Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Risen Lord Sends the Holy Spirit (14)

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and Son, who with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

from The Nicene Creed, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

In his wonderful book on ordained ministry, Edward Zaragoza, explains that fulfilling the call to Christian ministry is about friendship: our being at home with ourselves, reaching out to others in mutual love, and accepting and responding to God's offer of friendship love. Even more, it is about God being Trinity, One in Three, as the Spirit is given and shared by Father and Son.

Ministry in the Spirit is supposed to be life-giving, at least as much as it is life-taking. This is not how generations of clergy have been trained to approach our calling. I remember years ago, when I was speaking on this topic, an older clergy leader stood up and said, in essence, "Ministry for me was something I was expected to do- it never even entered my mind that I was supposed to enjoy it."

The sad thing is, we may well end up obeying the calendar and not the living God, the wind and breath of life, the Holy Spirit. We may end up satisfying the expectations of everyone except the Holy Spirit. Instead, that is the one thing we have any hope of doing. That is the one thing we really have to worry about.

Don't miss what is meant for all. Even though so much divides us, the mark of the Spirit's presence in Acts is one in which all were blessed in a similar way by the one and same Spirit: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit...." (Acts 2:4a)

There is absolutely nothing given about our next breath. Life itself is all grace. Experiencing the first late summer Canadian front whipping its chilly way across Lake Erie is always a thrill! (photo above) Wind recreates, refreshes, renews. Here, at #14, I need to go to where I can experience wind- and remember both the sign and the strength of Holy Spirit's presence within, the Lord, Giver of Life.

Stop at this last Station of Light. For it's here that our journey culminates and begins. Here, we receive our birthright, the sealing of Holy Spirit, and our adoption as God's own sons and daughters in Jesus. And, "receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:22

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Waiting- with Mary- in the "second" upper room (13)

The 13th Station of Light is from Acts 1:14: "All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers."

Sometimes our picture of Mary is frozen in time, witnessing the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Remember how, from the first, Mary chose faith: "Let it be with me according to your word." Luke 1:38 Now, after Jesus' crucifixion and burial, Mary is seen once again following the word to "stay here in the city" until the coming of the Spirit. Mary is joined with her remaining sons and the disciples, waiting in the upper room.

Waiting for the Lord is about trusting God. In part, its spiritual discipline is unlcuttering, a faithful action of letting go of our attachments, the root of which means to be "staked to." Worry and anxiety require us to buy into, to choose to believe, at least two lies: (1) I can control the outcome of things and (2) I can keep bad things from happening if I worry hard and long enough.

The Gospel invites us to let go of the need to control either by our thoughts or actions and to try trusting God instead. The promise, from Isaiah 40, is that, in waiting, we will renew our strength. But it's the grasping and clutching hand that siphons our reserves and saps our energy.

In this station, the Upper Room that precedes Jesus passion and death is remembered. In that first place, we're confronted with the evil that is within us. We discover that, far from our words which speak of faithfulness and loyalty, we choose the easy way out- that of deserting and , if necessary, betraying even our best friends. We learn that we're capable of anything.

But here, in #13, the Upper Room becomes a place where disciples choose light, faith, and hope. All you have to do is to read Revelation to know that one of the highest virtues for the first generations of Christians was faithful waiting and patient endurance. The example for disciples this Easter season is Mary, Jesus' mother, who continues to wait with us, for the Holy Spirit, in all the upper rooms of our lives.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Station # 12: The Lord Ascends

And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." Acts 1:6-11 NASB

As the actual reference to this station is italic, I included verses 6-8. With the current fascination of the end of the world, these verses from Acts are a corrective. The two words, the rapture, occur absolutely nowhere in Christian Scripture, so "the rapture" stems from something outside the text. You may be unhappy with the church that you think is corrupt, or you may reject others who don't agree with you. But be honest: these words are not in the Bible.

In this 12th Station of Light, Jesus ascends to heaven. Ascension Day is June 2 , 2011. The New Testament's message is to teach how the Lord can still be present even though he has departed. The teaching of "I am with you always" from Matthew 28 comes in light of the fact of Jesus' absence, his departure. The challenge for disciples is waiting in obedience.

One of the hardest things for me is patience. "Patience is the major virtue needed when we are in the bleak land of darkness," wrote Joyce Rupp, in Little Pieces of Light. If you have patience, you have many of the other fruits: faithfulness, peace, and gentleness come to mind. When things don't go the way we want when we want it, our faith and trust can blossom into patience. If patience is learned at all, we learn it in the school of prayer with Jesus, crucified, risen, and ascended.

He is ruler of all creation, now and forever. That should be enough for us, for now and forever.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Our life as mission field (11)

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw Him, they worshiped [Him]; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20 NASB

It is here at the Eleventh Station of Light that disciples (followers) are commissioned to become apostles (sent out). Maybe the biggest difference between the earlier missions in Jesus' public ministry and this Great Commissioning is the setting. It is the very last will and testament Jesus is making in the first Gospel.

Although many churches take this passage on as their purpose, I wonder how many Christians really see themselves as apostles, their lives as a mission field? Perhaps some denominations have this down better than others. As we tout following Jesus as the end of our faith, could it be that we are actually enabling others to avoid God's call?

Those who study faith development will tell you that a certain stage in our growth can really benefit the institutional church, its many programs and policies and committee work. Clergy have a real interest in keeping people in this phase because it is so friendly with fitting in, belonging to, and even conforming to others' expectations. In this phase, belief is static and equivalent to ascent, or agreement with, certain core doctrines. Once you've done that, you're in!

But to be congruent with God's expectations, we need transformation. The transformation word is of course very trendy and popular. The process itself is often painful, not easy or clean and tidy. But deepening faith and love will require us to see how our call and gifts differ from the norm and even from what's popular. Belief here is willingness to take a journey, trusting and loving God in Jesus, an ongoing relationship with all of its peaks and valleys. If we miss that in the Great Commission, we have missed what is truly ours for the taking- the chance to be apostled by Jesus.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Being chosen is rarely what we think (10)

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, [son] of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, [son] of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, [son] of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep." John 21: 15-17 NASB

Whenever we think being called or chosen is not about us, we have hope of getting it right. Biblically speaking, one of the strongest themes from Genesis to Revelation is about God offering covenant to us- continually- and our rather continuous resistance of its explicit terms, or our avoidance of the implications of that relationship. We fight it or run away from it- from God's offer of love and grace.

Maybe we want to think that God loves us because we're so cool and so lovable. Or at least, we try harder, like Avis. But with God in Jesus, it is about grace, freely initiated and generously offered. God is the essence of "pure unbounded love." So God's motivation resides within God's own character of goodness and grace.

Peter is truly grieved when Jesus keeps asking him if he loves him. Is he reminded of his three-time denial when Jesus was being held for questioning? The impulsive one has a chance to undo his denial of Jesus with his own threefold declaration of love. There is, however, a catch. Peter is no longer passive recipient of grace. Jesus' imperative to "tend my lambs," and "shepherd my sheep," and "tend my sheep" is wrapped up with the finality of "Follow me."

Peter has come a long way, of course. Shepherding and tending sheep will be a hard life, because lambs grow up to be big sheep that bite and resist guidance. They don't know how to care for themselves. No longer is it all about Peter's faith or lack of it, or his confession of Jesus, or anything Peter has said or done, or failed to do or say. Now it's about fulfilling his call, a ministry in which he will be led to strange, non-Jewish places and unclean people- and a death- he would never choose on his own. (John 21: 18-19)

Do you hear the "follow me" differently at age 45 or 55 than you did at say, 22 or 32? Don't you know that Jesus' summons in early ministry is heard very differently by the time we're at the second half? Whatever happened to congregations, church officials, committees, and boards who once smiled at our youthfulness and high enthusiasm? Some encouragement was genuine, some just flattery. For the most part though, people were eager to mentor us, to give us their attention. We would make stupid mistakes, but we tried to make up for inexperience with energy and persistence.

Much the same way Moses couldn't enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 34), later we discover that being called is not about us. It is about stewarding my gifts for others, for generations I will not even see. At any age, I am blessed when I am able to the hear voice of the One and Only calling and claiming the one and only me, with all my gifts and liabilities and possibilities.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Faith is about taking the next step (9)

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace [be] with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed." John 20:24-29, NASB

I used to think that "having faith" meant that I would have all the faith I would ever need for a lifetime. What does it mean for disciples to be honest with their lack of faith? It's really about taking the next step, and we have a wonderful picture of what this looks like in Thomas' encounter with the risen Christ in this the Ninth Station of Light.

Much is made of Thomas not being present at Jesus' first appearance in John 20:19-23. Thomas missed it and a third party witness was not going to remedy his problem. He demanded to witness Jesus, crucified and risen, for himself. And his mind would only be settled that this was the real Jesus if he saw and touched Jesus' wounds from his torture and execution. Jesus provides the assurance that Thomas seeks. His belief is expressed as an act of worship, "My Lord and my God!"

This is not about trumping up faith so that it looks like certainty. No matter what we say about Thomas, worship of the risen Christ is something we do by faith, not by sight. Many come to faith not because of any well meaning witnesses, but because the Lord appeared to them, the Spirit called their name. And in that encounter, there was surrender, trust, wonder, and worship. We cannot do this believing thing on our own, or by trying harder. A desperate father once told Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) That could be the prayer of every one of us.

This station invites us, along with Thomas, to be a little "lost in wonder, love and praise" every day of life! Peace be with you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Power to Forgive Is Given (8)

Then [Jesus] breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they will be forgiven. John 20: 22-13a CEV

In this station the Spirit gives to disciples the power to forgive. What of this gift to forgive ourselves and others? Forgiveness is the inner freedom not hold others' offenses against them. It is freedom from wanting to see others suffer the same kind of pain they inflicted on us. (see, for example Psalm 137:7-9) It is not about forgetting the offense, pretending it never happened. Thinking an injurious act never happened may be amnesia or a symptom of dementia, it is not forgiveness.

What we misunderstand about forgiveness can continue the wrong, rather than righting it. For example, two children, one a bully and one who is being bullied, can be told to "make up" by an adult, to be friends. This simply enables the bully to be nastier. Meanwhile the bullied child suffers more, and may become an abuser as an adult. The wounded wound.

Forgiveness is an inner work and "from the heart." (Matt. 18:35) God has already forgiven you. This station from John 20 asks the question: how will disciples forgive themselves for failing Jesus and- how will they forgive their enemies, which are many? There are outer acts of reconciliation, which show that there is still relationship, even a clean slate, in spite of a breech. But for now, the power disciples have to forgive others and themselves is nothing less than gift from the risen Christ. And it's in the air we breathe.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A sign for the Jerusalem 11 (7)

Station #7: Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem.

And they [began] to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Luke 24:35-39 NASB

The disciples of the Emmaus road, after doubling back to Jerusalem, told about their experience to the disciples who stayed in Jerusalem. Even as the two from the road were speaking, Jesus shows up, seemingly to confirm their witness with a sign for the Jerusalem 11. Jesus accompanies their witness, or as Mark tells, "while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it." Mark 16: 20.

The sign is, of course, Jesus himself. When we speak of Christ being present, we describe the sacrament as a sign. Here, the real Christ is truly present. He is tangible. There must of have been some questions about Jesus' identity, given the fact that the disciples respond with fear and doubt.

I've long reflected on this passage, especially the reference to Jesus' own wounds (which are mentioned also in John), his flesh and his bones. What are we to make of it? Jesus clearly suffered and died. And, in his resurrected body, Jesus is more than a spirit or ghost. Is it a spirit-body, as Paul taught in I Corinthians 15:35 ff?

It is clear, however we conceive it, that Jesus comes to anxious, doubtful, and fearful disciples, and they receive whatever assurance is needed. Whether we left town, or stayed behind. That should be enough. We shouldn't have to wonder if Jesus, as one scholar put it to me "still has to do his toe nails."

In the presence of the risen Christ, the hallmark spiritual work becomes, for weary or shell-shocked disciples, first and last, trusting God with our lives. It's the spirituality of the open, not the grabbing, hand.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When pain is all around (5 & 6)

Station #5: Jesus appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Station #6: He is recognized in the breaking of the bread.

And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and [began] traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him....

[And] their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, "The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon." And they [began] to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24: 15-16, 31-37 NASB

With our hearing healed in Station 4, 5 and 6 are all about seeing with the eyes of faith. The road that these disciples travel is one which takes them away from Jerusalem, the place of terrible defeat and broken dreams. Their journey also was taking them away from faith community. When I'm crushed, I just want to be alone. We can't blame any disciples for running away from the trouble that was to find them if they continued to hang out in Jerusalem. Getting as far away as quickly as possible would be the smart thing to do.

What does it mean that, even as I travel in the wrong direction, Jesus still accompanies me? That in all futility and hopelessness, God's love holds me? Think of any and all situations. The fact that God still walks alongside me as Paraclete is true, whether I walk through the darkest valley (Psalm 23:4, NRSV), or suffer public humiliation. (Romans 8: 35)

Don't disillusioned disciples, blinded by pain all around, need a tangible sign, a sacramental act, in which to know and recognize Jesus' presence? Did Luke have Psalm 23 in the back of his mind? The Good Shepherd himself prepares table for us- and is known in the breaking of the bread.

The recovery of sight to the blind is offered at this stop. (Luke 4:18) Don't miss it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From Disciple (3) to Apostle (4)

Station #3: The risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene.

Station #4: Mary Magdalene proclaims the resurrection to the Apostles.

When she [Mary Magdalene] had said this, she turned around, and beheld Jesus standing [there], and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and [that] He had said these things to her. John 20:14-18, NASB

The transformation from discipleship to apostleship is a movement we can all too easily side-bar. One of the underlying themes in the New Testament is the story of how the scattered and terrified followers (disciples) become martyrs (witnesses). Here, in stations 3 and 4, Mary Magdalene is "sent out" in order to witness to the resurrection. In effect, she becomes an "apostle to the Apostles." Jesus called her by name and gives her the ears of faith to hear it. She "knew his voice." Recall John 10:2-5.

What would it mean for me to hear Jesus' voice, sending me out as an apostle, bearing and being light to others? As Mary is apostle-ed to give her unique personal witness to the light, so we are sent out to share and to witness. Even to the ungrateful and unappreciative. We, too, are invited, and commissioned, to be more than followers.

If we choose to be disciples, we are chosen and made to be apostles, by the living Christ! (John 15:15) Why? Because we, by God's love and grace, will know and connect with people that no one else will even notice. That's a wonderful gift! Yes, discipleship is easier to measure, control, and to have on our terms. It fits our categories for doing stuff, our way. In apostleship, we surrender free choice, as well as personal preference. Don't take my word. Ask Peter, the poster child of the random impulse. (John 21:18)

Oldies but Goodies