Monday, December 31, 2012

Exit Ramps

So, I know Robert Frost's poem about 'taking the path less traveled' is pretty ubiquitous to the point of being overused, but I still like the poem and the sentiment.  And it actually describes where I am at right now.  I started in December fully intent on doing a running commentary on the gospel of Luke.  I am preaching on Luke in worship the first half of 2013 and I like that kind of consistency.
However, starting Sunday January 6th, I am also going to be running a morning bible study at church before worship on the prophet Isaiah.  This has produced a bit of a pull within me.  I love Luke's concern for the poor and that Jesus is so down to earth in Luke and had wanted to share that with you.  But the more I read Isaiah, I also wanted to share my thoughts on that somewhere, somehow with others
And so, I feel a bit like the person in Frost's poem - two roads.  One leads to Luke, the path I promised a month ago.  One leads to Isaiah, a change of plans from what I had promised.
The question is do I take the Isaiah exit ramp?
Here is the great thing about exit can always go back to your original road, sometimes the wiser for the other road.  We never know in Frost's poem...maybe the two roads meet back up?  I think the pull to comment on Isaiah here needs to be heeded.  And so, I am going to pause with Luke...fully intending to pick it back up after I comment on the 66 chapters of Isaiah.
This will allow for two things:
1).  To explore this new path to see what fruits it might yield and why I am being tugged to comment on it.
2).  For those who cannot participate in the Bible study on Sunday morning a chance to still be connected in some way.
Also, because it is a new year and 66 chapters would take me all year at a one chapter a week post, I am going to pick up the pace. Instead, I am going to blog on 5 chapters of Isaiah per week.  This will be a good discipline for me to start 2013.  I will blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and either Friday/Saturday - giving myself some wiggle room!  I invite you to make one of your resolutions this year to start the year with reading the daily post and following along.  I also invite you to join in the Bible study on Sunday morning.
I think you will find Isaiah a great book of the Bible - thought-provoking and challenging in just the right way.  Much like Frost's 'path less traveled.'  I pray you will join me in this adventure through Isaiah daily as we start the new year.

Blessings and happy new year!

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What does fear have to do with Christmas?

Mary's response to Gabriel's greeting in the above passage is to be "troubled" or "fear".  So often during Christmas, the word "fear" doesn't always sink in.  We get too wrapped up thinking this season is all about being silent and holy, and we don't think there is room in either of those two words for 'fear'...or at least we don't know how to make the those words fit together.  Or we think Christmas is about holly and jolly...again not words we associate with fear.

Yet, Mary is not the only one to fear.  Zechariah earlier in chapter one is unsure about what to make of Gabriel saying Zechariah and Elizabeth are going to have a son who will prepare the way for Jesus.  And of course the shepherds quake and are 'sore afraid'.  Not to mention what Joseph or Mary must have felt on the night when Jesus was born two thousand years ago.

My earliest fear as a child was of the dark, which is natural and normal...or at least that is what I tell myself.  In the dark we lose our perspective.  We cannot trust if we are seeing a pair of pants on a chair or some strange being.  We cannot trust if the house is settling or some creature is stirring that might be bigger than a mouse.  Even when adults tell children there is nothing under the bed, we also know all too well that there are plenty of things that go bump in the night.

It makes all the difference that God appears to us in the flesh, in Emmanuel (a name that means God is with us and God is for us) at night.  It is significant that there are three major evening services within most Protestant churches: Christmas Eve (where we find life in a dirty, drafty stable), Maundy Thursday (where we celebrate the last supper) and Good Friday (where we confront the nighttime and fear of death).  Then, we gather at sunrise on Easter morning completing the cycle once again of how God moves in world and lives.  In all places and seasons, in moments when we are drenched in the warmth of shine or shutter and feel the cold of fear shiver down our spine.

So what does fear have to do with Christmas?  Lots!  Because if God is willing to sit in the darkness with us, if God is willing to share a light in the night time of our soul, if God comes to us in those moments when we like the shepherds quake and tremble, then God truly is for us and with us.

May the traces of God's grace be with you this Christmas season.

God's blessings and peace!

Friday, December 14, 2012

After an introduction of inviting all the readers to be 'Theophilus" or a lover of God, Luke turns to two less than well known characters in scripture, Zechariah and Elizabeth, aka John the Baptizer's parents.  While many know John, and we will hear more from him in chapter 3, Luke is the only Gospel to record anything about John's lineage and that he did not just drop from the sky into the wilderness (Although it may feel that way when we hear more about John in Luke 3)

From this passage we know a few things: Zechariah is a priest, both he and Elizabeth are getting up there in age, and they have not had a child, specifically a son. In Jesus' time, this was a bit of a scandal.  To not have a child was considered by some a sign of God's displeasure with you.  There was tension here with Zechariah being a priest and yet not having a child.  So, Luke's set up already has some literary conflict intertwined. 

As the narrative deepens, we learn Zechariah is serving at the temple one day and he is chosen to go in and light the incense, which was a privilege.  It was sort of a once in a life time moment, in that most priests got to perform this tasks once.  While in the temple, the angel Gabriel appears.  Gabriel is an angel, and the word "angel" literally means, "a messenger of God." And the message Gabriel wants to share is Zechariah and Elizabeth are about to have that child.

Most of the time this is the place where it will be pointed out how much Zechariah and Elizabeth are like Abraham (also known as Abram) and Sarai (also known as Sarah) from Genesis 15 
While I think that is helpful, I also think it can distance us a bit from the emotional impact of this gospel or good news given to Zechariah.  Most of us know and have experiences of our personal life impacting our professional life.  Most us know and have experiences where the two are in tension or conflict.  And we sort of learn to live with it.  After all we might reason, whatta going do?  And so, to be honest, if an angel came to me with a message that I would never have to attend another evening meeting ever again, I have to be honest that I would be skeptical.  I might echo Zechariah and ask, "How can this be?"  Do you not know the church and its fondness for meetings at night?

I invite you ask yourself what kind of "good news" an angel might bring about your life that you would find hard to believe?  This could be in your job or in your family or in any place in your life.  Because that is what is happening here.  And even though Zechariah knew the narrative of Abram and Sarai, that was so B.C. 

Luke begins with not just one miraculous birth but two.  Luke begins not with Jesus, but with others who are important for our understanding of who God is and what God will be up to according to Luke in this world.  

One last thought about this passage is that the angel appears in the midst of a ritual.  The days leading up to Christmas are filled with ritual.  And the thing about rituals are they are steeped in tradition.  There is a certain way to make Grandma's cookies.  There is a certain place for the tree in the living room and a certain time to decorate.  And yet, rituals, in order to be meaningful, need to be occasionally asked the question, why?  Why am I doing this?  Does it still fill my heart with the same meaning?  If not, why not?  Perhaps in the midst of the hustle and bustle it is too hectic right now to ask this...but there will come a time...say about January 14, 2013, when you could pause and reflect back.  Such reflection is important with respect to ritual.  I suspect Zechariah and Elizabeth never walked past the temple and saw it the same way ever again.  That is the power of ritual and being open to the serendipitous stirring of God's presence for doing a new thing in our world, even today. 

May the traces of God's grace surround you as we get closer to the manger this year.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Luke 1

Luke begins his Gospel with the goal to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus. Of course, one person's order is another person's chaos.  What makes sense to one person is completely random to another person. Over the next few months, we are going to walk through the Gospel of Luke to see if we can sense an order to the way he tells the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

In the brief passage above, Luke has two very interesting comments.  First he acknowledges there are other accounts of Jesus' life.  There are three others in the New Testament: Mark, Matthew, and John.  Of course there are other gospels and accounts of the good news...but that is for another post.

Mark, scholars think, is the earliest is also the shortest.  Mark is often said to have been most interested in Jesus' death and resurrection (or what is called the "Passion").  And so the first part of Mark's Gospel moves like the bus in the movie, Speed - Mark constantly uses the word, "Immediately" when describing parts of Jesus' life.  Mark also always has Jesus telling the people who he heals to "Not tell anyone", because the truth about who Jesus is Mark wants to keep a secret until the resurrection.  

Matthew and Luke, scholars think, were written about the same time.  And most tend to think that Matthew and Luke were aware of Mark - which perhaps Luke is referring to Mark when he acknowledges the others who have written down accounts of what happened in Jesus' life.  Matthew's concern is that Jesus has a connection to Moses and seen as a "New and Improved Moses".  So, Joesph and Mary flee to Egypt after Jesus' birth a la Moses.  Jesus gives a sermon on a mount a la Moses and the 10 Commandments.  Jesus is very Jewish a la Moses as well.

John is the last Gospel...and to be honest needs more than a quick synopsis.  My favorite description of John is that he wants Jesus to float about two feet off the ground and Jesus always is two steps ahead of everyone else.  A gospel to turn to at another time.

Luke has his own understanding of what Jesus is up to and we will explore that in the coming posts.  And from the beginning Luke shows his hand of what he might be up to.  Luke dedicates his Gospel to "most excellent Theophilus". On the surface that does not seem all that interesting.  Yet, "Theophilus" is a name that literally means "God lover".  So, was Theophilus an actual person who perhaps paid for the writing of this gospel as writing was a very expense form of communication in the 1st Century?  Or is Theophilus a statement about you the reader, that you are a "God lover" and that this orderly account is going to help remind us of God's unconditional and unceasing love as well as our love for God?

Something to ponder this week and throughout these posts and we delve into Luke's orderly account.

May the traces of God's grace and love be with you as we prepare room in our hearts for "love's pure light" who is born away in a manger, Jesus our Christ.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Search for Meaning

The other morning as I was about to pour myself a bowl of Cheerios when the side of the box caught my eye.  It seems Cheerios has set up a Facebook page where you can share with the world what Cheerios means to you.  Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy a bowl of Cheerios as much as the next person.  But to be honest, what Cheerios really means to me is breakfast and sometimes lunch...and that is about it.  

Now, I know there has been a shift in advertising over the last several years.  Gone are the days of dancing cereal boxes on t.v.  Gone are the days when my laundry detergent would get my clothes 50% whiter and brighter...although I doubt anyone ever compared.  Gone are the days when we would get 50% more free...there is still a bottom line after all.  Today, commercials want us to buy something because it is meaningful to us or offers us a sense of identity.  I am not just buying Cheerios in the end...I can be part of the 850,820 people who "liked" Cheerios.  

Now, don't get me wrong...I do like Cheerios and will keep on eating them.  But it strikes me as interesting the way we toss around the word "meaning" today.  In the end we want to know the meaning of life, why we are here and specifically that our own individual life has meaning or purpose or is part of something other than just occupying space.  

But I have to confess that I don't think and I am not swayed that I can find that meaning through what I consume whether that be the car I drive, the clothes I wear or the cereal that goes in my breakfast bowl.  I think most of us know that we won't really find meaning in the snap, crackle and pop of our Rice Crispies, but we are not sure where to look.  And since the search for meaning has driven people on quests throughout the centuries, inspired countless books and epic poems, but who has the time for that today?  Or the patience?  If I just convince myself that Cheerios or Apple or Chrysler is providing something meaningful, then maybe the wrestling within my soul might ebb. 

I don't know how much longer this trend in advertising will last.  What I do know is that the church has lost its voice amid the cacophony of those clamoring to provide meaning.  To be sure, it is hard to keep on shouting.  And if even people listened, would we know what to say?  Would we know how to tell another person why a bowl of Cheerios is great...but there is something about praying, singing, talking, reading the Bible and being in a community of faith that opens us to a deeper sense of who we are and whose we are?  That there is incredible meaning amid the less than perfect institution called "the church"?  If as people of faith we cannot answer that...I understand why Cheerios will have more "likes" on their Facebook page when compared to the church.  

I pray in this season of Advent, as we sing our way to the manger, we will discover a sense of hope, joy, peace and love.  I pray in this season of Advent, as we sing our way to the manger, we will prepare room in our hearts...clear out the clutter of stuff...for the One who has eternity and true life dancing in his eyes.  And I pray in this season of Advent, you and I would have a sense of what offers us meaning through the traces of God's grace in our life.  

Blessings and peace!

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...