Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Bethany’

Tearing Apart and Finding Rest

Mark 11:7-11; 14:3,8,9; 15:25, 33,34,37,38   

Image result for torn in two

It’s an interesting day, the Sunday before Easter. Christians around the world call it Palm Sunday, commemorating the story in the NT Gospels about Jesus of Nazareth riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and people laying down their cloaks and perhaps some palm fronds as well. So churches of all sorts often give palm branches to people who attend worship on said Sunday.

Image result for palms on sunday church

I’m not judging anyone or any church that chooses to give out real palm fronds or fake ones. It is what it is. I’m not sure it’s the best use of resources [especially if we really dig deep into where the palm fronds come from]. Fake ones? Okay. But I’m not going to dwell on that. Such traditions are fine as long as they inspire and encourage people to be more kind and loving to others. Do the palm branches given out once a year accomplish that?

Not sure.

Since I was a child I have always wondered about the strange transition from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Sandwiched in between those two celebratory Sundays is what is called Holy Week—a week usually including at least one service of worship that focuses on Jesus’ death, including the symbol of the cross, and more mournful/somber ceremonies and rites. Sometimes people parade crosses through towns and cities and display bloody Jesus statues in public squares. Depending on a person’s tradition, Holy Week can be a time of mourning and sorrow.

I see you, Spain.

Image result for holy week processions spain

Image result for holy week processions spain

Or…

Holy Week is not bloody, somber, or particularly religious, but simply a week to prepare food and your house for relatives and friends for Easter dinner. Although depending on your friends and family, I suppose it could get bloody and somber? I hope not…

And we can’t forget about Passover, right? That’s how this all started anyway! Passover, for all of our Jewish friends and fam, begins March 30th and ends April 7th.

Image result for passover people

Really, not so concerned about whether you do or don’t observe Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Passover, or Easter. These religious holidays are a mix of both secular, national, cultural, and religious traditions and vary according to where you live, what you eat, and what language you speak. So it’s best not to read too much into all that.

What I’d like to talk about with you, if you’ll join me in this conversation, is how a story [and our traditions] either help or hinder us in our seeking of rest and wholeness, and in our development as people to be more compassionate and loving to others. I’ve chosen to include parts of Mark’s Gospel story that take us from the Jerusalem road [palm branches, etc.] to the town of Bethany and the woman who anointed Jesus, to Golgotha and the cross, then back to Jerusalem and the temple.

The story arc goes like this:

-Jesus of Nazareth finally makes it to his destination [Jerusalem], and as he arrives, people are waiting.

Image result for jesus triumphal entrance he qi

They are a mixed group—some wanting him to be a political ruler, a king, or a military champion. Others watched with curiosity and others with skepticism. The Romans were most certainly watching. So were the religious elites, called the Sanhedrin. Was Jesus a king? Some people wanted him to be. They sang the royal songs to him. They tried to anoint him as king.

-But this so-called “king” went to Bethany first. And there were no crowds and no Hosannas, and no palm branches thrown at his feet. Instead, there was a leper—an unclean, untouchable person. Jesus sat at table with this Simon. Then, a woman approached with an alabaster jar of ointment [notable because of its value and something that was reserved for special occasions].

Image result for bethany alabaster jar

With Simon the leper watching, she did, in Jesus’ words, what “she could,” anointing Jesus’ body for burial.

Her action was good news.

-From Bethany Jesus ended up in a place of death, of skulls, called Golgotha.

Image result for golgotha

The ones who previously shouted Hosanna and laid down palm fronds and cloaks, where were they? It seems lonely, this part of the story. And indeed, it was. Jesus cried out in loneliness to a God who seemed absent, quoting a Psalm, Elohim, why have you left me alone? And then, Jesus died.

-At that point, the story shifts back to Jerusalem and the temple, the same one that Jesus threw tables around in because people were being exploited and marginalized there. In this same temple a ceremonial curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom…

Image result for jerusalem temple curtain torn

As if to say: the sacrifices you’ve been told you have to pay for and offer here are no longer necessary. Likewise, you don’t need priests or scribes or any other mediators to access the Divine. The Spirit of God is loose in the world and is all around you, and stands with all of you who are marginalized, broken, exploited, or lonely. This Spirit is with you.

All of you, like the woman with the alabaster jar, who have been criticized or made to feel small just because you made yourself vulnerable and took a risk to be yourself to show love.

All of you who have felt/feel like Simon the leper sometimes—ostracized by society and told that you don’t fit—that who you are is somehow not of value.

All of us, who have felt beaten up and are suffering, wondering, as Jesus did, where in the h@&* is God in all this pain and emptiness?

In all places, countries, neighborhoods, towns, and countrysides—we are given accessibility to a Divine presence that affirms who we are and calls us to love others above all else. And yes, it is this idea and movement away from hate and towards compassion that led to Jesus’ death, yes, this is what the curtain tearing in two is all about.

Students lose their lives due to senseless gun violence in their schools. They cry out with loud voices to lawmakers, politicians, school administrators, parents, and leaders. And they are met with silence. They are are blamed and scapegoated and told that they are too young to understand. And these students are still crying out.

Syrians experience death and war in their cities and towns each and every day. They cry out for help as foreign powers fund the armed conflicts in their neighborhoods, as their lives hang in the balance. Will anyone pay attention? Will anyone care?

Africans in various regions of the continent pray and hope for an end to civil wars and genocides that barely make the news or internet feeds and if they do, they last for a moment before people’s attention turns to the next new gadget or the newest celebrity gossip story.

Honest, hard-working people find themselves on the pipeline to prison just because they are black; transgender people are targeted and attacked just for being themselves; gay and lesbian couples are shunned by their families just because of who they love.

And churches continue to shame and shun people who don’t fit their definition of what God approves, conveniently kicking to the curb those who are materially poor, the LGBTQIA+ community, undocumented immigrants, non-religious people, those in non-conventional love relationships, people of other faith traditions, and basically, anyone who doesn’t sign off on whatever doctrine or dogma they hold to.

Golgotha is all around us. But we don’t have to stay there, do we?

Not sure what this next week called holy will be for you.

Perhaps you’ll decide to trade palm branches for protest signs; maybe you’ll pick up your cloak from the ground and give it to someone sleeping on the street; perhaps you feel a bit like Simon the leper, shunned and isolated, and you’d be grateful if someone would just visit you and sit at your table. Or maybe you’re like the woman with the alabaster jar—in possession of something so important and special to you, and yet bursting with the desire to share it with others, in spite of the skeptical stares you get.

There’s a place for us all in the story, friends. That’s what the temple curtain tearing is all about. No matter where you are or who you are on this journey called life, you don’t need a priest or a church or a religion to encounter God or to walk with this Jesus or to find intrinsic value within yourself.

You already have a place in the great story.

So, If there is to be any rest in us, if we are to bring love and rest to our communities and the world, We must go back to the curtain in Jerusalem that tears, reminding us that things are not set in stone or impossible to change—neither in us or in the world, that is, if we choose to risk love. If we risk being ourselves.

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Participating in Miracles?

Matthew 14:13-21

 

MIRACLE.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

Not sure what you consider to be a miracle. Does it have to be something religious—something related to a god or gods? Does it have to be supernatural?

Or are miracles everyday occurrences that we cannot explain?

 

What’s a miracle to you?

Check out this Ted Talk given by Louie Schwartzberg.
Hidden Miracles of the Natural World.

Now allow me to admit something to you.

I love to see nature’s miracles.

But I’m not a big fan of the popular miracle stories we have in our religious traditions. Don’t get me wrong—I love mythology and magic and science fiction. I thoroughly enjoy the magical stories in the various religious books from around the world.
But we’ve come to a point in humanity’s existence when some of those miracle stories [particularly religious ones] have led us to apathy, lack of empathy, and even great misunderstandings that lead to violence.

I don’t think this is a stretch at all.

Consider what is happening in Gaza right now.

Both sides of this violent conflict claim to have some higher authority that gives them the right to claim a certain land. Now, whether or not most of the normal, everyday people of Israel and Palestine believe that—I don’t know. But that’s the view we often hear about and see.

Children, youth, and adults all die because someone believes in a supernatural right to a particular land.
It’s so tense right now that people are afraid to even talk about this issue.
No matter what someone says, it’s likely to offend someone.

So I probably just did.

And then there are other issues like the fact that thousands of children and youth from Central America are coming to the U.S. via la bestia, a train that travels through Mexico to the U.S. border. They are risking their lives because they believe that they will be reunited with their families in the U.S. if they can just get across that imaginary border we made up years ago.

They expect that they will be greeted with hospitality, food and water, a place to stay. They think that once they are in the U.S. their lives will be better.

There are also countless examples of prejudice, discrimination, racism–the pushing down of people just because of their skin color, or cultural background, the religion they practice [or don’t] or the language they speak.
Ferguson, Missouri. Black men [unarmed] and killed by police officers in the last few weeks:
Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or John Crawford.

Of course, These issues are only a few of many around the world.

So back to the issue of miracles.

I argue that our stringent belief in religious, supernatural miracles [especially those within books] have led us to apathy, a lack of empathy, and even violence.

We rely on some supernatural force to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
We wait for some god-miracle to deal with those Central American kids.
We stay silent about and don’t organize against racism or prejudice of any kind in our communities.

We pray and pray and pray, and light more candles.

And then what?

My question for you to consider today is simple:

Do we ourselves participate in miracles?

In other words, for one moment, try to put past ideas and conditioning aside. Think about miracles differently. Consider the possibility that miracles do in fact happen, but they don’t happen while we are passive.

Consider that miracles happen when we are agents of change.

Do we participate in miracles?

And with this in mind, let’s look at a really famous miracle story in the Christian sacred text of Matthew’s Gospel. The miracle story of the loaves and fishes is also told in the other three canonical Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

On the surface, this seems like the best Jesus hocus pocus magic show ever.

You go, Jesus Potter Harry Christ!

jesuspotterharrychrist.jpeg

People hungry. 5000+ people, actually.
Not enough food.

Did I mention hungry people, and a lot of them?
Enter Jesus, who waves his magic wand and…Abracadabra!
Bread and fish for everybody!
It’s a miracle!

The story begins with “when Jesus heard this.” What Jesus had heard was that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed by Herod Antipas, the ruler of a region called Galilee. Even though Jesus was obviously distraught over what had happened and wanted some alone time—when he saw the crowds of people he felt compassion for them and offered healing to those who needed it. But then, that evening, the disciples arrived. Now I don’t recall the people ever saying anything about being hungry. But the disciples were anticipating having to feed these people. They had only five loaves of bread and two fish—probably enough to feed themselves and Jesus. But it was their ration and certainly not something they would share with the others.

So the disciples wanted to send the people away.
Not enough to go around.

But Jesus said to them: “YOU give them something to eat.”

Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish from the disciples.
After a blessing, Jesus broke the bread. Then, the disciples gave the bread to the crowds.

Everyone was satisfied. There were even leftovers.

A LOT more than 5,000 people, because someone forgot to count the women and children.
It was a miracle!
Or something like that.

Look, I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer.

debbieDownerBut the author of Matthew’s Gospel story has Jesus only bless and break the bread. Then, he distributes it to the disciples.

Um, yeah. This is classic “Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper.

#JesusBodyandBloodCeremony

Matthew’s agenda, however, is to include a great number of people in the Lord’s Supper– regardless of social status, wealth, being clean or unclean—they all ate together.
For one beautiful moment in a story, people of all shapes and sizes; beliefs and cultures; languages and traditions; social levels and genders and ages—were together.

They were humanity.

 And this was a miracle.

I asked you at the beginning to consider the possibility that miracles do indeed happen, but that they don’t happen when we are passive. I asked you to consider that miracles happen when we choose to be agents of change.

I am asking you to be willing to participate in miracles.

And like you saw in the beautiful nature videos, you will need to accept the fact that many [if not most] of the real miracles in the world and all around us are hidden miracles.
They are not featured on television news programs, tweeted to a million people, or shared on Facebook.
They are hidden to our conditioned and distracted eyes.

Hidden miracles—but real. VERY real.

I challenge you to participate in the miracles here on the ground where the people, animals, plants, and all living things are.
Don’t limit miracles to divine intervention.
Don’t wait for someone or something else to make positive changes happen.

Miracles have always been and will always be extremely outstanding and unusual events, things, and accomplishments in this world.

And real miracles are needed in Gaza; in Palestine; in Israel. In Western countries like the United States, that both fund and support Israel’s military actions; in Arab countries that both fund and support Hamas’ military actions.

The real miracle would be Palestinians and Israelis seeing each other as humans and not enemies. The real miracle would be if countries like the U.S. would stop fanning the flames of hateful rhetoric and start funding peacemaking instead of bombs.

Consider this recent article in the Chicago Tribune, written by Jill Jacobs:

This is what we need to hear instead: pro-Palestinian voices that empathize with the Israelis racing for shelter, that denounce terrorism and rocket attacks, and that refuse to tolerate any anti-Semitic tropes masquerading as criticism of Israeli policy. In one powerful and much-circulated op-ed, for instance, a Palestinian-American student calls for pro-Palestinian protesters to utterly reject anti-Semitism.

And we need to hear pro-Israel voices expressing authentic grief at the deaths of Palestinian children, calling for protection for civilian populations, acknowledging the damage inflicted by 47 years of occupation, and denouncing any language that dehumanizes Palestinians or Muslims.[1]

Likewise, as it pertains to the 50,000 + children and youth from Central America who are here in this country, will we participate in miracles?

A United Church of Christ ministry, Bethany Children’s Home, near Reading, PA, was asked by the federal government to be a temporary site for children who have been victims of abuse and human trafficking.

bethany.jpegThe program is called Helping Hands. It allows staff at Bethany to pick up children at one of the surrounding airports, give them food, clothing and a medical exam and reunite them with family in the United States while they await an immigration proceeding. Kevin Snyder, Bethany’s CEO, said this:

“They are very caring kids. They are very needy children. They are very appreciative.”

bethany2.jpegIn spite of recent protests against the Helping Hands program, Bethany’s staff and volunteer core remain committed to helping kids as long as there is a need. Says Snyder:

“These are children. They need help and we just cannot turn our backs on them.”[2]

The real miracle is in seeing these children and youth as human beings who deserve hospitality and fulfillment of their basic needs. The real miracle would be to stop seeing them as “undocumented” immigrants, criminals, or problems.

And as for all the senseless shootings in U.S. cities, and the prejudice that is alive and well, even though some people to cover it up–as people, as human beings, let’s stop being silent about it.

Stop justifying it. Stop criminalizing young men just because of their skin color or cultural or religious background.

Seriously, just stop.

And when you see or hear this kind of prejudice, don’t stand by and watch it happen. Don’t pray for a miracle.

Make a miracle.

Be friends with people who are different than you. Stand up for anyone who is pushed down.

So friends, I ask this same question—of myself and of you:

Will we participate in real miracles?

 

[1] “Move past hideous stereotypes of Israelis, Palestinians”, Jill Jacobs, Chicago Tribune, August 1st, 2014.

[2] http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-berks/local-program-reuniting-kids-crossing-border-illegally-with-families-in-united-states/26987366

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