Thursday, March 31, 2011
John 9:16 "Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God for he does not observe the sabbath.' But others said, 'How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?' And they were divided."
In the Jewish tradition, families mark the sabbath by lighting a candle 18 minutes before sundown on Friday. For the next day, until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday evening, no work is to be done. It is a day of "ceasing" from the Hebrew "shabbat" which we translate as Sabbath. It is a day of rest marking the seventh day of creation when God rested. It is a day to celebrate release from slavery and an enforced seven day work week.
But it seems that over time Sabbath became a marker for those who were from God and those who were not. Those who kept it properly, observed all the right rules, were strict and rigid in their discipline were considered faithful. Jesus, of course, broke the Sabbath rules regularly by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his disciples to gather grain to eat.
I am not so much concerned about judging the Pharisees in this passage for their condemnation of Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Rather, I am wondering about what my rules are? What are those things that I consider as sacred as the Sabbath? Those things that I believe can help me to distinguish someone who is from God and someone who is not? What are those practices that have become more important than faith itself? More important that loving God and loving my neighbor as myself? More important than doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God?
I am not saying that our faith shouldn't show in our actions. And I am definitely not saying that some historical practices of the church aren't important disciplines in our life... but when do I cross that line where the discipline comes define me rather than the God who established it? When do I become about purity but not holiness? When do I become about individuals rights and not justice? When do I read the Bible but fail to see God? Attend church every Sunday but forget to worship?
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
After Jesus spreads mud on the blind mans eyes, he tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7) No one knows exactly when the man was healed. Was it the moment Jesus' touched him applying the mud to his eyes? Was it the washing in the pool of Siloam? Did it happen as the blind man was walking back to Jesus after washing?
In reflecting on this part of the text, I have been thinking a lot about Baptism... as evidence by the picture of my churches portable (well, supposedly) baptismal pool. There are many theological positions on what happens at Baptism. Is it simply an outward human act symbolizing what God has already done for us and in our individual lives? Does it have any salvific powers at all? Does God do something special during baptism? Is the Holy Spirit present in some unique way?
I don't actually have a good answer to any of those questions... except to say this... it is something that God commanded and so I have to believe that something significant happens in the act. I don't know exactly when a person gets saved. Is it the moment they are touched by Jesus? Is it during baptism? Is it when they walk into their faith after baptism? Is it the act of obedience in responding to Jesus' command to "go" in the first place?
Perhaps its does not actually matter. I don't think the blind man cared when exactly he was healed. All that mattered to him was that he was healed and Jesus was the one who healed him. And it isn't even the act of healing that is significant. It is the fact that now he can see!
Perhaps more important than the exact moment we were saved is the fact that we were saved. That Christ offered salvation to us in a muddy mix of his body and blood. That once touched by the mud of the cross, we are washed clean from our sin. And now that we have been cleansed, we are righteous... called to live not as those who walk in the dark, but as those who can see.
Sorry, I forgot to post yesterday! It is not that I wasn't thinking about it... I just forgot to take the photo and get it up on the blog.
John 9:5-6 "'As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes."
"I am the light of the world." Such a grand statement from Jesus. A beautiful, dignified image of who he is. And then he turns around and spits. Not only that, he reaches down and mixes his spit with the dirt on the ground and then scoops some up and spreads it on a poor blind man's eyes! So unsanitary! So not what I expected from the light of the world! Though perhaps it connects a bit with the living water from last week's passage on the woman at the well?
I'm not sure why spit had to be involved, but I appreciate the healing touch involved. I don't see or experience enough of that these days. There are so few places where people can express affection, care or concern for another person with physical touch as an adult outside the immediate family. There are healing touches by Doctor's, but so often they are supposed to remain distant and scientific to keep from giving off the wrong impression. Pastor's often hold hands with someone or place a hand on their shoulder when praying, but they have to be very careful about lingering too long or crossing boundaries. Adults have to be so careful about touching other people's children... and some need to be careful about how they touch their own. I am not saying that we shouldn't be careful about this issue. And I mourn with those who may never experience physical touch in a positive way because of their experiences of sexual abuse or violence.
I do think, though, that we have lost something in our society. I think somehow touch has become almost exclusively equated with sex and violence in our society. We have lost the sense of touch as healing and intimacy. Not completely. But close to it... I think we could learn from our brothers and sisters around the world who express friendship a bit differently. Men who hug and women who hold hands. Those who greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. I think there can be something healing in healthy appropriate physical touch from another person. I know I have appreciated attending a church where hugs are a normal part of the morning service. Perhaps there is something about a healing touch that allows us to also be a bit of the light of the world.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Our text for this week is the healing of a man born blind and the ensuing controversy among with the Pharisees that follows in John 9. The text begins with the disciples asking whose sin caused this man to be born blind. Jesus responds, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."
Now to be honest, it is not an easy thing for me to think of God allowing someone to be born blind so that God's works might be revealed. But perhaps that is a question for another day. And perhaps it speaks more to my own fears of blindness than to anything else.
My picture for today was intended to reflect the idea of having to work "while it is day." As I am reflecting on that phrase, I find myself quite resistant to what it might mean. It suggests an urgency to God's mission. It suggests an end point, a night fall, a period when the mission is no longer possible... I don't really like to think about that. I prefer to think that I have all the time in the world to get things right, to straighten things out, to say the things that need to be said. But that just isn't true, is it? There are end points in life. People die. People grow old and opportunities begin to fade away. People run out of time for health or child birth or healing of relationships or careers and callings.
I say all this not to be pessimistic, though that is at times in my nature, but to help myself come to grips with the limits in my life. They are not a bad thing. Just a part of being human. And they should push us to live each day with a bit more intentionality, to make choices that reflect our priorities and values, to stop putting off for today what may not be possible tomorrow. What are the works that I am called to do while it is day? What have I been sent for?
Saturday, March 26, 2011
I don't know if you have ever been at a point in your life when God seems to be drawing closer... not in a good "I feel the warmth of God's presence" kind of way... not a comfort in grief or a growing sense of your relationship with God. But God wanting to step across another internal boundary in your life. God wanting to help you grow and deepen and become more whole and human. But in order to do so, you have to let God in even deeper, perhaps to places you have kept sealed up for a long time, perhaps to places you didn't realize even existed.
I feel like I am nearing one of those moments... and it feels a bit like I imagine the woman at the well felt when Jesus said to her, "Go and get your husband..." Of course for the woman at the well it was a complete stranger suddenly delving into her personal life. Who then proceeds to dive in even deeper as he reveals that she has had five husbands and is currently living with another man. I imagine that could not have been very comfortable for her. Though she may be much more secure than I am.
I know that I need to push forward... or, perhaps more accurately, allow God to keep pushing forward. I know that God welcomes my questioning. At least Jesus seemed to welcome the woman at the well's numerous questions throughout the encounter. I know that God moves slowly, often revealing only the truth we can handle at the moment and waiting for us to begin to grasp the deeper truth. Mostly I know what is waiting on the other side. That spring of living water that is promised. That gift that allows you to never be thirsty again. The spring welling up to eternal life. The presence of the Holy Spirit. My God grant me the courage, this Lenten season, to continue to remain open as God moves deeper into my life.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Wow... I started writing a short post on the boundary crossings that take place in the story of the woman at the well and a few pages later still hadn't gotten anywhere. There is so much to say about boundary crossings and they are so tricky! So often boundaries are crossed in ways that do violence to another person. So often boundaries are set up to exclude or demean others... or to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. So often we pretend to cross boundaries for the good of another person (or people group or nation), when we are actually doing it to meet some need of our own. And of course, there are those people who have no boundaries, who have lost any sense of self and have become enmeshed with everyone around them.
I'm not sure this text helps us to sort through our boundary issues. Jesus seems to cross all sorts of boundaries regarding race, gender, and religion with the woman at the well. The woman seems to cross several boundaries herself, responding to Jesus' questions with her own questions and leading him into a deep theological discussion. A discussion which she then shares with the rest of her community. There are times when boundary crossing can be deeply healing and meaningful. Boundary crossing can be a way not of demeaning or overpowering another, but of recognizing the worth and humanity of another.
But my own challenge for this week? I have very high boundaries in my life... mostly for very good reasons. It has served me well in my role as a pastor and former dean of students. It has not served me quite as well in my personal life. How do I find a way to allow my boundaries to more fully reflect the community that God has called me to? How do I find a way to shift my boundaries a bit so they remain strong but also healthy and permeable when needed?
Thursday, March 24, 2011
So, the picture for today isn't that great. As I was taking it, the battery on my camera died. And, of course, the spare batteries are currently being used elsewhere. Oh, and the battery on my computer is dying. And, if I could find my cell phone, which at the moment I cannot, I'm sure that battery would be dying to. And I am feeling quite depleted today. Spent 2 1/2 days doing some vocational discernment. I feel a bit dried up and worn out.
But to the passage for today... John 4:14, "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give shall never thirst, but the water that I give shall become in them a well of water springing up into eternal life."
Um... God? Did I miss something? Am I not supposed to be feeling this way? Am I always supposed to be filled to the brim emotionally and spiritually? But why does my spiritual life feel like a pitcher of water that constantly needs to be refilled? Why do I sometimes wonder if my spiritual well is cracked and leaking?
I'm not sure I have any good answers. I wonder if perhaps the goal is not to be filled all the time, but simply to be something the living water can flow through. We are not to be a well that fills up spiritually and then becomes stagnant. We are to be fountain that allows the living water of the Holy Spirit to spring up and overflow.
Though, perhaps even more to the point... maybe I am thirsty because I keep asking for the wrong water. Maybe I keep dipping into Jacob's well instead of turning to the one who created the water in the first place.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Samaritan woman at the well, after hearing Jesus tell her everything about herself, decides that Jesus is a prophet. And if he is a prophet, he must be sent by God. So, she wants to know where she should go to worship God. The Jews and the Samaritans disagreed about this. The Samaritans thought there was a holy mountain. The Jews argued that one must worship in Jerusalem. Jesus had other plans. With the coming of Christ, everything would change. The God who had chosen to dwell in the tabernacle and the temple, the God whose presence was in the Holy of Holies, would break forth in Spirit and be worshiped everywhere.
I wonder if at times we have come to associate God too much with a particular place. I wonder if church has for many of us become a holy mountain or a Jerusalem. I wonder if we think we must go somewhere to meet God. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't all be better off if the pews were empty a little more often as we recognized God's presence everywhere.
On the other hand, I also wonder if sometimes we go to places where God is present without ever truly seeking God. The Samaritan woman's questions were the stirrings of someone who had recognized God at work and wanted to respond in worship. When I see God work, how to I respond? Does it drive me to worship? Not necessarily to a place, but at least to a posture?
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
"Give me a drink," Jesus says to the Samaritan woman. A simple request. He is sitting by a well, thirsty from his travels, water just a few feet away, but no bucket to get at it. It feels a bit like we are back in the wilderness with Satan tempting Jesus to turn these rocks into stone. But know, Jesus chooses to ask someone for help... a Samaritan no less, someone who would make him unclean... and a woman... two strikes... oh, and living with a man who is not her husband! Jesus really can pick 'em, can't he?
I find it fascinating that Jesus' first words of witness to this woman are not about the living water he provides or about her sinfulness or about the right place to worship... he gets to all of that eventually... rather his first words are a request. A request that makes Jesus vulnerable to this woman, to her "uncleanliness" (in the Biblical sense, of course!) and leaves him indebted to her.
What can this passage teach us about evangelism? What might it mean to approach others not with something to offer, but showing our need? What might it mean to approach the world with a realization that we must rely upon one another? That each person has something valuable to contribute? What might it mean to have acts of service and mercy not be about reaching down to others? But reaching across to them? And being willing to share a cup with them?
What if evangelism begins not with an answer, but with a question?
Monday, March 21, 2011
I had this great idea... take a picture of one of my journal entries to represent Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well and telling her everything that she ever did (John 4:39), because Jesus already knows all that is written in them.
Well, I looked at the first pictures and realized that I better start erasing some of the words to protect the innocent (well, at least my innocence!). Eventually, though, I was erasing whole lines and then whole paragraphs! I had to spend several minutes going through my journals to find a few pages that I would be willing to reveal.. well, for the most part.
I was struck through this process by the incredible vulnerability that the woman must have felt. Jesus looking into her soul and naming the one thing she was perhaps most ashamed of. Amazingly, she does not respond with shame or fear or anger. Instead, she recognizes Jesus as a prophet and asks where she should worship God. I have a lot to learn from this woman. That standing open and vulnerable before God is not something to fear or avoid... but rather when we allow Jesus to peer into the corners of our heart and mind, when Jesus tells us who we... those are the moments when we see most clearly who our God is, our omniscient, holy, and grace-filled God.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I know it is a bit early in the Lenten season for the cross... but I can't stop thinking about the fact that Peter, James, and John, when they looked at all Jesus was going through before the crucifixion, and then to see Jesus on the cross (at least I think they saw him there)... of all the disciples, of all those who witnessed what was happening, they had been the ones just days or weeks before to see how glorious Jesus truly was. They must have known, perhaps in a deeper way than the others, that God's son had just been killed. And Peter... with that knowledge, with that glorious image of Christ on the mountaintop at the crucifixion in his head. Can you imagine the weight of guilt when he denied him three times?
Would it have been better if they had never known? If Christ had waited to reveal himself until the resurrection? Looking back, would they have wished the transfiguration never happened?
There are times in my life when I wish I didn't know God so well. Times when in my doubts and struggles with God, in my anger and frustration with the world around me, I think how much easier it would be to walk away. There are days when my faith seems to difficult to bear, when the weight of racism and sexism and all of those other oppressions that have woven themselves into the fabric of the church is overwhelming and I wish I could walk away.
Most of the time, however, I am thankful for the glimpses of God that I have received. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit enable faith and this connection with God that is beyond understanding. And I rejoice that even in my darkest days, I can't seem to let go. I think that is what transfiguration moments are all about. They are glimpses of God's glory that get us through the tough times. For although Peter, James and John knew that God's son was being crucified, they also knew that he existed and had walked with them and talked with them. And perhaps the transfiguration was what enabled them to get through it. To have that slim thread of hope that caused them to run to the tomb when Mary told them the body was missing.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Up in the corner of one of my closets sits an old silver goblet. Well, age is all relative. It is as old as I am. It is tarnished. It is unused. It is about the only antique I have. One glance at it and you would probably pass it over. But hidden on the back is an engraving of my name. It was a gift to my parents when I was born (I think...)
Jesus was not so old, but he may have looked at bit run down and tarnished after three years of intense ministry, walking from city to city, managing a group of unruly disciples, being pursued by crowds seeking healings and miracles. What he did was quite fantastic, but if you hadn't heard the stories or seen the miracles, he probably looked just like any other guy. Quite unremarkable.
But then, on this one day, he takes a few friends up to the top of a mountain and gives them a little peek. Underneath all that humanity was the glory of God shining through (all right... not the most accurate theological language for the incarnation, but you get the point) I wonder if people would have treated Jesus any differently had they known? I wonder, if I came face to face with God's glory for a moment, if it would change how I treat God? Do I treat God like an old family heirloom or antique that I leave hidden up in a closet? Or do I cherish God knowing God's full worth?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
So, I've tried to start this post several times, written a few sentences, and then gone back and erased it all only to start over again and do the same thing once again. In my mind, as I've been thinking about the transfiguration, I've been thinking about the subtle ways we try to transform ourselves. For women, especially, the concern we have about hair and make up and clothing. We transform ourselves to stand out and to fit in and to be accepted and to keep people away. As I am writing, I am realizing how many of our attempts at self-transformation, which so often involved hiding who we truly are, actually end up revealing our true selves. Our attempts at transformation reveal our insecurities and self-perceived flaws.
What does this have to do with the transfiguration? Maybe nothing... but maybe it can help me think about the difference between transformation and transfiguration, at least in the way I am using these terms today. Transformation seems to be about changing who you are. Transfiguration, at least in the sense of Jesus' glorious appearance on a mountain top, seems to be more about revealing who you are.
Jesus was, at his core, not only fully human, but fully divine. And that was revealed on the mountaintop that day. The full divinity of Christ shining through. We are, at our core, created in the image of this glorious God. Perhaps I should stop trying so hard to transform who I think I am and embrace who I was created to be. Perhaps by embracing the image of God within my life, perhaps there will be glimpses of transfiguration that allow the glory of God to shine through.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Gas stations seem to be getting more and more creative in how they post their gas prices. Remember the days when only one price was listed? Nowadays there is a cash price, a credit price, a car wash discount price, and for this place a "cash card" price. You have to read carefully to understand just what you are getting.
Now I would never accuse God of false advertising... or even trying to lure us in with cheap prices with all sorts of strings attached. God just isn't like that. In fact, God is very much the opposite. With Jesus, you usually get more than you paid for. A better deal than you anticipated. Granted, the price was very high...
And yet there is something about the transfiguration, something that reveals that Jesus was not exactly what everyone expected. There was a part of Jesus that remained hidden. A side that he didn't want fully revealed until the right time. Jesus was very intentional about how and when he revealed his divine nature. Only a few witnessed the transfiguration. Others witnesses miracles, but only specific miracles. Miracles that pointed to the presence of the kingdom of God in specific ways.
Jesus did not want to draw people to himself with spectacular promises or with a charismatic personality. He didn't want people to follow him because he was some sort of magician or miracle worker. He wanted people to look at him and see the kingdom of God.
Do we do the same as the church? Or do we try to offer cheap prices with all sorts of strings attached?
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
My image from yesterday still has me thinking. One of the dangers of the transfiguration is that we can be so overwhelmed by the glory of God that we become frozen in place. We want to preserve the moment and fail to bring the kingdom down from the mountaintop.
I don't have a lot of transfiguration moments in my life... my danger is not to fail to come down from the mountaintop. It's more basic than that. My danger is just trying to get out of bed in the morning. Now it has nothing to do with being depressed... I just really like sleeping. And beds are comfortable and cozy, especially during the cold winter. And a good dream... I would much rather live in my little dreamworld than out in the real world.
And perhaps that is one of the messages of the transfiguration. We can't live in our little dream worlds. Not even our little Christian bubble worlds. We can't live in a world that avoids the reality of what is out there. God wants us to get out of bed, stop hitting the snooze button, climb down off the mountaintop... and live.
Monday, March 14, 2011
There are two options for the lectionary text for this coming Sunday. At our church we'll be focusing on Matthew 17:1-13, the Transfiguration. I'm sure throughout the week I'll reflect more on the connections and contrasts between this text and the wilderness temptation from this past week. For today, though, simply a focus on the glory of the moment. If you can imagine it, just you and a few friends on a mountaintop with Jesus in all his glory. "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white." Of course Peter wanted to preserve the moment, to build a shelter and stay there. To bask in the light of his glory. To experience the holiness of God.
I know that if I keep reading I'll have to follow Peter down the mountain. I know that we were not meant to simply bask in this glory forever. But for now, for this day, I think I'll just look on the beauty and holiness of our God. Just for a minute. I know, not too long... I know there is work to do in this world. I know that for the moment we are only allowed glimpses of the kingdom. But someday... someday we'll be able to stand in God's presence. Someday we will be able to simply dwell in the glory of the Lord.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Uh... Lord... I don't think I want to follow you out into the wilderness today. I'm not sure what's out there...
Well, that's not exactly true. I'm pretty sure I have a good idea what's out there. My fears and my anxieties. My doubts and insecurities. My deepest longings. I don't think I really want to face those right now. I know it's Lent. I know it is time for repentance and reflection. But can't it wait until another day?
Oh... it can't really wait? If I want to find you I'll have to go out there? Right now? Oh Lord, give me courage to follow you on this Lenten journey.
Friday, March 11, 2011
I've been playing around in my mind with this idea of wilderness all day. I was thinking about those who live in the wilderness all the time. Those who live in poverty, in abusive relationships, in war torn countries. Those who are faced with racism and sexism and ageism regularly. Okay, so those are all very different types of wilderness... but all of them involved being tempted on a regular basis. When faced with the evil and hatred in the world, with the inequality and unfairness of it all, we are tempted to respond in kind. For it can be difficult to remember the grace of God in those moments.
When I think of these others types of wildernesses, I often think of the city more than the desert. I think of urban decay and overcrowded communities. I think of the economic inequality so present in a single city block. But then I had to stop myself short...
In scripture, the wilderness is a place of temptation, but it is rarely a place of punishment. Jesus was not sent out into the wilderness for some sin. Israel first heads to the wilderness to escape slavery, not to enter into it. The wilderness is not just a place where temptation lurks. The wilderness is a place where God is present. Where one's faith is refined. Where God purifies us and prepares us. Moses sat up on a mountaintop of wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights... in the midst of God's glory.
I need to rethink how I interpret wilderness... and the city... and places of war and poverty. I seem to flee them, but I wonder... I wonder if I need to move into them more fully in order to truly find God?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
This coming Sunday's lectionary text is from Matt. 4:1-11, Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Since I am preaching this Sunday, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of wilderness during the week. In the story, Jesus is led out into the wilderness. In fact most wilderness experiences in scripture seem to be about people (Israel, Moses, Jesus, etc.) being led out into the wilderness. It is there that they are tested, tempted, shaped and formed.
For me, though, Lent is not about being led into the wilderness. Instead, Lent is more about realizing the ways the wilderness has made its way into my life. Where are the cracks and crevices that vines of anger or jealousy have taken hold? How have I allowed greed or over-consumption to creep in? When have I abided in vines other than Christ? Where have I grafted myself into the promises of this world rather than the promises of God?
Lent is a time for pruning, for cutting back... it is a time for pulling down those vines of sin that have wound their way into our lives. I know sometimes it is difficult to separate them from the rest of our lives. They blend in, cling on, become a part of us. But may God reveal them to us throughout this season as we prepare once again to celebrate the one who makes our restoration a possibility.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Hello again! As many of you know, we are entering again into the season of Lent, one of the two season in the church year where I post a daily photo devotional. I have over the years posted random photos with reflections, posted photos taken each and every day, posted photos related to the lectionary readings for the season. This year I will be attempting to post at least six days a week. I do need one day of Sabbath in there! There will be a photo taken sometime during the season each day, though I cannot promise that it will have been taken that day. And, the reflections will connect with the season and/or the lectionary text for the following Sunday. If you would like to join me, I'd love to hear your reflections and see your photos as well!
And so... we are off.
Turning Palms Into Ash
Last year, for some reason, I kept a few palms from our Palm Sunday service at Sojourner. I had remembered that the ashes for Ash Wednesday are often made from the palms used the previous year. And so... I kept three branches, just in case I was still at my church in a year. No, I was not being paranoid or pessimistic about my calling. It is simply that I had been hired as an interim pastor for six months... that extended into over a year.
I never did burn those branches. Did you know that it is a long tedious process! That it can take a bucket full of branches to make one small container of ash? That palms do not burn easily, but need to be nursed and stirred and perhaps soaked with a little alcohol? That once you burn them down, you still need to grind them and sift them and mix them with oil in order to make them usable for the service?
Now, I did have all the supplies, but a friend at a large nearby church had some extra ashes and graciously offered to share them. I don't think it is liturgically incorrect to share ashes, do you?
The point, really, is not the borrowing of the ashes, but the process itself. Palms are difficult to burn. Much like our sins. Much like the sins of our culture and society. Much like our idolatry and false hopes. Much like our misconceptions about who God is supposed to be... Palms, representing a people ready to follow a king, but not all the way to the cross. Those palms, are difficult to burn.
During this Lenten season, may we have the patient to burn those palm branches, to lay them on the altar and offer them... our sins, our misconceptions, our lack of faith... to stir them in reflection and repentance. Knowing that palms, once burned, become the ash that symbolize the promise of God's refining fire in our lives.