Friday, March 29, 2013

His eyes save me*

  I am no great improvement 
on the men who killed the Savior. 
All I can say is, "Lord, I am a sinner. 
Be merciful to me." I hear him answer gently, 
"You are precious to my heart, my child." 
Whatever could he mean by that? 
 I use his eyes to find out what he sees in me that,
even while he knows my sinfulness, he says, "You are precious to my heart." 
With those same eyes I look at "sinners"
 --the Hitlers and Stalins of our times. 
 I look at people I dislike...reject.
 Maybe I need those eyes of his 
to bring me to compassion 
and save me from the Pharisee in me. 

 *From Anthony De Mello,
 excerpted from "The Darkness," in  Wellsprings 

Love's Still Crucified

In the same night we betrayed him... And he is still betrayed in me and us.  Whenever we deny our God- given and God- created self, we also forsake the best in ourselves, and the way of Christ.

Brian Wren penned these lyrics to "Christ Is Alive,"  also #318 , United Methodist Hymnal: "In every insult, rift, and war where color, scorn or wealth divide, Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died." 

The tune is fitting for a  bright and triumphal Easter tide processional. But the point is that we are still crucifying Jesus and his way-  as surely as we were sitting on the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, or if we were in Pilate's court of advisers, or apart of the Roman guard carrying out the execution. 

Christ still suffers and we still crucify him because of war, which assumes the murder of innocents, and hatred based on race, nation, region, economic system, and any other system of pride that we can or might create. 

It's easy to make Easter hyper-personal.  If we're not careful, we will make our faith so much about ourselves. We can make being a Christian all about the blessings we can have, get, and grab. Others will look at that and wonder how being a Christian is any different from any other species of self-centered concern.

The truth and freedom is that we are much closer to the disciples' doubt and terror- of which the New Testament Gospels are brutally honest. They were there the first Easter. The accounts show no hint of triumphalism in their actions.

 The good news is that by God's life and breath, the doubt and terror become seeds of transformation. We learn that in our brokenness, Jesus Christ loves the more. The loss of having it our way means that if the seed dies, it will bear much fruit.  (see John 12:24)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Choosing Brokenness or Baptism: Holy Week Wednesday Missal

Matthew 26:20-25 (CEB)

That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.” Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?” He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”  Jesus answered, “You said it.”

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23

The stunning aspect of the Last Supper has to be the fact that Jesus eats with and dips the bread of his betrayer.  Jim Fleming, whose riveting recreation of this dinner scene, teaches us that if Jesus was to give Judas the bread which Jesus himself dips, as this account indicates, then Judas would have been on Jesus' left. That means that Jesus could have reclined on Judas for any or all of this Passover meal, the Last Supper. With Jesus' life in Judas' hands, Judas still chooses his course. 

While some interpreters couch Judas as a drone fulfilling a predetermined plan, you can't get around the fact that here, Judas is apparently acting in a way that he has chosen. We may want the horrifying unraveling of Jesus' last night on earth to fit under the heading of "God's will." But projection and putting it off on God is a way we never have to deal with ourselves. What about the times we reject the way of Jesus? And the times I choose to live in darkness? What if all the actors are free to choose? And we are too? 

The Passion gives us a choice. Do we choose the Judas whom Jesus loved and trusted, and called as his own, or are we to mimic the Judas of betrayal, treachery, and back-stabbing? In Divinity School, one of my mentors (John Westerhoff) insisted that our job as pastors and Christian educators was to equip Christians to live out what our Baptism says we are, not what our brokenness says we are. Being repeatedly told how sinful I am encourages the worst, not the best, of God in my life.

If we choose to remember the words spoken over us in our baptismal waters, we would hear God's opinion of us. In those words, we are:
  • Where Holy Spirit is at work within
  • Growing- in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ
  • Confirmed and strengthened in righteousness
  • Established in faith
  • Living a life fruitful with everlasting joy and peace
  • Faithful disciple of Jesus Christ
  • Born of water and Spirit
  • Partakers of righteousness 
  • Heirs of life eternal
  • Initiated into the Body of Christ
  • Marked as Christian disciple
  • Holy, privileged, given a place
  • Placed unto Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
We can choose to live out of what is most true in us or what is most false. What would it mean if we were renewed in the waters- and words- of our baptism? What if we, instead of rehearsing the version of the lying and broken old self, we were recreated and remade by the words spoken over us in our Baptism, by God's love in Jesus?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prayer for Holy Week, 2013

Lord, unburden us today. Make us alive and free in gratitude, hope, love and praise! Into our world of not enough you continue to come to us, O Lord, showering us- pouring out your love and your life in generosity and over-abundance! We  proclaim you as King and Deliverer. Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

We look at the journey ahead, and wonder, who is going to help us- who will be there with us. We discover to our joy that you are our help, you, who made the heavens and earth. You are the One who walks beside us and will be with us! We become free that we are not alone in the universe, that you are our resting place, and that there is no part of our journey or ourselves where you are not present. Free of the chains of our worst fears because you make your blessing and home wherever we are.  

We start with our hearts and we hold before you each feeling of resentment, anger, bitterness that still may be lurking there, asking that your grace will make us yield to love someday- if not right now. Teach us to look at others, as you do, making allowances, seeing ignorance, not malice. We cannot love our enemies, Lord, unless we know you are beside us, teaching us in your dying words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

And we seek peace. We lift to you the worries that disturb our peace and we place them in your hands, Lord, trusting that this act of worship will bring us respite from anxiety at least in these moments we share together.

We choose to pray for others- for the people whom we love. We pray for each one your grace, for safety from harm and evil. We move onto to people we dislike- or who dislike us. Over each of them, we pray your forgiveness, blessing, and peace.

For those we know who are depressed and anxious, Lord, we pray that peace and joy would cover them.  For those who are disabled and in pain, we bless with courage and strength, praying that our prayers would unleash resources within each of them.  For the young, we pray your promise and a fruitful life. For those who share our lives each day at home or at work, we pray that all our contact be a grace for both of us. 

Lord, to the lonely and unloved, give your faithful companionship, for those who face the reality of their approaching death, your comfort, your grace, the gift of finally letting go, of saying with our Jesus, "Holy Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit."  

In the One whose name is Love, we pray.  Amen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Self-Deception Meter: Lenten Midweek Missal (5)

God doesn't deceive- we do it to ourselves!

John 8:31-42 (CEB)

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “ You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ” They responded, “ We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free? Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free. I know that you are Abraham’s children, yet you want to kill me because you don’t welcome my teaching. I’m telling you what I’ve seen when I am with the Father, but you are doing what you’ve heard from your father. ” They replied, “ Our father is Abraham. ” Jesus responded, “ If you were Abraham’s children, you would do Abraham’s works. Instead, you want to kill me, though I am the one who has spoken the truth I heard from God. Abraham didn’t do this. You are doing your father’s works." They said, “ Our ancestry isn’t in question! The only Father we have is God! ” Jesus replied, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God. Here I am. I haven’t come on my own. God sent me."

"Don't tell me how to lie about my drinking!"
--from the movie, Flight 

The "Jews who believed in him" catches my eye, simply because there is much in the Fourth Gospel about the rejection of Jesus by his own people. "His own people did not receive him," announces John's Prologue. Pinchas Lapide, the late Jewish scholar, once wrote that for Christianity to have been born in and then grow out of Judaism, one of the historical prerequisites was that a small minority of Jews from within the faith had to wholly be convinced of Jesus as Messiah, while the vast majority would have constituted the Jewish "no." 

However, to expect these believers of John 8 to give Jesus a pass would be expecting too much. What gets the whole argument going happens when Jesus suggests that these folks needed to be set free. In other words, they needed deliverance, along with a deliverer. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," I John claims. How about this paraphrase: "If we say we are free, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,"

The claim that "we've never been anyone's slaves" is totally false and on the politico fact finder of that day, the arrow would have pointed to "pants on fire." The long history of the Jews contains many eras in which they were under slavery, captivity, or some kind of oppression. They were not their own masters under Rome, whose troops occupied their land during Jesus' ministry. The decisive event in Israel's history, the Exodus and the high feast of Passover in which the Exodus is celebrated, told the story of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. We've never been anyone's slaves? Really?!?

Would Americans appreciate having someone telling us we're really not as free as we think we are? Jesus moves the argument to freedom from slavery to sin. Jesus' antagonists counter with claiming to be Abraham's  descendants. The mention of Abraham's lineage is nothing new. Remember what John the Baptizer says about children of Abraham, that God can raise from stones children of Abraham. (Luke 3) According to Albert Nolan, in Jesus' century, to prove you were of authentic Jewish heritage, it often required that you fish through hundreds of years of genealogy. This is supposed to make you free?

Jesus opponents throw one more salvo, the one about their ancestry not being in question, and by implication, Jesus' ancestry- who his father was- as being in doubt. Their appeal to Abraham, who was known for his gracious hospitality, is debunked by their actual rejection of the truth (that they are not really free) and desire to kill Jesus, the embodiment of the truth. Jesus' opponents finally drop Abraham altogether and claim something about having only God as their Father.  

We cannot be both free and deceived. If we think we, by acting alone, can make ourselves free from the forces of slavery, oppression, and evil, without becoming the evil we deplore, we're kidding ourselves. Our United Methodist baptismal vows ask, "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"

Perhaps it's a good week to renew these vows in the name of the One who speaks truth to our self- deception, who sets us free indeed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We can still join Jesus to Jerusalem

It's the Lord who makes the hilly journey with us
A beautiful pilgrimage song, Psalm 121, challenges us to know God as the One who never sleeps. When looking at our journey ahead, no matter how daunting the walk ahead through the hills looks, the source of our strength is in the Lord.

To pray "deliver us from evil," as Christians do in the Lord's Prayer, is similar to the assurance of protection in Psalm 121. It means that wherever the journey takes us, God, who creates and sustains us, will be with us. God is the One who keeps our life (spirit) wherever we are on the pilgrimage, now and always, sleeping or waking.

Wondering if Jesus used this Psalm during his final ascent into Jerusalem before his Passion, it might be an opportunity to catch up with Jesus on his journey these later days of Lent. Take a day, an hour, or even a few minutes! The Contemporary English Version (CEV) gives a fresh translation:
I look to the hills!
Where will I find help?
It will come from the Lord,
who created the heavens
and the earth.

The Lord is your protector,
and he won’t go to sleep
or let you stumble.
The protector of Israel
doesn’t doze
or ever get drowsy.

The Lord is your protector,
there at your right side
to shade you from the sun.
You won’t be harmed
by the sun during the day
or by the moon at night.

The Lord will protect you
and keep you safe
from all dangers.
The Lord will protect you
now and always
wherever you go.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Think Anew: Lenten Midweek Missal (4)

John 5:17-30 (CEB)

Jesus replied, “ My Father is still working, and I am working too. ” For this reason the Jewish leaders wanted even more to kill him—not only because he was doing away with the Sabbath but also because he called God his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God. Work of the Father and the Son Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders, “I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.  “I assure you that the time is coming—and is here!—when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear it will live. Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. He gives the Son authority to judge, because he is the Human One. Don’t be surprised by this, because the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice. Those who did good things will come out into the resurrection of life, and those who did wicked things into the resurrection of judgment. I can’t do anything by myself. Whatever I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just. I don’t seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 

We aren't the Life-giver or Judge

We all need a break sometimes. But does God really need a rest? I thought Genesis plainly states that God rested on the seventh day of creation, and this substantiates the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Earliest Christians were no doubt accused of "doing away with the Sabbath" who, in of observance of Easter Sunday and the day of Jesus' resurrection, began to gather on the first, not the last, day of the week.   

Jesus challenges us to think anew (repent) about the nature of God and how the Father's giving us life is in tandem, in mutuality, and in loving and intimate connection with the Son. Although foxes have holes and birds have nests, Jesus has no place to lay his head. Like God, Jesus is working still, not because he doesn't need a break as a normal person, but because like the Father, the Son has life in and of himself!  If you create life and give breath (Spirit), you don't need a rest! The Trinity's energy, resourcefulness, love, generosity, freedom and creativity in reaching us is without limit. 

The other news here is that resurrection to life or judgment is in Christ's kind hands. Is that why no mention of the word "Christian" is used?  It may be because Jesus is the judge- we're not! There is release in this! There is even the joy is that we can, in the words of I Peter "entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good." I Peter 4:19.  



Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Is Change Just an Illusion? Lenten Midweek Missal (3)

Matthew 5:17-20 (CEB)

Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

These words sound a little defensive, or at least one side of an argument. Was Jesus accused of making the Torah secondary to his teachings? Read the Sermon on the Mount, where you will find Jesus one-upping Moses, the giver of the Law!  Too, Jesus was critical of the main vehicles through which the Torah was read and understood in his day- "legal experts and Pharisees." According to Jeremiah 31:34, the fulfillment of Torah would be that everyone practices it, from the least to the greatest. Paradoxically, there would be no need for teachers of Torah if these conditions were met. 

But we live in a time when teaching continues to be necessary because we are still not all that we're created to be (as God's image),  nor are we all we're called to be (as God's people).   So, in what way is our righteousness to go beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees?  The Pharisees were righteous in the sense of following what they determined or interpreted was correct, what you were supposed to do or stay away from, and what was and wasn't your responsibility. The righteousness to be exceeded was defined by the limits set forth by teachers and their tradition. 

Going back to Jer. 31, the Torah (covenant relationship) written on the heart could be that which precedes and exceeds the righteousness based on the legal tradition, opinion, and arguments of others.

Bad news for the control freak: the power of change in Jesus Christ- repentance- is not wholly under our control; its locus is our loss of control.  Otherwise, change would be easy.  Since this is about entering God's kingdom and reign and our surrender to it, our control does not fix our broken relationships. Our right relationship, or righteousness, to others, ourselves, and God starts with God's unbounded love and grace within. My world opens up and I can let go of trying to fix myself, others, and even God, with all my good intentions. 

This is how the late Indian Jesuit, Anthony De Mello approaches it in his wonderful book of spiritual exercises and guided prayers, Wellsprings"Now I begin the essential element to all change. Before I take a single step, it is vital that I hear Christ say these words to me: "As far as my love for you is concerned it does not matter whether you change or not, for my love for you is unconditional." 

Oldies but Goodies