3.27.2008

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2: 14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1: 3 - 9
John 20: 19 - 31

Here is an interesting term (to us at least): Historical Revisionism. The term basically refers to folks being able, after an event has passed, to do further research (or apply newly discovered evidence or facts or opinions) and revise the understanding or meaning of the
event.

A recent example would be President Bush confidently launching our country in to our current grouping of wars with great confidence in the information that was available to him (and his inner circle); and then, not too much later, further information came to light that
negated most of the initial reasons for launching in to the war(s).

Now, some folks believe taking new / current information and changing the way we understand what has already occurred is inappropriate-understandings and opinions have already been formed, choices have been made, events have taken place and we cannot change them..so there is no need to look back and criticize. And, there are also some folks that want to commit to taking all of the possible information at any particular moment to be able to understand what actually happened in the past.

Part of this is an issue of context. It is easy for us to pass judgment on folks that draw (what turn out to be) wrong conclusions or make bad decisions when they did not have all of the appropriate information available to them.

This week's selection of scriptures gives us vignettes of people's view of God before Christ, shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus, and a couple of views of God long after Jesus had Ascended.

In the Psalm we see a person who completely and totally believes in and trusts in God. This is a beautiful poem of devotion that reflects the Hebrew covenant with Yahweh. This song of praise tells us a bit about what sort of faith choices exist for the readers. The author
chooses the one God of Israel in which to put his/her faith rather than a selection of gods to whom offerings of blood are made.

Then, in John, we see Thomas the Realist interacting with Jesus. Thomas had been a believer of Jesus. He had been a follower of Jesus. He was distraught after the death of Jesus. In his grief and in the days that followed the crucifixion, he was caught in a crisis....he wanted to believe this man he had been following...and at the same
time he had never known anyone that had been brutally killed and came back from the grave. Jesus uses this appearance to the disciples as another teaching moment. He encourages folks to investigate and touch and see AND he encourages folks also to believe the stuff they have heard and also to share what they have seen so that others might also
believe.

In both Acts and in 1 Peter we see two examples of some early, detailed, elaborated, precursors to early church creeds. These statements mark an important transition: people were moving from believing in Jesus while he was there with them to passing the belief
on to later generations of folks. And these early creed-type statements are in a sense documenting the pedigree of Jesus. They are drawing the connections of Jesus from the Jewish / Hebrew stories and expectations, and connecting them to the what Jesus said about himself. They are also connecting what they have heard and witnessed
to the events that took place to their early insights and understandings. They were processing history through their experience in order to assemble it into a whole picture for themselves and the next generation.

Acts is often attributed to the author of Luke, continuing the narrative of this gospel. The passage chosen this week is actually a fulfillment of one of Jesus' teachings in Luke 24:47 - 48 (that the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed among all nations, beginning
in Jerusalem). Peter stands and addresses this Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, launching the disciples' mission into the world to build the church. Peter proclaims Jesus' message through the lens of history that is well-known to the Jewish community. Suddenly they have
information and connections that they didn't have days, weeks or months earlier.

1 Peter is written to a community that has fully embraced the divinity of Jesus without actually witnessing any of his life. Out of response to what they understand, they have chosen to live outside the dominant culture and they reject the teachings all around them in favor of this one. From what we read, it is safe to assume that it isn't always easy to adopt their read on history in their greater community.

Our daily experiences shape our faith. Our history and tradition shape our faith. Both positive and negative viewpoints and understandings shape us and our viewpoints and understandings of history. As we learn and grow, we add dimension and depth. Others
add dimension and depth for us. We have moments where we need to see and touch the wounds. We have moments where a leader can point us in a new direction. We read books, we share our experiences and our understanding of our faith grows. Sometimes it happens individually and sometimes it happens in community, but always History is Revised.

So what does this mean to us? Aren't we still revising the history today? Isn't the very act of studying scripture and drawing our own conclusions a revisionist history? Is a faith that is constant and unchanging really growing?

And if we take that view, what happens to our view of other faiths? Can we consider how the histories and traditions of other faiths - and maybe specifically the Abrahamic faiths - have been shaped and might continue to shape one another?

Gracious God,
let your will for all of us be known.
Let all be partners in shaping the future
with a faith that quarrels with the present
for the sake of what yet might be. Amen.

Anonymous, from Taiwan
Printed in This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer
by Laurence Hull Stookey

3.21.2008

Easter Sunday

Jeremiah 31: 1 – 6
Psalm 118: 1 – 2; 14 – 24
Colossians 3: 1 – 4
Matthew 28: 1 – 10

Bare branches to budding leaves; icy ground to green grass; frigid winds to fresh spring breezes—Lent is a season of transformation.

During this deeply reflective church season we find ourselves moving through the days with some intention of a deep personal change or commitment when we have walked through the 40 days and emerged on Easter morning. We begin in the shorter dark days of grays and browns and slumbering life and end with the warmth and color and fragrance of spring in the air.

In many ways, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life take an entire cast of characters through a radical, life-altering space of time and experience. Any one chapter of their individual experiences with Christ would not have resulted in the Life Transformation that they experienced at his Resurrection. Without being called, without hearing the parables, without witnessing the miracles, without developing high hopes, without a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, without a gut-wrenching turn of events ending in betrayal, crucifixion and death, these lives would not have been so radically altered, and the hope that was discovered in the empty tomb would have had a different impact. It took these folks living their entire lives for a difference to be identified.

This year as we write, we are acutely aware of how much of our daily experience shapes our faith and understanding of grace, of Resurrection and of the Kingdom of God. Forty days are not enough; it is the journey of a lifetime and each moment further refines our faith. One set of convictions is probably not enough for our range of experiences. As we journey through our own wildernesses, enter into various promised lands, and stand before various burning bushes, we relive the experience of Israel, in covenant with a God who is faithful, living out a commitment as forgiven people through a new covenant in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

It helps to really place ourselves in the shoes of those who witnessed a risen Jesus. It wasn’t just his followers who experienced the Resurrection. It was also his detractors…the Roman guards paid to be at the tomb, the priests who had set Jesus up for a fall, the people in the streets who didn’t know what to believe as it all unfolded before them, the angry mobs, the joiners…

The Jeremiah text this week is a prophesy borne on the lived experience of Israel. Through the wilderness, through the entrance into Canaan, through the Judges and the Kings and the fall of the temple and years and years of living dispersed as foreigners in foreign lands, the Israelites have looked with hope toward their restoration through the will of God.

The Psalm is joyous and victorious. The reference to the cornerstone once rejected by the builder reminds us that the Israelites in their history were often underdogs. We can almost hear the tambourines referenced in Jeremiah as the synagogue hears the Psalm.

Matthew’s gospel describes the drama of Christ’s death and the revelation of Resurrection, risen saints going out from their tombs to see their families. There are dead men walking, there are earthquakes, there is darkness. Two Marys discover an empty tomb. As if they haven’t seen enough, they are met by earthquakes and an angel whose appearance is like lightening. It is believed that Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish audience. The melodramatic telling of the story of death and Resurrection, from the point of the veil being torn in the tabernacle (Matthew 27:51) to the discovery of the empty tomb, hearkens back through words and images to the same images that surrounded Moses as he received the commandments and established covenant with Yahweh in Exodus .

To the early readers/hearers, these images would have been sort of “embedded” in their faith. They had heard stories of Moses and the prophets and they had been steeped in the history of covenant. We can almost hear their “ah ha” moment as the folks following Jesus put the stories of their childhood together with their experiences of the events of the present moment.

Paul is addressing the Colossians with a challenge to look beyond their earthly existence. Yes, the death and Resurrection of Christ seems out of this world. Right. And so, as followers our minds need to be set in a “higher” place. Again, Paul is fulfilling his favorite role as Encourager. He is saying that if they really believe all that Christ said, then they need to live in to that by setting their minds (and hopefully the rest of their lives will follow) on God as revealed to them through the example and teachings of God. He seems to be helping people recognize that the commitment to Christ means that things are different now…their lives are transformed in to something new.

+So what do we do differently because of Easter? How do we live as “Easter people,” changed by the experiences, teachings and actions of one man who was the Son of God?
+We have our own covenant with Yahweh, a covenant forged through the Easter experience. God is faithful. Are we?
+When we are faced with something surprising, unexpected or unknown, do we have enough background information – enough life experience and story – to “go and tell” like the women did when finding the tomb empty?
+How do your experiences, day by day, week by week, year by year, reveal the nature of God and Jesus to you?
+Are you able to “go and tell” like the women did?

God our Father,
by raising Christ your Son
you conquered the power of death
and opened for us the way to eternal life.
Let our celebration today
raise us up and renew our lives
by the Spirit that is within us.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer: The Psalter of The Liturgy of the Hours

3.20.2008

Good Friday

"Shock Me with the Terrible Goodness of this Friday"

Holy one,
shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday,
and drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom,
until I seek it first--
yet not first for myself,
but for the hungry
and the sick
and the poor of your children,
for prisoners of conscience around the world
for those I have wasted
with my racism
and sexism
and ageism
and nationalism
and religionism,
for those around this mother earth and in this city
who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness;
that, in my seeking first the kingdom,
for them as well as for myself,
all these things may be mine as well:
things like a coat and courage
and something like comfort,
a few lilies in the field,
the sight of birds soaring on the wind,
a song in the night,
and gladness of heart,
the sense of your presence
and the realization of your promise
that nothing in life or death
will be able to separate me or those I love,
from your love
in the crucified one who
is our Lord,
and in whose
name and Spirit I pray.

"Guerrillas of Grace"
Ted Loder

3.19.2008

Maundy Thursday

This day of dread and betrayal and denial
causes a pause in our busyness.
Who would have thought that you would take
this eighth son of Jesse
to become the pivot of hope in our ancient memory?
Who would have thought that you would take
this uncredentialed
Galilean rabbi
to become the pivot of newness in the world?
Who would have thought that you--
God of gods and Lord of lords--
would fasten on such small, innocuous agents
whom the world scorns
to turn creation toward your newness?
As we are dazzled,
give us the freedom to resituate our lives in modest,
uncredentialed, vulnerable places.
We ask for freedom and courage to move out from our nicely
arranged patterns of security
into dangerous places of newness where we fear to go.
Cross us by the cross, that we may be Easter marked. Amen

Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

3.12.2008

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21: 1 - 11
Psalm 118: 1 - 2, 19 - 29

In the Palm Sundays of childhood, there was excitement…music and palms and hoopla…and just a little naïveté about what was coming next. Easter was next, right?

In our faith journey, we might be more comfortable just holding on to that bright thought. But the fact is, the scripture this week sets us up…sets the disciples up…sets Jerusalem up…sets Jesus up for a myriad of human responses, emotions, bad judgments, losses, grief and ultimately, resurrection joy. On “Palm Sunday” no one (except possibly Jesus) knew that Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, a Trial, a Crucifixion, a Death, a burial, and a Resurrection were coming. We already can see ahead to the Darkness of Holy Week and the Light of Easter.

But to think about these things is getting ahead of ourselves; we’re not there yet.

Our text this week is about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jews are preparing for the Passover. They are traveling to the holy city that houses so much of their heritage to remember how God delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh. It is a season of celebration and hope, but Jerusalem is in its own political turmoil and tension. Jesus arrives at the Mount of Olives, referenced in Zechariah 14 as the location of the Lord’s return and judgment of Israel. Jesus specifically directs the disciples to find a donkey and a colt. The gospel writer references a quote that alludes to both Isaiah and Zechariah, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

What could the bystanders have thought?

Followers have been on a wild ride with this teacher Jesus. They have traveled with him into one community after another. They have watched him walk on water and raise the dead. They have seen him offer redemption to foreigners and with him they have dined with sinners of all stripes. He has told them many times that they cannot understand how this will end. He has alluded to their inability to do what he is about to do.

What kind of a King rides in to Jerusalem on a donkey? Who does he think he is?

Romans occupy Jerusalem and the custom of the day was for rulers and leaders to enter cities with great celebration and display of power and might. Instead of beautiful horses bearing military leaders, Jesus mounts a humble servant animal. His very entry is a statement about his purpose to serve.

Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna means, literally, “help us!”

Let’s remember that Jesus is not just being followed by 12 disciples. He has attracted quite an entourage. Jesus has a following…not unlike the names we see splashed across the tabloids at the grocery store. Crowds come out to see him enter Jerusalem. People are murmuring about him in marketplaces. The whole city is wondering who this man is. Have you heard about the one they are saying is the Messiah?

The Messiah.

In Jerusalem, in the shadow of the Temple, the faithful Jews know Torah. They are steeped in the words of the prophets. They recognize what might be happening at the Mount of Olives. They expect to be liberated by one who will come and raise the dead. …One who will free them from hundreds and thousands of years of disappointment and loss. …One who will suppress the oppressors and place the “Right” (it turns out there were several groups even among the Jews who thought they were ‘Right’) Jewish leaders back in control

Could this really be the One?

There is a frenzy building. This society has expected a Messiah for years. Even the gentiles are aware how central a Messiah is to the Jews. And the gentiles have something to fear. What if these really are God’s chosen people? But this Jesus hasn’t really conformed to their expectations. And he hasn’t just been teaching among the Jews. The Pharisees don’t have nice things to say about this man. He’s been calling age-old assumptions into question. He’s been trodding on the Law as it has been upheld by the Temple elite.

These folks Want to believe that Jesus is the One. We don’t have it proven in the text, but it is easy to imagine that these folks had the tune of Psalm 118 playing in their heads “Give thanks to the Lord…His steadfast love endures forever. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it….His steadfast love endures forever. The rejected stone is the chief cornerstone….His steadfast Love endures forever. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Give us success Lord….I thank you that you have answered me and become my salvation!”

Can we dare NOT to believe it is he?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. Hosanna in the highest.

It is easy for us to be drawn in to the frenzy of Easter…in to the excitement and promise of salvation and resurrection. However, we cannot look past the importance of Jesus humbly entering the city with his disciples.

It is easy for us to only think of chocolate crosses and bunnies that lay eggs and pastel suits and promises of eternal life, but we also need to remember the messages of compassion and commitment he was preaching before he ever mounted the donkey. It was the message and the experiences with Jesus that gave people hope, that caused them to gather along the streets with their hope and branches held high. Their hopes were high, their emotions strong. They needed something…they needed a Messiah. Hosanna…help us.

  • At what times have you experienced tremendous hope that something you have waited for us about to be fulfilled? Were your hopes satisfied? What emotions did you encounter as you waited for an outcome?
  • Why was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem important? What purpose did it serve?
  • How will you encounter Jesus this week as you face the events of the Passion?

A Prayer for Courage
Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we say: I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish. Amen.
W.E.B. DuBois quoted in Every Eye Beholds You

3.06.2008

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37: 1 - 14
Psalm 130
Romans 8: 6 - 11
John 11: 1 - 45

In general, with the "popular" understanding of God, we want to imagine God as All-Powerful. We want to imagine God as All-Loving. And inevitably, as we sometimes misread, misinterpret, and misallocate scripture, we run in to questions like, "If God is All-Powerful and All-Loving, how could God allow the Holocaust, Genocide in Darfur, children dying from malnutrition, desecration of the Creation, etc?"

It is easy in the middle of horrible situations (from the large scale of Genocide to a smaller scale of losing a job) to shake our fist at the sky and wonder why God has left us hanging out to dry. It is easy to assume that because some sort of difficulty has arrived in our lives, we are being punished for something we have done or left undone.

We want God to be SuperHuman and solve our human problems in ways that we can imagine--the thing is God is not human.

Part of the difficulty of this type of question is that we are applying Our Human understanding of Love and Power and Our understanding of Control and Our own logic to....God. This is not to say that genocide is not painful to God. However, we do sometimes get caught in a trap of wanting Our world to be (from Our perspective) smooth and bumpless; and then, since We cannot seem to make things work out Ourselves (because, it seems We might be a part of the problem) We call in, and sometimes blame, God.

We pray that God will hit the reset button.

We pray that God will make the particular problem go away.

Essentially, We are praying (and hoping and sometimes demanding) God will eliminate the problem (and all of it's contributing factors) as we have defined it, as we understand it, and as we would solve it.

When we read the stories of scripture carefully, we notice God provides solutions We could not imagine in ways We are not capable of envisioning. We see God providing miraculous solutions and We want to have a miracle of Our own. It turns out God is not under Our control, obligated by Our understandings, accountable to Our clamoring, Our questions, or Our time table.

Ezekiel is a prophet called in the midst of Israel's exile in Babylon after the fall of the Temple. He is part of a society beaten and bruised, away from the comforts of home and the familiarity of their own culture and tradition. They have pushed back on God and their covenant again and again. It seems they have lost the land once and for all. By all human measures, they should be lost to God. Amidst a valley rattling with dry bones, the Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones themselves, telling them to come together, to grow flesh and to breathe again. God remained faithful in God's own way and in God's own time. And behold, they do. Beyond this week's reading, God shows Ezekiel a new society, a new justice and new tranquility.

The Psalmist writes about expectation and supplication and ultimately hope. The encouragement is for Israel to recognize the Lord's great power to redeem. It is easy for us to project on this writer that he or she may have had some plans on what God should / could do whenever God showed up "in the morning." However, we do see in this Psalm the hope and trust that God will be faithful and will stay true to the covenant made earlier.

In the gospel of John, we have a more convoluted story. Lazarus has been a good friend to Jesus. When Jesus receives word of Lazarus' illness, he asserts that this illness is actually an event through which God's glory will be revealed. And then he waits two days more, after which he tells his disciples that they are going to return to Judea. Now the disciples protest - in Judea they will face an angry crowd. Jesus knows this, and chooses to face the threat. He's not bending to societal pressure. Nor is Jesus (the Son of God, remember) held down by the same fears that are holding the disciples. He's in relationship with God and is doing what he understands that he is to do regardless of what his followers or his society thinks. He knows Lazarus is dead and he knows that he is going to change that. He confidently calls Lazarus out of the tomb because he knows God remains faithful in God's own way in God's own time.

Paul's letter to the church in Rome encourages the community to understand the difference between what they know in flesh and what they know in Spirit. The people he writes to are under terrible pressure to not be followers of Jesus. They are surrounded by the threat of persecution. They are attempting to follow a new model that runs contrary to the Roman, Caesar-worshiping society around them. Paul is gently reminding them that if they live only looking at the physical problems (of the flesh) surrounding them, then they will surely die. If they only look at the difficulties, then difficulties will be all they see. He encourages them to rest in the Spirit of God that "will give life to your mortal bodies", even in the midst of the broken American...er..Roman system.

Nowhere in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures do we find a promise from God that everything will be perfect or that we will not experience pain in our lives. Nowhere do we find a promise that our bodies will not decay and die. Nowhere do we find a promise that when we wish upon a star, no matter where we are, our dreams will come true. Contrary to the border-increasing "Prayer of Jabez", God is not a genie in a lamp that we hit up for favors
and use to stay out of trouble.

However, it is easy to find examples and promises that God will be faithful to us. The difficult thing here is discerning / understanding what God's faithfulness looks like for us. The difficult thing is allowing that maybe We, while completely loved by God, might not have the greatest perspective on what are the primary problems, nor how they might be made right.

  • ­Do you believe God is in complete control of everything?
  • Is God responsible for everything we attribute to be Divine Punishment or Reward?
  • What role do we play in the creation and solution of the difficult circumstances of our lives?
  • Where have you seen in your life (or in history) God putting breath back in to dry bones?

The light of life is a finite flame. Like the Sabbath candles, life is
kindled, it burns, it glows, it is radiant with warmth and beauty. But soon
it fades; its substance is consumed, and it is no more. In light we see; in
light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night
follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end
to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair,
for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our
lives we give life. Something of us can never die; we move in the eternal
cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.

-The New Union Prayer Book