Monday, March 30, 2015

Maundy Thursday


While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

On Thursday evening, Christians will gather with Christ at the Last Supper table.  We gather not only as individual congregations, we come as a world-wild community; connected through Jesus even though we are divided by language and even understandings.  There is a holy mystery to communion.  A mystery that even though we are many, we are one; even though we are different in important ways, there is a spirit that connects us.  One of the basic ideas that connect us across denominational and national boundaries is that communion is a sacrament ~ a visual sign of God's invisible grace.  Communion becomes a tangible symbol of God's presence, which we sometimes miss in the midst of our busy lives.  Another truth many agree on is that this Thursday is often called, "Maundy" for the Latin word for "Commandment".  At the last supper table, Christ gives the commandment that we love one another.  It is a radically inclusive love from the very beginning.  Christ's love was for one who would betray him; one who would deny him; and many who would desert him.  That kind of love challenges me in countless ways.  I find it hard to love that inclusively and exhaustively.  Yet, Jesus was able to look his friends in the eyes and offer a love that embraced them.  

Then, after talking about love, he went out to the garden.  It was in the garden, Jesus would pray that if it was possible, God would remove this cup...a cup of suffering that would come in the form of false accusations and a cross and even death.  How many of us uttered Jesus' prayer to remove this cup from us in hospital rooms and courtrooms and places we never wanted to find ourselves.  We ask for God to enter into our lives in ways that transform our lives.  Often the transformation does not come in the form of a superhero swooping in to rescue us, but a love...a constant, steady love that gives us strength to get up and go for chemo treatments or to face the person who said or did something that hurt.  

Christ faced all of this...but not before eating with his friends.  I am wondering if one of the ways we prepare for Thursday is to be aware every time we break bread this week.  What if, at each meal, you slowed down.  We live in a fast food culture, where that describes not only the preparation but the consumption of food.  Eating becomes a race rather than an opportunity to slow down and breathe.  This week, every day, every meal, will you practice eating.  That sounds strange because we tend to go on auto-pilot when eating.  But instead of just relying on muscle memory, can every meal this week open you to the opportunity and presence of God?  That might just make every meal an opportunity to encounter and experience God in amazing ways.  That truly would be a sacrament!  I pray you have have an amazing and grace-filled Holy Week.

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Note


Over the last few months we have journeyed through the beginning of Matthew's gospel.  I find Matthew to be a fascinating gospel.  I appreciate his intensity and his insistence that our choices matter.  I appreciate he is passionate about following Jesus and that makes a claim upon our lives.

However, Matthew can take energy to read and process and reflect upon...especially in a blog format where there is little give and take.  So, I am going to take a break from Matthew for awhile.  I am sure I will pick him up again sometime in the future.  But after Easter, I am going to switch to reflecting a bit on Paul's letter to First Corinthians and also the book, Love Wins by Rob Bell.  In June, I am going to think and write about the blessings of an imperfect life.  And then this fall, the church I serve will embark on Genesis and the beginning of all that is seen and unseen.

I hope these weekly comments on Matthew have been helpful, especially for those in the church I serve when coupled with sermons on this book.  I trust one day I will pick up where I left off and dwell with Matthew a bit more.  As we enter into Holy Week today, I pray your Palm Sunday parade was filled with joy.  I will post this week on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday too

May God grant you a holy end to Lent this year.

Blessings ~

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Worry



“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  Matthew 6:25-28

Remember the above guy?  He was from a series of children's books called, Mr. Men   In the book, he worries about his roof leaking if it rains...and his flowers dying if it doesn't rain...and when someone takes his worry away...he worries that there is nothing to worry about.  We live in a world where there is a constant undercurrent of worry...or fear...and constant anxiety.  So, just having someone, even Jesus say, "Don't worry."  May not cut it for us.  We may still worry.  After all, there are bills to pay and books to read and children to raise...along with concerns for the earth, economy, and don't get me started if the worldwide shortage of chocolate actually happens!  Choco-geddon would be upon us.  Worry is sort of what we do...we are good at it.

And no, it does not add a single hour to our life...we know it takes hours and precious minutes away.  So, how might we approach worry?
First I think we need to acknowledge that it s normal and natural...probably would be abnormal if we didn't worry occasionally about somethings.  
Second, is there a way we can invite or listen for God's wisdom on that issue? 

If I am worried about a sermon or something at church is there someone else, along with God, I can turn to and listen to?  I think often worry and fear isolate us.  We feel lonely, like no one understands.  So, if we can invite others and listen for God in stillness that is good.

Third, stillness!  That is one way to face worry head on.  Sit in quite and just be.  So often worry activates that part of our brain to stay in perpetual motion...as if we can outrun worry.  So, slow down.  Usually the worries are still there after a few minutes.

Finally, look to creation.  It is good to remember we came from dust and to dust we shall return.  We say that not as some depressing fact, but that we are made of divine DNA that makes up everything seen and unseen.

To be sure, those four steps may not alleviate worry forever...but it may just remind us that God is God and we are not...which is a good starting place for all of us.

Blessings and peace ~

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Looking Deep Within

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:19-21

This is another one of those passages that is so much more than good advice.  I think about the things I treasure:  my family, my health, watching a good movie with my family, a bowl of ice cream, my job...and truly those are things that warm the cockles of my heart.  Are any of those things necessarily bad?  I don't think so.  I don't think Jesus is trying to suggest that we need to pray and read the Bible while volunteering to feed the hungry twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  We have sometimes made those activities synonymous with God.  Or perhaps more to the point, we compartmentalize.  Those are the things we do to connect with God...what we do on Friday night, well let's not get too personal here.

Paul Tillich once wrote that no one is really an atheist, everyone has something or someone at the center of his/her heart.  Maybe it is fame or fortune or family or that new car I just test drove.  Tillich was picking up on Jesus, that where are treasure is...there our heart is...and where our heart is...is where God longs to be.  I don't think it has to be either/or.  God is big enough to allow space for others.  I can engage God while talking with my family.  I can hear God as I run down the road.  God is interested in our whole life.  But I also realize that somethings are fleeting and fading (or that moth and rust can consume).  Which is why, we need to embrace the present moment for the treasure it is.  

During this season of Lent, what are you treasuring right now?  What brings you joy?  What is challenging you in a good way?  Where are you letting go of what once was a treasure?  That last one is a more difficult question.  I often find it difficult to see that life has changed and so the way our still speaking and creating God is changing too through the seasons of our life.  I pray in this final full week before Holy Week, you will ponder the treasures in your life.  I pray you will notice God.  And that you will treasure these words, holding fast to God and not just the things in our life.

Blessings and peace ~ 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What to do Part Three


And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:16-21

There are moments when reading the beatitudes that it is easy to nod our heads and think, "This just sounds like good advice."  But there is a difference between good advice and good news.  Advice can be "taken into consideration," which usually for me means, I am going to do something else.  Good advice plays into cultural common sense and doesn't challenge us.  The "good" part of advice is that we tend to agree.
Good news on the other hand can radically change our lives.  It takes us and pushes our comfort zones to places we'd prefer not to go.  And I believe, we never quite grasp the good news.  We might be grasped by it.  Fredrick Buechner is fond of saying, the gospel is always bad news before it is good news.
Here Jesus is saying don't put on airs or make a production out of your spirituality.  In our world of individualism, it can be easy to turn our faith into a kind of "God and me" spiritual improvement program.  There is nothing wrong with that per say...but I think the gospel's claim is bigger and bolder than just about me, myself, and I.  Jesus uses the word, 'hypocrite'.  Which we tend to be as someone who says one thing and does another.  But in Jesus' day, hypocrite meant actor.  Are we acting the role of faith?  Are we pretending on Sunday morning that God is at the center of our lives, only to leave that behind like the bulletin in the pew for the usher to pick up after the service?  Now I do sometimes think you need to fake your way through something as a way to make your way through.  There are moments when I am exhausted, but have a visit.  So, I take a deep breathe, smile, and try to practice active listening.  And the grace of the whole thing is, that usually in the blink of an eye, God grants me energy and attention that I was lacking.  
The real challenging part of this passage is storing up treasures.  As I said in the last post, I am now in my 40s.  Is my pension that the church pays storing up treasure?  What about our savings account so I can trade in my car?  What about my cupboards where I just put away my groceries?  Those questions challenge me.  See what I mean that the gospel can be bad news before it is good?
I don't think there is one easy answer.  We may feel defensive about those kinds of questions, want to justify that we earned it or that God wants to see us happy.  Both of which are truth.  But...but...are we also storing up for a rainy day?  Sure I am.  Therein lays the rub...and therein lays where I believe faith can still speak truth.  It does not need to be either or.  I am not going to cash in my pension and go help the poor.  At least not yet.  But maybe I can worry less about that and more about those who have no savings at all.  Maybe I can be more open to the grace of God.  A grace that is not just good advice, but can alter and ultimate save my life to live a new way.  May it be so this Lenten season and for the rest of this year.

Amen. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Entering a new decade



Last week I turned 40.  I know in the grand scheme of life, this is still fairly young.  In fact, some of you may have items in your house that are 40 years old...I am looking at you polyester leisure suit and lime green blender.  You gotta admit they have withstood the test of time...okay maybe not the leisure suit.

Birthdays are moments for looking back.  I am nearing the halfway point in life.  That does not frighten me.  There are a few moments I wish I had a rewind button.  But for the most part, I am grateful that the experiences - good and bad - have made me who I am.  It is okay to be where you are in life, regardless of what others say.

Not to mention 40 is a biblical number.  Noah was in the ark for forty days.  Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days.  The People of God in Exodus wandered around for forty years.  All of this tells me...it is going to be a rainy, hungry, and wandering year.  No wait!  It tells me there are possibilities for connect with God in real ways this year.

Birthdays are also moments for looking ahead.  I look forward to seeing what unfolds in the years to come. I am grateful for where I am now and trying to be open to God in the midst of that.

I pray no matter what age you are turning this year...God will bless you and keep you and grant you a holy year.

Many blessings and peace!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What to do Part Two


And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Matthew 6:5-8

This is one of the teachings that comes a little too close for comfort.  I pray aloud...in public...all the time.  Do I love to pray?  Sure.  There is a peacefulness, joy, and power that I sense when I try to give voice to what is in my heart and what I think is in the hearts of those listening.  Are my prayers too long?  Perhaps.  Prayer can become like a checklist in my mind and make sure I cover "all my bases" asking God to help with violence, environment, health concerns for people, the church, etc.  I wonder about transforming prayer in the church I serve.  How do I create space so that I am not the designated pray-er?  How do I empower and equip people to practice prayer on Sunday morning so that they might do the same every single day?  The harder...read more vulnerable...question is, "How is it with my soul, my life, my connection with God?

Jesus says go in the room.  I've always lived in a place where at least some of the space was mine, even when I shared a bedroom with my brother growing up.  We tend to take this instruction literally.  I should go into a room and actually shut a door.  But in Jesus' day, many houses had only one room.  What do you do then?  The room that might be sectioned off was the dressing room.  What would it mean to go into a space and place where you usually were naked to pray?  Was Jesus suggesting that you need to strip down the clothing and stand naked before God?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps prayer is about striping down the wallpaper we usually post to Facebook and to stop fantasizing about our lives.  To be naked before God is the original state of our relationship with God, it echoes all the way back to Genesis 2.  

As for the empty phrases...well I think we can all be guilty of that.  But words matter in prayer.  Some words in prayers bother me.  I am not a big fan of the over use of "just" in prayers.  We just want to...  As if, it was a small, simple request for God to get us something...like let's say world peace.  But I know for others reading this blog, you like the word "Just"...find it very meaningful in prayers and have a different take.  We all pray differently.  We all need to use our words authentically and not try to imitate another...which is why it is good to strip away all pretenses and that which we use to cover ourselves before attempting to pray. 

I find it interesting that the very next verse is the Lord's Prayer.  Jesus does not just tell us what NOT to do, he offers images and thoughts on what to DO.  That is valuable.  I will not say much about the Lord's Prayer...but this Lent I encourage you...if nothing else for the rest of Lent, pray the Lord's prayer.  Let the words linger around you and within us.  Let the thoughts form images that guide your connection to God.  I pray that as you continue the journey that takes us to the reality of the cross and beyond, you will sense more than a trace of God's grace.

Amen and blessings ~