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Posts tagged ‘jerusalem’

Not Looking Back: How Do We Move Forward?

Luke 9:51-62

journeyhobbitAs a kid, I read The Hobbit numerous times. I’ve reread it as an adult, too. There are many reasons why I like it—the good storytelling, the characters, creatures, languages, and cultures. The overarching theme, though, is what always draws me in. Bilbo Baggins, the little Hobbit with the hairy feet, is the protagonist. And he’s joined by others who are pulled from their comfortable or seemingly routine lives into an adventure they could never have imagined. Elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, ghost kings, giant spiders, and oh yes, a dragon that talks.

Bilbo, at nearly every step of his journey, is reluctant to move forward.

He resists. From time to time, he looks back at his once-comfortable, mundane life in his hobbit hole called Bag End in the village of Hobbiton. He misses his plates and forks, his full pantry, his wine, ale, food, and pipe. But those moments of looking back don’t last long. Bilbo must keep moving forward on his journey towards the Misty Mountain. And even at the end of his story [at least the end of the book], it is obvious that Bilbo cannot go back to his old life. Sure, his hobbit hole will still be there, but he is forever changed. He is not the same Hobbit that a bunch of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf met some time ago. Since leaving Hobbiton, Bilbo can never go back. The Hobbit lifts up these themes: giving up control; taking risks; Compassionate, loving, reckless abandon.

Let’s take a closer look at another story about the journey, in Luke’s Gospel. Like Bilbo, Jesus of Nazareth sets out on a new journey. He is no longer in Galilee. Now, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. This is a new trajectory, a new journey, and one that will be paved with many adventures, much risk, and great danger. By this point, people are taking notice of this Jesus. So he sends messengers ahead to check things out, as they near Jerusalem and approach a village of Samaritans. Remember that Samaritans and Jews did not like each other. They were close in culture and religion, but a violent past had caused both parties to be resentful of each other. So it is no surprise that the Samaritans in this particular village on the way to Jerusalem blocked Jesus and co. Anything to do with Jerusalem was anti-Samaritan, as far as they were concerned.

Then James and John, part of Jesus’ entourage, figured it was time to bring down the hammer on the Samaritans. Why not? Jesus was like Elijah the prophet to them and they remembered an old story in the Hebrew Scriptures about getting rid of people who resisted Yahweh’s work. So they asked Jesus if it would be appropriate for them to command fire to come down and consume the Samaritans.

Really?

If there ever was a moment when I thought that Jesus’ disciples were totally lost, this is it. Are you kidding? It turns my stomach. Obviously, Jesus rebukes them, but still. What in the world were those disciples thinking?

So they go to another village (obviously) and now some people along the road are wishing to join Jesus’ entourage. But it wasn’t Jay Z’s entourage. There were no perks, free lunches, or nice hotel rooms.

Jay-Z-008
Even animals have a place to live, right? But according to Jesus, that was not a guarantee for his followers. This was no cush journey.

Then, yet another person seems to be close to joining Jesus on the journey, but he has some family business to take care of. Burying one’s father is a metaphor for family obligations. He wasn’t able to let go of those obligations to take this new journey. And then another would-be follower expresses willingness to follow Jesus, but he still needs to say goodbye to some people. Not good enough, says Jesus. Let the dead bury the dead and don’t look back.

In my perspective, this is a story about letting go—about moving forward, which means not looking back so much. Often people assume that being a Christ-ian, or a follower of Christ, is about believing something or following a particular religious tradition. That may be true for the various branches of Christianity over the centuries, but it was not true in the Gospels. Jesus was not leading a religion. Jesus was asking people to follow him to a new way of being. And this new way of being was different for each and every person.

For some, Jesus invited them to follow him, because they needed that. Perhaps they had never been invited in their entire lives. They were the outcasts, the untouchables, those whom the religious people didn’t want to hang out with. So Jesus healed them, invited them, and they joined the entourage of the mercy train.

But also, there were those who wanted to follow Jesus. They asked to follow. And each time, Jesus asked them if they were really sure about that. I mean, this would be no prosperity gospel; they would not gain anything materially; they might actually lose material wealth. They wouldn’t be heralded or esteemed; they might even be ridiculed or thought of as strange. And above all, they would have to let go—let go of their world views that were harmful; let go of their prejudices; let go of their attachments to beautiful temples and powerful armies and governments; they would even need to let go of family obligations and guilt. In short, for those who said they wanted to follow Jesus, it was the most difficult, because unlike the outcasts, these would-be followers struggled to let go.

I’ll close with some thoughts about letting go, because I know for many of you, letting go is hard. Let me start by saying what I don’t mean. By letting go I don’t mean that those of you who have been abused in any way, or who have suffered great trauma in the past [and are still obviously dealing with it], I don’t mean that you ought to just get over it. The things that were done to you were of course not your fault, and the healing process of coping with such trauma lasts a lifetime and is an everyday enterprise. Also, keep in mind that Jesus of Nazareth never said “get over it” to any of those who were considered outcasts or who were in need of healing. They were healed and invited on the journey.

What I mean by letting go refers to those reluctant people in the story [and any of us] who are attached to material things and human obligations so much that we cannot move forward. Those of us who are consistently looking back and so full of nostalgia [both good and bad] that the present day is less important and life is stagnant.

Here are some things that have helped me let go of such things obligations. I hope this is helpful for you:

Finding stillness and breathing. Okay, maybe this is weird for some? For me, meditation is helpful, but by meditation I mean just pausing. Really pausing. Stop, even for a few moments, and listen to your breathe. Try it.

Understanding. What has happened in your life? Don’t judge those things. Observe them. Be aware.

Accepting your history. Don’t try to change it. It’s done.

Letting go of judgements, expectations, and material things, as much as possible.

Assessing. What matters most to you in life? Are you pursuing this?

Allowing the Path to be revealed. Don’t force it.

Contributing to the well-being of others, even when you feel angry, sad, or hopeless.

Having fun and laughing. Life actually is short.

Being grateful. Let your gratefulness overcome any complaining.

What things help you to move forward and to let go?

Next week’s teaser: Luke 10:1-11: How Do You Measure Success?

Giving to Receive

Malachi 3:1-3; 10   The Message [MSG]

“Look! I’m sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you’ve been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you’ve been waiting for. Look! He’s on his way!” A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance? He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes.

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. 

giveselfDuring Advent and the Christmas season, it is important for us to be mindful of our Western biases when it comes to the story of the birth of Jesus and also the characters in the drama we think we know so well. Specifically, it is a must for us to accept the fact that the Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi were not talking about Jesus of Nazareth, nor were they writing to a Christian audience. Those writings are much more ancient than the NT Gospels, and Jesus of Nazareth was not on anyone’s radar screen, of course. But in all fairness to the casual Bible reader, those who put the Bible together didn’t do us any favors. The order of OT books is set in such a way as to point the Christian reader to “aha” and foreshadowing moments that seem to draw connections for us between OT prophets [and other books] and the NT stories of Jesus.

Malachi is one such example. In the Christian Bible Malachi is the last OT prophet. This is not all the case in the Jewish canon. Obviously, the Christians who put together the order of their Bibles wanted Malachi last so as to draw connections between the OT prophecy and the birth of Jesus.

But I think it’s our responsibility to read the OT [as much as possible] through a Jewish lens, being careful not to jump to Jesus conclusions so easily. Why? First, because it’s honest and truer to the text. Secondly, because by doing so we can glean even more meaning from the text and not settle for cookie-cutter, Christmasy conclusions that limit our understanding of an ancient culture and religion. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.

What’s Malachi, and what’s it all about if it’s not about Jesus?

Malachi, not a name, but the actual Hebrew words “my messenger” is a book about the corruption of religion and the need for change. The priests in the Israelite temple of Jerusalem [the rebuilt one] are apathetic; there is corruption in the temple. Many scholars think that Malachi was written somewhere around 450 B.C.E.

Malachi’s audience, if that date is correct, is pre-Babylonian exile, and post-second-building of the Jerusalem temple. So basically, the people had ample time to get apathetic and lax in their treatment of people and their worship of Adonai. Yes, they had the big temple and their religious rituals, but as people they weren’t all that impressive.

So Adonai [the Lord of Hosts] is coming, and who can stand when Adonai appears? Adonai will be like a refiner’s fire, and a harsh soap [reminds me a bit of Ralphie in A Christmas Story].

Ralphie-SoapAdonai will help the people be the best people they can be, on the inside, and in their worship.

But that is not enough.

The refining and the harsh soap serve to remind people of what is important. Are they talking smack behind people’s backs? Are they ignoring the oppressed workers? Are they looking away from the widows, the orphans, and the refugees? For Malachi, it’s not enough for the priests and the people to be good, religious people, doing the right kinds of rituals in the right way.

Worship of Adonai must be paired with good behavior in the world.

How the Israelites treat people is more important. Otherwise, their worship is false.

Malachi is, as Professor John Holbert states, more than a mere warm-up act for the main stage appearance of Jesus.[1] He is a truth-teller rather than a predictor. And all of us would benefit from hearing this message. What would it be like if instead of focusing on the birth of a little baby boy, we actually focused on how we treat people in our community? What if instead we focused on the refugees, the lonely, the forgotten, the marginalized, and the oppressed? What if our worship was about being kind and compassionate to others?

You see, Adonai, the one who comes as a refining fire and cleansing soap–comes into our lives to help us realize our full potential. We are not limited to rituals or even religious practice itself, thinking that such things please God. Instead, we are refined in order to understand that we are so very capable of healing, caring, empathizing, and giving. The tithe acceptable to God [borrowing from Isaiah], is the giving of ourselves in the world. It’s not just money.

The tithe is our humanity, who we are.

Sometimes we forget that our humanity is such a gift to others if we share it with them.

When we give someone our time without distractions.
When we perform an act of kindness without expecting anything in return.
When share an honest, but difficult feeling we have with someone because we trust him/her.
When we listen intently and compassionately to someone going through hell.

Consider this:

What if God only cared about how much we truly gave of ourselves?
What if we focused more on that and less on everything else?
How would that change things for us as people?

[1] The Lord Is Coming: Look Busy! Reflections on Malachi 3:1-4, John C. Holbert, December 02, 2012.

 

Rocks

Mark 13:1-8

rocks

Did you ever skip rocks as a kid?

Did you ever collect rocks on the beach or in the forest or near a stream?

Did you ever climb a tall hill or a mountain and stand in awe of it?

Have you ever been drawn to rocks?

As a kid, I loved finding strange and interesting rocks. My parents used to take us to places like Colorado where I could find all kinds of beautiful and mysterious rocks in caves and around mountains. Geodes were my favorite.

geode

Geodes are geological rock formations which occur in sedimentary and certain volcanic rocks. The exterior is generally limestone while the interior contains quartz crystals and/or chalcedony deposits.[1]

There many types of geodes. First Nation groups in Oregon called one geode type “Thunder Egg.”

thundereggFire agates come from Mexico and Arizona. Commercial deposits exist in China, Mexico, India, Madagascar, and the U.S. along the shores of Lake Superior.

The outer surface of an agate is rough, pitted and ugly. It masks the beauty of the crystal inside. However, the crust is weak and somewhat fragile and over centuries it is washed away allowing the gemstone to be discovered along rivers and streams.

Geodes look cool and they’re beautifully complex. But it’s more than just their surface appearance that attracts people.

Many, many people, across the globe, are drawn to rocks.

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that rocks were one of the primordial symbols of eternity. He wrote:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them…without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them.[2]

Jung said that each of us has inherited this ancient human tendency toward seeing–or rather, feeling–the sacredness in rocks. It is true that long ago, our ancestors around the world believed that rocks were filled with gods and spirits. It is for this reason that today we pile rocks on graves or create tombstones—because our ancestors believed that rocks could hold or release a person’s spirit.

sandlwanamassgrave

Most religions and spiritual movements of the world consider rocks in some way as symbols of faith, spirituality, energy, healing, foundation, or strength. In Buddhism, rocks are considered, in their essence, collections of vibrant energy rather than just inert lumps of matter.

Quantum physics agrees.

So what see with rocks is both modern science and ancient spiritual practices coming together. Rocks are energy; we have been and are drawn to them.

Rocks frequently take center stage in the New Testament’s Gospel stories.

In this Mark story, Jesus’ disciples are marveling at the great temple in Jerusalem, the one built by King Herod in possibly around 19 BCE. It was marble and gold and about five football fields long. It was awesome.

HerodsTempleSo it’s no surprise that the disciples gawk at the thing:
“Dang…look at those massive stones!”

Of course, Jesus is not in awe as the disciples are. Keep in mind here that Mark’s gospel writer has the luxury of writing this story after Jesus’ death and during or shortly after this Jerusalem temple was actually torn down and destroyed. So this story is contrasting the awe of the disciples with Jesus’ disdain at the corruption and oppression that happened within the temple during King Herod’s reign.

When Mark’s Gospel was written, it was a tumultuous time. War, violence, upheaval, etc.

The story then shifts to the Mount of Olives, positioned opposite the temple for dramatic effect.

MountOlivesSome of the disciples ask Jesus what will happen and how will they know? They are worried about the future and they’re scared.

Jesus’ response is to be wary of those who provide easy answers or try to lead them astray—people who claim to be great rulers or leaders. Jesus does not ignore that there will wars and upheaval and even famines. But this is just the beginning, meaning that all this craziness and uncertainty is not the end.

Something good is actually here AND on its way.

You see, Mark’s apocalyptic/end of world sayings are meant to be good news and not depressing.

How? Because the things that societies and nations and people often exalt and glorify like empires, kingdoms, and beautiful buildings don’t last forever.

Which brings me back to rocks.

A rock can keep energy from the sun’s rays even after other things give way to the dark and cool. Pick up a rock in the sun; it’s warm. And it stays that way. Rocks, unlike kingdoms and empires and wars and upheaval—they are forever present in the world, remaining long after we are gone.

So yes, a rock can actually be a comfort. Jesus of Nazareth was called the cornerstone of a whole new world. He wasn’t a king, a religious ruler, or even a political leader. He certainly did not represent the great temple and what it stood for. Instead, he was a different kind of rock—one who encouraged those left on the outside of society to cry out, to make themselves heard. He welcomed children, widows, lepers, the poor, the marginalized. And if anyone tried to silence them, the rocks themselves in all of nature’s beauty and mystery would cry out.

The rocks themselves would cry out.

So I’m thinking that we could all use a little time with rocks.

We should be children. We should pick them up and curiously look at the strange and odd ones. We should feel them—all their smoothness and roughness. And in the midst of a chaotic and often violent world, we ought to remember what really lasts.

We shouldn’t stand in awe of great empires and governments, marveling at their reach and grand towers and temples. Instead, we should remember that they won’t last forever. Eventually, they will fall down or be torn down. And yet, in midst of all this, the rocks all around us remain constant.

They comfort; they heal; the revitalize.
This is more than just hope; rocks are tangible.

They can be a sign to remember the tangible presence of the Divine in all living things, and even the seemingly unmoving things like rocks.

God’s constant love and presence in the lives of all people everywhere.

[1] Gerard V. Middleton: Encyclopedia of Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks. Springer 2003

[2] Man and his Symbols, Carl Jung

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