul ran down the stairs, threw himself on the young man and held him and his breath returned.  Paul went back upstairs and ate again and then left.

This story has images and symbols of resurrection and new life woven through it.  Paul is telling about the living presence of Jesus after his death.

— The community is gathered for Koinõnia —  the sharing of WORD and TABLE.  The “breaking of the bread” was how Jesus’ presence is often recognized.

— This meeting is also in an UPPER ROOM, as were several significant meals with Jesus.

Combination of preaching/teaching and miracle= resurrection.  Paul was teaching, resuscitate him, and then runs back upstairs to finish his teaching.  Miracle and message run together a bit.  The miracle of the Risen Jesus is actually the definition of the Good News or The WORD.

We are supposed to understand in this story that God’s purpose is to give life – to all people. God is the life-giver.

  • God’s life-giving impulses go even beyond Oxygen. Although we know we need oxygen.  Bad things happen to our bodies if we don’t have sufficient oxygen.
  • If the air is too thin – as high on a mountain, we labor to breathe and may need breathing assistance. Mountain climbers have to prepare their lungs for the decreased oxygen – and often carry an emergency supply of oxygen just in case they need it.
  • If we have asthma or other respiratory diseases, we have to keep regular checks on our breath capacity through peak flow meters, asthma action plans, and checks of our blood oxygen.
  • Yawning is our body’s defense to bring in more oxygen to our cells and eliminate more Carbon dioxide. It may be because when we are bored or tired, we don’t breathe as deeply as we usually do.  We need more oxygen, which prompts us to yawn, and the oxygen helps to cleanse our blood and energize our minds.  Some of us just need more oxygen and it has nothing to do with being tired or bored.

God is a need beyond Oxygen.  We need God similarly to the way we need oxygen.  Breath of Life – Ruach – divine breath or wind – gives life.  A reminder of not just our dependence on God, but the continual nature of our dependence on God.  Like oxygen, God-breathing is not a 1-shot deal.

This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I I’m desperate for you
And I I’m lost without you

This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I I’m desperate for you
And I I’m lost without you

I’m lost without you
I’m desperate for you[i]

Poets and songwriters are a lot of help on this…because they help connect us with our intuitive centers.

”Breathe of heaven…”

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven[ii]

We DEPEND on God’s in-breathing, living presence – if only we could realize it.  We need God’s living presence even as we need oxygen.  Life depends on it.

How do we find the living presence of God?

There’s a clue in 2 Kings. Our story in 2 Kings is of a strong woman of great faith.  She met Elisha, perceived that he was a prophet, a man of God, and prepared a room for his use any time he had need of it.  When he asked her what he could do for her in return, she shared that she longed for a son.  She has a son – and when he had a killer headache, literally, she ran for Elisha.  His staff and servant were not enough – she would not let go until the prophet had seen her son. Persistence is a virtue.

Shalom. But notice—even in the midst of her tragedy, when people ask her what’s happening, she says, “It’s alright. Shalom – peace is here.”  Why is that?  It’s not immediately obvious why she says everything is alright when her son lays dead.

“It’s alright,” she says.
“Even so, it’s alright.”

“Even in the face of death, God is with us.”

And we may have experienced this a bit ourselves.  In the life or death moments, we know things are alright.  When we sit at the bedside of a loved one as their spirit hovers between this life and the next – we can sometimes feel the SHALOM,  the alrightness of their passing.

Empty to be filled. Perhaps some of the truth of shalom comes from the feeling of emptiness.  Often, after a long vigil or a long illness, we have nothing left.  And then – just then – God breathes into us when we have nothing left.

If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, ‘This is not dead’,
And fill thee with Himself instead….  (Pause)

(With sadness) But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes, He says, ‘This is enow Unto itself – ’twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me.’   Sir Thomas Browne

Or in Psalm 1:  Like trees planted by streams of living water, the faithful yield their fruit in season and do not wither.  WHY?  They are planted by living water.  You see, God’s purpose is to give life, even abundant life, even given continually like the air we breathe. We need God’s living presence to become spiritually alive – and to remain spiritually alive. It’s continual – not a 1 shot deal. It only comes to us out of God’s great love for us. But maybe we need to make room in our lives for God’s living presence. To breathe – just breathe.

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need

Is to take it in, fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe (just breathe)
let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe (just breathe)

Just breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Just breathe[iii]

[i]  Songwriters: Liam Howe / Tahliah Barnett / Timmaz Zolleyn  (Some repetitions removed)

[ii] Songwriters: Chris Eaton / Amy Lee Grant. Breath of Heaven lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

[iii] Songwriters: Jonathan Lindley Smith / Jonny Diaz / Tony Wood

Breathe lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group