2.25.2009

First Sunday in Lent

[This week invites us to think a little bit about this creature that we call the "Revised Common Lectionary." In broad brush strokes, the Lectionary is crafted to walk people through a series events in the Christian Year - through events in Christ's life, through events in the history of the Jewish people, and through the experiences of the early church. The readings are arranged so that we are reading texts written in wildly different contexts toward a specific "takeaway" for Christians. Beginning with Advent, we watch and wait for the incarnation of God in Christ. On Christmas, we actually celebrate and praise the blessed event of Christ's birth. Epiphany is then a season which reveals for us the truth of who Christ was as he walked the earth, through teachings and actions and events in his ministry. Now we are entering Lent. We have completed our view of what made Christ "special," and now we begin the slow walk toward his persecution, crucifixion, death and resurrection. Lent culminates in Easter, the recognition and celebration of Christ's resurrection. Following Easter we consider the season of Pentecost, learning about the activities of early Christians as they witnessed the resurrection and then moved out in the world with the Good News that they understood from these events. At Pentecost we see how the early group of followers grew and fanned out and became the church. And after Pentecost, we sink into a long season of growth, where we read a wide variety of selections from the Bible, which follow specific patterns each year.

This week, the readings gave us pause -- we were reminded that it is important to remember that these readings are put together to tell a very specific story, and it is not the story that the texts were originally written to tell. The authors of these texts didn't know that they would ever hang together in this way, and so out of respect for the original texts and for their original context, we just want to remind our readers that it is always important to pause for a minute and respect the texts as they were originally written as well. They arrived in the canon because they meant something powerful to the communities that were reading them and using them in worship...which means that the Old Testament texts were well loved and well used and meaningful long before the Gospels were written, long before they were quoted by Jesus and the Disciples. They shaped generations - and in particular, they shaped Jesus and his early followers.

Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves. Now, onto our thoughts for this week.]

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Oxyclean is a bit of a miracle in the laundry world.

It removes so many of those tenacious stains that those launderers out there are so familiar with -- coffee, blood, ketchup, chocolate, grass stains. Single product, multiple stains. We could write a commercial.

Of course, Oxyclean, in all of it's multipurpose wonderfulness, doesn't do anything unless it is mixed with....

Water.

This week our readings have us thinking about water -- about it's life giving nature, about it's destructive AND life-giving nature. It's easy to take for granted. In most of our priveleged North American existence, we turn a handle and it flows from a fawcet, cool, relatively clean and safe for cooking, cleaning and drinking. And so perhaps we are jaded. Some of us have journeyed to places where this precious commodity is not so abundant. We invite you to reread this week's passages and consider what you read through the senses of a community that has no readily available clean source of water. Hmmm. It's tough, isn't it?

Most children raised with any contact with a church know something of the Noah story. They know about a catastrophic flood and about animals two-by-two. This week's Hebrew scriptures recount God's covenant with Noah and his family immediately after the flood. God promises Noah that the earth shall never again be destroyed by water, and as a reminder of this commitment, God sets a rainbow in the sky -- an occasional reminder of something that went horribly wrong here on earth followed by God's promise that it will never happen again. In this promise there is hope. And there is a touchstone. It is probably safe to say that Noah never again had the same reaction to a rain cloud, or a rainstorm or the fresh smell that emerges from the earth after the rain, or a rainbow against the stark contrast of dark clouds and bright sunshine breaking through ever again. He was forever changed by his experience with water. [We'd like to say that he was forever transformed...but read the rest of the Noah story. We're not sure he really got the message. Are you? Do we ever really get the message?]

The Psalmist petitions God's presence and support for a righteous life well-lived. There is no mention of water here, we confess. But considering the Psalms as the early hymns or liturgical readings of the church, we can imagine that asking God for his presence and support might follow one's consideration of Noah's life. God is faithful to Israel, and the Israelites knew that it was important to seek God's counsel and solace and mercy.

The Gospel account is from Mark's telling of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Now we were just at this chapter in the story a few weeks ago (January 11, actually). John was offering a baptism of repentence, a known act in the Jewish practice of the day. Repentence would have been a "starting over" or a "turning back." A recognition that all was not well, but that from this point forward, things could be different. Jesus steps into the water with John and something quite amazing happens. A voice from heaven declares that this - this Man from Galillee - is the beloved in whom God is well-pleased. Wow. Now if you are riverside, expecting your life to change as you step into the water and turn away from your past sins with hope for a new way of life, this disembodied voice spoken over this one man might strike you as just a little odd. Maybe this particular guy doesn't need repentence? And this week, we get the next part of the story. Even as God's beloved, this man doesn't walk out of the river and into a simpler, better or necessarily more Holy life. Instead, he's driven into the wilderness where he is tried and tested by none other than Satan for 40 days and nights. Not exactly the baptism of repentence that John was offering.

Finally, we have a letter whose authorship is disputed. We do know that this letter 1 Peter was widely known in the early church and it was intended as an encouragement to communities that were facing sometimes violent persecution. The author connects the lives saved on the ark through the waters of the flood with the waters of baptism "as an appeal to God for good conscience..." Desiring to be one with God, desiring to do the right thing, desiring to live a righteous life, accepting baptism compels the believer into a relationship with God. It is a sacrament that connects the past with the present and with the future, shaping its receiver for a forever-changed-but-not-always-easy life.

Water. We are born of it. We wash in it. We must consume it for life. It moves us and shapes us. It can also destroy us if we are careless or inattentive. In so many ways, it is a magnificent reminder of God.


Have you ever taken time to look at all of the ways water is physically important to you and your life?Are there ways water is important to you spiritually?


"River of God"
What a full and pregnant thing life is
when God is known;
and what a weary emptiness it is without God!
The river of God is full of water,
and God will moisten and fill
these parched hearts of ours,
out of the river of his own life.

Thomas Erskine

2.19.2009

Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2.1-12
Psalm 50.1-62
Corinthians 4.3-6
Mark 9.2-9

We don't know if there is a way to schedule these things, or force them to happen...but it seems that as life moves around there are times when new understandings just show up. We are certain there is someone out in the KC crowd that has given these happenings a name, and we would love to hear them.....sometimes they might be referred to as an Epiphany, but what we are looking at this week seems to be a bit different....so far we can only name it as an AhHa moment.

Have you ever experienced anything like this? You know that something is different or should be different but you do not quite know what it is....and then something happens that illuminates or explains or exposes things you suspected were there, but could not quite see or grasp or put a finger on.

The examples we see this week in our scriptures are sort of based around a new knowing or a new vision or a new understanding. The people in the scripture seem to know something, but are unwilling or unable to embrace, accept, or act on it until they are somehow Dislodged or Unstuck or Reframed or Reset or Something.

In the story of Elijah ascending in front of Elisha we are witness to this "aha" moment. Elisha knew there was something about Elijah and he wanted to know more about. And then, after witnessing Elijah's ascent, we can imagine that Elisha knew everything was different from that point forward, and there was no way he could know exactly how different it would be.

In Psalm 50 we read the witness of a person who seems to be a little further on the other side of this Knowing. He seems to have had an experience with God, and is now living out his life in a way that points to that understanding of God and the world that is different for him.

In this letter to the Christians in Corinth, we see Paul talking about this idea from a more philosophical place. It seems he is offering some explanations as to why the message of the gospel is not always accepted. And the conclusion he reaches here is that maybe they are being limited by "the god of this world" and impeded from being able to have the AhHa moment of understanding.

And in Mark we see another classic image of this AhHa experience. Somehow these men have followed Jesus knowing something was up, but it takes the event that is the white glowy Jesus to understand more of (but not completely everything) what they "know." This event...this moment of revelation changed those folks forever, but it took a while for them to understand and integrate what they saw and what it meant to them in their own lives.

Have you experienced a seminal, paradigm-shifting moment in your life?
What was it?
Does the knowledge from a new experience unfold all at once or a little at a time for you?

[this song does not completely apply....but you get the idea : ]

Johnny Nash - I Can See Clearly Now

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

2.11.2009

6th Sunday after the Epiphany

2 Kings 5.1-14
Psalm 30
1 Corinthians 9.24-27
Mark 1.40-45

Have you ever noticed how Physical the scriptures are? They really do focus a lot on bodies. And in most of our lives today most of us in America focus a lot on bodies--shelter, food, health care, fashion, etc--but, oddly enough, we do not talk about our bodies much in our places of worship. Why is that true? References to the body in scripture can call us back to the story of creation, call us back to our own frailty, call us back to the wonder of incarnation and resurrection, call us back to our basic needs for touch and wellness and wholeness and healing. This week there is lots of focus on bodies--on physical restoration, on physical touch, on knowledge of one's own body.

Both 1 & 2 Kings are historical accounts of the kingships of Israel, in an era when God's righteousness judged the worthiness of a ruler, generally finding them lacking. Naaman is a warrior from rival kingdom who suffers from leprosy. In the normal cycle of storytelling, it's a little odd that the strong warrior would also have a debilitating physical condition like leprosy. From other places in scripture the condition (today folks actually believe the word leprosy covered a spectrum of skin conditions) made a person socially and especially ritually unclean. How do you succeed militarily like that? A servant of Naaman's wife claims to know a prophet who can help cure Naaman once and for all, but it will require a visit to Israel's king. Naaman gets a letter of clear passage and a request for an audience with Israel's from his own King. This sort of unsettles Israel's king, who is sure that Naaman must be up to no good. The great prophet Elisha steps in and offers reassurance and healing instruction for Naaman. Now clearly, there are some symbolic things going on here. Elisha is declaring the healing value of the Jordan in Israel. Naaman is convinced the rivers of his home country are surely "better" than the Jordan (don't we all think our home is better?). Naaman is insulted that Elisha did not meet him face to face, but his servant prods him - hello, this is the word of a prophet about HEALING--and Naaman relents and does as he is told, immersing himself seven times and he emerges clean, with the "flesh of a young boy." It is odd that Naaman would make this long journey to be healed and then spent so much time an energy resenting the way the healing is offered. We wonder what part of the process "healed" Naaman.

The psalmist lifts praises, remembering his/her own physical reliance and connection to the Lord. This is a human with a body who recognizes that life is good lived well...what good is this life if it hasn't been well used at the time of death?

Throughout Paul's writings we know he likes using the body to explain things. It seems he knows his body well or taht he was more atuned to the universalism of that metaphor. He was aware that communicating new / difficult ideas using the image of the human body made sense for most folks. In this particular passage in Corinthians he references the importance of an athelete treating his body well while also disciplining it so it will perform and then he connects this idea to the training and disciplining of his own body. He talks about his own need to control his own body so his spirit can live the way he hopes it can. With this and all of the other things he wrote to this community about, it is obvious Paul felt there was an important connection between the body and the spirit and that while the body may be more temporary, it is still quite important to be considered.

Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have read about Jesus' healing work in his early ministry. In some ways, this Mark chapter represents a turning point. Jesus has been healing. He's been teaching. He's touched the sick and the weak and the poor. And when this leper approaches, it is almost as if he challenges Jesus, "if you choose, you can make me clean." Jesus' answer, "I do choose," unleashes not only this man's health but also his enthusiasm. In spite of the request to keep this kind of quiet, the joyful man tells everyone he can find of the wonderful work of this man, Jesus. And the crowds come and person after person was looking for the physical and spiritual connection that Jesus was offering.

We wonder if there is a way we can all be okay talking about the important connection of our bodies to our souls. Is there a way in our own congregation or in our own communities we can talk about the necessity and importance of our physical selves as freely as we talk about our spirits? Can we talk abou teh importance of our physical bodies today the way we talk abou tour hopes and dreams and fears of our spirits in the afterlife?
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
From "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" UMH 474

2.04.2009

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 40: 21 - 31
Psalm 147: 1 - 11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9: 1 - 16
Mark 1: 29 - 39


Have you not heard?

We are guilty of being annoyed by a few overused and underthought phrases in the world of bumper sticker theology:

God is good - all the time.
Let go and let God.
My boss is a Jewish carpenter.

Pardon us, but, "ugh." But this weeks passages call us back to a place of humility and of reverence and of awe. Have you not heard? We do serve an awesome God. That God Was, Is and Will Be seems mighty and overwhelming. In a recent challenge to paraphrase all of Ecclesiastes in one sentence, we landed on, "Good things happen and bad things happen and God goes on and on." So it goes throughout our readings for this week. In the midst of so many variables, there is one constant - God.

The passage from Isaiah is from the second of three major sections of Isaiah written by different authors in different points in the history of the Jewish people. This second part was written in response to the Israelites return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. After losing the land, they have been allowed to return to rebuild their temple and to live out their days in their anscestral homestead. Take time to read all of Isaiah 40 this week. It is a beautiful work. It is full of hope and praise and vision -- and recognition -- recognition of how bad things can be and how good things can be. The selected text for this week is sort of an incredulous recounting of God's amazing work in creation. It is possible that those returning to the land, the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the last Israelites to live in the land, didn't fully recognize God's power and might. The prophet is calling them back to their history, reminding them of their covenant and inspiring them to be faithful.

The psalmist also praises a mighty God. We are struck by the assertion that God takes pleasure in those who fear and those with hope. We hate to think of "fearing" God, and yet, is it safe to say that we cannot fully know God, and that leaves us with a certain uncertainty...not exactly fear like quaking and trembling...but at least an awareness that we cannot fully grasp the breadth of God's power and being.

In his letter to the church and Corinth, Paul exudes enthusiasm for his work. And he shares a secret to his success. Paul is seeing all sorts of audiences. He is sharing a message about which he is passionate. And he knows that in order to be heard and understood, he needs to be aware of those to whom he speaks. He places himself in the circumstances of his hearers, knowing that they are much more likely to receive this understanding about the gospel. And another thing that Paul recognizes - he is obligate to share this good news. God Is.

In the text from Mark, we see Jesus in his early ministry. He is traveling from home to home and community to community, healing and praying and touching and loving the people that he meets. And he also takes time to pull away from their demands to sit in the presence of God. This is a theme that we see throughout the gospels - Jesus taking himself away from the action at key times to be in the presence of God. It's discipline and its also sustenance. The work that needs to be done surrounds Jesus. He is immersed in his teaching and healing and doing. There is much to do for this one Man--it is unfathomable.

It's easy to be swept up in the things we can know. Sometimes we need to be lifted up and carried instead by all that we cannot know. Have you not heard?

What is it about God that creates the greatest awe in you?
How are you mindful of God's presence in your daily life?
Can you name times during the day when you lose sight of God? How do those times differ from those in which you are mindful of God's presence?

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!