Friday, February 15, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


 Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

It is only after Jesus slows us down to the speed of our souls...only after Jesus shines a light on prayerfully pondering where we spend our money...that Jesus offers words for us.  Words about the holiness of God's name.  Words about noticing God's realm among us.  Words about letting the melody of God's love be the soundtrack to our lives.  Prayers about daily bread (echo of manna in the wilderness) and forgiveness (which is always a tough, touche subject) and about the stress and strain of daily living.

Every week, in our church, we say the Lord's Prayer.
Maybe for some it is rote or routine, where we go on autopilot while considering what is for lunch.
Maybe for some each week, s/he tries to find one word in the prayer to hold onto.  Fifty-five words to the prayer...I don't think I have ever offered a pastoral prayer that short! 

While many books have been written about this prayer, it is less about trying to understand it and more about entering the words.

Which word stands out to you right now?
Maybe it is the male image of God...although you could also use the New Zealand version which is, "Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be. Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven". (click here to read the full prayer) I love the expansive ways the prayer seeks to name God...the mystery and ground of our being. 

Maybe it is the request for daily nourishment...which might be both bread and for those moments to slow down to the speed of our souls.

Maybe what is working in you right now from those 55 words is something in the small space in-between.  Not an actual word, but something from within you that is calling/crying out.

One prayer practice is recite these words each day as a way to work with them and let them sing to your life.  You could use Matthew's version or the New Zealand or try to write your own version.

One prayer practice is to pick one word to focus and reflect upon.

One prayer practice is to take the Lord's Prayer for a walk, saying the words with each foot strike of the pavement. 

One prayer practice is to talk to others about these words.  What does s/he hear?  What do you hear? 

One prayer practice is to sing the Lord's Prayer...or to listen to it being sung


One prayer practice is to draw these words...write them in different colors...paint them or go capture photos of how you see these words at work in the world...or just play around with them.

Maybe one of the practices above will help you slow down to the speed of your soul...and open you to more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


So...how is it with your soul?

Have you had a few moments so far to move at the speed of your soul?

And by soul...I don't mean some organ that is located to the left of your kidney...I mean that sense of being that grounds your whole mind, heart, and body.  I mean that which surrounds you.  One of my favorite quotes right now is, "God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."  So, our soul, is to reflect that truth...your center is where you are and your circumference continues to expand and evolve...just like the universe/star dust and soil which is what we are made of and who we are.

Right after Jesus advocates for time to connect and center in God, he starts talking about giving alms.  "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." 

First, it is a leap to go from talking about the state/speed of our souls to our wallets and check books.
Second, now I totally feel bad that I had that trumpet play the last time I put my money in the offering plate...little did I know Jesus would frown at that.

The deeper challenge in all of this, is that this challenges, even critiques, so much of modern day ways of fundraising.  We have walls dedicated to people who have given donations, pages in the back of theater productions listening patrons...often starting with the thousands of dollars mark...brass plaques around the church.  And honestly, does Jesus not realize, I am dependent on this system, broken it may be?  Could we maybe celebrate just a little Jesus, my pension is at stake here?  And how can my left hand not know what my right is doing?  That just seems plain strange.

Jim Wallis at Sojourners Magazine has often said that both the federal and our own personal budgets and check books are ethical documents. More and more today, you can tell what people value by where they give money.  Is having a little recognition okay?  Why the anonymous gift?  Why the mystery?

Perhaps it is because, as Jesus says in just a few verses later (Matthew 6:21), for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Great theme for a stewardship campaign, hard to live day-by-day, especially after the Superbowl with its blitz of commercials.  Especially on the eve of Valentine's Day and we want to surprise someone we love with a token.  Especially in a world where we think nothing of paying five or ten dollars for a cup of coffee. 

Just like with prayer, I am not sure the church has always helped people clarify their values and treasures.  Rather, we make a case why the church has value and should be a place for your treasure.  But what Jesus is saying here is that one of the most prayerful things we might do is share our resources of talent and time and treasure with others.

Maybe it is in the sharing that we sense a deeper dimension to our soul...if we listen.
Maybe it is in taking the time to listen and be open...that we find a trace of God's grace leading us.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from God in heaven. Matthew 6:1

What images come to mind when you hear the word, "Pray"?

Maybe you think of folding your hands and bowing your head.
Maybe you hear words stacked upon words...often in a monotone voice that lulls you into a sleep-like state.
Maybe you've had a bad experience with prayer that left a lingering awful taste in your mouth.  A moment someone told you to pray for miracle, and when that didn't happen, the person says, "Well, guess you didn't try hard enough."  Because that helps.
Maybe you think of televangelists on t.v.
Maybe you think of prayer as formulaic...first you pray for others, then yourself.

Sometimes I think the life of prayer gets stuck in Sunday School.
Sometimes I think the life of prayer has so much written about it and so few experiences.
Sometimes I think the church has struggled to really help people in this journey.

What if rather than words, prayer was more playful...artful...and harder to describe or define?
What if prayer was first and foremost about cultivating a relationship with the sacred?

Prayer is not something you have to do, should do, must do.  It is not about appeasing God, as if God is waiting around saying, "I sure wish Wes would toss, throw words my direction."  I don't think God grades our prayers either. 

I do agree with C.S. Lewis who wrote that initially he believed prayer was to change God...only to eventually come to understand that prayer was to change him.  It wasn't about trying to convince God to do something, but about space where our thoughts could be openly and honestly shared.

Which is where Jesus is coming from in the short passage above.  Not about the words we pour out poetically in public, but the state of our heart and soul.  Or as my spiritual director always asks me, "How is it with your soul?" 

To check in with how the deep within us is connecting to the deep within God.  That requires something more than five minutes or scanning an email devotional in the morning or even reading this post.  To slow down long enough to listen...deeply, honestly, with whole-hearted openness.  That is not the kind of listening we do most days.  We skim the surfaces, scan the homepage, and move quickly to the next task, because we already feel behind.  We rush, run, race...always out of breath... always saying to our soul, "Just keep up will you...and try to make Todd's comments at the meeting not so annoying." 

So to slow...to breathe...to be...in that space where it is you and God creatively connecting.  The holy space of divine dance.  The still small voice Elijah heard only days after fleeing from his life.  To turn off the glaring at screens...and constantly glancing to see the latest tweet or breaking news...to center yourself in the One who is the ground/source/foundation of life.

It is my prayer that such an invitation would not just sit in your mind, but make its way deep into your life...and in a practice of just being today or tomorrow...you would sense more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Friday, February 8, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;  and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Twenty-six years.  That is the amount of time the average person will spend during his or her life time in bed sleeping.  Twenty-six years.  On top of that, the average person spends about seven years in bed trying to fall asleep, when clearly they could just come to church and I could help them with that every Sunday.  We now spend about 11 years of our life staring at screens both at work and home.  Someone right now is thinking, I have to Google that - go ahead, I'll wait.  And finally, rounding out the top four ways/places where we spend most of our life.  No, it is not church meetings.  We spend four and half years eating.  When I think of my life that way, it makes me just want to get a piece of chocolate and go back to bed.  Yet, in the midst of our everyday lives, waking and walking in this world, no wonder time feels like one of our most valuable gifts.  Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to take the world as we know it and turn it upside down.  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to call, "Beloved," those people and places where it feels so far from the truth, now, Jesus goes and says that invitation isn’t only for those who we like, but also those who frustrate and flummox and down right infuriate us.  Love your enemies?  Really, Jesus?  I have to wonder how many people in the crowd on that mountain that day decided, “That’s it.  Zachariah go warm up the camel, we are outta here.”  Two thousand years later, and I don’t think we struggle any less with this teaching.
          Remember, it isn’t like things were so much easier in Jesus’ good ole days.  The people who he was preaching to had been overthrown, occupied, run over and ruled by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, the Greeks, and now Rome.  Rome was particularly creative with its harsh rules and taxes.  Throughout this sermon Jesus continually, constantly takes the accepted and agreed upon truths and turns them on their head.  Think about those things your grandmother or grandfather used to say.  A penny saved is a penny earned.  Or everything in moderation.  Or wisdom is easy to carry but difficult to gather.  Or when my personal favorite when my grandmother was happy she would say, “Well that just dills my pickle.”  Still makes me laugh.  Jesus, however, was challenging and confronting the normal, natural order of eye-for-eye justice.  The original intent of saying, "eye-for-an-eye" was to cease a cycle of violence.  If you hurt or harm my hand, and I, in turn, injure your whole arm, and then you go for my knees, it spirals out of control so quickly.  We see that all the time today, it is called Twitter, or just about any social media.  Jesus says, it is better to not even buy the ticket to ride that train.  Wait.  If we are to step out of a myth of redemptive violence, what does that mean?  Jesus give three examples.  First, if someone strikes you on your right cheek, offer the left.  If someone takes your shirt, give them your cloak.  If someone demands you to go a mile, offer to go two.  Two things.  First, this isn’t just good advice.  No one will say to any of these, well that just dills my pickle.  And not only because no one says that any more.  This is never going to be something that socially is acceptable or even easy.  Hold onto that.  Second, if you let these settle and dive a bit deeper into each, we might see just how difficult and demanding these are.
          Take the first one, striking a person on his or her right cheek was usually done with the back of a hand.  It wasn’t seen as something violent.  Rather, that was what you did to someone inferior when she or he insulted you.  But to give offer your left cheek, you are now implying equality because the person would need to use the palm of the hand, and now you have upped the ante to a violent act.  Or as Rev. Dr. King said, The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence, it is nonviolence or nonexistence.  When offering the other cheek, you are not being a doormat, you are demanding the other person see you in your full humanity.  The same is true with the garment.  In a world where most people only had one set of clothes.  In a world where you had only one shirt, if someone sued you for that, to also give your cloak meant you were naked as the day you were born.  Who says Bible study is boring.  And to be naked in public meant that the shame and blame now shifted to the one you just handed your clothes.  Finally, while Roman soldiers could demand you carry his pack for one mile, the rules were crystal clear that one mile was the limit.  To go another mile meant you are putting the solider in a position where he could be punished for breaking the law.  Each of these are about turning the table and creatively confronting the powers that be.  You don’t just go along, to get along, grumbling under your breath, Jesus says.  Live into your full humanity, but be careful that in your response you don’t create more hurt and harm.  Be careful that we don’t perpetuate the truth that brokenness begets brokenness.   As the wisdom goes, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.  As the wisdom goes, there are three stages for God, impossible, difficult, and done.
          Yet still I find loving my enemies somewhere in-between impossible and difficult.  There are people who seem to never run out of creative ways to frustrate me.  It is amazing.  There are people who continually say things that offend.  Their comments are like a thousand paper cuts on my soul.  And I want to say, “Come on Jesus, really, love this person?  Can’t I get a pass?  I promise to love this other person twice as much to make up for it.”  Now usually, this is the point in the post, where I am supposed to serve up some wisdom that ties this messy passage up with a neat and tidy bow.  Here is the take home practice that will make your life easier, guaranteed.  And when that doesn’t work with your cousin Amos, well that’s on you, because clearly I have Jesus on my side saying we have to do it.  But loving our enemies is never going to be good advice, it will never be common sense, it will never be at the top of the ways we want to spend our thirty some odd years of life that we are actually awake not eating or staring at a screen.  We would rather hang out with those who see the world like us and who don’t cause such pain.  Perhaps there are two things that help me.  First, when you think of that person, because I know you all have a cousin Amos who you want to offer as exhibit A why these words of Jesus should just be left aside.  Maybe loving that person doesn’t just happen in the blink of an eye or because Jesus says so but is a process.  If I can find a small insight into why Amos is the way Amos is, perhaps that is God’s epiphany light.  Rather than letting Amos’ latest, greatest insult wake me up at three a.m. going over all my witty sarcastic comebacks, but instead laugh thinking, “He just never runs out of material.”  Maybe, just maybe, I can move one half of a millimeter toward love.  Second, I hold onto people who I thought were impossible to love but have found ways nevertheless with God’s grace to move small steps forward.  Rather than thinking about all the exceptions, maybe there might be an example of someone who over years, many years, you have found ways to embody God’s presence?  This is what makes faith compelling to me.  This is what keeps faith dynamic, not dormant.  This is what challenges me to commit my energy toward that which might actually make the world shift in new ways.  And if not the world, at least a bit how I deal with Amos.  And if that could happen, it truly would dill my pickle.  Amen. 






Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Meeting Matthew Anew...Again


 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Great.

Now Jesus has to go and be all specific...with this teaching.  Why couldn't Jesus have gone into detail and elaborate on the salty and light part?  That was so much more positive...and so much less challenging.  The truth is, we are angry a lot.  Right now, there are people who are angry on both sides about a border wall.  Some mad as hell that it would even be built...some just as passionately ticked that construction is being delayed.  Others right now are angry at the weather or traffic or a family member or that their team lost the Super Bowl.  

We don't often acknowledge that the twin of anger is grief.  We are deeply saddened that pain persists and insists on taking center stage.  Years ago Granger Westberg wrote a small book called, "Good grief," in which he deals with the thousand paper cuts in our hearts every day.  The thing your friend or co-worker said.  The fact that you are frustrated about being late, even though you left early.  Your lingering cold you can't get over.  The ticket you get for speeding when you were just trying to keep up with the flow of traffic.  Your broken relationship with someone.  And on and on.  We don't grief well as a society.  We push it down, stuff it deep into our souls, until it comes out less as anger and more like rage.  We stifle and suppress.  We put on a happy face.  We just don't talk about that.  

Why?

Because that was what we were taught and told.  Our national motto could be, "Suck it up, buttercup."  Play through the pain.  Sweat is weakness crying.  Or we could admit that life is harsh and hard with so much stumbling and bumbling our way through.  That what really ties and tethers us together is our shared suffering, not that we ever want to admit it.

But Jesus does. 

Maybe deeper than this...is that how we are salt and light is not just be putting on a brave face...but by being vulnerable in a world that doesn't know what to do with this.  Two thousand years after Jesus faced death on a cross - the most humiliating and harshest way to breathe your last breath - we still want to boast how many members or how big our budget is in the church.  I am not sure that is the life abundant Jesus was describing and defining.  To be salt and light as a way of seeking reconciliation, not revenge.  To be salt and light as a way of peace through processing pain rather than just passing it along like Halloween candy on October 31st.  To be salt and light in seeking an alternative way...that was what Jesus was up to when he said earlier in the sermon, "Beloved are...the persecuted, peacemakers, meek, mourning, and merciful."  If you want to know how to live this way, Jesus says, "Be light and salt."  If you want to know what that might mean, don't go giving money as some way to buy God's grace (as if that was possible).  But how we treat each other is what really counts.

Great.

Jesus had to specific on this one.

But it might be exactly where we need to embrace and prayerfully embody such truth in such a time as this.

Blessings ~~   

Monday, February 4, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.  “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5

After Jesus expands to the very fringe and fray of society how wide the claim and name of, "Beloved" is, he launches into a call/commission to be the salt and light for the world.  For Jesus discipleship is never a means to an end or a cul-de-sac of individuality.  It is not simply that we are, "Beloved" period, rather we are "Beloved" comma.  There is more to the story that simply, "God loves you."  That is the beginning not the finish line.  The love of God cannot be contained or confined but must come forth from us. 

Too often we can treat our Christian faith like a golden ticket to the Willa Wonka Chocolate Factory in the sky.  Get yours well the getting is good...and if someone else doesn't experience or encounter God's love, that is on them.  But that isn't what Jesus is up to in his life.  To take the baptismal claim of "Beloved" and include every person so that every person might embrace and embody this truth for others.  This is one of the pathways of God's realm.  Notice Jesus isn't interested in having people covert to Christianity.  Jesus doesn't give them a test or ask for an altar call.  He states a truth, "You are beloved...even in some of the most gut-wrenching and heart-breaking moments."  And once that trust simmers and settles into your souls, go share. 

To be salty and light also is about taking part in a wider world.  No one would really want to sit down to a dinner of just salt.  Salt is a spice, adds zest.  How is your life spicing up someone else's life right now?  Where are you pouring your energy into someone else in life-giving ways?  Salt is a part, not the whole.  Same is true of light.  For all the good light can do...especially in the night...there are also moments, like at 3 a.m., when I crave the beauty, blessedness of darkness.  Light is not the whole story, it is a part, a piece of life.  To be beloved is to commit and be commissioned to go forth to add something this world needs.

And the deeper truth is that your way of being salty and light is different and distinctive from my way.  I need your saltiness and you need mine.  I need your light and there are times you will need mine.  That is the relational invitation of Jesus.  To form connections to each other.  Or as Robert Putnam writes, there are times of bonding and bridging (there are also times of boundaries, but that is another post).  There are times we feel connected to another and times we need to create/craft a mutual pathway across a divide.  The struggle is how we do that.  The deeper struggle is the energy it takes to do that.  The even deeper struggle is the willingness to do that. 

Being salty and light stakes a claim on our life, a claim/charge/commission perhaps we would rather not accept.  It is a bit of mission impossible to try to connect with others in a diverse and divisive world.  Yet, that was true for Jesus' world too.  Did Jesus mean that menacing Roman guard in your town?  Did Jesus mean that neighbor who had the correct code to push all your buttons?  Does Jesus really want me to salt and light to those who vote differently and are critical of me?  How do I do that?

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't proscribe all ten/twenty/thirty thousand steps it might take.  Jesus describes a state of being and says, "It might mean different things at different times to different people." 

Be salt...be light, that is the invitation...and I sense there can be more than a trace of God's grace as we seek to embody and be embrace by these words this week.

Blessings ~~

Friday, February 1, 2019

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew


Click here to read all nine of Matthew's Beatitudes...

A few years ago Pope Francis proposed these new beatitudes,
— Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
— Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
— Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
— Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home (earth).
— Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
— Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.

Or I have read this version too by Robin Tanner
Today we share in a blessing for losers, risk-takers, all failures far and wide....

Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego,
for they shall know the sweetness of risk.

Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy,
for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.

Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as "less than,"
for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.

Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit,
for they will discover the secret to dreams.

Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers,
for their hearts will be houses for hope.

Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another,
for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.

Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life,
for they shall know the kindness of strangers.

Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning,
for they shall know the path of justice.

I pray that the words above might inspire you to take Jesus' words and re-write them in ways that sing to your soul in such a time as this.