Thursday, March 22, 2012

Poured Out into Holy Week

Click here to Mark 14:1-11

We are inching closer to Holy Week and hearing again what is often called the Passion Narrative. The first week in April we will read again the chapters that record Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Thanks to Mel Gibson’s film a few years ago, the word Passion brings to mind negative thoughts of blaming Jewish people for Jesus’ death and a glorification (even fixation) of violence. To be sure, what we will read over the coming days is violent. It is a violence that is echoed every night in our news: whether it is a gunman in France or racial tension between police and different ethnicity or the YouTube video on Uganda’s Kony being viewed over 84 million times. And because violence is around us, we sometimes prefer for the church to be a sanctuary; a place set apart where for at least a few fleeting moments we don’t have to face the brokenness or violence of the world. For a few minutes we can rest. For a few minutes we can convince ourselves that maybe singing hymns with gusto and listening to sermons about love are really what the world is about…only to walk out the church door out into a world where no one is singing hymns and very few people ever talk about love.

Part of the reason why I believe Holy Week is important is because it does invite us to immerse ourselves in the world God so loves. And such immersion is to deal with the vulnerable, raw, and real emotions of life. Real and raw emotions like heartbreak, betrayal, denial, brokenness, pain, and death. And we do that not to feel guilty or to glorify these emotions as more faithful than others such as joy or love; we experience Holy Week year after year after year to remind ourselves that God can be found on the mountain top and in the valley. God is relentless in relationship both when the lights are on and the laughter comes easy and when we feel like we are in the midnight of our soul.

The reading above is a foreshadowing of the brokenness that begins Holy Week. A woman breaks open a jar of perfume and dumps it over Jesus. Ever walk through the cosmetic section of Boston Store? I find myself wheezing and rushing to get through the strong odor! Imagine how fragrant a whole vase of perfume would be. That scent might have followed Jesus all the way to the cross. And that was the point Jesus said when the others scoffed (the literal translation is the disciples snorted at her). Jesus affirms the ministry and love of this woman, says we will always remember her…just not her name unfortunately. But maybe that is okay. Maybe when we read this we should remember a woman in our life whose love and presence and actions recently made a difference to us. I think about my kids’ teachers who are both women and both give tremendous amount of time and energy and love to my kids. I think about my Wednesday and Saturday morning Bible study groups which would very lonely to lead, because 99% of the attendees are women. Where have you recently been blessed by a woman…remember her…say her name aloud.

One other quick note. This passage ends with Judas deciding to stir the pot and betraying Jesus. In my mind, it is not a coincidence that right after criticizing this woman’s actions for financial reasons, Judas gets the proverbial bag with a dollar sign on it. Money is often a reason why we judge things right or wrong. Money is often a factor for doing something or not doing something. Unlike the widow who freely offers all she has, unlike the unnamed woman who recklessly and lovingly pours out a costly jar of perfume, Judas turns right around and has not learned the lesson of money. The question for us today to ponder is, have we?

Prayer: Gracious God guide our words today. Slow our tongue when we are critical to instead speak the truth in love. Enter our lives when we go to reach for our wallets to ponder Your call. And help open our noses to the smells all around us today. In the name of the one who was drenched by perfume, Jesus our Christ. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's Money Got to Do with It?

Read Mark 12:38-44

One of the common complaints against the church is that we talk too much about money. It’s true. Every Sunday we pass an offering plate. Every month we make a push for one mission outside our church doors. Every month we put grocery bags out. Right now we are fundraising for new chairs. In spite of how much we ask for money, we rarely talk about money in the church. We skirt around it during Stewardship season and budget conversations. But the reality is that very rarely do we actually have discussions about money outside of our immediate families.

I know in my life, even with my closest friends the topic is taboo. I have no idea how much they make. And unless the person is a church member and looks at an Annual Report, most of my friends don’t know how much I make in a year. Yet, we hint at money all the time. We make comments on Facebook. Or we post pictures of our last trip to some place. Or we pull up in a new car. Or we talk about something that is broke in our home that we cannot pay to fix right now. We talk around money or about the idea of money, but rarely about the relationship between our values and money.

Bill Diehl in The Monday Connection writes about ethics. He makes a clear distinction between values as being the worth or merit we place upon a particular person, action or thing; and morals as the principles we adopt with respect to right or wrong. Ethicists will say that our checkbook (or credit card statement) is an ethical document because it shows what we value. When we give money to something (like to go golfing or for a gym membership or for gas in our cars or from Habitat for Humanity…to name a few places from my own checkbook) that is saying it has worth or merit for my life. I do value my health. I do value being able to be face to face for pastoral visits my car takes me do. I do value the outreach of providing homes for people. Those values lead to morals, ideals I have for what is right and wrong as I look at other people’s use of money.

My point is that we rarely in our private or especially in our public life get the value level in conversation. Sometimes for Gina and I we go there. Sometimes with our kids. But certainly not with our wider group of friends and not really at the church.

So, I encourage you as you ponder the widow’s offering to consider what your check book says you value. How does that lead to morals that you have? How does that influence ethical decisions you make? And when you think or say something is wrong in our community, our state or our nation what values or morals are being held by the other side?

Those are tough questions and I don’t expect easy answers, but shining the light of Christ during this Lenten season on the topic of money can be a blessing because money is a part of our life and our faith both individually and as a church. Perhaps if we begin now thinking about this it will continue to stay with you: which is really what being a steward is all about. Grace and peace to you.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Waste of time

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor. 3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. 4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” 10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. 11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Marva Dawn begins her book, A Royal “Waste” of Time, with this Psalm. She states that worship really is a ‘waste of time’ when viewed from the values and lens of society. After all, an hour on Sunday morning hopefully produces a deeper relationship with God and challenge to be a better neighbor; but how does that help the economy? An hour on Sunday morning hopefully stirs something deep within us; but it does not really feed a hungry person. An hour on Sunday morning may tune us to hear God’s voice; but what does that mean on Monday morning?

Of course, Dawn is being satirical when she suggests worship is a ‘waste’ of time, hence the quotation marks. Yet, increasingly we live in a society that does not see much worth in worship. People make choices with schedules and find more meaning in going to sport events, shopping, traveling or just hanging out at home reading the paper than at worship. I say that not because I want people to feel guilty, but because it is a reality people face today. Part of the reason why Sunday morning is so crowded now is due to the flood of activity in our world spilling over onto a day that was once protected. Church at one time had a monopoly and was the only game in town on Sunday morning. That just is not the case anymore. And we can wring our hands and wish for some time machine to transport us back in time, or we can face the reality and listen for God’s still speaking voice today.

It is not only the fact that stores are open. Even if blue laws were reinstated, I am not convinced we’d have to open the balcony on Sunday morning. The truth we need to confront is that it is NOT a waste of time to sit and simply be. We live in a culture that does not value silence or slowing down from a frenzied pace. If we don’t say we are “busy” when someone asks us how we are doing, we assume something is wrong with us. So, on this Saturday, I want to encourage you to “waste” time. Look at an old photo album. Pray. Write a silly story. Do something that other’s would say has no value and then come to church on Sunday. Because we worship a God who says our value comes not from our hands, our minds, or what we produce. Our value comes from being a beloved child of God. Period. See you in church. Blessings and peace. Amen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just Doing My Job Reprise

Yesterday at the Lenten services, I preaching about what it means to 'do my job'. The thoughts below reprise that sermon and offer a few additional thoughts.

What we do for a living and how we see ourselves is often intricately intertwined. One reason for that is the sheer volume of our time spent at work. Another reason is our work has become a socially acceptable topic to discuss in mixed company. And so often the stories we tell about ourselves are based on experiences we have doing things at work or out in the community. So, what you do gets wrapped up in who you are and how you see yourself. When we talk about our ‘job’ our minds drift to thinking about those activities for which we are paid as well as increasingly those activities for which we have responsibility and accountability. So, my ‘job’ might be both a pastor and a father. My work is both inside the church and also what I do around the house. I might be paid for my work as a pastor, but I certainly (alongside my wife) am accountable and responsible for my children.

Yesterday at the Lenten services, I spoke about how our job is really to be the people of God. I want to be careful here not to come across as making this sound too pie in the sky. To be the people of God is not something extra or additional to add to your already overfull schedules. To be the people of God acknowledges the truth that our primary role in all times and in all places and in all relationships is to hold fast to who we are and whose we are. We are the beloved children of God. We belong to God through a life giving and life changing relationship that unfolds every single day of our life. To be the people of God takes us into our offices where numbers are crunched and into classrooms where children are taught and into meeting after meeting after meeting. To be the people of God is not just a role we slip into when we walk into the church doors, it is a role we live into every single day of our life.

Tomorrow I will comment on the “but how do we be the people of God?” question as it relates to our scripture lesson for Sunday. But for today, I want to stress that being the people of God is not something extra we do, but a fundamental faithful characteristic that we live out in our daily life. The truth is you can be the people of God in different settings and in every profession. What would it mean for you to be the people of God when you sit down to a meeting today? What would it feel like for you to be the people of God when you go to volunteer? What would it look like to be the people of God when you type an email?

I also want to stress that I am using the plural form of that phrase intentionally. To be the people of God is not an isolated, individualistic endeavor. Or to quote one of my favorite authors, Albert Winseman, “The phrase ‘individual Christian’ is an oxymoron.” Sure, you are an individual who has been claimed by God. Sure, right now you might be by yourself reading this devotional. But…there are others in our church reading this devotional. You are connected to a church who gathers every Sunday to worship God. You are connected to brothers and sisters in Christ who go by different denominational brand names, but still we all try to follow Jesus. You are connected to a world-wide family of people in different countries. To be the people of God celebrates those connections. And to be the people of God is what we are called to live out today, in the places you go and the people you bump up against.

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today realize this world wide web of connections to all Your people And help me live out my job to be the people of God whether I am crunching numbers or repairing cars or talking to children or wherever and whatever I do today. Amen.