Friday, December 24, 2010

Driving Home Christmas Eve...

I know that for those who have been pastors for a long time, Christmas may seem like a lot of work. There are so many extra services and pastoral care issues. You don't get to take time off like everyone else. You have to lead the worship services where everyone else celebrates.

Well... it has been a bit of a different experience for me. It is only my first year as a senior pastor. It is a small church. There have certainly been a fair share of pastoral care issues. But we have less services than normal. Most people are out of town. But that is not why it has been a different experience. It is simply the fact that I have had to lead worship... and so I have had to focus continually on the spiritual aspects of the season. And the fact that I chose to step out of my normal Christmas routine and found myself embraced by a new church family as well as my old one.

So, instead of a reflection, this is a thank you. A thank you to my church and to God for shaking things up a bit this year. God tends to do that, doesn't God?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hey... focus on the donkey!

So, I was hoping to take one of those cool shots with the donkey in sharp focus leaving the background fuzzy and distant. But, unfortunately I just have a little point and shoot digital camera. Such images are rare serendipitous moments with this little camera.

But maybe... maybe the image is more appropriate for the season. We focus on what is happening in the background, on Mary and Joseph, on the birth of Jesus, just quickly glancing at the donkey before moving to the main event. But, as we've been talking about, the season is just as much about the journey as the main event. It is about the preparation, the prophecies, the pronouncements, the pregnancies (wow... those would have been great alliterations for a sermon! I'll have to remember them!)

Talking with several friends who, like me, have been on long journeys whether towards employment or vocational clarity, marriage or pregnancy, physical health or emotional recovery, Christmas is either a time to celebrate having reached a destination or a reminder that while the Christmas journey has come to an end, our own journey's continue for another year. They tell us that we should enjoy the journey, learn from the journey, listen to what God might have for us in the midst of waiting. And they are right, for the most part. But everything in our culture is about making the journey as short as possible or avoiding it all together. Be fast and efficient. Take the quick fix. Find the short cut. And we done something similar with Christmas. Squeezed a nine month long pregnancy into a four week advent season.

Perhaps we should extend the journey to Christmas a bit longer... perhaps we should try to remain on this journey. Or at the least, let's celebrate the donkey, our mascot for the journey, the one who carries us through the desert as we wait for God's word to be fulfilled in our lives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Bit Out of Focus

So, lest you think that just because I post these spiritual reflections I am always focused on Christ this season, today is a day for a bit of confession. To be honest, I'm a mess around the holidays. I'm cranky. I'm ungrateful. I don't like hardly any of the gifts I receive. (Of course, this year has been different!) I always feel lonely. And for the most part, I focus on all the things that I don't have. I focus on the way my grown up Christmases are not the way I expected them to be. I get jealous of my relatives. I can be miserable to be with. Everything seems to get out of focus fairly regularly during the holidays.

I post... because it helps me to stay a bit more focused. I post... as a statement of faith. Not exactly what I feel at the moment, but what I know to be true, what I am trying to cling to. I post... because it means that everyday I have to look at the biblical texts for the week. I post... because even though I know that most of you would not really care that much, I would feel guilty if I didn't follow through on this public commitment. And I post... because it helps me to give throughout the Christmas season. So, to all of you who read this... even if it is only once or twice during the season... thank you. Thank you for helping me to stay focused.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Light in the Darkness

Every year, it seems, I try and take a picture of "a light in the darkness." It is such a central theme of Advent. One that we continue to carry one, even if it's true meaning is often lost in translation. But still... the Christmas lights in front of a house, the lights on the Christmas tree, the candles, the stars... All of them remind us of the hope that comes with a light in the darkness. Of the joy or comfort it can bring.

It is interesting to consider, though, how we have filled our world with false light. With neon signs and computer screens. With street lights and cell phones. It is difficult to find true darkness any more... None of these things in themselves are necessarily bad, but they so often distract us from the true light. And when you through in the light of celebrities, fame, fortune, success... we are blinded in our attempts to find the light and somehow end up more like a moth to a flame.

During these last few days of Advent, may we be able to tell the difference between the true light and our false imitations. May we perhaps for a moment shut off the cell phones and computers, the television screens and video game... May we turn away from the neon lights of the shopping malls and the decorations celebrating a holiday that often forgets its true meaning... may we allow ourselves just a moment of darkness so that we can be reminded again what true light looks like.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Without Fear

I mentioned in my last post that my friend Ileana and I headed down to the lake on Sunday to check out the winter scenery. It was freezing! Literally... temperatures well below 32 degrees. It was crazy, but with the right equipment... boots, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, we went without fear into the cold. Of course, we didn't stay too long. Our equipment was only good up to a point. And then toes and cheeks and fingers started to go numb and we quickly hurried back to the car for warmth.

In order to head out into the cold without fear, we must put on layers. We must bundle up and hide ourselves under heavy parkas and thick boots. We do all that we can to ensure that our skin does not come into contact with the cold, to ensure that we won't be hurt by the dangerous temperatures.

Our life with God is actually just the opposite. In order to draw near to God, into the holiness of God... not freezing, but often pictured as a consuming fire... we don't need to put on protective gear. We don't need the right equipment. We don't need fire proof suits and flame retardant gloves. Instead, we need to take off the layers of self-protection and sin, the layers of guilt and insecurity. We need to lay ourselves bare before God.

Zechariah, in Luke 1:77, describes it as gaining the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. In pealing away the layers of sin and guilt, we open ourselves up to receive the salvation offered by Christ. We allow Christ to be a light in the darkness and to guide us into the way of peace.

The purpose of this forgiveness, of this salvation? That we may serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness (Luke 1:74-75). During this Advent season, may we be overwhelmed by the holiness of our God. May we quake just a little in fear. For God has come among us. We are in danger of being consumed. But thanks be to God for the offer of forgiveness that allows us to approach the holy throne.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crashing In

I finally made it down to the lake to check out the ice and snow this afternoon. It was pretty amazing. Waves had washed up over the retaining wall and onto the pathway beyond. The water coated even the dead grass with layers of ice.

What does this have to do with Advent? Not much, I'm afraid. Just the beauty of the season. Just taking a moment to reflect on the power and creativity of our God. Perhaps... perhaps you might argue that such a moment is a stepping out of the normal holiday routine, stepping out of the busyness, and pausing to be overwhelmed again with God's presence.

And perhaps I'll take a leap here... I preached this morning about the need for John the Baptist to crash into our Christmas celebrations, to knock over the Christmas tree, the step on a few packages, interrupt our singing. To declare, in the midst of all the holiday hoopla, "Repent! Believe! Prepare the way for the Lord!" As the waves crashed over the walls and pathways along the lake, so John the Baptist crashes over Christmas calling us to remember that it is all about the coming king.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Promises, Promises...

No, no, no... take a closer look. It is not a ring. Are you kidding? I can't remember the last time I was on a date... but that is for another post.

Does anyone actually tie a piece of string to their finger to remember something anymore? Now we have cell phones and PDA's and computers with built in electronic bells and whistles to remind us that we need to be somewhere. To help us remember. To help us to keep our promises.

Keeping promises... that seems to be central to Zechariah's idea of who God is. God is the one who fulfilled the promises made by the angel that Zechariah's wife would have a child in her old age. But more importantly, God is the one kept his promise to Israel. God is the one who has raised up a mighty savior just as God promised through the prophets. God is the one who shows mercy as promised to Zechariah's ancestors. God is the one who keeps oaths and honors covenants. God does not forget. God does not fail. God is faithful to do all that God promises.

Of course, it is always in God's timing... and it rarely looks like we expect it to. Who would have thought that the savior of the world would come as a little baby? Or that the kingdom of God would be something that grows over time like leaven? But... it was a pretty big promise that God kept that first Christmas Day... sending a son into this world, coming as one of us. A pretty big promise... Big enough to make me think that God keeps all that God promises.

For those of you who are doubting God's presence and God's promise this Advent season, imaging that God has a million fingers and on each one of them is a bit of string and on one of those strings is your name. God does not forget you. God is faithful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Goo Be Gone...

You know, the more I read the Bible, the more impressed I am with the authors. It's as if they were guided by the Holy Spirit or something! As you probably know by now, my church has been focusing for quite a while on the book of Luke. And for the last month we have been in Chapter 1. Yes... I said that for the last month we have been in Chapter 1. Our entire Advent season has focused on the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus found in that extremely long chapter.

As a church in the midst of revitalization, we have been talking a lot about who we are and what God has for us over the past several months. But for Advent, we have simply been trying to listen, to prepare, to open our hearts to what God might have next for our little congregation. But how, exactly, do you do that?

Such preparation involves prayer, reading scripture, developing true community, opening your hearts to the needs of the world around you, looking for where God might be at work. But it seems during this Advent season I have been led to focus on John the Baptist's message... that salvation comes through the forgiveness of sins. It comes through the nine months of listening after doubting God's word. It comes as a nation turns its heart back to the God who called them out of darkness. It comes as God's people seek to once again live out the Covenant God laid before them.

It comes from giving ourselves a good cleaning, inside and out. And that can take scrubbing, reaching into dark and dingy corners, peeling back hidden layers and forgotten messes.

May God give us the courage to continue to prepare our hearts this Advent season and to hear the words of John the Baptist, the promise that salvation comes through the forgiveness of sins.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Day of Silence

A day of silence in honor of Zechariah... looking up to the heavens and pondering what God would have us learn during this Advent season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Silent Winter

The leaves are gone. The tree lays bare. There is little apparent growth as it lays dormant for the long winter ahead. Yet life is there, present. Healing, growth, and revitalization are taking place in the silent winter.

Zechariah faced a much longer silent winter. For nine months he could not speak. Some speculate that he could not hear either. It had happened suddenly one holy day. He was serving as the high priest leading worship when an angel appeared and let him know that even though he and his wife were well along in years, they were about to have a baby boy. Zechariah doubted the word from God and was struck mute... with nine months to ponder his doubts. Nine months to lay dormant, with little growth appearing on the surface, but inside Zechariah was growing and changing. So much so that upon the birth of his son, before he could speak, he made sure that the baby was named as the angel had said. And with that one act of faith and obedience, Zechariah's speech was restored.

We all make mistakes. Some of them big ones. We all doubt at times. And there are times there are consequences for our actions. There are times when God silences us for a while. Takes us out of the game. Asks us to sit on the sidelines for a few months. But it is not permanent. It is not necessarily a punishment. It is more of an opportunity. A chance to regroup, to ponder our faith, to restore our soul. And at the right time, we are restored. Our voice returns. And we, like Zechariah, sing forth praise to God

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bringin' Em Down

The God that Mary sings about in Luke is one of justice and mercy. This God brings down the powerful, lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry, but sends the rich away empty handed. When I first think about such power, I think of mighty wars and battles. I think of weapons and armor. But God is so much more subtle than that. God does not work the way we do. God doesn't need powerful weapons to take out the powerful. God just needs a little snow, a little ice, maybe a trickle of water eroding the rocks on a hillside, a small microbe that can wipe out an army. God has so many ways of reminding us of God's power.

To be honest, I don't always understand God's power and justice. At times, it seems that God's justice takes far too long. At other times, God's power seems to hurt those who are most in need of justice. And the powerful and rich seem to remain just where they are. Actually, the Jewish people may have felt a similar way just about the time of Jesus' birth. They had been under the power of Rome for far too long. There seemed to be injustice everywhere. And there had been no word from God in a long time.

The people were waiting for a Messiah, for someone to rescue them. They were hoping for a king, an army, a ruler. But, of course, God came in an unexpected way and brought justice in a manner that no one could have predicted. A little baby, born to a young girl, in small town, to working class parents... And with that promise, Mary declares here faith again in the power of God to save.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good Pride and Bad Pride

As Mary sings her song of praise to God, she declares, "God has shown strength with God's arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts." (Luke 1:51)

Does this mean that God makes those of us who are too proud a bit scatter brained... or scatter hearted?
I was reflecting on what it means for God to scatter those who are too proud. Or, to be more honest, I was reflecting on whether or not my own pride was enough for God to want to scatter me. And my reflections led me to consider what I had on and around my desk. As a congregational studies major, one of the things I have learned to do is analyze space. One walks into a church building and begins to observe who or what is given the most prominent space. What does the church convey about what it believes and what it values simply by its architecture, interior decorating, and layout? In the same way, what does my desk say about what I value? What I am proud of?

Now, it should be noted that at the moment my desk fills up the dining room of my little house. That in itself tells you something... no dining room table, but a desk that covers two walls! And on one of the walls over my desk hang two of my diplomas. My bachelor's degree in engineering is no where to be found. But my master's degree and PhD feature prominently. They are definitely things I am proud of... as I should be. But when does that pride spill over into something that God would not be proud of in me?

What is it in your life you are proud of? Perhaps the following questions, questions that I seem to need to ask myself on a regular basis, will help you to figure out if it is good pride or bad pride...

Do you think it is something you did all by yourself? Or do you constantly remember God's provision and guidance in it?

Does it make you feel better than other people? Thankful that you are not like other people? Or do you see it as a gift and do you believe that God gives gifts of equal value to everyone?

Is it something you hide or hoard away? Or is it something you share with the world?

Is it something that you feel you have a right to or are entitled to?... actually, this is at the heart of the matter isn't it. Does it make you act as if you are entitled? And if you have no idea what I am talking about, you should probably find someone to ask. Someone who is older and wiser. Or someone who is not as powerful as you are. Someone who works for you or serves you in some way.

The opposite of proud is not, I don't think, lack of self-esteem. I think the opposite of proud is grateful, thankful, humble, servant-like. God scatters those who believe they are entitle to more than others in this world. But God lifts up the lowly.

May Advent help us to enter into Christmas with an attitude of thankfulness rather than entitlement. Grateful for all that God has already done for us and continues to provide.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

When I was a child growing up in the Catholic church, I knew two prayers: The Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary. I knew that the Lord's prayer was from scripture, but I never really understood that the Hail Mary came straight from scripture as well:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Well, at least the first half comes from right from Luke. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit declares Mary blessed. And Mary's song tells us that all generations will call Mary blessed.

To be honest, I've had a rather mixed relationship with Mary. I no longer agree with all of what the Catholic church teaches about Mary. And, to be honest, I often don't agree with what the Protestant church teaches about Mary either. We either don't talk about Mary at all, or we portray her as some passive vessel of God. I remember being taught as a new Christian that I should be meek and quiet like Mary. I should passively submit to God and to my future husband.

But the more I read about Mary, the more I am amazed at her strength, courage, and faith. To hold fast to her story despite its impossibility. To see herself not as some object used by God, but as a servant, someone making a choice to obey. To fear and ponder and exclaim. To sing a powerful song full of God's promises. To understand herself as carrying something so mighty. And to see herself as someone who would be called blessed by all generations. It is no wonder so many around the world venerate this woman. As our preacher pointed out last Sunday and as we were reminded again this morning, Mary was the first Christian, the first to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bringing Our Gifts

I'm not feeling that great tonight... so, a picture I took a few days ago of our sanctuary decorated for Advent. It is beautiful. Filled with light. Filled with hope. Filled with expectation. All those feelings for me are evoked by the image of the star over Bethlehem, but also by our small little congregation struggling through a difficult time and yet in the midst of it all gathering faithfully to worship. In many ways, they are like the magi following the star that led them to Bethlehem. Each week they bring their gifts on Sunday morning. In a church our size, just as many people are serving as are sitting in the pews during the service. There is the worship band and the A/V crew, the scripture reader and preacher, the greeter, the coffee maker, the clean up crew, the ushers and counters, not to mention the people who built Bethlehem and set up the decorations. And this week the family lighting the Advent candle and, of course, as always, the nursery workers and Sunday School teachers. By my count, that is over 25 people. All bringing their gifts to God... not just on Christmas day, but every week. Every week gathering together under the star of Bethlehem. Beautiful.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Do You Take A Picture of This?

So, this is how I go about taking pictures each day... well, some days.

Last week at church we sang a new song by Chris Tomlin called "My Soul Magnifies the Lord." I have been singing the chorus in my head all week. I asked our worship team to sing it again this Sunday since, believe it or not, it is almost word for word out of Mary's song in Luke 1:46-49. I love when I can memorize scripture through song!

Okay, so this song has been in my head. Luke 1:46-49, Mary's song, is part of the text in our church for this coming Sunday. I want to take a picture to represent "My soul magnifies the Lord." Uh... um... what in the world does that look like?

So, I head to to look up "magnify" and find the following:
1. Rare to make greater in size, status, or importance; enlarge
2. to cause to seem greater, more important, etc. than is really so; exaggerate: to magnify one's sufferings
3. to cause to seem larger than is really so; increase the apparent size of, esp. by means of a lens or lenses
4. Archaic to glorify; praise; extol

Since I am pretty sure there is no way we can make God greater in size or importance and it would certainly be difficult to exaggerate the greatness of God, I'm going to assume that the text is using the archaic form which means to glorify; praise; or extol.

Uh... um...

Okay, to for "glorify."
1. to make glorious; give glory to
2. to exalt and honor (God), as in worship
3. to praise extravagantly; honor; extol
4. to make seem better, larger, finer, etc. than is actually the case

Again, no way to make God seem better or finer than is actually the case. But Mary does seem to praise God extravagantly. An outpouring of praise much like the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with precious oil. To be so filled with love for God, so filled with amazement at God's great works, at God's character, at who God is that it overflows in song. Song just welling up and pouring forth. I don't think worship can always be like this. Sometimes it must be an act of faithful obedience. But when it is like this... when the praise just pours forth... what a glorious experience. Ah... the word glory again.

So, what does "glory" mean?
1. great honor and admiration won by doing something important or valuable; fame; renown
2. anything bringing this worshipful adoration or praise
3. the condition of highest achievement, splendor, prosperity, etc.: Greece in her glory
4. radiant beauty or splendor; magnificence
5. heaven or the bliss of heaven
7. a halo or its representation in art
8. any circle of light

Finally... at the end of the definition of glory... something I can take a picture of... a halo or its representation in art. Just like the yellow circles of light over the head of Mary and Joseph in my nativity ornament.

So, the point of today's post? To reflect on what it means to magnify the Lord. To glorify the Lord. To give glory to God. How might we allow ourselves to stop for a moment and to dwell on the great work that God has done in sending a son into the world? How might we allow our souls to be filled and to overflow with praise and thanksgiving? How may we join with Mary in magnifying the Lord?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Spirit to Spirit

It seems that every time I get to these verses in Luke I want to try and take a picture of the Holy Spirit. For some reason I picture the Holy Spirit welling up in Elizabeth and crying out as Mary enters the room, "Blessed are you among women!" And sometimes I wish that still happened. Wouldn't be great if when you entered the room someone cried out, "Blessed are you among women!" Or at least, "Greetings favored child of God!" Of course, it is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit tends to speak the truth. I'm not sure how excited I would be if I walked into the room and someone cried, "Greetings, O one who was jealous today!" Or "Blessed are you despite the fact that you weren't very nice to people today!"

But still, it does seem to me that Elizabeth is not the only one who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Have you ever met someone and felt the Spirit leap within you? I'm not talking about being attracted to someone, though at times that may be Spirit led as well. But there are times when you just see Christ in other people the way Mary saw Christ in Elizabeth. And times when people see Christ in you. There is something to the fact that as Christians we are all filled with the Holy Spirit and that Spirit connects us all with one another. We are one in the Spirit. And that Spirit cries out to itself when it recognizes the Spirit's presence in another.

I pray that this week someone will see Christ in you and that the Spirit will cry out blessings upon you. I pray that this week you will see Christ in another and that you will cry out blessings upon them as well.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

In Search of Confirmation

"In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." Luke 2:39-40

A young girl receives a visit from an angel telling her she is about to be pregnant with God's child and the first thing she does is leave home to go visit her Aunt Elizabeth. Well, at least that is the first thing we know about. I can imagine that at this point she wondered if she was a little bit crazy. Because, really, sane people are not often visited by angels. Virgins do not often find themselves pregnant. It seems a bit crazy to believe that you will be the mother of God. How in the world did Mary process all of this? But there was Elizabeth. God said that something crazy had happened to Elizabeth as well. Not quite as crazy as what was happening to her, but pretty close.

I can imagine the relief Mary felt walking into Elizabeth's house. There was her old, barren Aunt six months pregnant. And immediately Elizabeth begins confirming what God is doing in Mary's life. Maybe it wasn't a dream after all. Maybe God really does do miracles.

When God calls us, God rarely calls us alone. God always seems to place us in community or in relationships that affirm the call. God seems to provide signs along the way affirming God's presence. Calls like the one Mary received, or like a call to ministry or missions, or a call to get married or have children, or a call to a vocation or location... God grounds these types of calls in the material reality of our world. God does not leave them just inside our own heads. This does not mean, however, that we can tell when God is speaking by a majority vote. It does mean that the church always recognizes the presence of God in someone's life and work.

It does mean that Mary was in a pretty precarious position. It was possible that she was mentally unstable... if it wasn't for the proof, the baby born who would go on the give his life for the world. In the same way, there is a fine line between our own calls and insanity. Sometimes the only way to tell the difference is to wait and see.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

God of the Big and Small

I have been thinking a lot this week about the contrast between Mary and Elizabeth. Mary was too young. Elizabeth was too old. Mary was not yet married. Elizabeth had been married for far too long. Mary was without any power. Mary was a virgin. Elizabeth was barren. Two women in many ways at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The comparison brought to mind the story of Goldilocks. You all know about Goldilocks. The young girl who breaks into the home of three bears, ransacks the place breaking furniture, eating all their food, and messing up their beds. The young girl who needs everything to be just perfect. It's too hot or too cold. It's too big or too small. Everything has to be just right.

I'm so glad God is not like Goldilocks. I'm so glad that God didn't look at Elizabeth and say, "She's too old." Or take one look at Mary and exclaim, "She's too young." And then keep looking until God found someone who was "just right." God doesn't work that way. God doesn't need us to be just the right size or shape or age. God doesn't need us to be in the right job or from the right family or have just the right set of gifts. God does not go through the world picking up this person and that saying, "This one is too big." "This one is too small." "This one is just right!" God uses all of us, vessels of all different shapes and sizes, those of us who are too big and too small, too old and too young. God uses all types of people to bring the light of Christ to the world. So don't worry... when God looks at you and considers using you for some purpose in this world... God looks at you and says "This one is just right."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Do Angels Get Confused?

On Sunday morning during my children's sermon, I talked about angels being messengers from God. As the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized how little I really know about angels... at least according to what the Bible says. I know quite a bit about what the world seems to believe.

I have the images of a beautiful man or woman in white (they are always beautiful according to worldly standards for some reason). Someone who speaks on behalf of God. A guardian who protects us. I always assume that angels have it all together. I don't think much about angels worrying about how they look or whether or not they are making a difference or if they said the right thing. I don't think about angels questioning God or confused about what's going on.

But I wonder... I wonder how the angel Gabriel felt when delivering the words to Mary that God was going to come in human form. Not angelic form... but human form. And that God was going to entrust God's infant self to the young girl confused and perplexed before the angel. What weight did the messenger carry?

What was the angel thinking? To be honest, I find it incredibly comforting that the book of Luke starts off with everyone a bit confused and overwhelmed. Zechariah doubting God. Mary confused and perplexed. And I am guessing that perhaps the angels had a few questions of their own as they delivered their messages. I am comforted because I am often confused and perplexed about what God is doing in this world and why God chose to work through people like you and me. And perhaps such confusing is not a sign of a lack of faith, but instead the first step towards seeing God do a work that is more than anything we could ask or imagine.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Pregnant Expectation

This afternoon I made empanadas for the first time. The particular type I made seemed to take forever to make! Well... just about 2 1/2 hours. Yes, last night I made tamales with the women from Sojourner and today empanadas. I am sure I am just proscratinating important work that needs to be done. But at least it is healthy, useful proscrastinating.

But proscrastinating is not the topic of this post. Rather it is the expectation... the pregnant expectation that accompanies waiting for something like an empanada to be born. Or, more to the point of the Advent season, the literally pregnant expectation of the young Mary for nine months. Mary was given a word from the Lord. A confusing word. A word that she most likely didn't fully understand. Our preacher for this morning at Sojourner, Una Lucey-Lee, did a great job of laying out all the rich details and allusions present in the angel Gabriel's words to Mary. It was all about the rich history of expectation for the Messiah. But Mary accepted the word, this word that she did not fully understand. She submitted herself to the Lord. As Una pointed out, she did not do so passively. She struggled and reasoned. She made a choice. And then she waited. For nine months she waited. For nine months she was pregnant with the word of God growing within her until it finally came forth on Christmas morning.

I must give most of the credit for this post to Una. It is an incredible blessing to be part of a church with such an excellent team of preachers. As a pastor, it is rare that I get to be preached to on Sunday mornings! Una challenged us this morning to consider what we might be waited for during this Advent season. What are the pregnant hopes and dreams within us this season? Perhaps more importantly, what word from the Lord have you received that is waiting pregnantly within you? What promise? What vision? What hope for you or for the world?

May we have the grace of Mary as we wait for the Word of God to be birthed through us this Advent season.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Pretty Garbage

So... this is a bit less tied to the Advent text for the week, but it is what I was thinking about today. This morning we awoke to the first snowfall of the year. It was beautiful! My favorite kind of snow. The kind that sticks to everything. It is actually quite odd that we associate snow with Christmas given where Jesus' birth took place. But, still...

Snow can make anything look beautiful. Even the alley behind my house. Even the garbage cans lining the streets. Snow covers everything with a clean blanket that hides all the dents and scars and garbage in the world. At least for a little while.

We use the language of being made "as white as snow" to talk about being forgiven by God and made holy. I realize that "whiteness" is a loaded concept in our society and that all to often people connect this idea with the idea of being "white" or "caucasian." The fact of the matter is, though, we are all shades of brown, orange, green, red... God does not make us all "white." God does, however, make us as clean as fresh fallen snow.

But... I was thinking today as I was looking at my beautiful snow covered trash cans, that we often settle for a blanket of snow in our lives. We like God to just cover up the garbage. We like to look pretty to ourselves, to the church, and to the world. But God desires to do something more in our lives. God desires to make us new creatures, forgiven, holy, justified. And for that, God chose to become one of us. That is the gift that began with Jesus birth.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Holding Onto the Holy

Luke 1:35... "therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God."

And you thought raising your kids was a challenge! A child holy from birth. Not just innocent. Not just perfect in the sight of their parents. But really... truly perfect. When the child Jesus wanders away from Mary and Joseph during a festival in Jerusalem and heads for the temple, what could they say? Mary and Joseph present a united front and Jesus just goes around them to a heavenly authority.

What type of person did Mary have to be? What kind of courage? What kind of self-worth? To be able to fully love her child while holding him loosely?
And who is this God of ours? Fully embodied in an innocent baby. Willing to hold on to divinity so loosely. Willing to set aside power for love?

To love what is holy... that is a challenge. To give yourself fully to one who will always be better, always be stronger, always be more perfect. To love someone whom you can only hold onto loosely.

Mary was not the only one called to love what is holy. We, too, are called to love the holy Christ child. We, too, are called to love in a way that holds others loosely while giving ourselves fully. We are to be able to love knowing that God is always present in the relationship, always a higher power that can be called upon at any moment. To love what is holy... that is the challenge of Christmas.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Odd Greetings?

Luke 1:28-29 "And he (Gabriel) came to her and said, 'Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.' But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be."

I started receiving Christmas cards this week. Of course the first included a plea for money from my college alma mater and the second was from my alderwoman. None of them have been particularly striking so far, but every once in a while I get a card that I just can't seem to figure out at all. What in the world were they trying to communicate when they picked this?

Surprisingly, this is a bit how Mary felt about the angel's greeting. She was perplexed and had to think about what the words meant. Yet the greeting, at least to me, doesn't seem that strange. In many churches, worship begins with the phrase, "The Lord is with you," and responded to with "And also with you." We assume that God is with us always and everywhere. Or at least that is what we proclaim on Sunday mornings, even if we seem to forget it during much of the week. I forget, sometimes, just how radical an idea it is that God is with us. And how much more radical it might have been for Mary. Think about the previous verses. Zechariah is a priest, one of the few people in all of Israel designated to serve in the sanctuary of the temple. One of the few people allowed to stand in God's presence. Before Christ's death on the cross, the tearing of the curtain in the temple, it was assumed that God was not always with us. At least not in the way we understand it. God was on top of the mountain, or in the inner sanctum of the temple, or present to only a few special chosen people... to the prophets and perhaps a king or two. God was not with the ordinary. It was too dangerous for God to be present all the time. The holiness would be overwhelming. It could kill you.

And yet, the angel tells the young Mary that God is with her. Not only is God with her, the power of the Most High will overshadow her. Holiness will dwell within her. And from now on, holiness will dwell with each of us.

Each season God seems to bring to mind different themes as I write these reflections. This Advent it seems to be all about the reality of God's presence with us. The overwhelming sense of the holy walking with humanity. A sense not only that God came down, but that we are more than mere flesh and blood. That there is a holiness to humanity created in God's image as we were.

God is with you this Advent season. God is with you, O favored one. May it cause us to ponder as Mary did.

(By the way, as a side note... by pop-music association for the day was Adam Ant's Goody Two Shoes... don't you just think of John the Baptist when you here the phrase "Don't drink. Don't smoke. What do you do?")

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Knit Together

Funny things happen when you are thinking about the days Advent text and listening to classic rock at the same time. Yesterday as I was pondering the announcement of Jesus birth to Mary by the angel Gabriel, the radio suddenly began blasting Mannfred Mann's "Blinded by the Light." Now, of course, the song is about a young woman on a drug trip. Not a good comparison to our fair Mary. And yet... I sometimes think people when people are using drugs (or drinking or doing extreme sports or extreme worship) they are seeking exactly what Mary experienced: an encounter with God, something otherworldly and overwhelming to the senses. And yet an encounter with God is not something that we can manufacture. It comes unexpectedly...

But of course that has nothing to do with today's photo. As you may know from following my blog in the past, I tend to take quite a lot of pictures of the sculptures lining McCormick Avenue. This particular one is by Andy Zimmerman. It is supposed to be the inside of a plant, but it made me think of what was happening in Mary's body as the angel announced that she would conceive a child. Something forming in her womb. Something being knit together. A seed developing. It is a bit overwhelming to consider. God did not just plant a tiny human version of God in Mary's womb. Instead, God knit God's self together with Mary. God became human and united with humanity in a deeply profound and physical way.

God may not dwell in each of us exactly the way God dwelled in Mary, but I wonder if the Holy Spirit does not knit itself into our bodies in the same way the seed of a child knits itself into its mother's womb. The Holy Spirit does not just dwell in us in the same way a person dwells in a house. Rather, the Holy Spirit becomes one with us, knits into us, unites with us. Conception takes place. A new creation is born. As I am sure was the case with Mary, and I am guessing is the case when a woman realizes she is pregnant, it is both terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. To be that close and connected with someone... to be that close to God. This Advent, may we open ourselves up to the God who has already drawn near to us, who dwells with us, and is knit into our very beings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Light to Come

For those of you who pay attention to these things, you may have noticed that I am not following the lectionary texts this year. Our church was working through the parables in Luke (the lectionary gospel readings for most of the fall) and it felt appropriate after struggling through their meanings to return to the beginning. So, for Lent I'll be following the texts we'll be using at Sojourner Covenant Church from the first chapters of Luke throughout this season. This past Sunday we focused on the promise of John's birth to Zechariah in Luke 1:1-25. This Sunday we'll be reading from Luke 1:26-38, the announcement of Jesus' birth to Mary.

My reflections for this particular day bridge both stories... the promise of a child. Two children really. One a long awaited answer to prayer. The other an answer to prayer before its time. God can be so frustrating like that. Moving too early or waiting too long. If only the world operated in our timing... And if only the things we hoped for turned out just like we pictured them... I suppose what struck me most today from the readings was the phrase from Luke 1:14-15: "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord." It seems obvious at first. Of course Zechariah and Elizabeth will be ecstatic having a child after all these years of waiting. Of course the entire community will rejoice, knowing that the shame has been removed, that their priest has been justified. And yet, that is not the reason for the rejoicing. Instead, they will rejoice because John will be "great in the sight of the Lord." If I could just manage to be joyful in the things of God...

To be honest, it terrifies me to think about having a child who will be "great in the sight of the Lord." Such a child is not my own. I cannot protect such a child. Such a child will be different from others, will likely be a bit of an outsider. Such a child may face persecution. Such a child may suffer. How in the world were Zechariah and Mary able to rejoice at the news they were receiving? That their children would walk difficult paths and face much suffering?

We say that to walk with God is to be in the safest place possible. We profess that a life of faith and witness is the highest ideal. But do we really believe it? And are we willing to seek that for our children? This Advent season, will you rejoice in those who are becoming great in the sight of the Lord?

(By the way... thank you to Ileana Garcia-Soto for creating this beautiful manger that sits in front of the Bethlehem scene that will grace the altar at Sojourner throughout this season.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Terrifying Presence

What does an angel of the Lord look like? What in the world did Zechariah see as he stood in the sanctuary of the Lord? What is it that made him terrified and overwhelmed with fear (Luke 1:13)? Advent begins with Zechariah confronted with something beyond his experience or understanding. An angel of the Lord standing before him. And then, things get even more terrifying. The angel promises something that is impossible, something that is outside the realm of human possibility, something beyond hope... And that, perhaps, is the most terrifying part of all. Zechariah is asked to hope again. Hope for something he had been longing for all his life but had most likely given up on.

The first Sunday of Advent asks us to hope. We tend to forget that hope can be a terrifying act, one that involves tremendous risk, putting your heart on the line, testing your faith and trust in God. In the Bible, hope is not just wishful thinking, or positive thinking, or some denial of the trials of life. Instead, hope is an act of faith. Hope is a clinging to the promises of God. Hope is risking a belief that what God has promised will come to pass despite all evidence to the contrary.

What do you need to risk hoping for this Advent season? What promise of God to the world do you need to be reminded of? What do you need to cling to once again? This Advent season, may God prepare your hearts again to receive the hope of the world.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Clearing A Path for Christmas

I spent the first day of Advent hiking along the Natchez Trail in Nashville, TN with my family. The trail was well cleared in some areas with trees and logs freshly cut down laying along the side of the trail. Other sections were steep and rocky and we often slipped and stumbled along the way. This was partly due to the nature of the trail and partly due to the fact that I was not necessarily wearing the best hiking shoes.

Walking along the trail, I thought a lot about this Advent season. In particular, I thought about the text for this Sunday from the first chapter of Luke: the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Christ. How prepared am I for the birth of Christ again during this Christmas season? What logs are lying across the road of my life right now? What needs to be cleared away? What are the things getting between me and God? Am I jealous? Greedy? Is there sin in my life? Have I stopped praying regularly? How can I once again listen to John the Baptist this Advent season and prepare a path for Christ in my life again?

Or perhaps the trail is simply rocky. There are bumps and slippery spots along the road of life. These are not simply trees that have fallen across the road and can be cleared away. These are the realities of life and I simply need good walking shoes. I need to be reading scripture, praying, spending time in worship and community, serving, giving, sharing. I need to prepare my heart to receive Christ even along the rocky path of life.

How will the paths in your life be made straight this Advent season? What logs do you need to God to clear from your life? Or what do you need to do to put on your hiking shoes?

Welcome, once again, to another season of Advent... I am planning on posting and blogging each day as part of clearing the logs in my own life. I hope they will help you do the same.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Resurrection

The Resurrection
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

Well, it is my last post for the Lenten season. A celebration of Easter and resurrection. The spring flowers reaching up to the sky. A reorientation of our hearts minds away from the sin and sorrow of Lent to the joy and light of Easter.

Yet it is not right to say that the season of Easter is all about looking up. Rather, it is about looking into the light. It is not about looking away from this world up to the heavens. Rather it is about bringing heaven down to us. It is not about escape, but about reorientation and a recognition that we are a part of something bigger than we can imagine. Perhaps that is what is best captures by this picture. Not an image of escape, but the joy of being part of something larger, of being part of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is real! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

I am of course writing this just before midnight, trying to finish my first Easter sermon for tomorrow. I really do hope that resurrection comes in the morning!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Waiting for Sunday

Waiting for Sunday
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

This is the way the church will look tomorrow, Holy Saturday. Empty. Waiting. And by Sunday it will be filled with light and flowers and the laughter of a redeemed people.

We are lucky to be waiting for something. Waiting is connected with hope, something few of the disciples had. The three woman at the cross had come to finish preparing Jesus for burial. They were not waiting for the resurrection. Yet, they are faithful in following Jesus... even if that Jesus was gone. They offered their service to him, and in the midst they were confronted with a message from God.

We know about the resurrection. How much more should we be faithful in our service to the Lord?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Light of Christ

The Light of Christ
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

Good Friday... what kind of Good are we talking about? I actually hate the name. I realize that it is Good because it is part of the fulfillment of the Good News. I realize that it is Good because of what happens afterwards. But it doesn't feel that good to me. Not even eat your vegetables kind of good.

I really am a Good Friday person... mostly because I seem to be able to see so much of the sin and yuckiness in the world and for some reason I still have faith... On some days just a tentative thread of hope, but hope nonetheless. The light never seems to go out. To be honest, on some days I wish it would. Hanging on to a thread is exhausting! And yet, what would it mean to drop into the real darkness?

Now, having said all of this, I realize that my experience of sin is minimal compared to so many people in this world. What can I say to that? Only to keep holding on. I know it is painful. I'm sure your pain is more than I can imagine. But the pain means that you are alive and that you still have a bit of hope. Pain is not the same as sin. In face, pain is often a sign of life.

Good Friday... may our faith deepen as we allow ourselves to face squarely the events of that day. God will hold on to us. That thread is stronger than we imagine and at the end Christ is holding on to us.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Cup

The Cup
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

Yesterday the table. Today the cup.

The cup represents so many different things. "Take this cup from me," Jesus says. Even Jesus feeling a need for his suffering to be relieved. And even Jesus hearing a "No. There is another way" answer to his prayer. How does the saying go? God always answers prayers, just not the way we like. I have always hated that saying, but today I am reminded that Jesus understands. He felt the same way in Gethsemane.

The cup of the new covenant. "A new command I give you," says Jesus, "to love one another." It doesn't seem like such a new commandment to me. The command to love seems to have been there all along. What does it mean that the covenant was new? Was it new and improved? Or brand new out of nothing? It seems to be that the concept of a new covenant was for our benefit. It wasn't really new to God. Yet God saw how entangled our understanding of the Old Covenant had become with our sinfulness and the sinful structures of our world. And God decided to untangle it. A new covenant. Sometimes I wish God would untangle us again.

A shared cup. Jesus passes the cup to his disciples, despite their coming betrayal. A cup of grace and mercy. If only our communion cups were full of the same grace. We know just as well as Jesus that people are flawed, that we sin and hurt one another. Can we extend the same grace?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dining with the Enemy

Table for Two
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

What a confusing few days! Jesus parades into Jerusalem, the crowds calling him the next king. He storms into the temple courtyard and begins turning over the tables. So, Jesus is finally showing his power! Finally claiming his authority. Finally leading!

Um... Jesus... what are you doing down there washing my feet? What do you mean you are going to suffer? What is all this talk about death? What do you mean one of us is going to betray you?

Sitting around the dinner table, Jesus reveals that one of the disciples will betray him. I find the response rather interesting. Like a group of school children, Peter leans over to John and whispers, "You ask him." And John leans over to Jesus and whispers, "Tell us who it is." I suppose they were so trusting of one another that they could hardly believe one of their own would betray Jesus. What I don't understand is why they just let it happen. Jesus shows everyone it is Judas. Hands a piece of bread right to him (John 13.26). Why didn't the disciples grab him at that moment? Did they not believe Jesus?

Betrayal within the community of faith is so hard to deal with. We want to believe the best in each other. We want to trust one another. And of course, we must strive for that. But we cannot sit silently when sin is revealed. We cannot live in denial. In particular, I think of the incidents of domestic violence and child abuse where our desire to have faith in one another leads us to ignore the proof that something is going wrong here.

But one must also ask what happened with Judas. Why did he, one of the twelve, betray Jesus? Was it foreordained? Did Jesus know every day of their journey together that Judas would hand him over to his death? Why would Jesus choose such a disciple? It causes me to wonder if I would ever betray Jesus like that. But more often, it reminds me of God's grace. God chooses even the sinners among us (which, really, is everyone) to be God's disciples. Perhaps God knows that acts of betrayal are in our future, but God allows for freewill, the possibility of repentance, the hope of forgiveness. God sees the image of God in each one of us, all of God's creation, and loves us immensely. So much so that God clings in relationship to us even when we betray. What amazing grace!

Monday, March 29, 2010

All the Leaves Are Brown...

Discarded Leaves
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

I am sorry for missing Saturday's post. Unfortunately I was up quite late writing a Palm Sunday Sermon... I asked whether the worship on Palm Sunday was real worship since all the crowd gathered would scatter and abandon Jesus within the week. I challenged us to consider if we would scatter as well, or would we be willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem? Would be willing to walk into centers of power and speak truth? Would we be willing to go with Jesus into the temple courtyard and overturn the tables? Are we willing to critique the sins within our own religious institutions? And are we willing to walk with Jesus to the cross, giving up our privilege and our place in the system no matter what the consequences?

While this is not a Palm leaf, it reminds me of what it might have been like the morning after Palm Sunday. Probably a few jackets left behind, lying on the ground, with a hoof print or two on them. Leaves and branches scattered around left to wither and die. And over the next few days the faith of the people would also begin to wither. They would lose their connection to the true vine and begin to turn brown and brittle. Did such lack of faith need to happen? Is there any connection to Jesus' words that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) Our we willing to let our false worship die so that we might come to worship the true God?

Friday, March 26, 2010

You, too?

You, too?
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

So... when you are wandering around your house at 11:00 pm looking for a picture, you sometimes have to get a little creative. I knew what I wanted to write about, but how to find a picture to express it?

I have been thinking a lot about the praise frenzy taking place on Palm Sunday and I have wondered if I would have ever joined in. As you may notice from my reflections, I tend to be more of a Good Friday girl. Lent fits my reflective, pensive, sometimes downright depressing self. I tend look at the Palm Sunday people and say, "Well, they won't last... Just wait until the hard stuff comes along." And in many ways I would be right. Those who celebrated Jesus were gone by the end of the week. But does that mean God thought any less of their worship?

The truth is, Jesus orchestrated Palm Sunday. It was a time for worship. Worship was the appropriate response and when the Pharisee's tried to reign it in and quiet everybody down, Jesus told them to back off. You can try to stop it, but if you do so, the rocks will just start crying out!

Yes, a rock concert. U2. A weak connection. I know. But...
I was on Soldier Field for the U2 concert last year. I tried to scream and shout and let myself get caught up in the frenzy and excitement, but I couldn't. Okay, while a few friends might disagree with me, I am under no illusions that Bono is Jesus. But my fear of celebrating and praising has little to do with that. It is about a fear of losing control, of looking silly, of being wrong. It keeps me from expressing true joy or real love or even deep sorrow or raging anger.

All this to say... while the disciples on Palm Sunday would eventually fall away, in the moment, at that moment, when Jesus chose to reveal himself as the anointed one, the Messiah, the king, they got it right. The frenzied waving of branches. The shouting and chanting. The parade into Jerusalem. These were all appropriate responses in the presence of Christ. My my faith grow in such a way that I allow myself to enter into similar moments of pure worship, forgetful of myself and focusing only on God.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blowing in the Wind

Blowing in the Wind
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The wind was howling today, rocking my car from side to side as I stopped at a light, whipping the tree branches around the little chapel at Garrett.

I wonder if the wind was blowing on Palm Sunday? There is no mention of it, but for some reason I think perhaps it was. There is this sense that something different is happening. God is moving in mysterious ways. The energy is so palpable that the rocks might start praising God.

There is some recent research on Christ's triumphal entry that suggests that while Jesus was riding in on his little donkey through the backdoor, Pilate was parading in on a great warhorse through the front gate of Jerusalem. It seems in the movies that when the little guy goes up against the big guy, the wind seems to start blowing announcing a force beyond our understanding. I imagine the wind moving through the trees, perhaps even howling through the gates of the city letting us know that the Holy Spirit was present and that God was preparing a mighty work on that day. God was doing something we couldn't quite see and didn't quite understand, but we recognized the significance nonetheless.

Where might the wind be howling these days? Where might God be moving? Where might Jesus be riding in the backdoor challenging the might of oppressive structures and powerful enemies? And will I rejoice at its coming?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Was it All A Mistake?

With Boughs in Hand
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

"The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With bough in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar." (Psalm 118:27)

Were the people wrong in the celebration of Jesus on Palm Sunday? Were they all misguided? Did their lack of faith on Good Friday mean they didn't truly believe on Palm Sunday? Are we allowed to praise God even when our faith is not exactly pure? Can we worship on Sunday even though we often don't make it faithfully all the way to Friday?

I have been reading ecclesiology (the study of the church) lately in preparation for a course I'm teaching at Garrett. This week we'll be discussing the marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The "holiness" of the church always gets me. Clearly the church has not lived up to its reputation for holiness. And yet somehow we are still holy. The holiness of the church, much like the righteousness of each individual, is not grounded in our own ability. Rather, the church is holy because God is present. And God is present even when sin is present... as was evidenced by Christ's walk to Jerusalem.

The Palm Sunday parade was a moment of pure worship. In Luke 19, Jesus says that if the crowd had remained silent the rocks would have cried out. Jesus was revealing who he was as God's own son bringing the kingdom. And worship was the proper response. And in that moment of worship, perhaps the crowd was transformed a bit. Coming into contact with the kingdom can do that to a person. May our worship on Sunday mornings, though not perfect, be moments when we glimpse the kingdom, when we recognize the holiness of God in our midst, and when we are transformed a little. So that we might bring a bit of the holiness with us into the world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Thorny Path

A Thorny Path
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

In another few months, this will be a beautiful rose lined walkway... but for now it is a walkway lined with thorns. Bushes and branches covered with inch long thorns that grab at you if you wander too close to the edge. That cut and scrape and leave a mark on your skin.

The road into Jerusalem seemed to be lined with Palm branches as Jesus arrived, but Jesus knew that what he was really walking into. Within days a crown of thorns would be shoved on his head. Not quite the crown that was anticipated on Palm Sunday. The crowd that once praised him was nowhere to be found. He was left alone to face his accusers. Abandoned. Forsaken.

I don't really want to follow down this path. I want to wait until the roses bloom. I want to wait for the beauty to come. The sweet fragrance. The stunning colors. Yet, as Jesus taught us, sometimes we must walk a thorny path in order to reach God's glory. Will I have the courage to follow?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Enter the Gate

Open the Gate
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

"Open for me the gate of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter." (Psalm 118:19-20).

Seeing as this particular gate leads into my backyard, it is definitely not a gate of righteousness. I mean, I might be somewhat righteous. It depends on who you are comparing me to. And I am certainly a bit self-righteous at times. I'm an oldest child. What can you expect? But deep in my core, I know that I am not really righteous. I know my own sinful thoughts and actions. This is not the gate for me. I can't enter. Only the righteous can enter.

But, Lord, if you open the gate, I will enter. I will enter and give thanks. I will enter not because I am righteous, but because you are. And in coming to earth in the form of a human being, you have made it possible for this flesh to take on righteousness. Not our own, but your righteousness dwelling within this body, the Holy Spirit uniting us with the Triune God.

I will enter and give thanks.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Seeking Suffering

The Crucified One
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The closer we get to Good Friday, the more I am confronted with the cost of discipleship. And the grace of God.
Paul's faith always challenges me. In Philippians 3:4-14, he talks of all the things in this world that give him power and prestige... and his willingness to give them all up for the sake of Christ. Not just for the sake of Christ, but so that he might share in Christ's sufferings.
As with all texts about suffering, context is important. Paul is righting from a position of power. He is not one of the least of these seeking to give up even more. The least already share in Christ's sufferings. Paul is talking about willingly setting aside privilege.
Ugh... I am so invested in trying to survive in this life. I am worried about finding a permanent job, health insurance, retirement. Yes, all these things are important, but what am I... and we as a society... willing to compromise in order to achieve it. We seem to be willing to compromise quite a bit... allowing there to be a strata of society who are living below the poverty line and entire countries where few people have enough resources to thrive in life.
Perhaps we are back to those traditional practices of Lent... what are we willing to give up for God? And for those God loves?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Smelly Feet???

Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The gospel text tells the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus as an act of worship that forshadowed his coming death.
Mary takes one of the most expensive items in her house and pours it out on Jesus' feet. Not on his head. Not on his hands. Was it a way of washing his feet? A symbolic baptism?
I am struggling with how to express what i am thinking about all this. Mary makes sacred the least sacred part of Jesus. She makes sacred that very human part of Jesus, the feet that are needed to walk in the world when one gives up their divine omnipresence. She makes sacred something so practical. Feet, for the most part, don't do anything meaningful or artistic. They bear our way. They transport us. Now, a soccer player might agree with that last statement... but still.
Can we recognize the sacred in the very ordinary parts of our lives? Can we understand that in Christ God stepped into our very ordinary way of being? And in doing so gave it a sacred qualtiy?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stuck in the Kitchen... Again

Stuck in the Kitchen
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The gospel text for this week focuses on Mary's anointing of Jesus with expensive perfume in John 12:1-8. It is a beautiful story of Mary's sacrificial worship of Jesus pointing towards his coming death.

I, however, was struck today by vs.2 where Martha is again in the kitchen serving the meal. Many of us know the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10 where Martha is rebuked for carrying about trivial matters like cooking and cleaning while Mary is praised for stopping all that she is doing to kneel at Jesus feet. The John text for today comes later in the story. This same Martha, rebuked for her triviality, has since been one of the only ones to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (John 11), a statement of faith in the face of the death of her brother, Lazarus.

I am of two minds about this text. I am frustrated that Martha is still in the kitchen serving while Lazarus lounges at the table with Jesus. But, I am also encouraged. A relationship with Jesus does not always mean an otherworldly spirituality. It can manifest itself in the day to day chores of our lives. While Mary is pouring out expensive perfume, Martha is modeling what it means to serve. Both worship and service are integral to the kingdom.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sowing Seeds in Sorrow

Seeds to Sow
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The Psalm for this week is Psalm 126 ends with the following words of encouragement... "Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves." What I love about these words is the grace allowed to us when we are in the midst of sorrow and struggles. We do not need strong oak trees of faith at these times. Rather, we simply need to carry with us the small seeds of faith, the tiniest glimmer of hope. "Forget Me Nots" seem like such an appropriate seed to imagine carrying around, for our hope is grounded in our memory of what God has done for us, of God's love for us through the work of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now, we are not to simply cling to these seeds or stuff them in our pockets. Rather, we are to sow them, to offer what little hope we have to the world around us. Hope is not something to hoard and grasp. Rather, in sharing it, it multiplies and grows.
As Christ drew near to Jerusalem, the disciples lost much of their faith, but they held on to a glimmer, a small seed. And that small seed was enough to sustain them through the dark days ahead. And more importantly, that seed was enough to give them eyes to see the miraculous work of the resurrection.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God Drew Out the Horses

God Drew Out the Horses
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The passage from Isaiah (43:16-21) recalls the story of the Exodus. God makes a way and draws out the horses and the chariots pursuing the Israelites as they flee from the Egyptians.

Perhaps this isn't the most encouraging picture. The horses did not survive God's great deliverance of Israel. And today I need the message of God's deliverance. I am the new interim pastor of a church that has been through a rough time. We need to know that God can make a way where there seems to be no other way. I suppose Lent is the greatest example of God making a way where there is no other way. Not through the desert or through the sea. God made a way through death itself.

Verse 19 is a bit simplistic... "Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not see it?" And yet... that is what I need right now. I need to see whatever new thing God is doing. I need to have the eyes to see it springing up in our midst. I trust that it is there because we have a God who does new things, who makes new ways, who forms us into new creations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Way

Make Way
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

The Old Testament text for this week is Isaiah 43:16-21. It begins with "This is what the Lord says, the Lord how made a path through the sea, a path through the mighty waters..." Verse 19 speaks of a path in the desert and streams in a dry land. God as the way maker, the path layer, the forger, the trailblazer.

It is a beautiful image, the God who makes a way when there is no other way. The God of infinite possibilities. The God who directs and guides. The God who rescues.

Yet, my mind did not go there today. Instead, as I drove down the road, along the path that we have created next to a river winding through Skokie, Illinois, I am reminded of how we have abused this image of God as the way maker. Perhaps I am thinking of Soong Chan Rah's sermon at our church yesterday where he pointed out how American cars all seem to have names tied to action and adventure like the Explorer and the Trailblazer. I am also thinking of my short year as a geotechnical engineer where I would go out into the beautiful rolling hills in Northern California and test the soil so that some developer could flatten it all to make a cookie cutter housing development.

As children of God, created in God's image, we too are to be way makers. We are to make ways of justice, peace, and love in this world. We are to lay the streets and foundations of the kingdom of God. Instead, we have made a way where there was no way... or, more to the point, we have made ways on top of ways that already existed. Instead of following the natural pathways of streams and valleys, we cut through rock and redirect currents believing that we should be able to go straight regardless of what nature is telling us. Instead of recognizing the paths of the people who lived on the soil of the United States before we arrived, we paved over them and laid railroad tracks through them, believing that ours were the only true paths. We have become a nation of competitors who make their own paths walking over others to get to the top, relying on the labor of those we have rendered invisible, denying the pathways of those of a different color, language, or gender.

Forgive the tirade, but those are the thoughts that went through my mind as a sat at the stop light and took this picture. The image of God as the path layer, the way maker, is a beautiful one, but our interpretation of that image has, at times, been anything but beautiful. How can we become way makers who reflect the kingdom?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Photoshopped Creation?

New Creation
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

I took my picture early today. The new shoots of crocuses, daffodils, and tulips sprouting up in the rain along the side of the house. Of course, when I finally looked at them this evening, I realized they were all blurry. All of them. Seriously. So, I played around with one of the images on iPhoto. And voila, a new creation.

The epistle lesson for this week tells us we are new creations (2 Corin. 5.17) and I have always struggled with what that means. I certainly don't feel like much of a new creation these days. I am definitely an aging creation with more grey hairs and wrinkle appearing everyday. I am certainly didn't lose all my insecurities and inadequacies when I came to faith. I am still a clay jar full of cracks and fissures. Thankfully Paul tells us a few verses earlier that these clay jars can hold the treasure of God's glory (2 Corin. 4.7). So how are we new creations?

I wonder if our newness isn't somehow related to the systems and structures I wrote about yesterday? The passage comes in the midst of Paul's discussion of reconciliation and the fact that in Christ we no longer see people from a human point of view. Maybe the newness has something to do with seeing ourselves and others in a new way, no longer seeing each other through web of stereotypes and oppressive cultural histories that we are all a part of. Perhaps we are to recognize that we are new creations because we are to challenge these systems as agents of reconciliation and are to allow others to be defined as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to be something new in this world, kingdom people, ambassadors for Christ. We are to be people filled with the new life of the Spirit. In Christ we are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Cog in A Machine?

A Cog in A Machine?
Originally uploaded by auntjojo

Earlier this week I was reading through some posts on The Text this Week's facebook page and one of the pastors mentioned they were going to preach on the systems issues that were central to the prodigal son story in Luke 15. Throughout the week I've been mulling this over. We come down so hard on both the younger brother who squanders his inheritance and the older brother who resents his brother's return. Both, however, were stuck in unfair systems of inheritance which placed all the responsibility for the continuation of the family business in the hand of the older brother. He was stuck to the land which he would inherit and the responsibility of running it all his life. The younger son had a freedom he envied! And yet the younger son would be left in some ways to fend for himself with only a small inheritance and no land to provide any security. He would always be at the mercy of his older brother for protection. Both were stuck. Both wanted to escape. But as in most cases where their are unfair structures in place, rather than trying to change the system, they simply blamed one another.
In this interpretation of the parable, it is difficult to see God in the role of the Father who perpetuates an unjust system. Rather, the Father becomes the system itself that welcomes back with open arms after we have tried to make it on our own.
But then, where is God in the midst of unfair systems and structures? It is difficult to find a clear answer in this parable. And it is often difficult to find God when you are stuck in the midst of structures that overtime seem to take on a life of their own. However, Jesus, too, was stuck in just such a system. One that would eventually lead him to his death. And yet Jesus' death did not signal the victory of the system, rather it signified the resurrection of an entirely new way of being apart from any sinful structure. A way of life that was full of life and glory.