Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for February, 2013

There’s Got to be Another Way!

Luke 13:31-35

CopticCross CelticCross RomanCross

Let’s do something different. Bear with me here.
Go back in your memory to a specific date, time of day, place, and an event in which you saw the symbol of the cross.

  1. Stand in that place. What do you see? What do you hear?
  2. Be specific. Pay attention to what you are feeling.
  3. Don’t summarize or draw conclusions or try to explain.
  4. Be brief. The symbol of the cross is there in this moment of your life.
  5. What do you feel, see, hear, taste, smell-experience?
  6. Write it down and don’t worry about complete sentences.

I just asked you to create word pictures. Thanks, Jeff Barker! Word pictures are an effective way for us to visualize a story of our lives and how we react to symbols. We very rarely pause enough to reflect on such feelings in our stories—feelings we carry with us for a lifetime. Today I have chosen the symbol of the cross, because during these 40 days of Lent we are looking deeply at our identities and also how we identify God. The cross, of course, is probably the most recognizable Christian symbol today. Its meaning, however, varies from person to person, according to his/her experiences. Here’s my word picture.

Incredibly humid August evening in Indiana. I’m covered with oil, dirt, and fake blood and wearing white shorts–barefoot. The two other sixteen-year-olds look tired, but focused. I feel tired. I feel weird. I’m sweating; I’m thirsty; I’m nervous. Led through the grass field by seventeen-year-old Roman soldiers to the three platforms. They tie our hands to the wooden planks and make believe that they are nailing our feet. I am tired. The 100 or so teenagers watching have weird looks. Some are sad, some look anxious, others are confused, some are bored. A kid yawns. I want to yawn, but I can’t. I have to be still. Time. Moves. Slowly. Sweat. Thirst. Confusion. Embarrassment. Regret. I have an itch. On my nose. Can’t…scratch…it. Praise songs start with guitar and voices. I like it. Some relief. I want to sing, too. But I have to be still. The other youth leave. The teen soldiers tell us that the play is over. All three of us gasp for air. I’m washing off the dirt and oil, wondering why I didn’t cry like the girl in the front. I want something to drink. Or pizza. And I’m worried about having enough clothes leftover for the weekend.  

For many, the cross is a symbol that points to death—more specifically, a gruesome death for Jesus of Nazareth. The cross’ meaning, however,  has changed over time. The early followers of Christ avoided it—for obvious reasons. Crucifixion was a form of state torture for the Romans. It was not meant to kill someone quickly. Its purpose was to degrade and humiliate a person so much that he was de-humanized. Embracing such a symbol of a crucifixion was not something that would help the early followers of Jesus to remember well their teacher and prophet. They preferred instead to focus on Jesus’ teachings, life, and ministry.

Many scholars and historians believe that certain followers of Jesus in the 2nd Century may have been the first ones to use a hand gesture that mirrored a cross. This gesture was in fact to heal from disease, spiritual, or mental affliction. But the actual cross symbol–the crucifix [cross with Jesus personified on it], was not widely used until the 6th Century CE.[1] This of course follows the beginning of what we now call the Catholic tradition [out of Europe under Roman Emperor Constantine in the 300’s CE]. Of course, the crucifix and sign of the cross remain important aspects of Catholic faith practice today. For Protestants, however, [those who broke away from Catholic tradition] this is usually not the case. Notice the empty crosses [no Jesus] and rare examples of Protestants making the sign of the cross as a hand gesture.

As the symbols changed, so did the meaning of the cross. And this had major significance in people’s lives. The basic question, since all this talk of crosses began, and the question raised in Luke’s Gospel story is:

Why did Jesus die?

ChagallMarc Chagall, White Crucifixion, 1938

It sounds simple, but of course, the answers have not been simple. I do not have the time in one sermon to go over all of the attempts to answer this question. But I will give you a summary of [and hopefully a relevant reflection on] the most widely used perspective.

The penal substitutionary theory of atonement. Yeah, say that three times fast.
In other words: Jesus died for [and because of] our sins.

This theory of the atonement developed with the Reformed tradition. We have a man named Anselm of Canterbury to thank for it, as he developed this idea about 1100 CE. The gist is that Jesus Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalized) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can forgive the sins. In this view, Jesus died because God was angry at humans for being sinful. Someone had to suffer and die on the cross, and that someone was Jesus. This view of atonement is the most common [still] in U.S. churches, and apparently quite the norm in Indiana Christian camps with youth Passion plays. I would know. Oil, dirt, fake blood.

Of course, there are a lot of issues with this view. God is angry and vengeful enough to want to kill humanity? Isn’t this a humanity called good by God? But in God’s rage, God still finds it possible to send Jesus to take the blame and be killed, therefore satisfying God’s need to punish sin. So it’s hate mixed with love.

Of course, that has haunted many people. For if God is angry at us, this feeds a shamefulness or guilt that many people feel. Someone feels “bad” because Jesus died for her sin. I have seen this all too often: people stay in abusive relationships, isolate themselves, consider suicide—all because they are “bad” and deserve punishment. It is amazing how many times I have seen this.

There is another side as well. Penal substitutionary atonement can also justify, in some people’s minds, violence against others. Innocent children die in Afghanistan due to drones? People die in Palestine and Israel because of bombs? Shootings in Connecticut? It’s all justifiable, because it will save someone else. Taken too far, this substitution theory is awful.

Needless to say, many people reject this theory of atonement all together. Theologians, like Marcus Borg, understand Jesus’ death on the cross as an event of political motivations. Many wanted Jesus dead for his revolutionary ideas. Jerusalem indeed was a hotbed for revolt, political demonstration, and religious movement. It actually wasn’t until long after Jesus’ death that the cross actually became a symbol for forgiveness of sins. In Borg’s view, atonement theology does not go back to Jesus himself. Jesus did not see the purpose of his life [his vocation] as being only his death. In sharp contrast to the substitution view of atonement, it is God who initiates and fulfills reconciliation.

It is amazing grace, not wrath. God gets rid of any separation between humans and God with mercy.[2]

Why is this important? Well, see above–all the baggage people carry, the lack of healing, and of course, the violence.

Also, what we think about the cross and Jesus’ death is not very connected to the Gospel stories themselves. Jesus does not describe God as a vengeful, angry deity ready to blast sinful people with lightning bolts because everybody is bad. I honestly don’t see a Jesus who is so focused on individual morality and the afterlife. I see a Jesus who was passionate about serving humanity—especially those who were unloved or called “bad” by others or pushed down by oppressive systems, or left out in the cold. Jesus taught more about the kingdom of God being on earth—in other words, that God’s presence was here on the ground, where real people live and breathe and try to make sense of their purpose in life. Jesus saw the injustice, hate, and sadness of the world and didn’t try to hide it. And when he did describe himself in this Luke passage, he talked about animals.

Herod, the ruler who supposedly wanted to kill him [according to some Pharisees in Jerusalem], was a fox. Picture what a fox looks like and what kinds of animals a fox likes to eat. Jerusalem was full of little baby chicks. It’s marshmallow Peeps season so the metaphor works.  That fox [Herod] was leading them to trouble. Too many chicks were following him.

And Jesus was the mother hen.

Not a tyrannosaurus rex or a roaring lion, but…

a

mother

hen.

A mother hen who is completely devoted to protecting and caring for her little, defenseless chicks. A mother hen without the teeth and claws of the fox. A mother hen who will selflessly teach mercy and accept and love all those people who were told that they’re bad. A mother hen who is sad about the state of affairs in the world—so much hate, so much violence, so much abuse of power. And yet, a mother hen who is willing to keep on healing, teaching, and empowering people to see God in their lives.

So what do you see in the symbol of the cross?
Why did Jesus die?

It is God’s wish for people to be cared for and loved—not hated.
It is Jesus’ life and teachings that call us to care and love all who are left out, hated, pushed down, and led astray.
God’s insistence on being here with us in the mess and suffering of the world is immeasurable. It’s not anger; it is grace.

In a world that tells us, to quote Bruno Mars, that we’ve been locked out of heaven:

Jesus tells us: God’s kingdom is here. On earth. Living. Working. Moving through us.

So let us journey to the cross–the path of truth, and life, and mercy.

Grace awaits. Love under the wings of a loving God.

And as you journey there, notice the others along the way. There are people just like you. They are looking for purpose and forgiveness and acceptance just as they are. They too have sometimes been called or feel bad.

So how will they see grace, justice, and love in you? Amen.


[1] Stott, John (2006),The Cross of Christ (20th Anniversary ed.). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. p. 27.

[2] Dr. Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, 2003.

A Trusting Identity: We Are a People of Continuing Testament

Luke 4:1-13     

These 40 days of Lent is a time to reflect on identity. Who am I? Who is God? Who is my neighbor? Who are we? Whenever we look deeply at our own identity, if we are open, we can even surprise ourselves. We can find out something new that we didn’t recognize before. And always, always, identity formation is enhanced in community. The people around us help us to know ourselves better. I can certainly say that this has been true for me. Throughout my life, there have been people who have helped to shape and form my identity. Some were family; some were friends; some were teachers, mentors; and of course, the people we love deeply and commit our lives to [like life partners and spouses] help us see ourselves differently.

But there is trust involved. We won’t embrace someone’s viewpoint of ourselves if we don’t trust that person. If someone challenges us or encourages us to try something new or to change in a certain way, we do so because we trust that person’s knowledge of us. And we also trust that he/she has our best interests in mind and that this person loves us enough to tell it like it is—to be honest.

One of my struggles in all the churches I have been part of is the lack of trust I have often observed. There are a lot of people in the pews or on the church rolls who read the Bible, pray, serve on committees or boards, even preach and teach Sunday school. But they rarely [if ever] move past the superficial conversations to reveal doubts about God; or say that they aren’t sure about the Bible; or that sometimes there are not answers to life’s greatest questions. Likewise, there seems to be a lack of trust related to our tendency to check our brains outside the sanctuary’s doors. It’s weird, but once many church people are inside the sanctuary, they don’t think or ask questions.

As people of faith who then form communities of faith, our identities are formed by how we see the scriptures [the Bible], and our theology [how we think about God]. There is an identity phrase used by the United Church of Christ: God is Still Speaking. This phrase has sort of become the denomination’s unofficial slogan. There is a story behind it, as there always is. Some of you may remember the comedian George Burns. His wife was also a performer, Gracie Allen.

GracieAllenThey had their own show together. The story goes that after Gracie died, George found among her papers a letter left for him. The letter included the phrase Never place a period where God has placed a comma.[1] A few years ago, when the UCC was in the midst of developing an identity campaign, a man called Ron Buford was charged with leading the creative efforts. So he gathered ideas from people in local congregations around the UCC.

Ron was first inspired by a quote from one of the founders of the Congregationalist Church, John Robinson: O God, grant yet more light and truth to break forth from your word. The idea that there was more light to break forth and no period where God has placed a comma became God is still speaking.

CommaIt was not and is not a new idea, actually. Revelation continues; testament [literally, witness] continues. The Bible, though full of different religious traditions and a mash-up of different time periods and writers, we say is inspired by God. There is not a period. This means that one interpretation of a Bible passage or one theology is not the final one or the best one. God is still speaking means that what Reformed theologians like John Calvin or Martin Luther wrote or said or what Councils in Nicaea or Rome decided is not by any means the final word. God is still speaking recognizes that their perspectives were limited to their culture and time period and agendas. What about other voices and interpretations? This is what continuing testament is all about—trusting that there still light [new perspectives] to break forth.

For some, this is difficult to accept, and why people [within the Christian community] say that UCC stands for Utterly Confused Christians or Unitarians Considering Christ. The openness of the idea, however, of God is still speaking does not mean that we’re all relativists [and neither are Unitarians, actually]. In other words, we are not just interpreting the scriptures in a way that is convenient or consistent with our cultural practices, political beliefs, or just simply put—we are not seeking to interpret the Bible to mirror what we like and already think.

God is still speaking is about opening up the mind and heart to different and even difficult interpretations—perspectives that challenge our comfort zones and move us to humility and love-action. And yes, if we’re really open and ready to listen, we will find that some of our doctrines and dogmas were and are oppressive, racist, close-minded, and downright awful. Throughout history, people [and the church] have interpreted scripture in order to do something bad to other people. It still happens quite often today, I am sad to say.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to be an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ–precisely because I do believe that there is a LOT of wisdom, light, and meaning yet to be discovered. It’s really never-ending. I have no trust in a Biblical interpretation that cuts down other people. You’re Muslim—well, too bad! The Bible says you are going to hell unless you believe in Jesus; tough luck. Oh, you’re gay? That’s too bad, because even though Jesus loves everybody else, he doesn’t love you! You pray that way? Eat that food? Speak that language? Believe that about God? Good luck, because my Bible says: See ya!

 And yet, if God is God, how in the world could we possibly limit this God by slapping a period down at the end and saying: That’s it! There’s only one way to look at it! The Bible as a whole contradicts this. Have you ever compared the four Gospels? Their views of Jesus–what he did and who he was–are sometimes very far apart, and rightly so. Each part of the Bible has its own unique voice. Continuing testament, God is still speaking—the idea is nothing new. The Bible itself is made up of different viewpoints, theologies, and religious practices. Continuing testament is about being attentive to God’s creative movement in the world.

God’s not stuck in a book; or in an era; or even in a religion. God is love and that love is free.

It is with that effort to hear a Still-Speaking God in the Bible stories that we turn to Jesus’ retreat story. Notice I didn’t say Jesus’ temptation. I’m borrowing from Dr. Bruce Epperly, professor at Claremont University. Bruce equates Jesus’ so-called temptation in the wilderness with a spiritual retreat.[2] He argues that our take on the story is quite full of devil-baggage and thus, we miss the Gospel writer’s point. Jesus is on spiritual retreat—trying to find his identity after being baptized by John. Jesus goes to pray and think and journey. And in that process he comes face to face with himself.

devilIt is true that our view of this story is often clouded by our view of the age-old character, the devil. Yes, that evil dude with the goatee, horns, red suit, and trident/pitchfork. Honestly, there is probably no better example of a mishmash of history and legend than the character of Satan. Of course, less than 1% of how the devil is portrayed in popular culture actually includes what the Bible says! In fact, there is no devil in the Hebrew Scriptures [what Christians call the OT]. Evil yes; devil no. Even in the NT of the Bible, the personification of the devil is hotly debated. Yes, there are demons [evil, angry spirits], but always in people or in some cases, in animals. The devil as a personified character is never described physically. There are evil voices and people who do evil things—that’s it.

You see, over the centuries various cultures have defined evil in different ways. The U.S. concept of Satan or the devil is a combo of various Anglo-Saxon and other European traditions—mixing in a bit of Greek mythology.

FaustThe German tradition of Faust is often mistakenly combined with Jesus’ wilderness story. Of course, Faust, in the story, is a highly successful scholar who is dissatisfied with life in general and so he makes a deal with the devil to acquire unlimited knowledge. Many see Jesus’ wilderness experience as this personified devil trying to seduce him to make a deal. And this kind of thinking leads us to the idea that the devil appears in our heads or on our shoulders, trying to persuade us to do bad things. Finally, we come up with the famous but ridiculous phrase: the devil made me do it.

 

HomerEventually, we start to feel a bit like Homer Simpson who carried the burden of Good Homer and Evil Homer. Again, though, is this really what Jesus’ wilderness experience is about? Is there one guy who is pure evil and makes us do evil things? Do we make that guy responsible for the things we do? Honestly, I think this is harmful and certainly not truthful. All of us are responsible for what we do and say. Sure, we are all capable of evil. No doubt about that. It doesn’t take long to see that we are all capable of hurting, killing, destroying, stealing, lying, and hating.

But I argue that it is less about a pitch fork-wielding devil and more about a lack of trust. In Jesus’ wilderness retreat, he is “tempted” three times, but each time it is about trust. If Jesus did not trust that he would have enough to eat, then by all means, he would have turned the stone to bread. If Jesus did not trust that he had what he needed, he would feel the need to take power for himself; and if Jesus thought that God really didn’t care, he would throw himself down to test that theory. It is all about trust.

That’s the message I hear. In our identity as people of faith, it is about trust. We are in a relationship with a trustworthy God who loves us unconditionally as we are, creates all of us equally human; and leaves us with an incredible natural creation to care for and love. And God entrusts us with relationships, which are supposed to be built on trust.

Temptation, then, is really planting the seeds of mistrust in relationships.

We are tempted to lie if we don’t trust that a person will accept our truth.

We are tempted to be passive-aggressive and not talk with someone face to face, because we do not trust them to listen.

We are tempted to hurt another if we think that person will hurt us.

We are tempted to steal if we don’t trust that we will have what we need.

We are tempted to hate if we don’t trust that differences are okay.

We are tempted to be apathetic and individualistic because we don’t trust that our actions make a difference.

It is about trust.

And so, let us form an identity of trust.

First, trust that God loves and doesn’t hate. God creates and doesn’t destroy. God is engaged in merciful action and not legalistic judging.

And then, trust yourself enough to love someone as she is. Trust yourself enough to accept differences and even embrace them. Trust enough to stand up for someone when no one else will. Trust enough to be honest, and generous, and forgiving, and passionate about helping.

Trust.

There is more light to break forth.

God IS still speaking through your actions of justice, love, and mercy.

The testament continues…in you. Amen.


[1] Two Minutes for God : Quick Fixes for the Spirit (2007) by Peter B. Panagore

The Start of Lent

Isaiah 58:3–12     

Fast Actions

carbonFast

In 2011 and 2012, more than 10,000 people participated in the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, sponsored by the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. Each day, participants [including me] received an email with one concrete suggestion for the day, an action that would lessen their carbon footprint. Leadership of this effort interviewed a number of individuals who had participated in the Carbon Fast to explore the impact of this fasting experience on people’s environmental awareness, spiritual practice, and stewardship. These interviews were part of a study about climate change from a psychological and spiritual perspective, trying to gain insight on how people could be inspired to make concrete changes in their lives that would affect the environment and the world.

What they found was that simple actions mattered. Small actions make people more aware. People who participated in the Carbon Fast were more aware of how their day-to-day actions actually made a difference—either positively or negatively. This awareness led to action; the action then led to a greater, longer-term commitment.

Taking action, then, can result in a transformation of the people who take them. People who act start to see themselves as agents rather than passive observers. This shift in self-perception is extremely important. After all, most of us feel like there so many problems in the world, and in this case, so much work to be done about the environment—that we start to feel despair and apathy about it. And we do nothing. But that is a vicious cycle. The hopeful reality is that even a small change can lead to a greater commitment and an improved overall awareness.

Some of the participants who were interviewed said: [The Carbon Fast] was a whole lot more meaningful than giving up something, like chocolate; another participant said: Lent is a time to be reminded of sacrifice and the unification that can come through that process. Changing from being in my car to riding my bike brought me the joy of moving my body, of seeing my neighbors, of having contact with the world around me.

All too often, Lent is merely a religious holiday of sorts—a time when we participate in rituals and traditions, but not much change happens. But religion that is not practiced is worthless.

Lent is about being aware of yourself and the world around you; that awareness leads you to actions, to small changes; those actions then lead you to a greater, longer-term commitment.

Yes, the world is an overwhelming place. Yes, the issues are huge and you are one person. But you have to start somewhere or you won’t start at all. The God of Isaiah chooses a fast that tears down walls of prejudice; a fast that shares with others; a fast that feeds the hungry; a fast that invites the stranger into our lives; a fast that is action performed in daily life. So consider what small changes you can make in your life; choose one or two positive changes that affect your neighbors and your lifestyle; be more aware of the world around you and of yourself; make the change. Commit to it. And see what happens.

Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

Praying with the Body

In this passage, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, we find three things that connect to each other: giving, praying, and fasting.

Giving [what we sometimes call charity] should be done without any notoriety. In other words, if  you write that check or make the online donation to a just and worthy cause, don’t put your name on it. Hmmmm. I think that for sure there are times when our left hands have NO idea what our right hands are doing, but not usually in this case. In the Western world, if we give money, we have to know about it [and we make sure to get a receipt or a tax credit] and most of the time, we want others to know about it. Most churches have plaques with people’s names on them. So-and-so donated this pew; or this hymnal; or gave money to fix this roof. Even this doorknob is dedicated to Mr. Smith!

Now in all fairness to the people who gave those things, often they were never asked if they wanted a plaque to be noticed, but the church leadership keeps coming up with these things. Why? Why do we do this? Because we are disconnected from giving as a concept.

When we give, that’s supposed to be it. We don’t get. We give. There is no reward or even a thank you note that we should expect.

Prayer is the same, says Jesus. We don’t pray to get, we pray to give ourselves to relationship. That’s why we shouldn’t stand up in front and eloquently show people how much we think we know about God. We shouldn’t point to how many times we attended worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, or ministry conferences. In fact, says Jesus, don’t say much at all when you pray. Keep it simple. For if God is really God, don’t you think God is pretty much aware of what’s up inside our minds and hearts? Notice the “style” of prayer promoted here.

God, you are good. Start with this.

 May your good work happen here on earth—not just up in the clouds. And I will do it.

 Just give us what we need and that’s it.

 Forgive us, because wow—we have trouble forgiving others. Especially that dude who…!$#?!*

Don’t give us too much to handle and keep us from doing evil things. Yeah.

Back to that forgiveness thing, God, cuz man! It’s hard.

 So [*sigh*]

We accept that if we don’t forgive someone, we ourselves won’t be forgiven.

 And…may it be so.

Amen.

From prayer to fasting Jesus goes. Don’t be sad when you fast, he says, like hypocrites who want others to say:

“Hey look at her; look at him! They must be fasting! Good for them…”

 Instead, oil and water–symbols of cleansing and anointing–are to be used. But not in public; in private. Fasting is also about giving, but giving oneself to an awareness of the physical. Try this simple thing. Cut out meat for a couple of days if you are a meat eater. If not, cut out some food that you eat almost daily. This physical decision to change what you put into your body will make you aware.

All these three: giving, praying, and fasting—are intertwined. They are about humility and awareness.

We give because there is a need and we joyfully give, otherwise we shouldn’t at all.

We pray because it makes us aware and connects us to God, but less is more.

We fast because fasting connects our mental and spiritual selves to our physical selves, making us more aware of our bodies and how they connect to our minds and our hearts.

Fully Awake

Luke 9:28-43

PhillySo the other day I was walking down the street in University City in Philadelphia, on my way to a meeting. It was cold [of course] and so people were hurrying to class, work, or wherever they needed to go without hesitating one bit. Who could blame them? It was cold. I admit that I also hurried down the street just like everybody else—though I did have about 10-15 minutes to spare before my meeting started. Perhaps it was for that reason or because of some strange coincidence that my eyes made contact with someone else’s eyes. She was standing there, in the cold, not running to the next thing. She just stood there. As the people hurried by, she stood there. Our eyes met and before I knew it, my feet had stopped walking. And now I stood there. Whoosh. A group of students buzzed past. A delivery truck’s engine hummed as they loaded merchandise. Whoosh. A businesswoman walked in between me and the strange, standing still, eye-contact-making woman.

Can you buy me a sandwich, please? Sir? Can you buy me a sandwich?

That is all she said. My first reaction was related more to logistics than to any kind of ethical or moral decision:

Uh…Where?

Here.

She pointed to the door of a food court-type establishment full of UPenn and Drexel students and I followed her inside. It was much warmer, of course, and she asked me if it would be okay for her to buy a sandwich at a particular place, to which I nodded my head and said:

Sure.

Thank you, sir.

She ordered the sandwich, I paid [as the lady behind the counter looked at me with a strange expression] and then she shook my hand and said:

My name’s Tanya.

I’m Josh.

Thank you, Josh.

And then Tanya shook my hand for a second time [firmly], and then she was gone—sandwich and all. Out into the cold, out onto the street where the people whizzed by and the cars honked and where my meeting was now a couple of minutes away. I too walked back out into the cold and joined the hurried mess. I made my meeting; then I worked on the worship service for Sunday; I answered a bunch of emails; I made some phone calls; I continued on with my day; but I kept thinking about Tanya.

eyeNow I make no great claim of being a humanitarian. I just bought her a sandwich, after all. I didn’t change the world, I didn’t get Tanya a job, I didn’t fix the poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia and beyond; I did nothing extraordinary. I make no value judgment about what I did, because, honestly, at its core, all I did was make eye contact with someone. And the eye contact led to me buying a sandwich.

I will say, however, that we live in a world full of people. We come in contact with people every day—or, at least we should. We share sidewalks, streets, rooms, offices, schools, churches, air, ground, and the planet with other people. And I think the more we realize that every day we come into contact with another human being and have the chance to treat him/her as a human being—the more we are awake to opportunity and possibility. At our most honest moments, we recognize that the world is a difficult, sometimes-awful place. It can feel overwhelming; it can seem hopeless and therefore not worthwhile to help or to try to make a positive impact. But I wonder–if we considered that every day we come into contact with other people; if we made eye contact with them; if we treated them like human beings and not objects or clients or consumers or agendas or ethnicities or nationalities or orientations or categories—I wonder if we just might awaken to new purposes and perspectives.

butterflyTransfiguration. It means metamorphosis; a change; an enlightening; an awakening. Transfiguration is a word we use to describe this crazy story in the Gospels of the Bible. Today is even called Transfiguration Sunday. Why? Because Wednesday, February 13th is the start of the season of Lent, a 40 day period.  Most consider Lent to be the oldest Christian observance—starting out as a time for the early followers of Jesus to pray, fast, and undergo self-examination. Over time, traditions change of course, but the purpose remained the same. The reason Lent became a 40 day observance was to remember Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness for, you guessed it—prayer, fasting, and self-examination. And as I’ve mentioned before, the number 40 is incredibly symbolic. Moses was 40 days on Mt. Sinai with God; Elijah spent 40 days walking to Mt. Horeb; 40 days and nights Noah and company dealt with the flood; 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert before making it to the holy land; and Jonah, premium whale food, gave the Ninevites 40 days to shape up and honor God.

So the transfiguration story is steeped in symbolism, and not a literal tale. There are three versions of the story—in Mark, Matthew, and here in Luke. In the version we read today, Jesus just finished teaching his followers about what it would mean to be disciples. What should they expect? After this, they went up to a mountain for prayer. Right away, the symbol of a mountain should tell us that the story has shifted from down-to-earth action to metaphorical, visionary stuff. Up on the mountain, in Biblical stories, people hear and see things differently. Perspectives change. So Peter, John, James, and Jesus go up the mountain. And Jesus prays. Prayer is something that Luke’s Gospel focuses on. And in this case, it is during the act of prayer that Jesus’ face [and his clothes] brighten up. This is visual—seen. Also seen are two beloved faith heroes of old—Moses and Elijah. These two speak to Jesus about his apparent departure, but really the word better translated is exodus.

Aha! So Luke is directly connecting the exodus story of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt to Jerusalem with Jesus’ ministry. Moses led the Israelites from slavery to freedom. So Jesus would lead people from bondage to freedom. But Jesus and Moses had yet another thing in common. Moses, when he met up with God on the mountain and received commands from God—came down with a bright, radiant face. Luke doesn’t want us to miss this Jesus-Moses connection. Luke wants you and me as readers to see.

But it’s hard to see, don’t you think, if your eyes are closed? Peter and company were weighed down with sleep and we don’t know why. But really, doesn’t this scene look a lot like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? I mean, he was praying there, too, and the disciples were asleep then, too. But our storyteller Luke reminds us that up on the mountain, even with the sleepies still in their eyes, Peter and co. become fully awake. They see Jesus for who he is and Moses and Elijah. Even so, Peter is as clumsy as ever. He interrupts the transcendent, spiritual moment with:

Hey Jesus—it’s good to be here. Let’s make three tents. You can have one, and we’ll give one to Moses and Elijah, too!

Says the narrator: Peter didn’t even know what he said.

PeterSometimes I think Peter is singled out in the Gospels to represent our inability to listen or simply to call attention to our general lack of awareness.
Okay, but Peter is probably not this bad.

But even Peter’s words can’t hold back the vision of clouds and voice from up above, telling them to listen to Jesus. It is pretty clear that the whole story is meant for the disciples [and for you and I] to stop trying to figure everything out and to just listen. Just see.

The veil is lifted up and Peter, James, and John see things as they are—no facades or masks, no false pretense, no filter. This vision is raw. It’s terrifying. It’s the real world.

They come down from the mountain. Right away, the world finds them. A great crowd forms. A man shouts out:

Help my son! He’s sick—he has random seizures. It’s horrific! Your disciples, when I told them about him, couldn’t do anything. Help!

No more visions. No more floating clouds and god-like voices. No more tents for faith heroes. No more sleeping. Real life. Raw life. A sick kid. A desperate dad. A needy crowd.

And an unhappy Jesus, right? Jesus, fresh off the mountaintop experience, is ticked off! He almost cannot bear to be with humanity anymore. The world is so messed up, there is so much injustice and so many people sleepwalking through it all—he’s had it! A calm, passive Jesus petting a baby lamb? No way. He’s Jesus–the one God is actually pleased with, because he tells it like it is, sees things as they are. Yes, Jesus ends up healing the kid, but he does so almost reluctantly, because he knows that one healing won’t change the world. One healing won’t bring justice to all those oppressed by an imperialistic society. One healing is one healing. There is much more work to be done and the road ahead is difficult. And it may get ugly.

Wait—it WILL get ugly.

And we are supposed to see without a veil over our faces. We are supposed to make eye contact with the world as it is. And we are supposed to wake up—fully awaken, to be able to act. But it’s hard—isn’t it—to not lose hope or to get overwhelmed and then apathetic? It’s hard to balance the mystical, spiritual, heartwarming experiences we want to have with the raw, tangible, ugly, and difficult experiences of real life. But that’s the point. The mountain and the street corner are one and the same. The great visions co-exist with the unjust, sad, and sick lives of real people. The spiritual, God-experiences live in the same space with unanswered prayers. The voices in the clouds co-exist with the desperate cries in the street. We have no time to build tents or shrines to commemorate religious things. We have today. And if our eyes are open, we can see the spiritual co-existing with humanity.

We can see that God doesn’t stay far off in the clouds, but lives with us in our pain, our uncertainty, our fears, and our inadequacies. We can see that there is more to the world than just what our physical eyes spot or what our TVs tell us.

There is more to the world. There is more to people than the categories we give them. We are more than categories. We are loved, and gifted, and full of purpose. And so are the others around us. We just need to see. We just need to wake up. Every day is an opportunity to see someone and accept her for who she is—embracing her whole self, her full humanity. Every day is a chance to open your eyes to notice that you can do good in the world if you fully awaken.

40 days are just another 40 days if you want them to be. But Lent could be a mountaintop experience on the city street, if you are open to it. This is an opportunity to see. May our eyes be fully open and our hearts prepared to make eye contact; to listen; to embrace someone’s full humanity; to heal; to forgive; to share; to love. Amen.

 

The Connecting-Disrupting Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

NICA1One of the countries I visited in January with my life partner Maria is an often misunderstood place. Nicaragua is the largest Central American country on the isthmus. It sits right above Costa Rica and below Honduras. Nicaragua is beautiful–full of volcanoes, unique architecture, incredible beaches, and an eye-opening diversity of wildlife and plants. NICA2

It is also home to two incredible bodies of water: Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua—both of which are important landmarks and natural wonders.

Lake Nicaragua is the 9th largest lake in the Americas and is home to unexpected creatures, like bull sharks.
NICA3

Apparently, these humongous sharks swam and jumped their way over the rapids of the San Juan River that connects to the Caribbean Sea and found Lake Nicaragua’s fresh water very inviting. I was pleased to hear our guide tell us, as we sat in our tiny little boat, that the bull sharks were towards the other side of the lake.

NICA4What’s really interesting about the other famous lake—Managua—is that mysterious human footprints were discovered there in 1874. They are called the ancient footprints of Acahualinca. Fifteen people made these prints, and they are over 2100 years old.

It is true that Nicaragua’s history, like most places, is complicated. The indigenous dwellers of that land, descendants of the Mayans, were overwhelmed by the diseases and weapons that the Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, French, and English brought during the conquests. Known for being farmers, the Nicaraguan’s way of life was completely disrupted by industrialization and over-development and the snatching up of their once-fertile farmland by foreign investors. Currently, Nicaragua is the poorest Central American country and 2nd only to Haiti in the Western Hemisphere. There are many reasons for this—one being the conquest I just mentioned; another one being a terrible earthquake that wiped out more than 90% of Managua, the capital city, in the 1970’s; and another reason being that the United States has invaded Nicaragua on various occasions and even instituted a trade embargo against Nicaragua during the tenure of President Ronald Reagan. Some of you may remember the Iran-Contra affair and perhaps you watched the famous Ollie North trial on TV; or some of you who are younger read about these events. Unfortunately, for Nicaragua, because of periodic foreign invasions and then subsequent revolutions and political turmoil—it seems that Nicaraguans [or Nicas] just cannot catch a break.

But as we walked the city streets of Granada and Leon;
LeonNICA

Gazed at the architecture;
GranadaChurchNICA5

Ate the amazing food, like this Nicatamal;

NicaTamal

Spotted fisher men and women catching their food for the day as they have done for centuries;
NicaFisherPeopleSomething happened. Nicaragua was no longer just a place, or a news story, or a chapter in a history book, or a media clip. The people of Nicaragua are beautiful. They tell stories about their culture, land, and traditions with pride a nd joy. In spite of the many challenges they face, Nicas are overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable. Countless people helped us out along our way—when we were lost they put us on the right path or even made sure we got there; if we didn’t know how a certain bus route worked, they would explain and sit with us and even ensure that we didn’t pay too much money; they told us where to eat and what to eat; they told us about their families and the towns and cities where they grew up in; they liked to laugh, and sing old-school Country Western songs; they are a community. And we were invited to be part of that community.

Of course, none of that would have happened if we wouldn’t have gotten to know people face to face. If we wouldn’t have eaten the local food, wandered through towns and cities on foot, asked questions and expressed curiosity—we wouldn’t really have felt part of their community.

That’s the thing about being part of something—it takes vulnerability, commitment, and time. But I would argue that it’s worth it, for if you are a part of an authentic community that cares, people have a sense of mutual responsibility. What I do affects you and vice versa. People who embrace and live in authentic community understand that there is something more than just our individual wants and needs–something greater. In my life, I know when I have felt most alive. It was when I was part of a real, caring community. It was transformative and powerful.   

Paul, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, understood this. Paul is the one who wrote this letter to the church in Corinth [Greece]. In spite of how it is often interpreted, this poetic portion of I Corinthians 13 is not about love. At least not the way we think. We often read this “love” passage at weddings; I Corinthians is associated with romance, affection, or even with the marriage act itself.

But this letter has nothing to do with romance.

You see, Paul actually wasn’t happy at all with this church in Corinth. People were too proud. They thought they had theology and God all figured out. They put down others who didn’t believe or think or act like them. They were full of themselves and therefore had no room left for love. Paul’s focus was indeed on community—not just in this letter, but throughout his life and writings. This is the same guy who described the faith community [or church] as being like the human body. Each part, big or small, was of equal importance. And each body part needed the other in order to function and thrive. Everyone in the community, taught Paul, was equal. He reiterated this in his letter to the Galatians, when he said: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.[1]

But being “one” had nothing to do with sameness. The people in the various house churches of the 1st and 2nd century Mediterranean world were incredibly diverse. They were Jews and non-Jews; Greeks and Romans and Israelites and Egyptians and Assyrians and Samaritans; they were people who believed in many gods and others who believed in one; they were women and men who ate different foods, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, said different prayers, and had different ideas. So being community for these people was not about being homogenous. Hmmmm….

 Radical community was what Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived in his time on earth. This Jesus met people face to face and accepted them for who they were. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same, to bring this message of God’s kingdom community to their neighbors near and far. It became the recognizable mark of the Jesus Way. And society noticed, because this kind of accepting community was not the norm. Befriend people who are poor, widowed, childless, unclean, or of low status? Honor and respect all people, including those whom society kicks around? Reach across boundaries of social level and religion? This kind of new community broke all the rules and angered religious leaders of the temple and the military and political leaders of the Roman Empire. Such a community would upset the order and status they wanted to protect.

But Paul was transformed by this idea, for he himself used to be one of those oppressors, remember. He was changed by a forgiveness he had never experienced before. And the followers of Jesus welcomed him into their community, in spite of all the evil he had done. So Paul was convinced of the power of such a community to make a difference–not just in the lives of individuals–but in the world. I Corinthians is not about romantic love, but about a radical, communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.[2] Paul wasn’t naïve. This wasn’t flowery poetry without reality. Love wasn’t and isn’t abstract in this case. For Paul, love was the binding factor in a diverse world. If love was at the center of their life and identity, then they actually had a chance to be an authentic community in spite of their differences.

I wonder. What if churches and other religious institutions today based their existence, not on what they believed [dogma, doctrine] or what traditions they upheld, or their sameness [ethnicity, culture, or language], but instead on these principles of community? Imagine, that in order to be a church:

We cannot make sounds [talk or yell or blog or shout] unless we do it in love;

We cannot claim to know the future;

We cannot be faithful and loyal and then go home;

We cannot rest on our intelligence;

We cannot just be charitable and give a lot of money.

We have to be patient;

We cannot envy other people;

We have to be thankful for who we are;

We cannot puff out our chest and say, “Look at me! I’m awesome!”

We cannot look down on others, thinking that our country, culture, language, or religion are better than others;

We cannot insist that we are right and should get our way;

We cannot resent people and hold grudges;

We never celebrate when someone gets hurt—even an enemy;

We don’t push away the truth, even when it ruins our reputation;

We do more than tolerate, but embrace everyone’s differences;

We believe in love and grace when no one else does;

We hope for justice and good when the world is hopeless and bad;

We love consistently through problems, pains, and bad luck;

We daily decide to love with our actions, even if we’re having a bad day;

To be an authentic community, we recognize that at the end of the day, we are left only with our humanity [our true selves]; and somehow, faith, hope, and love are still around, too.

But faith is elusive and so full of baggage that we’re not sure what we really believe. Everybody seems to have a different “absolute” truth, so what’s the deal? Is there really a “right” belief or a “stronger” faith? Faith is elusive.

Hope is, too, because we have often hoped for things and then been slapped in the face; we have hoped for something good and gotten something bad; we’ve even had false hope in something that wasn’t worth it and we got burned and embarrassed; and we have also seen that hope isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if you’re oppressed, without food or shelter, marginalized, or forgotten. Hope doesn’t save anyone from those things.

So we are left only with love. But love—is greater than romance and emotion. Love is an excellent WAY. It’s a style of life; it’s a choice to exist to love; love is walking, working, studying, relating, moving, sharing the planet. Love is. Love is a WAY.

 But you can’t love people if you’re afraid of them—if you don’t interact with them face to face. Remember, it is written that there is no fear in love, because love drives out fear…

So the “other,” the stranger, is someone we must know and love. Only then will people who are different than us stop seeming like a threat . For in authentic community, we embrace fully all people of all colors of skin; people who speak any language; people with different cultural heritage; all children, youth, and men and women of all sexual orientations; people without money and people left out. In community we choose to love instead of fear, because we know that fearing people leads to hating them and that leads to a broken community.

Friends, we have the choice in life to choose another way.

The community of faith or what we call the church–is supposed to be on the cutting edge of love.

There is a reason for that. God knows us intimately. God knows us face to face. God loves us for who we are. We have communion [relationship] with God. And so, if we are known by God—then we are made to know each other. If we are loved by God as we are—then we are made to love others as they are.

So I encourage you to know other people—really know them face to face. Love them as they are and embrace their differences.

And then be known yourself.

And find love.

And be loved.

And then find community. Amen.


[1] Galatians 3:28, NRSV

[2] Karoline Lewis, Ass. Professor of Preaching, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, Luther Seminary.

An Inaugural Address

Luke 4:14-21

panamaJust a few weeks ago, Maria and I found ourselves in the crazy, huge city of Panama City, of course, the capitol city of Panama, the southernmost country in Central America. Panama is situated on the isthmus that connects North and South America; it is bordered by Costa Rica [remember the Ticos and Pura Vida!] to the west, and Colombia to the southeast. You can head to Caribbean beaches on the north and Pacific beaches to the south. As for the city, last year people estimated Panama City’s population to be about 3.5 million. It’s probably more. The city doesn’t really stop and it is full of contrasts. Casco Viejo is the old city of Panama—colonial and very distinct from the rest of the sky scraper-filled, concrete jungle you see in this picture. In fact, Panama City doesn’t look anything like the rest of the Republic of Panama. The majority of the country is full of rainforests, rivers, beach towns, incredible diversity of wildlife, flor, and fauna, and pockets of native, Amerindian communities throughout the land.

canal2Of course, in the U.S., many people know about Panama only for the Panama Canal. It certainly is an impressive sight. We were able, during our visit, to see a huge oceanliner passing through—we saw the canal at work, as the mechanized system of lowering and raising water levels smoothly transitioned the boat to the other side. The canal itself, actually, is the reason why Panama City is the way it is. The skyscrapers and foreign corporations are there for that reason. The Panama Canal, after all, connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. A ship enters from the Pacific, crosses the Canal just outside of Panama City, and then cruises down the Miraflores waters to Gatun Lake. Or, vice versa. This changed everything for maritime trade.

panama-canal0And it changed everything for Panama. The culture, the food, the way of life—everything changed. Whether it was for good or for bad–that is up to the Panamanians to decide. Certainly, since the canal was built [and it’s still being expanded as we speak] business has been streaming through Panama without ceasing. More and more people come to the city looking for work or are transferred there because international companies continue to put up more skyscrapers.

As you can imagine, traffic in the city is pretty intense. Like any city, Panama has taxis, cars, buses, and will soon have an under and above ground metro train. But that’s not what you should know. What’s great about Panama is el Diablo Rojo.

DiabloRojo

It is not your typical public transit bus. The Red Devil is a unique, personalized cultural expression of Panama, all wrapped up in a school bus. Each driver’s bus is different. Some are painted with slogans, cartoons, political figures, singers, religious icons, artists, or celebrities.

And don’t think that Panamanians weren’t thinking about the upcoming election in the United States.

ObamaDiabloRojo

But you should really see the bus at night.

DiabloRojoNoche

insideDiabloRojoOn the inside of the bus, there is really no other way to say it: it’s pimped out. As you can see, the driver decorates the interior as he pleases. And the music…is…blasting. It IS an experience, to say the least, for not only do you hear the music blasting, see the colorful paintings and murals, but you also experience the driver’s NASCAR tendencies. I really don’t know how they do it. It’s amazing. The guy was driving the school bus as if it were a jaguar. He weaved in and out of traffic with ease, skidded around corners like they weren’t there, and encouraged all of us to never look out the window. Oh, and did I mention that el Diablo Rojo is packed full of people? Maria and I tried the first time to get on the bus, but were thwarted by the fact that there were people literally hanging out of the bus doors as it sped off. Yeah. You just have to believe me. In fact, our lovely host at the small hotel where we were staying, when she heard that we rode el Diablo Rojo, started cracking up and then went on to tell some stories from her childhood.

It’s true that this bus is an icon in Panama. It’s part of the local flavor that is their culture. Despite its name and reputation, el Diablo Rojo is a positive expression of the Panamanian community. This picture of students going on a learning trip via el Diablo Rojo, says it all.
p-pa-120302-panamanienschoolchildren-diablorojo1-1024x575

Why, then, is this bus facing extinction in Panama? Well, because outsiders are saying that it’s too chaotic, too dangerous, not palatable for the tourism trade and foreign businesspeople coming to the city. So now the typical, more sanitized [and newer] buses like the ones we see in Europe are rolling out in Panama City. It’s been said that el Diablo Rojo may soon disappear. But fortunately, there are many Panamanians who are hoping to keep that from happening. Facebook, Twitter, and written petitions are all echoing the phrase: Viva el Diablo Rojo! Long live the Red Devil!

In this case [and in most cases, I think] how we see and hear things determines how we act. In other words, our perspectives of our experiences mold and shape our lives. To most Panamanians, this bus is a cultural icon, a taste of home—part of who they are. They see a mode of transportation that is open to all people of all social classes. It costs 25 cents to go anywhere in the city. It’s a shared experience where you sit [and often stand, or hang on for dear life] next to another human being. Personal space is not important. The sounds of the bus’ horn, the loud music, the driver’s bantering with others—Panamanians hear this as a sign that they are alive. To others who don’t get that, they just hear loud noises and think the driver is going to drive off a cliff while jamming to the beats. They don’t like the fact that someone will brush up against you on this bus. They see graffiti and chaos and want to cover their ears and close their eyes.

How we see and hear things in life really does affect how we live. Likewise, our perspectives about religion completely parallel this. How we hear the words of scripture, how we see God [or in the Christian context, Jesus]—does indeed affect how we live. It is appropriate, then, to hear and see this small passage from Luke’s Gospel, which might as well be titled Jesus’ Inaugural Address.

He was in Galilee [specifically Nazareth], not Washington D.C., teaching in synagogues. This speech follows his temptation in the wilderness and happens at a time when Jesus’ celebrity status was on the rise. Luke’s Gospel writers present the speech as a monumental moment in Jesus’ life. It is, in Luke’s story, the beginning of what Jesus will do—his ministry. Notice the specific details: Jesus went in; he arose to read; the book of Isaiah [the scroll] was given to him; he opened the book; he found the place. And he read from what we know as Isaiah 61:1-2 and some parts of Isaiah 58. And the focus was certainly on the poor.

Who were the poor in Jesus’ world? Joel Green, NT Professor at Fuller Seminary, defines poor in the 1st Century Mediterranean world as a status not merely limited to financial problems. He writes:

In that culture, one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities, but depended on a number of elements, including education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on.  Thus, lack of subsistence might account for one’s designation as “poor,” but so might other disadvantaged conditions…and “poor” [meant] low status…in the Mediterranean world.[1]

Proclaiming good news to the poor, then, included a wide variety of people who were not honored or treated fairly. According to Isaiah and Jesus, this good news also extended to captives—literally, prisoners of war, and to the broken. They are to be forgiven, or released from bondage. This entails not just a spiritual release, but a release from economic, political, even religious bondage. In Jesus’ world, the captives were those who owed money to the authorities; those who were physically ill; or those who were left out of the religious community. This forgiveness [release] welcomed them back into the community.

It is a short speech. Jesus concludes with: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears—in your hearing of it. Then he closes the book and sits down. Imagine the hearers of that speech after Jesus finished. Surely they had heard political rulers and religious authorities say such things before. It was common for kings and priests to say that they were grand liberators and oh so generous to the people. But Jesus’ speech had nothing to do with money, possessions, or power paving the way for liberation. Freedom, for Jesus, was release from oppression–from being subject to a thing or a person. In God’s kingdom-world, such a cruel imbalance could not exist.

So today, what do you and I hear? What then do we see? Jesus’ vision is quite clear. It is good news, but not good news for the religious elite. It is good news for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. For anyone to hear the good news of this message, we must be humble, we must be open, and we must recognize suffering and all the awful stuff in the world. We cannot ignore it. Only then do we truly hear. We hear that we actually have a lot of work to do—that we are not perfect, that our religious practices haven’t saved us or anyone, really. We hear that we do discriminate and contribute to poverty and oppression and captivity of others and of ourselves. We see that we ourselves can be obstacles to freedom.

We hear that the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing of it. This means that we have a choice: will we hear and change, or will we hear and stay the same? As David Lose, Luther Seminary Professor says, We are invited, that is, not just to hear and receive good news, but to be it.[2] Hearing this good news for real means that this good news is seen in how we live.

Jesus’ speech is not about change in governmental leadership or a new regime. It’s not an endorsement of any political agenda. The words are about change. But they are not mere words. Jesus himself is the change, is the freedom, is the healing, is the forgiveness of debts, is the reversal of the status quo—Jesus is the lifting up of the poor, the brokenhearted, the left out, the discriminated against, the pushed down, and the forgotten. Jesus IS the message. He embodies what he says. He practices what he preaches. And in setting such an example, he says to us: the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing of it. Liberation for all people happens when we embody this message. We cannot talk about it, read from our scrolls or books, pray about it, and then go home.

WE are charged with freeing captives, releasing bonds of slavery, forgiving debts, including those left out, accepting those who are different, lending a hand to those who have been pushed down, remembering and speaking for those without a voice—WE, like Jesus, are the personification of God’s good work in the world.

Some hear this speech as a blueprint for their lives, The Idiot’s Guide to How to Get to Heaven. But Jesus’ words are not meant to make us feel better. They are meant to wake us up, shock us, and move us forward. Our personal space is gone; the music is blasting; the colors are vibrant and loud; the urgency is palpable. We cannot be passive, cannot hear the message and then tuck it away where it’s safe. If we claim this Jesus Christ and say we follow him, we ourselves must embody liberation for all people.

This is messy; it will be unpopular; your political affiliations will contradict it. You may have to let some previous perspectives, habits, and ideologies go. It won’t be easy. You will fail quite a bit and sometimes you will reach the edge of despair, because the world as a whole won’t stand with you.

But who says that releasing prisoners will be easy?

Who says being more loyal to a common humanity than to a country, theology, or tradition comes without struggle? The very fact that people are poor and pushed down; marginalized and in bondage, tells us that change is needed. And if our following of this Jesus doesn’t lead us to such positive impact in our community and the world, then we’re just not listening.

Then we’re just not listening to the one we claim to love and follow.

We hear. Now, what will the world see? Amen.


[1] Green, Joel, The Gospel of Luke (1997), page 211.

[2] David Lose, Working Preacher.com

Tag Cloud

My Journey 2 My Peace

Overcoming Anxiety and learning to live Positively

Deeper in me than I

eloquia oris mei et meditatio cordis mei

Mind Squirrels

Ideas that Work

Silence Teaches Us Who We Are

Silence, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Jesus, God, and Life.

Casa HOY

On the road to change the world...

myrandomuniverse

a philosophical, analytic, occasionally snarky but usually silly look at the thoughts that bounce around....

"Journey into America" documentary

Produced by Akbar Ahmed

Interfaith Crossing

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Prussel's Pearls

An Actor's Spiritual Journey

The Theological Commission's Grand, Long-Awaited Experiment

Modeling Civility Amidst Theological Diversity

a different order of time

the work of a pastor

learn2practice

mood is followed by action

Imago Scriptura

Images & Thoughts from a Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor

the living room.

117 5th Street, Valley Junction__HOURS: M 9-5, TW 7-7, TH 7-9, F 7-7, S 8-5, S 9-4

the view from 2040

theological education for the 21st century