This week we start the Season of Creation for four weeks. The two texts that I'm focusing on are Job 38:1-14 and Luke 5:1-11.
I'll be honest, the Job text makes me want to avert my eyes because it sounds like Job is getting corrected by God. Like when a child is being corrected in the aisle at a supermarket, I give the parent and the child some privacy by quickly scooting past them. But then God just keeps going on and on and on and I can't stay away much longer because they're blocking the rice and the coconut milk and I want to get out of the store.
And as I read Job, I don't really think he was disrespectful. His friends were. They continually tried to explain who they believed God was and is and would be. They were certain that Job was suffering because he had sinned.
As I read the story, Job was pretty sure he had no idea what was going on. It was those around him who were always offering meaning behind tragedy.
So I'm wondering if they all weren't present for God's questions that begin in chapter 38? Although God begins by addressing his questions to Job, God ends by giving instruction to Job's friends on how they might escape their own punishment for their words.
God tells them to have Job pray for them. It is Job's words that God seeks.
God is looking for the voice from the person who admits he doesn't understand.
I wonder then how this story of Job not understanding and his friends thinking they understand speaks to these filthy fishermen who had already finished a day's work but now were being asked to throw the net out once more into the unknown water of the morning, I can't help but sense our human exhaustion.
Exhaustion at understanding. Exhaustion at work. Exhaustion at trying to do each day when so many of the days don't work the way we wish. Sometimes real tragedy happens - and if not to us, somewhere in the world tragedy is happening. Sometimes we catch some fish and can call it a successful day.
But most of the time and I'll speak for myself - most of the time, I can go through my day tragedy or not, success or not and I can be fairly unaware of what's happening inside of me. I live my life interacting with the things around me and not with the things within me. I can move from thing to thing, phone call to phone call, decision to decision and not check in with my own soul. I miss out on the depth of life.
And so God almost has to go overboard with the questions about the unknown in order for me to snap out of my "I got this" attitude that marks most of my days. I am very much like Peter, complaining about having to throw the net over... "Really Jesus, we've tried that side. But if you want us to, we'll go ahead and drop the net." shaking my head all the while because what does Jesus know about what lurks in the deep around us?
And so like Peter, I can almost always use a reminder that I am a sinful woman. I continually put myself at the center of my world, I forget to look around, I lose sight of important things while I tend to the urgent things. Like Job, I could use questions that make me think about things that are broader, wider, deeper than what I know. Big questions that put me in my place, that cause me to dig deep into my own understanding, my own thoughts, my own worries, my own questions.
Practical Help in finding the deep during the day:
I recently downloaded two apps to help me stop during the day and check in with my inner self. The first is chill and the second is 7s Meditation. If you're looking for a chance to pause during your day and remember there is more to life, more to you than whatever it is that you're working on, I recommend them.
More from the Underwater Cancun Museum:
In a political climate where we expect half truths, massaged messaged and outright lies, how do we determine what is plumb? What is true? Who is telling the truth and if we find that person, is it even possible to follow them or is the truth something that is unattainable anymore? Can we live our lives righteously? Or will there always be areas of our lives that aren't plumb because plumb is not possible in human life?
Isn't that what the lawyer was asking Jesus? What do I need to do to lead a meaningful life, a life that has purpose, a life that leads to things eternal? I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and not believe he was looking for an easy or sure way to heaven. I believe he wanted what the rest of us want, a life that matters.
He wanted a plumb line, something by which he could judge and order or reorder his life. This is what Israel had lost according to Amos. They had lost plumb; they had lost their way to knowing what righteousness was. My father in law had a word for it, bashatze (pronounced buh-shate-zee). In a sentence, "that wall over there is a little bashatze." Or about something that seems unsafe, "that seems a little bashatze." Although I never heard him use it this way, I dare think he might say of our current political, economic climate, "bashatze."
Israel had become a little bashatze. They had lost their way and God was going to give them a plumb line. God was going to give them something by which to judge righteousness and injustice so that they could lead lives worthy of the Lord (according to the Colossians letter). It's what the lawyer wanted - a way to judge life. So his second question was "well who is my neighbor?" And Jesus of course didn't answer that question, instead Jesus answered the question, "how do we act as neighbors?" Being a neighbor is plumb.
Sermon Dialogue Idea: Ask the congregation how they know what is righteous? How do they judge/determine what is right and wrong?
I was reminded of Joseph Campbell and the monomyth concept where a hero crosses a threshold. Crossing the threshold is where "thee person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known. You can read more about it here at the wiki site.
Thresholds have always been important to me. When I have a difficult meeting or an important appointment, I am always mindful of stepping over the threshold of the doorway. I am mindful of my own attitude, my mindset, and my emotions. I try to take a breath as I move from one space to another.
Space is important. And how we embody the space is determined very much by our expectations. What is the expectation of the women as they cross the threshold of the tomb? What is our expectation when we cross the threshold of God's presence in prayer, in worship, in relationship?
As I imagine the women entering the tomb on Easter, I am wondering about how this may connect to the curtain being torn in two. These women have crossed a threshold that on a cosmic level has also opened. The curtain of the temple is torn, open access to the holy of holies. The way to interact with God has been torn open. Torn open - not a very soothing image, comforting image. The curtain wasn't drawn back. The curtain wasn't carefully removed and stowed away. No, it was torn.
When the women crossed the threshold into the tomb, they turned and ran away, telling no one because they were afraid. Do we... when we cross the threshold of being in the presence of God... do we also run away, telling no one because we too are afraid?
Palm Sunday texts from the Narrative Lectionary is Mark 11:1-11.
Palm Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 19:28-40.
The more we use drama in our worship services, the more we have moved to something more true to dramatic readings rather than true "acting." We've found the easier we make it for the readers/actors, the more comfortable they are. Many people feel comfortable reading - and reading well - compared to how many would say they are comfortable acting. This way, the readers spend time working on the meaning of the text rather than memorizing lines.
Simple costumes are always a little playful but not necessary and not true to the tradition of dramatic reading actually. But the whole idea of a dramatic reading can be playful if the readers feel that what we are doing essentially is engaging the text in a playful way. And then the congregation is there to support the act of play as much as support their friend who is leading us in worship through dramatic reading.
Here is a monologue from the perspective of a Pharisee and friend of Jesus. When I wrote it, I was thinking about how a friend of Jesus, who had ranking within the church leadership would be growingly uncomfortable with Jesus' insistence to head to Jerusalem. How would someone who wanted Jesus to succeed also want him to tow the party line, be mindful of his rhetoric? The public display of Palm Sunday would have most certainly set a friend like this over the edge.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Can you believe it? They really cried out “Hosanna” when this Jesus came to town. They waved palm branches and put their clothes on the ground to make a path for him. Can you believe it? I’m speechless.
(Immediately launching into next paragraph)
I heard about it yesterday while I was waiting for the governor to arrive into town. I was standing right inside the city gates with my fellow Pharisees. As Pharisees and leaders of the Jewish people we were right up front so Herod could see us. . And as leaders we were doing what was right – honoring the governor by being present when he arrived.
Now you may not know this but when the governor arrives, or any leader for that matter, people line the streets and they wave their scarves to welcome him. They shout things like... wait for it, “Hosanna! Save us!” Or “Hail the King – if it is the King.”
And so, imagine the distress my colleagues and I were having when we heard that Jesus and his followers had made a mockery of this type of welcome? Anger, seething anger. What if the King were to hear about this? They were finally using words like sedition and blasphemy about Jesus. He's going to get himself killed. Surely he knows that!?
And what about us? We enjoy, how can I put this..... if not privileged, a somewhat elevated position in our society. All with permission of the King, in return for helping keep our peoples in line. This Jesus jeopardizes all of that. All us! If Herod decides to take action against Jesus, who knows what he’ll do next. He might come after all of us.
So, We've called a special mandatory meeting this morning to discuss what to do about Jesus and his tendency toward mutiny. We’re going to discuss, yet again, the way Jesus disregards the tradition of his people. People think he's a heretic on a good day, on a bad day, they believe he's gone mad. But is doesn’t matter. We must do something!
It's really too bad – Personally, (quietly, not wanting too many other people to hear) I think Jesus has done and said some good things. He's called the leadership into account for how we care for widows and orphans. He’s deeply concerned, and rightfully so, about the injustice in the temple system. To be honest, when he talks about how we care more for our rules than we worship God... well, (looks around) he's right. But rules are important. They have a place. Rules help us…stay alive.
Up to yesterday, I was rooting for him... but he's gone too far now. He's intentionally poking the bear. He wants a fight. And I don't think that's the way to make friends or win political battles. I think his plan – if he has one – is going to backfire. And I don't want to have anything to do with it when it does.
Hosanna! Hosanna? Can you believe it? They really cried out “Hosanna” when Jesus came to town.
Not passively watching but active watching - the way we watch when horror is inflicted. The way we are acutely aware of the losses occurring on both sides of the battle. The kind of watching we do when our way of life is swept away with the dust of the battlefield.
The call to be alert in verse 37 can't simply mean "be on the lookout." To me, it almost seems like the phrase could say, "You don't think it could happen. we never think this can happen to us but it will. Be alert. Keep watch."
The transformation that is happening in our world in every industry is shocking. The industries that build things, the industries that fund things, the industries that educate people, the industries that heal people... none of them are able to stay as they were. All of them are having to change - and rapidly. "You don't think it could happen. We never think this can happen to us but it will. Be alert. Keep watch."
And those of us caring for this industry that we call "church" know how much is changing. We are stunned by how much needs to change and how fast it must happen. Destruction is part of transformation. Seige and pillage, the sacred things being taken away is all part of the process of transformation. No way... that can't happen to us. Be alert. Keep watch.
The text this week is Mark 12:1-12
I often start my online meandering of a text by looking for some graphic assistance, something to get my creativity flowing. This time I googled "don't kill the messenger."
My music director and I were discussing the parable and his first thoughts were, "I don't think I get it." For starters, parables aren't supposed to be simple. And thinking metaphorically is not always easy. As a Presbyterian pastor, I have more people who uses their intellect more than intuition. They like concrete thinking that uses their senses and not their feelings. So parables can seem simplistic and then sometimes downright horrible.
In fact, that's the next thing my music director said, "they seem horrible." Yes, the people who were leasing the land from the landowner are horrible people. It's something we would see from the Soprano's or Shameless.
I don't want to assume people understand parables, nor do I want to assume people don't. However, a little explanation in three different areas would be helpful.
The Story: The farmers have been entrusted with the land to work it and produce fruit. After the allotted time, which may have been as long as three years for the land to develop and mature in its growing capacity, the owner comes back for some rent, a portion owed him. But he doesn't come back himself. He sent slaves, one after the other, each killed on the job. Finally, the owner still doesn't come back himself. Instead he sends his son.
Here's where the story gets truly insane. The owner thinks the farmers are going to treat his son differently than the slaves. It's a huge risk on the owner's part. And one poorly taken if we're honest. Unless his son is as expendable as the slaves.
Allegory: Each piece in an allegory has meaning.
vineyard = Israel
farmers = leaders, scribes of the people
share of produce=
Moral Meaning: At this point, Jesus has predicted his death three times. This parable seems to be suggesting the reason why Jesus would die. He was coming to collect what was due to God. And like those who had gone before him, the slaves who worked for God, he too would be killed "on duty."
Just like a note about basic allegory may be helpful, a little primer on "why Jesus had to die?" may also come in handy. Here's a website that seemed particularly user friendly. One thing I really enjoy about the Narrative Lectionary is that we start talking about the cross before Holy Week. Too often, when left to the high holy days of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, theories about Jesus' death are lost in the need to reenact our faith stories.
One more graphic that may be helpful giving a primer on "why Jesus had to die?" is here, a grid defined by satisfying power and transforming world by law and freedom. I'm going to spend a little time working up a one sentence definition for each of the theories mentioned in the grid.
However, without explaining the various theories, I wonder where people would put their own "x" if asked what relationship Jesus' death had to the four areas on this graphic: satisfying power, transforming world, law and freedom.
I wonder if our answers would reveal what kind of savior we want/need.
The text is Mark 10:17-31.
In this reading, we hear Jesus ask the same question twice. He asks, “What would you have me do for you?”
In the context of just healing the blind man, who asks for his sight back. Which always begs the question when did he lose it? How long had he had it? How long had it been gone? This man's request is about now. He wants his sight back now . He wants to see (probably proverbially and physically.) And when I've preached the text of just Bartimaeus asking for his sight, this question seems appropriate to turn on us. If Jesus asked us, would we be able to answer? Would we want to answer?
But when we hear the text in its entirety and realize that Jesus asked this same question earlier in the story to the two brothers who wanted to be on his “right and left” when he gets to glory. Really?! That's what they're thinking about. What will come of us when you are in power? What is going to happen to us... later?
I, like the others, are indignant. What kind of request is that? Why did they need that? Why did they want that kind of security for what was to come?
One asking for his sight back and the other two are asking for security in what is to come. Do we want Jesus' help now or are we concerned with later? Which is most common in prayers these days? Do we look to see what is or are we most concerned about seeing what will be?
I don't know that I'm willing to judge either request. Both can be subject to Jesus' call to serve and not be served. We're left without the final story in either case. We don't know how the brothers respond when told to serve rather than serve. We don't know how Bartimaeus lived his life after he regained his sight.
We all have wants, needs. It seems the lesson that Jesus was teaching his followers as they walked themselves to Jerusalem was to serve.
What do you think? What direction are you taking this text in your sermon?
We at Grace Presbyterian are using posters from Illustrated Children's Ministry. to continue discussion in an intergenerational setting. And here's a download of a devotional to use for individuals or families.
The text for Ash Wednesday in the Narrative Lectionary is Mark 9:30-37.
As I read through the texts from the Narrative Lectionary for Lent 2016, I was initially tempted to call the journey, the "road to death." And then I thought that might not really get people to come to church so I read them again.
Whether we like it or not, the Lenten journey ends with Jesus' death. And the road to his death leads to resurrection. It is the resurrection that contains our hope but the resurrection doesn't happen without death.
So what then does Jesus' road to death have to do with us who will remain alive Good Friday? In what way is Jesus' journey to death meaningful for us as we embark on these forty days of Lent? How do we supposed to take the journey to death?
This first text begins with Jesus admitting what the road will include for him. He was telling his disciples that he would be betrayed and killed and then rose from the dead on the third day." He didn't hide the reality of the journey from his friends and he didn't ignore the realities himself. He welcomed what was to come.
It makes sense then that his first step on this Road to letting go would be to remind them what it looks like to welcome what God has brought into our lives. We are to welcome as if a little child. Come what may - Welcome with a warm embrace. Come what may - welcome as if it holds the future in its hands. Come what may - welcome with open arms.
What will this road to letting go have for us? Whatever it is, might we welcome it! The first step to letting go is to welcome what is.
Our text for Lent 1 from the Narrative Lectionary is Mark 10:17-31.
Jesus says to the man, "sell what you have and come follow me."
On this first Sunday of Lent, we begin with the notion that the things we possess are not as valuable as following Jesus empty handed. I'm looking at the weeks of Lent as various lessons along the way that lead to death, or that lead to letting go so that something else can resurrect. In this case, from this story, I hear "giving away" as an important lesson for letting go.
Many people take on disciplines during Lent. I've "given up" a lot of things over the years - coffee, sugar, purchasing anything unnecessary. Yesterday I saw that our local library is having a book sale. What a perfect time to give away a portion of my library... not just the throw away stuff, maybe I should consider giving away that which would really "ouch."
I mean the man in the story went away sad because he had so much. Well, I have so much too. I have in particular... so many books. We'll see what I come up with in my donation bag.
How about you? What is it that you have so much of that you would rather go away sad than give it up?
And I wonder if it's the letting go of the stuff that would make me sad or is it the state of being empty handed that would make me sad? Are we so full as a culture that we can't imagine being empty handed?
That's how Buddhists define emptiness. It's not a negative quality as if having too much and having to empty ourselves of it would make us walk away sad like the man in the story. But instead emptiness is a true quality of the human existence. The things we think fill us, or fill our spaces, or our homes or our landfills do not actually fill us. They are things to which we cling because they hide from us our true emptiness.
And the Buddhist would say clinging is the primary component in suffering. When we cease clinging - to the things we have, the items we own, the relationships we maintain, the life we breath, well then we actually begin living.
There is a lesser known book by C.S. Lewis entitled Til We Have Faces. It's one of my favorites. It is a retelling of myth of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of Psyche's older sister, Orual. Orual suffers when her sister Psyche is sent away to Cupid. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god's face but Orual persuades her to. Psyche is banished as a result of her attempting to see the god face to face. Orual is left to grow in power isolated from Psyche and any love here on earth. She spends her life wondering about the silence of the gods.
A mentor of mine introduced me to this gem when I was talking about a book by Thomas Moore entitled, Care of the Soul. This book suggests we look deeply into our lives, removing any "veil" we might have in order to see the sacred in ordinary things.
Although the two of these books seem dissimilar, they both dig for the true self - the self beneath the "veil." This is the self that Moses showed bare in the presence of God. When in front of God, Moses removed the "veil."
Now in front of the rest of the people, he put on the veil. At present, in our culture, we seem to have little covering us in that our privacy is dwindling. Whether we're sharing our every move on social media or having our every move on the internet recorded by marketing experts, our lives are less and less private. But lacking privacy is not the same thing as having intimacy. When I imagine Moses standing before God face to face, I see intimacy.
I hadn't really thought of this as a theme in my spiritual life but several books have come to mind indicating I have read and re-read others thoughts about how we might be, become or desire to be intimate with the Divine.
Intimate Moments with the Savior - an accessible devotional book by Ken Gire who describes Jesus in beautiful storytelling and whose writing first made me want to write.
Intimacy with the Almighty - a short 80 page treatise by Chuck Swindoll on slowing down long enough to be present with God, presence being essential in intimacy.
Intimacy with God by Thomas Keating, an essential for anyone wanting to dive deep into centering prayer, Christian meditation.
Developing Intimacy with God, a book that uses St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises as a guide to becoming intimate with God.
Intimacy with God is not sweet and satiating. Intimacy with God is a bold, dangerous endeavor. Intimacy with God requires that I know something of myself, that I have looked beneath my veil as Paul suggests in 2 Corinthians. In order for me to be intimate. I must first allow my veil to drop, to come as myself to God.
Intimacy in any relationship requires time and dedication, listening and sharing, grace and acceptance. Moses was intimate with God. Do we dare to be intimate with God?
In Til We Have Faces, the main character Orual realizes that she has spent her life beneath a veil and that if she was ever to have a real encounter with the gods, she would need to remove her veil. She says this, "why should [the gods] hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
It seems that the promise of transformation occurs when we are willing to have faces, to remove our veil.
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