Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Not So Silent Night

Merry Christmas! I'm sorry I missed yesterday's posting, but our Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day preparations sort of snuck up on me. I have to say that I am very grateful that I have a church that allows me to make adjustments on the fly during a service... and so, when the pastor forgets a detail or two, like asking someone to take the offering, she can just call on someone from the front and they step in.

We end this advent season with a photo similar to the one from my first reflection... focusing on the baby in the manger. We ended our Christmas Eve service with the song "Silent Night," but for some reason it seems to me that the evening was anything but silent. A young girl's screams as she gives birth to her first born child. The cry of Jesus' first breath in this world as a human being. Joseph rushing about. The animals restless. A band of rowdy angels shouting "Glory to God in the Highest" right outside of town. A group of shepherds showing up unexpectedly... I just can't imagine them arriving quietly, these hard working people making their way in from tending their flocks to take a peak at this new baby.

We often imagine God in the silence. It is quite a biblical image. God coming not in the roar of thunder or the crash of lightning, but in the still small whisper. We focus many of our spiritual practices on reaching that place of quiet and solitude where we can hear God's still small voice. But I wonder if sometimes in our desire to seek quiet and solitude we miss out on the presence of God in the midst of the ordinary noise and chaos of the day.

God was just as present as Mary cried out in labor as God was in the quiet that followed. God was just as present as the heavy footsteps of the shepherds arrived as God was in the few moments of peace right after Christ's birth. God was just as present in the triumphal singing of the angels as God was in the stillness of Mary's heart pondering it all.

As we go forth in this Christmas season, may we seek to see God not just in the silence and the solitude, but in the chaos and noise of our lives. May we have eyes to see when God is speaking in the midst of our ordinary every day living and breathing. May we recognize God's presence... not just in some distant silent place or deep within us, but right there on the surface. God with us. Immanuel.

Friday, December 23, 2011

No Room

"and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

I spent a few hours this afternoon at the homeless warming center that my church hosts on Fridays. We sat around and watched movies, ate popcorn, played checkers, and talked about sports and travels.

One of the men asked again if we had work for him. Which we don't. He has been looking for months.
One of the women showed me a final notice for the storage space she left all her belongings in back home in Georgia before coming up here to look for work. It goes up for auction in a few weeks.
Another is hoping to get into an apartment soon, but he doesn't have proper id yet and with his criminal record he is finding it difficult to get work.
Many speak of family they left behind, or who left them behind... the pain caused by one or the other was too much.

I realize that things are much more complicated than they appear on the surface, but still... I wonder about a world that leaves so many people out in the cold. Where addiction and mental illness can leave one alone and homeless for weeks, months, or even years. Where one can lose a job and then lose everything because there are no more to be found.

I wonder about Mary and Joseph... ending up alone in a barn to give birth to their firstborn. Forced by the government to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Didn't Joseph have relatives who also had to go to Bethlehem? Couldn't they have helped him find a place to stay? Welcomed them in when they arrived? Looked out for a young girl who was 9 months pregnant making a difficult journey?

And Mary's family... was there no one to travel with them? Where was her mother? An aunt or a sister? Did they have to leave her on her own?

Mary and Joseph, it seems to me, were alone and without resources when Jesus was born. The first sign that this Messiah was one who would walk with those on the margins, reaching out to the poor and working class, the homeless and the alone. His first visitors a group of scruffy shepherds making their way in from the fields. The second a group of foreign dignitaries, not even Jewish!

May our eyes be opened up to those who are left in the cold this Christmas season. To those who are without work or without family. To those who are living far from home. To those to whom the world says, "there is no room for you at the inn."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Songs of Justice

I remember first learning "Where Justice Rolls Down" at CHiC (our denominational triennial youth conference) quite a few years ago. Perhaps what I remember most vividly is thousands of teenagers jumping up and down singing at the top of their lungs about a longing for God's justice in this world. I wonder how many of us really understood what we were singing about?

I didn't realize at the time how unique that song was. But now, after trying to choose contemporary music for worship services over the last year and a half, I recognize how rare it is for contemporary musicians to write about justice. Or several other key theological ideas, for that matter. We've tried to find songs about our ecclesiology, about how we relate to one another as Christians, about forgiveness of other people not just asking God to make us "whiter than the snow." If I had been choosing hymns, I'm not sure I would have found many more justice oriented songs and while there are few more about the church, there still seems to be vast areas that are missing.

What caused this particular shape to our musical vocabulary? When did we move so far away from scripture? From the full scope of the Psalms? From the songs of Miriam and of Mary?

Mary, after the tremendous greeting she received from Elizabeth and the baby, John, in her womb, after the affirmation that God is at work in her own pregnancy, breaks forth in worship... a song that sings of God's might and justice.

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior... He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but the sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1:46b, 47, 52-53)

May our songs of worship reflect the full breadth of God's character and our life together as Christians. Cries for justice. Laments for our sin. Pleas for grace and mercy. Praise and thanksgiving. What it is to be the church and the people of God... especially as we draw close to Christmas... in Mary's honor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More Leaping Needed

Okay... I realize it may not look like it... but really... it is a jump. It is supposed to be a leap, but I live in a small flat and my back has been bothering me and I am actually quite reserved about such things, so even a jump like this is quite expressive for me. But it is in homage to one of my favorite scenes in all of scripture:

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." (Luke 1:41)

I'm not sure why the moment captures me so. Is it the unbridled joy that Elizabeth and John (in the womb!) express in the presence of Christ (in the womb!). That little spark of life in Elizabeth responding with such joy to that little spark of life in Mary. John seems to live his whole life that way. Over the top expressiveness... in the clothes he wore, the food he ate, his hygiene, his preaching, his devotion to Jesus.

I wish I had a little more of that in my life. Apparently I was a bit like that as a child... even perhaps with the same lack of social skills as John seemed to exhibit. Perhaps I should have just started preaching repentance to those bullies in junior high! What I wish most is that I would be able to recognize the presence of Christ in the same way that John did. I wish that... in spite of all the suffering and evil in the world, in spite of all the things I struggle with, in spite of unanswered prayers both big and small, I wish that I would just leap for joy in the presence of Christ more often.

That is my prayer for this Advent Season, for Christmas, for Epiphany, for the coming year. May God open me up to leap for joy more often, to celebrate the divine presence of Christ in this world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kick Butt Angels

""When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.'" (Luke 1:12-13)
"Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'" (Luke 1:20-21)

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified." (Luke 2:8-9)

For some reason, I don't think angels are quite how we picture them... the angels I have on my tree play cellos and sing sweet songs. They are always smiling and often look like children.

You would expect people to respond with oohs and aahs when an angel appears. An "Oh, how cute!" or "Isn't she adorable!" Instead, people fall down on their knees trembling in fear. Terrified. Often afraid to speak or move.

When I was traveling with friends in Guatemala, we saw statues of angels that seemed a bit more appropriate... we called them "kick butt" angels. One of them is pictured below. They wore armor and carried weapons and arrived with power and might.

We have domesticated angels. Made them our pets, our fairy godmothers, sweet friends that sit on our shoulder and speak words of encouragement. And perhaps they do some of that... watch over and encourage. But more often, they come bearing news from God... a plan that is about to be revealed, a child that will be born, a new king who will arrive and change everything.

They arrive telling us that we are about to take part in God's plan of redemption for this world. And that it may not be easy... for Zechariah it meant months of silence followed by the birth of a son who was beheaded when he was still a young man. For Mary, pregnancy out of wedlock, a son who would soon leave home to follow his calling, and bearing witness to the scourging and crucifixion of her son. For the shepherds... well, that seems to have gone a bit better.

Have we domesticated God as well? God, the great Santa Claus bearing gifts and good cheer? God, our own personal Jesus, answering all our prayers, always encouraging us and affirming all that we say and do?

This Christmas, may we remember that the birth of Jesus requires the same response as Zechariah, Mary and the Shepherds had before the angels... fear, trembling, awe, and great rejoicing that God's presence invites us into God's redemptive work in this world.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Serving in the Midst of Doubt

Our church has finished its series on the prophecies in Isaiah... so my reflections this week will move to the pre-Christmas stories in Luke.

I have to admit that the text I picked for this morning has more to do with where I am at than with an appropriate text for this close to Christmas.
"Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years." (Luke 1:6-7)

I am having a "feel sorry for yourself because of all the waiting in your life" kind of day. Frustrated at the long wait to find the right job after finishing my doctoral degree. Waiting for people to realize that even though I don't fit the current models of professors, I might actually do a good job! Frustrated at waiting for enough healing or for the right person or for God's timing or for whatever else has kept me single so long. Wishing I knew how much of it was me, how much is society, and how much is God. Frustrated that my biological clock is ringing incessantly and adoption takes so long... that I waited so long thinking I was waiting for something else to happen first...

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth should in some ways give me hope. They had done nothing wrong. Zechariah served among the high priests. Elizabeth was upright, observing all the Lord's commandments. And yet they were considered cursed... or at least not blessed... by God because Elizabeth was barren (at least they assumed it was Elizabeth).

I wonder if Zechariah and Elizabeth were even praying for a child anymore? They were past child-bearing years. Did they still cry out to God each night? Or was their prayer something different... something deeper. The faithfulness to walk forward one day at a time. To continue keeping the Lord's commandments and regulations. Zechariah's willingness to continue leading in worship and prayer, to step into the holy of holies. Zechariah, serving faithfully, yet still doubting when God appears with a promise.

It gives me hope that faith doesn't always have to be something I feel. It does not always have to be something I even believe or trust in a the moment. It does, however, ask of me to keep walking forward in faith. To live out what I cannot for the moment feel.

Advent is not always about a feeling. It is sometimes... God does want us to feel hope, to believe, to trust. But sometimes, instead, Advent is about an action. About walking faithfully in the darkness. Holding on to what appears like a sliver of light... yet it is the light of the world. And holding on to that light will lead you into bright shining joy.

Oh... and the picture... it has very little to do with the reflection. Though they do remind me of the rosary and of the way praying the rosary is a way to continue walking faithfully even in times of doubt and darkness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holding Out Hope

Our preacher this morning, Una Lucey-Lee, did a wonderful job finishing up our Advent series on the prophecies regarding Jesus found in Isaiah. She spoke of the ridiculous nature of the promise given in Isaiah 9 (and 7...) to Ahaz... faced with war on all sides, God promises a baby. And Ahaz must hold out hope until the baby arrives.

The baby will grow into a king. And Ahaz must hold out hope until the baby grows into this king.

The king will just be a sign of the eternal king to come, Jesus. And God's people must hold out hope until that eternal king arrives.

And that king will be born as a baby. And God's people must wait for that baby to grow into a king.

And that king will give his life for us and promise to return. And God's people today must hold out hope for that return.

Advent is about holding onto hope.

My mom sent me a baby blanket she made for me while I was in high school. I am assuming she was thinking of some far off future event at that time! Holding out hope until her baby grew into a mature young woman. And though that woman is now in her 40's, still single and without children, she still holds out hope.

And as I enter into the adoption process, she sends the sign of that hope to me. And we all once again hold out hope for the arrival of a baby.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What if Mary was A Man?

"... and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isa. 9:6b)

God as Father... it is a central image in scripture that becomes even more prominent around Christmas time. After all, Mary was the mother of Jesus... God was the Father. And Jesus himself is in this passage called "Everlasting Father."

Is God called Father because God is male? Or is God more like a man? Or is a man more like God than a woman? Most people... not all, but most... would strongly oppose these ideas. We are all created in the image of God. God is neither male nor female.

But why did God have to choose to be the Father in this Christmas scenario? Why not the mother? I have been thinking about this a bit today. Most of what I have thought about is significant, but perhaps a bit too graphic for my blog. But if God was the mother of Jesus, physically, then God would have had to preexist as a woman... an adult womb was needed for the little fetus Jesus to grow into a baby. It is a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first? And it seems that it is extremely significant for the incarnation that Jesus' life began just like any other human being, at conception.

Having said that... it is Mary's act that seems to me so reflective of who God is. Bearing life... carrying life within her and giving birth to a new creation. Becoming one with God, knit together in the womb, providing sustenance out of her own being. Isn't that so much of who God is? The life giver? The one who feeds and nourishes us? The one who gives birth to new life, who creates and recreates?

The Everlasting Father, the Mother who gives birth to new life, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Don't You Lead Already?

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders..." (Isa. 9:6)

Jesus... you were born with authority, the power to rule, the right to be king, to ability to overthrow governments and uphold justice and righteousness. So, what happened? Why don't you get to it? Why don't you just take control? Step in? Use your supernatural abilities? Change the created order? Rule, why don't you!

Oh, wait... I think maybe that is what they were shouting about on Palm Sunday. Jesus didn't seem to be ruling the way they wanted. There was no revolution. No end of Roman oppression. No visible immediate kingdom here on earth, at least nothing that we could recognize.

God doesn't seem to rule that way. So frustrating at times! And yet... to realize that God has entrusted so much to us, that God desires to work in and through us, that somehow God and I, we are in this together. Perhaps that was part of the point of the incarnation? That we are in this together. That God loves us, trusts us, wants us to live into who we have been created to be... humanity in God's image, male and female, with power and dominion, to lead all of us under God's loving care.

All authority rests upon the baby Jesus... and he uses it to empower us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bringing Justice at Christmas

I had the chance to spend part of the day wrapping presents today at the YWCA. The presents were going to children who were currently living with their mother's in a home for those fleeing from domestic abuse.
Today I saw a report on the news that one in five women in the United States has experienced rape and one in four have experienced domestic partner violence.
When I speak on advocacy for women in ministry, I often hear people claim that women are no longer the victims of sexism or anything else in the United States.
And the statistics around the globe are even more frightening.

"... they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian." (Isaiah 9:3b-4)

Christ came to bring righteousness and justice in our world, to bring redemption, joy and peace. May we work to do the same this Advent Season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Terrifying Joy

"You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder." (Isaiah 9:3)

"Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.'" (Luke 2:9-10)

Joy to the World, the Lord is come... Let earth receive her king! We sing this song every Advent and Christmas season. Though it should be something we sing all year round. But reading through Isaiah has reminded me of the strange way that joy and terror can sometimes go hand in hand. For the coming of the Lord is nothing less than pure holiness entering into our world. Pure holiness entering into the imperfect beautiful and awful mess that is humanity. It should terrify us, being in the presence of the holy. But, of course, that is the joy of it all... the fact that we are not consumed, that we stand in God's presence and yet live, that God walked among us and did not destroy us but instead brought light and life.

I'm not sure I quite understand the holiness of God... not really. Not in the way the shepherds did. Terrified, yet falling to their knees in worship. I'm not sure I could actually live in that knowledge day to day. It would be marvelous and exhausting all at the same time. To know your own sinfulness, even if it is forgiven, in the presence of the holy. I suppose in many ways that is what the promise of heaven is all about... to be so transformed that we can stand with the cherubim and seraphim around the throne singing praises to God in complete joy. And, of course, that is what is accomplished with the coming of Christ into the world.

Joy to the world... the Lord is come.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's so bad about being in the dark?

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined." (Isaiah 9:2)

The general interpretation of this text assumes that dark is a bad thing and light is a good thing. That all people want to move from darkness to light. That light will lead people out of the darkness of their lives...

Now, I am not a big fan of the dark. In fact I have always been quite scared of the dark. It took me years to live alone without waking up in panic during the night... and sometimes I still wake up afraid. But, to be honest, these days I kind of wish I could live a bit more in the dark.

I have always envied those people who could walk through life oblivious to what is going on around them... always in the dark, so to speak, but seemingly much happier than I am. I, unfortunately, see things... when things are wrong, when someone is angry, when their is hurt or sorrow, when injustice is taking place.

Well... most of the time. As a white person in the United States I have become painfully aware that most of us have lived most of our lives in the dark about much that takes place in the world. I have worked hard to educate myself about issues of racism, sexism, classism, and other injustices taking place in the world around me. I have read about and experienced systems that discriminate against people... occasionally against me for my gender... more often against others for a wide variety of reasons. I continue to try to enlighten myself on these issues, make myself more aware of where they reside both in the world and in my own life.

It seems to be a part of faithfully growing as a disciple of Christ. Allowing God to continually enlighten you, to reveal to yourself the sin present in your own life and in the world around you. The light shines not only to reveal the good, but to reveal the bad.

And so... to be honest, there are times I want to flee back into the darkness. The light hurts my eyes... and my ears and my heart.

During this Advent Season, God grant me the courage to stay in the light, to move deeper into the light, to have the courage to continue walking forward with eyes wide open knowing that in doing so I will come to know you and all you care about in a deeper way.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Garter Belt of Faithfulness?

"Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." (Isaiah 11:5)

Isaiah speaks of one God will send who will bring justice and peace to the entire created order. The Spirit of the Lord will be upon this person and they will be characterized by righteousness and faithfulness. Righteousness will be the belt around his waist... outwardly all will see this persons righteousness. It will be like an accessory to all they wear. A belt around their waist. I love the fact that commentaries describe faithfulness as his undergarment. If the he was a she, it would be a garter belt of faithfulness.

It seems that central to this text is the idea that the insides and the outsides of this person will match. They will do the right thing for the right reason, faithfulness to God. Their outward actions will be a reflection of their relationship with God.

If someone were to look into the wardrobe of my life, what would they find? What characteristics do others see in me? Do they reflect an understanding of a God who is just and merciful? And what characteristics are hidden beneath it all? What are those core values that direct all that I do? Is it faithfulness to God? Or something else? How often am I truly motivated by a desire to be faithful to God?

Thankfully we don't have to dress ourselves. God promises to cloth us in righteousness, giving us new garments to reflect a new life in Christ. May I allow God to cloth me in righteousness and faithfulness this Advent season.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree...

I'm a big fan of trees. Especially in the winter. There is something about the bare branches that I find strong and beautiful. They seem to represent life and hope. Renewal and second chances. Each winter they seem to almost die only to be resurrected again in the spring full of new leaves and new life.

Trees serve a similar purpose in Isaiah. They are a sign of resurrection, new life and new hope... even if they are first the sign of Assyria's power. The great oaks that are eventually leveled as a sign of God's judgment. Leveled after Assyria showed its power by leveling the trees of Israel and Judah. Leveling. Destroying. Burning over. Attempting to wipe out all life and sustainability.

But among the ruins, a shoot emerges. God who brought judgment in the end leaves a remnant, a stump that will once again bring life.

Trees. A sign of hope. Of renewal. Of second chances. Of the faithfulness of God to trim and cut back. Passing judgment. Yet never destroying. And one day, finally... everlasting renewal. That is the promise of Christmas.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Help Me to See the Invisible

"... and He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth." (Isaiah 11:3b-4)

Learning how to discern right from wrong, truth from fiction... to make decisions and pass judgments has been one of the harder things I've had to learn how to do as a pastor or as an academic dean of students. The passage from Isaiah cautions us against judging by what we see or what we hear. Isaiah recognizes that our sight and our hearing are often clouded by prejudice, power, or cultural assumptions. And in a day and age when images and sounds can be so easily manipulated by technology, it has become even more true that what we see and what we hear are not always the best basis for a decision. Often we have only the partial truth, only one side of the story, only our limited understanding.

In the end, of course, God is the only one who can pass judgment on anyone. And yet each day we must make decisions about people, we decide between right and wrong, we act justly or unjustly... to the best of our ability. What can this text teach us? The first previously reminds us that we must rely on the Holy Spirit, that we need to listen to God, to know God, to be in relationship with God so that God may lead and guide us.

This verse reminds us that in whatever we do, whatever decisions we make, we must do so with an eye to those in need, the poor of the earth. We must strive to see those the world would render invisible. We must not let power, prestige or position impact our decisions. Those in power should not face less consequences because "they have more to lose." We must protect those without power even though the world tells us they have less worth. All people are created in the image of God. God values all people equally... perhaps even raising up those who seem to be less in the eyes of the world.

This week, Lord, open my eyes to those who have been invisible in my life, to those I have forgotten or ignored. May my decisions be informed by a care and concern for all God's people, especially those in need.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Balance of Power

"The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:2

The text I am working with this week in Isaiah begins by telling us that a new king will be coming and then goes on the describe this king in the words listed above.

As a pastor, I am by no means a king... a shoot of Jesse... a savior to my people. But I love the pairings that describe this king's rule and they seem appropriate for pastoral leadership as well. Actually, they seem appropriate for all of us. And I think it is how they go together that is so important.

It is not enough to be wise... to think deeply or have all the right things to say... you must also have understanding. I can't prove that this is what it means in the Hebrew text, but it seems to mean that wisdom can in some ways be an abstract idea, it is something that at times sounds lofty or distant. Understanding, however, seems to be rooted, connected to the world around us. We must be wise without ever losing touch with people and the reality of their circumstances. Wisdom must be connected with care for and love for people.

It is not enough to recognize your power as a leader... pastor's do have some power by virtue of their position, their training, their calling. But that power must always be tempered by counsel, by a willingness to listen to others. I would argue that we must believe that the Spirit is moving through the congregation and we must be attentive to that as leaders. Otherwise we abuse our power.

It is not enough to have knowledge. We can read all the books we want. We can learn Greek and Hebrew. We can know theology and history and memorize every key text in the Bible... but if we do not fear the Lord, if we do not believe that God is a living being that we are in relationship with, if we do not understand God as both loving and Holy, then our knowledge is empty and useless.

And I don't think this is a word just for pastors... I think it applies to parents, spouses, friends, supervisors... maybe all of us. Because these ways of being... wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord... they are not just for a few, but the gift of God to all people through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who is the Lion?

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." Isaiah 11:6

We discovered recently that a homeless man was sleeping on the back porch of our church community house. As we've talked about how to respond, we've decided we have to ask him to leave. We wish we could just give him a security t-shirt and call him the night watchman or something, but we are just not sure what else to do.

I'm sure many of you will have ideas about how to respond, but my reflections for tonight have more to do with the passage for today. A picture of the peaceable kingdom, a future God promises where the aggressive and the meek with live together in peaceful harmony, where the powerful and the vulnerable can lie down together without fear, where we can follow the idealistic innocence of a child. As a reflect on this neighbor of ours who has moved in, I wish for that day. A day when all will have clothing and shelter. A day when there will be no need to fear one another. A day without violence and without want.

As I think about our homeless neighbor, I wonder which one of us is the lion and which the lamb? It seems that in this particular passage, God's main concern is to protect the poor and the needy, the bring about justice for the weak and the vulnerable. So I am left to wonder, am I the lion? Are we the wolf? The leopard? The powerful and aggressive?

God help us to bring about this just kingdom...

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Stump Remains

This last spring we had to dig up two big beautiful trees that were located along the south side of our house. I hated doing it. The trees were beautiful... well, to us they were. Even if one of them had lost most of the top branches, was pretty lopsided, and served as a home for quite a few different creatures. But they had to come down... they were sick and dangerous. Essentially hollow on the inside. A fertile home for insects, but in danger of toppling over during the next big storm.

When we had them taken out, we had them dig up the stump as well, leaving nothing behind. We didn't want any new growth from the stumps, no shoots sprouting up. And no roots continuing to make their way into our plumbing and under our foundation.

In Isaiah 11, it seems that God has recently had to do a little pruning of his own. It seems that God's people have once again sinned against God. They have turned away, trusted their enemies, worshipped idols. In a way, they were a tree that had become sick on the inside, dying, providing a home for all sorts of creatures that didn't belong there.

God needed to do some pruning, to cut back the dead branches. The pruning was quite drastic, right down to the stump. But... the stump did remain... and out of the stump a new shoot emerged. God cuts back the dead branches not to dig up the tree, but to allow new growth to emerge. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1)

God seems to need to prune us occasionally. At times it is the nice gentle spring pruning that allows new growth to emerge. At other times, everything needs to be cut back to the stump. But still, it is a pruning... it is for the purpose of new growth.

May I embrace the pruning God might have for me this year. And may I not stray so far as to need to be cut back down to the stump. And... thank you, Lord, for always giving us second chances, for calling us to account, pruning our lives, but always allowing for new growth to emerge.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

God Honoring Abundance

It has been dreary and raining most of the day... so an older picture will have to suffice for my last entry on Isaiah 7:10-25. The themes throughout the week have been on signs and promises, abundance and provision. And, of course, the way God's plans in these areas are often not ours...
I have been thinking about God's image of abundance... of a land flowing with milk and honey. Of having so much milk that once could eat curds every day (not necessarily my top choice!) I find it interesting that what is promised is not meat or seafood, not grains, fruit, or vegetable, but milk and honey. Two items that God's creatures provide to nurture their young. That flow in abundance when there is safety and security and enough food to eat. That are an overflow of God's provision, honey and milk replenishing themselves regularly. That, if we are not overly greedy, nature can provide for us as a gift without sacrifice.

Somehow it seems to be a much better picture of abundance than I usually come up with. Abundance that is in perfect balance... all of the created order sharing together. Food that is given by nature rather than wrenched from it. It causes me to reflect on where my abundance comes from. Or, perhaps at Christmas, where do my Christmas gifts come from? And my food? My holiday clothes and decorations? Are they made in ways that reflects a respect for and partnership with others and with creation? Or are they made with unfair labor practices? Do they require the inhumane treatment of people or animals? Does the appearance of abundance at Christmas come at a cost? Or is it a sign of this rich blessing from God?

I don't know... it is just a thought.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Sign to the Abandoned

My reflections this week have focused on Isaiah 7:10ff... the passage where God promises to give Ahaz the sign of a child born to a virgin and named Immanuel. The sign is meant to point to peace and prosperity for Ahaz and his country despite enemies quickly closing in.

I've been trying to imagine what it was like to live in Ahaz's time... with enemies always threatening at the borders. A small nation always at the mercy of the next way of conquerors that made their way through the land. Well... not always at their mercy. The history of Israel is full of ups and downs, triumphs and victories, devastating losses and exile. When I read about it on paper, it seems as if things were always changing, always uncertain, always in flux.

And while that may have been the case, I wonder if the people experienced it that way? There must have been generations who felt sure that their prosperity would never end. There must have been others who were convinced that they would always suffer, always live under the threat of violence, always struggle to survive.

There are certainly people today who constantly live under the threat of violence, always suffering, always struggling to survive. Countries constantly at war. Communities constantly at risk. Families where violence is a constant threat. What might a sign mean to them? Would it bring hope? Would it reassure them that they are valued, even loved? Would it remind them of their own worth and dignity? And would that empower them... or make the struggles even more unbearable?

I have no answers in tonight's post... just the photo of an abandoned green house that I pass by every day. A reminder of all those who feel abandoned. That the sign promised to Ahaz is a sign for them.

And perhaps a challenge to God's people. God provided the sign. Perhaps we are to be a part of the fulfillment. Perhaps we are the ones who are to bring about the time of peace, prosperity and abundance for all people. For all people... not just our family or our neighbors. Certainly not just for our own little corners of the world. But for all people.

I think that may require a bit more sacrifice than I have been making lately. A bit more courage. A bit more reckless faith. May God light the way this Advent season.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

That's not what I asked for...

As I said, I've been focusing a lot on the sign aspect of this passage. About sending a baby to solve a war. I wish I could say that I would have received God's sign graciously. But if my normal patterns in life are any indication... I would have thrown a fit! A tantrum. Pleaded and cried and screamed. That's what I usually do these days when God doesn't answer my prayers.

I think I have always been a bit like this. I was never a gracious gift receiver. If I didn't like it, if it wasn't what I wanted, if it seemed to indicate that the person didn't know me at all... it showed all over my face. The grimace. The frown. The questioning look. Then, of course, I would pull it together, smile and say thank you.

I've worked on it all my life... trying to be more gracious, more grateful, more thankful. But I fall sometimes. Not just with people, but with God.

If I was Ahaz, I would have been yelling, "God, I don't need another sign! I know you are gracious. I know you are loving. I know you are faithful. I know. I know. I know. But what I really need right now is for you to fix this. For you to do your miracle thing. For you to answer my prayer... they way I want you to. Seriously... a sign? What good is that going to do me? The answer may not even happen until after I am dead and gone!"

May this year be different. May I be a bit more gracious. May I be a bit more thankful. May I receive what God offers. May I recognize that the signs point to promises that are far greater than anything I could ask for. May I find you sufficient and rest in you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Abundance of New Life

I know that my last entry bemoaned the adequacy of sending a baby to overcome powerful military enemies. I am having a problem getting past the sign aspect of this passage. I've been reflecting on Isaiah 7:10-14, the prophecy of a young woman who will bear a son named Immanuel, God with us. So, I'll continue... as I write this I think I already have an idea for tomorrow's reflection, but that will have to wait!

For tonight, I have been thinking about what the sign of a baby might point to. A sign is not the answer to a prayer, but it points the way to the answer. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say it points to a promise. For often prayers are not answered in our lifetime, but the promises of God are reaffirmed, the character of God is reasserted.

The baby would not end the war... but the baby would signal a better life, perhaps. A life where young women would once again be excited to give birth. It seems to be a promise of a good life for the child. A promise of a land filled with milk and honey. A land of peace and provision. A land where a child can learn the difference between wrong and right... no small promise given what so many children grow up in.

Children can still be such a sign. I realize that not all children are born in ideal circumstances whether it be violence, poverty, oppression, disasters, etc. Yet, when we embrace a child or ensure the best life for a child, it seems that we once again recreate this sign of God's promise to us and to the world. We once again point the way...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seriously... a baby?

I can just imagine what Ahaz might have been thinking. Vast armies arrayed against him. His neighbors turning on him. His fear that he won't be able to protect his kingdom. So, God decides to send him a sign of hope. Not a large army of angels to defend his territory. Not some newly developed weapon to defend his borders. No plague to wipe out the opposing army. Nothing powerful or mighty or deadly. Instead, God sends a baby. A baby! Seriously... what was God thinking? How was that suppose to bring comfort?

I mean, seriously, how was a baby supposed to bring comfort to anyone? How is a baby supposed to bring comfort to us today? What does it matter that God sent a baby into the world? Though, of course, God did not just send a baby. God came as a baby. God in little human vulnerable baby form. Did God really entrust god's self into our care for those few years of childlike vulnerability? Did God, the God separated by God's otherness and holiness and transcendence, really cross all of those chasms just to be with us? To walk among us? To take on our form? To save us?

A baby... a sign of hope in the midst of war torn times... Immanuel... God with us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Test or A Sign?

Isaiah 7:10-12
Again, the Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test."

"I will not put the Lord to the test." It seems like a reasonable response from Ahaz. I mean, really, who has the right to test God? And what test could be impossible for God to pass?
Ah... I guess that is the point isn't it. We don't test God. We have faith in God. We trust. We believe. Ahaz was a king who had just learned that his neighbors had aligned themselves with his greatest enemies. He was terrified. Afraid. About to lose heart. But he was not about to show that he was doubting God.

But thankfully God understands that at times we are fearful, afraid, that we lose heart. Did you notice that I said "we lose heart" rather than "we doubt God." I know... I know... semantics. They mean virtually the same thing. But I am not sure they do to God. There are times when I can logically say that I know that God is present, that God still cares, still loves, still provides and protects... but when all outward circumstances point to the contrary, at times I am not strong enough to hold onto my faith.

With Ahaz at his breaking point, God offers to give him a sign. "Go ahead," God says, "Ask for assurance. Let me remind you of my presence. Let me give you a sign."

Almost 15 years ago my sister and I began a cross country trek with my sister from San Francisco to Northern Minnesota via Nashville and Chicago. We chose to drive along the historic route 66. Nowadays, Route 66 seems to wind through the middle of nowhere. Just when you think you are lost in the desert, another sign pops up along the road to let you know you are heading in the right direction.

Every once in a while it is okay to ask God for a sign, to let God know that you are about to lose hope, to say, "I know you are there. I know you are real. I know how powerful and merciful and loving you are... but please, I just need a little sign of assurance today. Please remind me that you are here."

As you go through this Advent season, May God provide signs along the way... if you are winding through the desert, know that God is walking with you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prepare the Way!

Well... the Advent season has begun and it is time for me to once again start posting on this blog of mine. As always, it is a journey. May we enjoy it together.

This season, my congregation is preaching through the many prophecies in the book of Isaiah that point to the coming of Jesus into the world. We began with Isaiah 40:1-5 which begins with the familiar phrase "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." Comfort offered to a people in exile, bearing the weight of their own sin, fearing that God has abandoned them forever. But in the midst of their darkness, a glimmer of hope, a word of comfort, an assurance that God is coming and nothing can get in the way. Not the barrenness of the desert, not the low valleys or high mountains, not the bends or bumps in the road.

In my sermon this morning, I spoke about what we might need to do to get ready. Following John the Baptist's call to prepare the way with repentance, I spoke of the need to recognize our sin, or recognize that God can forgive all our sins, or recognize that God can even cleanse us from the sins of others.

I focused so much on what we need to do to make ourselves ready... what acts of devotion or service or forgiveness or reconciliation. But I realize there is another aspect of preparing the way that we need to attend to. How can we, during this Advent Season, prepare the way for others to receive the Lord so that, according to vs. 5, all people together may see the glory of the Lord revealed?

Where has the church failed to act justly or love mercy or walk humbly with our God? Where have we created valleys of doubt for those on the margins or struggling with those things that are beyond our understanding? When have we erected mountains of greed or prejudice? Where have we created curves in the road... those blind curves that allow us to fail to see the sorrow and struggle of others, so consumed as we are to stay on the road ourselves?

This Advent Season, let us take out the bulldozers and pick up our shovels. Let us fill in the valleys of fear, doubt, and grief. Let us tear down the mountains of greed and injustice. Let us... not just for ourselves, but for all the world... prepare the way of the Lord.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Blindness of Grief

Good Friday... I realize that there is much good about it for us. So much was given on our behalf on that day. A life sacrificed. God experiencing the depth of human pain and suffering, carrying the burden of our sin. I imagine it was hard for the disciples to see it that day, through their tears, as they looked at the man they loved dying before them.

Actually, we know that they could not see that day. That their sorrow, and for some guilt, would send them scurrying to their homes to hide. For others, standing at the tomb, looking at the burial clothes lying there, even seeing Jesus standing before them... they still couldn't see.

Grief and pain and guilt have a way of doing that. Blurring our vision. Causing us to see only that one bit of truth. The pain of that one moment. And to magnify it as if it is all of reality. For some, one can hardly blame them... facing a lifetime of suffering or violence or poverty or grief. And yet... and this is where hindsight makes Good Friday good. We know that even though Christ died, the light of Christ was not extinguished. Death had not won the day. Evil had not prevailed. Our own sin had not finally destroyed us.

In the midst of tears, we search for the light. Some faint memory of the past. Some glimmer of hope in the future. May we find our hope in Christ, in the unfailing love of a God who went to the cross for us.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Maundy Thursday... a passover meal... gathering to remember the giving of the first born of Egypt for the release of Israel. Israel whose children were protected, until tonight. Until the night when a young Jewish man, the Son of Mary and Joseph, the Son of God, is betrayed.

Have you ever been betrayed? Had someone whom you thought you trusted turn their back on you? Rat you out? Hand you over to those who would hurt you? Stand in silence while you were crucified?

Have you ever betrayed someone? Where your courage has failed or your ego has taken over. Where your desire for security or advancement caused you to remain silent or point the finger at someone else? Or perhaps, as in this case, someone did not live up to your expectations... and so you crucified them. Without really understanding what was going on.

God walked into this betrayal with eyes wide open. Knowing the faults and weaknesses of humanity. Loving anyways. Loving enough to sacrifice his life. Remaining in relationship with Judas until the end. Not casting out the one who would ultimately turn him over to the authorities. Not failing to offer forgiveness even when dying on the cross.

How hard am I on those around me who fail to live up to my standards? Who don't lead the way I want them to? Who lack courage when needed? Even though I have done the same more times than I can count. How hard am I on myself?

I am not saying betrayal is right... it is never right. This is not about right and wrong. This is about love and reconciliation and forgiveness. This is about doing what is right even for those who hurt you. Loving your enemies... and the friends and family you have let down.

This is about knowing that even though we sin and fall, we are loved, deeply loved by God. Don't be like Judas, who could not accept the forgiveness of Christ. Who killed himself because of his guilt and regret. Jesus would not have wanted that. Ever. For anyone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Growing Darkness

I love this stretch of road on Dempster Avenue in Evanston. The way the trees reach over the road... it feels as if you are entering into another world. Even if it is just for a few blocks. I also remember when I first moved to Boston how oppressive these same sort of trees felt. Moving from California and Washington with wide open spaces and coastlines, it was a bit too much at first. A sense of being closed in. Of impending doom.

I imagine this is how the disciples were feelings during Jesus' long speech that extends from John 14-17. Scattered amidst all the words of love and promise were the hints that something terrible was about to happen. That they would be hated by the world. That Jesus would be leaving them. That there would be a betrayal. And a few chapters earlier, a prediction that Jesus would die.

There is hope. On the other side of the grief, there is joy. When Jesus has gone, he will send His Spirit, the comforter and guide. The disciples will become Christ's brothers and sisters in an even deeper way.

If you have been through grief, you hear all these promises. You know what is waiting on the other side. But it does not ease the pain of now. As with this final discourse, you hold both the hope and the grief side by side. One does not negate the other. You do not grieve less because of the hope contained within it. You do not hope less because of your grief. You weep and mourn and laugh and cry all at once. Life is not a game of either or when it comes to emotions. They all bubble over together... sometimes exploding like a bad science experiment. Sometimes producing something beautiful... rich and complex.

Jesus knows about our grief and pain... having walked this path... forward into the looming darkness of the cross. I don't think knowing what was on the other side made it any easier. The pain was real all the same... but still, a glimpse of hope made all the difference.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Love One Another

"Little children, I am with you only a little longer... where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:33-35)

How are we doing on this these days? How is our love for one another? To be honest, I am grateful that for some reason, despite conflict and frustration, despite my struggles with balance, gift, and calling, God has given me a heart for the churches I have served. I fall in love with them. Even when I am angry. Even when things are going great. I don't really know where it comes from most of the time. I think it is a gift from God.... and I think it is essential for ministry.

Having said that, I still have some self-reflecting to do on this topic. How is my love for people these days? I'm not too worried about what other people are perceiving, because to be honest it seems that we have lost sight of what love truly is in our society. Love compelled Jesus to walk away from his disciples towards the cross. It was only in hindsight that they understood the depth of love in the act. But in my own heart, how am I doing? Am I loving those around me? Truly?

Monday, April 18, 2011

From the Top to the Bottom

The scripture for next Sunday takes us right to the resurrection... it seems fitting to go right from the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday to the resurrection. Both scenes of the triumphant king. And yet so much happens between the two. In John, the triumphal entry is quickly followed by Jesus speaking about his death, the unbelief of the people, and Jesus going into hiding.

And then... the washing of the disciples feet. Of course Peter didn't understand. His king was suddenly kneeling before him. Like a humble servant. These were not feet that had been safely ensconced in a pair of shoes and socks walking around the office all day. These were feet that wore sandals and walked dirt paths. These feet were covered with earth, with life, with humanity.

It is clear that in washing the disciples feet Jesus was modeling true servant leadership. But I suppose at this moment I am thinking of something a bit different. In washing the disciples feet, Jesus was embracing humanity. Not shying away from the dirt and dust that are a part of life. Willing to get his hands wet. A working class man.

A very human king. Of course, every bit divine. That is the paradox of the week, isn't it. We wanted a human king. A king who would take control. Sit on the throne. Rule with political power. Not realizing that Jesus could be not just a human king, but a divine one. Ruling eternally. Ruling not just with political power, but with divine power.

But Jesus took an even more human route. A way of suffering. These are the days that test our relationship with Christ. These are the days that challenge us to consider what kind of king we are looking for. Are we willing to truly follow a servant king... not just a servant king, but a suffering servant?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just a prophet...

Jesus' parade into Jerusalem has created quite a stir. According to Matt. 21:10-11, the city was in chaos. Everyone wanted to know who Jesus was. And the crowds following him replied, "A prophet from Nazareth."

I don't actually know if this was a good or a bad designation given what had just happened. They were just proclaiming Jesus as king, as messiah, but suddenly he is just a prophet. And a prophet from Nazareth at that... what good can come out of Nazareth, the saying goes. I wonder why they didn't just tell people he was their king? Was it too politically dangerous? Or perhaps "a prophet from Nazareth" alluded to something that we are not aware of these days.

I wonder about our own designations for Jesus. Are we similar to the crowds? Do we, on Sunday mornings and when we are with our friends from church, proclaim Jesus our king and savior, but when the parade is over does he become once again just a prophet from Nazareth? What do we proclaim about our God to the world once we leave worship?

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Side of Palm Sunday... will we still worship?

Last week our Sunday School kids made a "palm of palms" as their craft for the day. So cute! All those little hands forming a palm of praise to God.

Of course those who were waving those original palms got it all wrong. Jesus was not the kind of king they were looking for. He went to the cross, not the throne. What kind of king is that?

Looking at the palm of palms, the child-like faith that went into it, I wonder how wrong they really were. Most likely no more off in their faith than the rest of us. We worship what we can of God. We worship what we know, what we grasp at any given moment. It is always a child-like faith, always a bit naive, always missing something of who God is. That is the beauty and the mystery of it all.

They wanted God to save them. And God did. Not the way they expected or even wanted. I suppose the question I have to ask myself on this side of Palm Sunday is whether or not I'm still willing to worship that kind of God. A God that I want to save me, to rescue me, to take away the frustration and suffering of this world. A God who has brought more salvation than I could ever imagine... yet not in the way I expected or even wanted. Yes, there was the resurrection, but before that was the cross. The cross... we wear them around our neck, hang them on our walls, raise them up in our churches... but do we really worship the God of the cross?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesus for President

So, this picture is from yesterday... the day I had to have Jim and his team come and cut down two of the big trees on the side of our house. If you look closely, Jim is up in the top of the tree in the backyard.

I have been wondering about the symbolism of the palm branches used during the triumphal entry. They actually only seem to show up in John's version. In Matthew they are just branches and in Luke (I think) they seem to be leafy branches from the fields. But the triumphal entry has become intimately associated with palms. People cut down palm branches to wave in the air and place on the ground before Jesus' entry into the city.

From what I have read, it seems that Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel. In a sense, the people were proclaiming Jesus their king, claiming to have a new national leader other than Rome. Today it would be much like shouting "Jesus for President!" in the United States. Though perhaps it would be more like another country shouting for a leader who did not support the United States... for a colony trying to establish independence... for an ethnic minority trying to reassert their right to a national identity.

At times I believe such rebellion against human authorities is necessary. When governments and businesses no longer lead justly or on behalf of all the people.

And yet that is not exactly what the triumphal entry is all about. Don't get me wrong. It was about overthrowing the power of Rome in many ways. It certainly had political implications. But the view of the people was too limited. Jesus didn't want to be the next Caesar or President or national leader. Jesus was claiming an authority much greater than that. Jesus recognized the corruption inherent in all human systems. We are sinful people. Our systems are flawed. Jesus did not come to serve as a leader for one of these flawed systems, but rather to offer grace and forgiveness... and to establish an entirely new way of being. A way not of power, but of the cross.

What are my dreams for Jesus? What do I want God to accomplish in this world? And how has that limited my ability to see how God might desire to work? How do my dreams at times get in the way of God's dreams and promises for this world?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will we let our leaders be truly humble?

"Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey." (Matt. 21:5)

I have been trying to figure out whether or not people actually want humble leaders. Do we really want our kings, our presidents, our pastors, our parents, to humble themselves and lower themselves. Or do we prefer them lifted up? Do we prefer them to be larger than life? Do we prefer them to remain on a pedestal, a bit distant, bearing both our admiration and all responsibility?

We talk a lot in our denomination about needing pastors who are strong leaders, but what does that actually look like? Our text for this week with its parade celebrating king Jesus suggests that the people do want a humble king. Just not too humble. Go ahead and ride on a donkey, but let us put our cloaks on him first. Go ahead and ride slowly into the city, but we are going to wave flags celebrating the might of our country (Palms were a national symbol for the Jewish people). Be humble, but strong. Be humble, but take control. Be humble, but don't go to the cross. That is too much. We didn't ask for that.

As a pastor, I constantly find myself struggling between what it is to "lead" and what it is to "serve." How to "cast a vision" while at the same time "empowering others." How to be authentic, but not reveal too many weaknesses. After all, you don't want the people to lose faith in you... and you certainly don't want to "embarrass the family."

Do we really want a humble king? Do we really want leaders who are willing to go to the cross? And are those of us who are leaders willing to take the risk of embracing such humble leadership, even if it means that at the end of the week the crowd might stop singing your praises and might start calling for you to be crucified?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Church of Our Humble King?

So, when you try to take a picture at 9:45 pm, your options start to become quite limited. But, I did try and look at the text, walked around the house for a while with camera in hand. As I was walking, I was looking for images that reflected the idea of a humble king.

Matthew 21:5 describes Palm Sunday with this image from the Old Testament: "Look, you king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey..." Having no crowns or kings or donkeys in the house, my thoughts began to wander.

I began thinking about churches... church buildings in particular... and I wondered what God makes of them. Do they reflect what God desires in a church? And so, I began going through some of my old pictures of churches from around the wordl...

Would God build a church that reflected a humble king, coming to us riding on a donkey? What would that look like?

God did, of course, design the great temple that was in Jerusalem. So, God has not always been opposed to ornate worship spaces. And perhaps there is something in them that still reflects God's glory.

Perhaps the high arches do help us to experience God's transcendence. Still, during this week of Palm Sunday, I just wonder.

What do our churches communicate to the world about our God?

Images from:
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Copenhagen, Denmark
Evanston, IL
The Andes, Peru
Cusco, Peru
The Sistine Chapel of the Andes, Peru
Stockholm, Sweden

Monday, April 11, 2011

We're Just "Borrowing" It...

The scene shifts this week, moving another step closer to Jerusalem. And in a strange twist of fate, just after the religious leaders commit to plotting Jesus' death, Jesus experiences his most "triumphant" moment.

It begins with Jesus sending two disciples to neighboring village to "borrow" someone's donkey and colt. Now perhaps people were a bit more generous with their possessions in Jesus day, but it still seems rather strange to me that the disciples were not told to ask permission. Rather, if someone stopped them they were to tell them it was for "the Lord." To be honest, I don't know exactly what a donkey was used for in Jesus' day. Was it simply about transportation? Or was it also used to work in the field?

If it was for transportation, then what would I think as a disciple if I was asked by Jesus to go into a neighborhood and "borrow" somebody's car without asking permission? How would I feel if I walked out of my house and someone was driving away in my Jeep? If they said it was "for the Lord," would it make any difference?

While this reflection may be a bit of a leap, it has caused me to think a bit about how I hold onto my possessions. Do I consider myself simply a steward of things that are here for the Lord's work? Would I be willing to let go of anything and everything if it was needed by God? And what do I miss out on, how do I get in the way of Jesus' triumphal entries in this world by trying to hold onto so many material things?

Sunday, April 10, 2011


One last photo of Lazarus...

I've been stumbling along with those in the story this week. Thomas who was sure he was heading towards his death. Martha, who gives us this amazing confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but still doubts that he will actually raise Lazarus. Mary, who simply pours out her grief in weeping and wailing at Jesus feet. And as I've finally come to the end of the story, I've come to realize that it is those who stumbled along who experienced God's love. Jesus weeping with them. It is those who stumbled along who witnessed God's power. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is those who stumbled along who came to believe more fully that Jesus was the resurrection and the life.

Actually, those who were sure, those who knew what Jesus had done and felt they knew who Jesus was, the religious leaders... those were the ones that eventually condemned Jesus. Perhaps a little doubt now and then is not such a bad thing. Perhaps it leaves us open to a God who is more than anything we could ask or imagine.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Very Human Detail

Imagine the scene. Jesus has finally arrived in Bethany. He is late, of course, and Mary and Martha have both confronted him about it. Lazarus is already dead. The people are wailing in grief. Jesus himself is angry and crying. But there is a sense that something is about to happen. Something he said to his disciples about Lazarus just being asleep. A promise he made to Martha that Lazarus will rise again. Jesus walks up to the tomb, raises his arms and commands, "Take away the stone!" But before anyone can react... Martha steps in.

"Um... Lord... do you really want to do that? It is going to smell really bad."

As I've reflect on Martha's words in this moment, I have been struck by two things. First, how very like Martha I am. God can be in the midst of doing miraculous things. The drama can be building. Everyone else is caught up in the moment. And I'll be worried about some very human detail. How will we feed all these people? What are we going to do with all these fish? Um, Jesus, the boat is sinking. There's a storm on the horizon. She shouldn't be doing that, should she?

It seems that whenever the disciples had those very human moments, those moments when they couldn't quite see beyond the very earthly existence of this world, Jesus just seemed to shake his head and patiently continue with his miracle. He seems to know that at times we will be people of little faith. He seems to know that what he is promising really is beyond anything we could ask or imagine. All he seems to ask for is the faith that we do have. The willingness to keep moving forward with Jesus with what we do know. And if we continue to walk with him, he will reveal his glory.

Second, how grateful I am that our Bible is full of these little human moments. That it is not some perfectly scripted drama, but rather a very human endeavor. It is these little human moments that allow me to enter into this story not as a fantasy to escape this world but rather as God's plan of redemption for this world... this world with all its tastes and sounds and sights and even smells.

As we draw closer to the cross, closer to our Easter celebration, may we be willing to lay at Jesus feet our all too real little bits of faith and may we enter into this story, this plan of redemption for the world.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

In the Mary and Martha story of Luke 10, I have always identified more with Martha. She was the good girl, the sensible one, the one with all the right answers... I am guessing she was the older sister of the two. (I am making no judgments here on one being better than the other! Just identifying...) And when we meet up with her again in John 11:21ff, we see that not much has changed. She goes out to greet Jesus and while she begins accusing Jesus of not being there when she needed him, she immediately states her confidence in his ability to fix this.

Or at least it seems that way. "I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him," she says. Yet when Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, all she can imagine is that Lazarus will be resurrected on the last day. Jesus presses further telling her he is the resurrection and the life. She responds confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

And yet, in the next scene there is no sign that Martha has convinced anyone that Lazarus will be raised from the dead. In fact, when Jesus commands people to open Lazarus' tomb, Martha can't imagine anything other than a dead decaying body lying in there. She had the right words. She even knew who Jesus was. Yet even this faith could not prepare her for the overwhelming thing that was about to happen.

I often feel that way about God's promises in my life. I hear them. I believe in them. I try to trust in them. But my own sense of what is actually being promised by God is so much smaller than what God is actually promising. Even in my best moments, I fall short of understanding the depth of God's love for me, for us, and the true abundance of life that is being offered to us. Despite my faith, I often live as if God will let me down. As if all of the promises are only for the next life.

This Lenten season, may I grow in my faith not only in the resurrection, but in the life that is promised to us here and now. Life abundant in Jesus Christ.