Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Easter, Year C

Readings for Easter Sunday, 4/8/07:
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18, or Luke 24:1-12

Acts 10:34-43:
  • Peter is speaking to Cornelius and his friends and relatives in Caesarea. Cornelius had been visited by a messenger from God telling him to invite Peter to his home and here him speak.
  • "God shows no partiality". Do we get that? Believe it? Preach it? Live and practice it?
  • "preaching peace by Jesus Christ" Ah, the gospel message is a message of peace. Too much of our Christian history works to counter that claim. We struggle on!
  • A mini-sermon, all the facts needed to share the good news packed into one little blurb - this is Peter's quick pitch, at the opportunity he's been given.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24:
  • Note that this is virtually the same selection from Psalms as on Palm Sunday, with slightly different verses. Included in Easter's reading, but not in Palm Sunday's: "the Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death." Hm. I don't like to think about God punishing us. But the verse's significance on Easter is powerful. The cup was not taken from Jesus - he drank it. And yet, he lives.
  • Even still, it's hard to focus on any scripture passage on Easter Sunday other than the gospel lesson of the Resurrection, isn't it?
1 Corinthians 15:19-26:
  • "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." A striking statement. I'm not sure how to react - I guess I don't exactly share Paul's perspective. I think we're so wrapped up in thinking about what awaits us after this earthly life, that we forget what Christ means for us right now, on earth. My hope for Christ in this life is powerful stuff!
  • "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." I'm a big fan of John Cobb and process theology. I remember reading that for process theologians, some could not get over the "ultimate evil of personal death." Conceptions of afterlife are tricky things. How can death be destroyed for you? When I was younger, I used to ask my pastor/mentor, Rev. Bruce Webster, if heaven wouldn't be a boring place. He, a math major in college, could draw some sort of graph to show it would be ok!
John 20:1-18:
  • I have to admit, as a woman, I get a kick out of the way the men behave here, versus the way Mary Magdalene acts. The men run there, almost competitively, after hearing Mary's report, and then they return home, apparently not too impressed or curious to figure out what's going on. It's Mary who is there to begin with to care for the tomb, Mary who sheds tears for Jesus, Mary who remains at the tomb long enough to encounter the risen Christ, Mary who is the first to spread the good news. You go girl!
  • "Rabbouni!" What would you say if you had a change to come face to face with a lost loved one again?
  • I just can't let loose of the sense of the importance of Mary staying at the tomb. She is honest with her emotions, and holds still, stays in place, soaks it in. She gets to see Jesus, the fruits of her devotion. Don't hurry through Easter, but rest at the empty tomb!
Luke 24:1-12
  • I do like John's account of the resurrection better: we have Mary's solo journey to the tomb, which seems so precious and personal, and we have her encountering Jesus himself, not God's messengers.
  • Do notice that even in Luke, Peter is rushing to the tomb, and returns home when he sees the empty tomb.
  • Is Luke, and earlier account, more accurate than John's? What does it mean for John to show Jesus at the tomb? Perhaps he is connecting the dots for us. Either way, the point is the same: the empty tomb means that life wins out over death. Nothing could stop the work of Jesus, the message he preached, his life that is carried on in us.

Lectionary Notes for Good Friday

Readings for Good Friday, 3/29/13:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
  • Here Isaiah describes the suffering servant, and no surprise, we easily see Jesus reflected in this image. Isaiah seems to focus on the theme of how this servant will be what no one is looking for, but what everyone will give attention to when revealed.
  • "by a perversion of justice he was taken away." This sentence particularly strikes - if we apply this to Jesus, we read that it is an act of injustice that takes Jesus away to death. Do we remember to think of it that way? We get so caught up in his sacrifice, in God's plan laid out, that I think we forget that what happened to Jesus, even if it worked for our good, was wrong!
  • "It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain." Eek! I hope not. I'm not sure that this is ever God's will, exactly, or that way that God would hope and desire for things to turn out. I think God works through human deeds of pain and hurt, but I hope God doesn't will them on us. 
Psalm 22:
  • "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These words, which open the Psalm, are found on Jesus' lips on the cross. Some say he was reciting the Psalm, to comfort others. People don't like to think about Jesus feeling forsaken by God. But I think it is ok to believe Jesus felt alone in that moment - because despite his feelings, he had faith enough to follow through with what he believed was God's call for him.
  • Surely, we've all felt forsaken by God sometimes. Alone. Finding "no rest" as the Psalmist describes. The scene the Psalmist describes is one of fear and desperation to feel God's presence. Have you experienced this? When? How? Did you find God present there?
Hebrews 10:16-25:
  • These first two verses are more or less quoted from Jeremiah 31:33-34. Notice, though, that the author of Hebrews has the laws in our hearts but also written on our minds. I like the imagery.
  • "let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" - Another good verse. We often provoke people around us, but usually when we do so, it is not in a good way! Here, we're encouraged to provoke each other in a positive way, a way that inspires serving God. Good advice!
John 18:1-19:42:
  • from John we get part of the Passion from Palm/Passion Sunday, only from John's perspective instead of Matthew. Double check for what is different in each text. As with that text from Matthew, I find this one hard to comment on - it's such a story, it is so big, literally and theologically.
  • This text has several pieces, or vignettes. Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. Peter denying Jesus. Jesus on trial before Pilate. Jesus beaten. Jesus crucified. And an "epilogue" of sorts. Any part could be an area of specific focus, though 'time' wise, Good Friday's focus is the crucifixion.
  • To me, what jumps out as full of possibilities is Pilate's question: "what is truth?" John does not record Jesus giving an answer. How do you think he would have answered? What is your answer?

Lectionary Notes for Maundy Thursday, Year C

Readings for Maundy Thursday, 3/28/13:
Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10), 11-14
  • God describes to Moses and Aaron the Passover, which is the festival that centers Jesus' meal with his disciples as we celebrate Maundy Thursday.
  • "this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly" Ready to go. Ready to move. Prepared. Imagine if this was always the way we were, in terms of readiness to respond to God's call.
  • The Passover is a hard one to stomach (no pun intended.) It is hard to imagine a plague of killing firstborns all through the land, isn't it? But it is a festival, a "remembrance" that becomes so crucial in the identity of Judaism, and even in the events that shape Christ's last days. Death, blood, lamb, sacrifice. The ways the symbolism of the Old Testament events and New Testament events overlap and tie in here is important.
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19:
  • "I love the Lord, because he had heard my voice." I wish I knew Hebrew - I'm curious about the "because" word here. Do we love people "because" of something? Or does our love, even for God, go deeper and beyond a "because."
  • "I will pay my vows to the Lord" This phrase is repeated in this Psalm. It seems the Psalmist feels he must pay God back for hearing his voice, his supplications. Does God need to be paid back? Want to be paid back? I don't think God wants to feel "owed" as much as loved.
  • "loosed my bonds" - what has you bound up?
1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
  • Remember that Corinthians is written before the gospels are written, so Paul's account here is actually an earlier account of the "Last Supper" than we find in the gospels.
  • "as often as you drink it" - I think Jesus had in mind even more than our communion ritual, though I find that meaningful. "As often as you drink it" says to me that we are to remember and be guided by Christ as frequently as our daily task of eating: all the time.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35:
  • "having loved his own who were in the world, he love them to the end." I like this editorial sentence of John's. He seems to emphasize the close bond shared by Jesus and his disciples. How painful these last days must have been for him, knowing that even his closest friends would not seem him through his ordeal.
  • "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas" Poor Judas. I've mentioned before my Jesus Christ Superstar inspired love of Judas. I always wish I could get inside his head. What would make you betray Jesus?
  • "you also ought to wash one another's feet." Serving one another. I've tried, in a small group, to do a foot-washing before. I find people pretty resistant: either embarrassed to have someone touching their feet, or worried about hygiene, clean towels, clean water, etc. Guess we're not willing to get Jesus' point anymore.
  • "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." If this is true, how many of us can be identified as disciples by our actions? Not as many as should be...

Lectionary Notes for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year C

Oops - late again!

Readings for Palm/Passion Sunday, 3/24/13:
Palm: Luke 19:28-40, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56

** A Special Note: Some churches choose to focus on one or other set of texts on this Sunday that begins Holy Week: either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday texts. Personally, I combine both passages into one service: Palm/Passion Sunday. My homiletics professor at DrewCharles Rice, suggested reading the Palm Sunday gospel text very early in the service, and placing the sermon very early as well. Then, toward the very end of the service, the Passion gospel is read, without comment/preaching, dramatically or otherwise. I have found this very moving and effective. **

Luke 19:28-40:
  • "He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.'" At General Conference 1996, this is the verse printed on the banner in the witness of the GLBT advocacy groups in seeking for inclusion in the UMC. A friend described to me this powerful witness. Wish I had been there!
  • "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there . . . " Not necessarily Jesus prophesying, as some have interpreted. Just Jesus telling them of the plans he has made ahead of time. We never seem satisfied with things just happening in the realm of the natural - we always seem to want to add a supernatural element to scripture, as if it is not powerful enough otherwise.
  • "began to praise God joyful with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen" I wonder why it is we praise God. For what God has done? I think of the John Wesley sermon, the title of which escapes me, where Wesley urges Christians to let go of the idea that we do good "in order to get salvation" as in "get into heaven." This is not salvation, he says. Salvation happens in our life on earth. And it's not why we ought to do good either. We do good because God commands it, even as God spreads grace. So why praise God? Because God is God! Not because God does magic tricks for us.
  • "saying, 'peace on earth'" Ironic that they would choose this refrain when it seemed what they really wanted was for Jesus to become a revolutionary leader, sword in hand. War is not my idea of peace.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29:
  • Gate/entry imagery - This is good Palm Sunday imagery - entering in to give thanks to God.
  • "The stone that the builders reject has become the chief cornerstone." Such a powerful verse, used to describe Christ by the prophets. But good for us too: when others reject us, God accepts us. In God, we can become the cornerstone, not a rejected scrap. Hope!
  • "This is the Lord's doing." Giving credit where credit is due. We're not so good at that many times.
  • "This is the day that the Lord has made." This is such a popular opening to worship. Why do we like this verse so much? I think it does a good job of truly reminding us of the fact that each day is God's precious gift to us.
Isaiah 50:4-9a:
  • "The tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word." Sustaining the weary with a word. That's a gift; that's power. Who can accomplish this feat? Isaiah, apparently! :) But seriously - perhaps this is the gift we're called to live into as preachers. With God's Word, we can sustain the weary.
  • "I gave my back . . . and my cheeks . . . I did not hide the face." Let us not think that there is nothing of Jesus' 'turn the other cheek' teaching in the Old Testament, that the OT only speaks of 'an eye for an eye' - this passage show us its just not so!
  • "I have set my face like flint." Nice.
Psalm 31:9-16:
  • "My eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing." This verse jumped out to me personally some years ago, when in a week and a half, our congregation has lost 5 dear parishioners. The congregation as a whole seemed to be 'wasting away from grief' in body and soul. I think grief often comes in groups like that, so much all it once that it seems difficult to bear. I have to notice, though, that this psalmist is speaking about very individual grief that comes not from loss of others, but from a seeming rejection by others. This reads almost like a school kid who is being picked on by everyone. I don't mean to make it less important because it is such a personal pleading. God knows we all have personal pleading. But an observation...
  • This psalm comes in all three years of the Passion Sunday readings. How come?
  • "I have become like a broken vessel." Nice imagery, given all the biblical language about potter/clay/jars/vessels. Empty vessels and full vessels. Refilled vessels and pouring out our vessels. And cracked vessels. What shape is your vessel in right now?
  • "My times are in your hand." Giving God our times. That simply, that completely.
Philippians 2:5-11:
  • "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus."
  • "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited" I find this such a unique statement. Imagine if Christ had used his equality to exploit? What would that look like? Perhaps this is what the devil was tempting Christ to do - to exploit his equality.
  • "emptied himself" Emptying ourselves.
  • "every knee should bend . . . every tongue should confess." Hm. This is one of those passages often used by people who are seeking to convert non-Christians and those of other faith traditions as proof or encouragement about the task at hand. Frankly, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. If the idea is that people will ultimately be moved to worship Jesus even against their will, I'm not sure I'd want to see that display...
Luke 22:14-23:56
  • I guess you have to ask: why this huge, all encompassing text, when much of this material will be included later in Holy Week? The answer, on the practical side, is that the sad fact is many in our congregations won't be back again until Easter Sunday - won't be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. They need to know how we get from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning. But on a deeper level, for me at least, nothing beats the contrast of starting a sermon with the joy of the Palms and ending with the reality of the cross.
  • This text as a whole is almost too huge to comment on, hence my note above on my practice of just hearing the text. It is the story. How can we elaborate?
  • "But all his acquaintances . . . stood at a distance, watching these things." (Yay for Luke for mentioning the women.) I wonder what was going on in their minds as they watched. Horror? Shock? Helplessness? Overwhelmed? Giving up? Where would you be in that crowd?
  • From "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord" to "Crucify, crucify him." I think this is the reality of who Jesus was and is, and particularly the reality of our struggle as humans to respond to him and his call to us.

Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, "New Arrangements: O Sacred Head Now Wounded"

Sermon 3/17/13
Isaiah 53:1-7

New Arrangements: O Sacred Head Now Wounded

            O Sacred Head Now Wounded is a very old hymn, the oldest of any that we’ve looked at during this season of Lent. The hymn is based on an ancient poem – written in probably the 13th century, possibly by Arnulf of Leuven, a medieval poet, abbot of a Cistercian Abbey in Belgium, ascetic, although the poem’s authorship is not totally clear. The original poem, called Salve Mundi Salutare, Hail, Salvation of the World, in Latin, was a tribute to the parts of the body of Christ – starting with his feet, then knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and finally, his face. The poem was divided into seven cantos, or sections, with each section focusing on a different part, ending with the head of Christ. This last section became the inspiration for the hymn we know today. Listen to the translation of the Latin of this canto:
Hail, bleeding Head of Jesus, hail to Thee! Thou thorn-crowned Head, I humbly worship Thee! O wounded Head, I lift my hands to Thee; O lovely Face besmeared, I gaze on Thee; O bruised and livid Face, look down on me!
Hail, beauteous Face of Jesus, bent on me, Whom angel choirs adore exultantly! Hail, sweetest Face of Jesus, bruised for me-- Hail, Holy One, whose glorious Face for me Is shorn of beauty on that fatal Tree!
All strength, all freshness, is gone forth from Thee: What wonder! Hath not God afflicted Thee, And is not death himself approaching Thee? O Love! But death hath laid his touch on Thee, And faint and broken features turn to me.
O have they thus maltreated Thee, my own? O have they Thy sweet Face despised, my own? And all for my unworthy sake, my own! O in Thy beauty turn to me, my own; O turn one look of love on me, my own!
In this Thy Passion, Lord, remember me; In this Thy pain, O Love, acknowledge me; The honey of whose lips was shed on me, The milk of whose delights hath strengthened me Whose sweetness is beyond delight for me!
Despise me not, O Love; I long for Thee; Condemn me not, unworthy though I be; But now that death is fast approaching Thee, Incline Thy Head, my Love, my Love, to me, To these poor arms, and let it rest on me!
The holy Passion I would share with Thee, And in Thy dying love rejoice with Thee; Content if by this Cross I die with Thee; Content, Thou knowest, Lord, how willingly Where I have lived to die for love of Thee.
For this Thy bitter death all thanks to Thee, Dear Jesus, and Thy wondrous love for me! O gracious God, so merciful to me, Do as Thy guilty one entreateth Thee, And at the end let me be found with Thee!
When from this life, O Love, Thou callest me, Then, Jesus, be not wanting unto me, But in the dreadful hour of agony, O hasten, Lord, and be Thou nigh to me, Defend, protect, and O deliver me.
When Thou, O God, shalt bid my soul be free, Then, dearest Jesus, show Thyself to me! O condescend to show Thyself to me,-- Upon Thy saving Cross, dear Lord, to me,-- And let me die, my Lord, embracing Thee! (1)

The poem, a song a loving thanksgiving for the gift of Christ’s life to us, went through several variations and translations, and eventually versions of the hymn began to focus just on the section meditating on Christ’s head. The first English translation of the hymn appeared in 1752, and the version we know and sing today is closest to an 1830 translation by the American Presbyterian minister James Waddel Alexander.    
            Our scripture text today is from Isaiah 53, one we will hear again on Good Friday. It, too, is a poem, or song, and like our hymn for today, it focuses on the suffering of a messiah. The reading is the last of four poems found in Isaiah (40-55) which are known as Servant Songs because each speaks of a “servant” of God and the people. I don’t know what Isaiah was imagining, exactly, when he penned these words, but Jesus spoke of himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s words, as did the apostles. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. In Acts, when the apostle Philip happens upon an Ethiopian eunuch reading these words from Isaiah 53, Philip tells him that this suffering servant was Jesus.
            I will admit to you that I’m not one who often focuses on the suffering of Jesus on the cross as the most important part of Jesus’ life, Jesus’ message to us. When the movie The Passion of the Christ came out nearly 10 years ago now, I was troubled by the reaction to it, the acclaim surrounding it, and it took me some time to figure out why. The gift of Jesus’ life to us on the cross is not the gift of Jesus suffering, not the gift of him experiencing more pain than anyone else ever has. His death isn’t about the manner of his death. Unfortunately, our human condition is such that the suffering we’ve inflicted on one another seems to know no depths, and many have experienced pain beyond our imagining. Jesus’ suffering is not a unique gift to us, experienced by no other. It’s not that Jesus suffered, but that Jesus suffered. Do you hear the difference? The point is not that Jesus experienced suffering, but that Jesus experienced suffering. Our God, rather than being too awesome, too high and mighty to get hands dirty, to mix with us, to go through the trivialities of human life with us, our God became one of us, and Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, suffered, like us, for us, with us.  
I’m reminded of a Robin Williams movie called What Dreams May Come that came out when I was in college. I don’t want to outline the whole plot, but basically, in this artistic fantasy of a movie, a man and his children have died, and they find themselves in a beautiful heaven, created of their hopes and dreams and imagination. When the wife and mother dies, though, her grief, even in death, prevents her from joining her children. The husband, Robin Williams’ character, finds her, and tries to bring her back to the beautiful heaven he’s been experiencing, but she cannot be comforted. He can’t pull her out of her despair. Finally, at a loss, he decides that if he can’t take her out of her sadness, he must join her in it, and he sits down to weep with her. Suddenly, his wife is freed from the prison her mind has created, and she can join her husband and children in the paradise that awaits. Theologically, the movie makes a lot of claims I disagree with. But I find that pivotal scene so compelling – it is only by joining her, sitting with his wife, experiencing the pain and sorrow that she’s experiencing, that she can, in turn, finally experience the freedom he knows.
We speak of Jesus as our savior, one who sets us free. Truly, he is. But I think sometimes, we are waiting for Jesus to rescue us out of our lives, to come and snatch us up and away from the trials we face, the suffering, the pain, the confusion, the struggles, the challenges. I think we especially are waiting for that when we personally or as a community try to make sense of senseless violent acts, of the heartache that we experience right in our midst. I think we’re waiting for God to intercede in some supernatural way, take us away from it all. It’s beyond our understanding, but that kind of rescue plan isn’t enough. It doesn’t go deep enough. It doesn’t really free us from anything! Jesus saving us that way – that doesn’t transform our hearts and souls. That doesn’t make us into the new creations God promises. And like the wife in the movie, grieving, I don’t think we’d really believe in that kind of rescue, something that snatched us up out of our lives. Instead, Jesus saves us by coming to sit beside us, walk beside us, suffer and rejoice beside us. God saves us by becoming one of us.
Most of you know that I've been rehearsing these past several weeks to be in our local production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This is something I’ve wanted to do for the past twenty years, since the first time I saw Superstar on stage. It has always been more than a musical for me – it was an avenue, as a teenager, for exploring my faith, deepening my relationship with God, because seeing the events of Holy Week unfold on stage made the gospels come alive for me. I wanted to be a part of it. I wondered how I would react if I had been there, where I would have been in the crowd. Now, being in the show, I have to wrestle with the strangeness of starting out as a townsperson who is cheering Jesus on, and ending up as someone yelling for his crucifixion. What I find most compelling, though, is watching the actor playing Jesus bring Jesus to life on stage. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this is the same actor I had a crush on as a teenager that started my love of Superstar to begin with!) As “Jesus” walks through the crowds, whether looking at people who are singing his praise, or people who are begging for healing, or people who are betraying, denying, and deserting him, or people who are sentencing him to death, I see eyes full of compassion, a drive to make us understand and believe God’s love for us. And I find myself again learning from this story, as I understand a little better how Christ saves us by becoming one of us.
Incarnation – what we emphasize at Christmas – God becoming one of us – isn’t just the gift of Christmas. I think that God-with-us is what we experience in the cross, too. God, who became one of us, who would suffer for us, who would sit with us, experience it all with us. Understanding that gift to us is what made the prophet Isaiah write the Servants Songs, write of the Suffering Servant, the text we heard today. Understanding that gift to us is what made Arnulf of Leuven write a poem, meditating on the passion of Christ, what made hymnists over centuries write and rewrite the hymn we study today.
Our task goes beyond understanding, or beginning to understand, how God reaches us by becoming one of us. We are called to do likewise. So often, when we try to reach others – when we try to help people through struggles, when we try to serve, when we try to give, when we try to be in mission and ministry, we forget to follow the example of Jesus. We try to reach down, and pull others up, make them like us. We try to make ministry and service something we offer to others, a gift from someone with power to someone without, even when our intentions are the best. Jesus calls us to be in ministry with, to serve with, to experience life with each other, as we are one in the body of Christ, part of one another. Are you willing to sit down beside someone, and be with them in their pain? In their struggles? So that when they rejoice you can be truly with them in joy?
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. O sacred head, now wounded. Amen.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Readings for 5th Sunday in Lent, 3/25/07:
Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

Isaiah 43:1-7:
  • "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" - Such words of hope! I think that verses about things being made new are usually among people's favorites in the Bible. Why? We as humans are so faulty, we need to hold on to the hope that God can do something new out of the messes we're creating.
  • "The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches." Picture Lion King? Seriously, envision a God who is so awesome that even the wildness, the out-of-control, will honor this God.
  • "so that they might declare my praise." I don't know if I like the image of God creating humans simply so there could be someone to praise and worship God. Even for God, that sounds a little cocky, doesn't it? I don't know - I guess I was always more struck by the idea that God created us out of love, and the desire to share love with something. As God says while creating humans, "it is not good for [human] to be alone." Perhaps neither is it good for God!

Psalm 126:
  • "we were like those who dream." I like this verse - sounds like it should be from some Shakespeare play, some poetry. The psalmist talks about how surreal/unreal/dreamlike it felt to be restored, to be made whole again by God, to be returned to Zion. What, in your dreams, could God make of your life?
  • "May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy." A good benediction!

Philippians 3:4b-14:
  • One of my least favorite things about Paul is that I feel he is always boasting about himself while pretending to be humble. But here, he actually is making good, thoughtful points about his identity and his identity in Christ. A faithful Jew all his life, Paul says his faith identity would give him reason to boast except that now, in Christ, these things are "regard[ed] as loss]." Why? These things simply aren't important in Christ: in Christ there is no Greek or Jew.
  • "Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead." Like last week's texts, here again is a theme of a clean slate. It isn't easy to forget the past. Indeed, it is not always wise either. But what Paul urges here is to forget the identity that was without Christ, so that we can focus on 'the prize' of living fully in Christ in the present/future.
John 12:1-8:
  • How does that translate in this text? Well, first, I note that John never mentions Judas without also mentioning that Judas would later betray Christ! (This annoys me.) But, it also makes me ask, would react any differently than Judas at this seeming waste? Probably not. I'm not much for extravagance. I don't like spending money on things that seem frivolous, like jewelry, makeup, etc. Perfume would definitely be included for me. How would you react? Honestly!
  • "You always have the poor with you..." How I wish Jesus had never uttered these words! How often they have been taken out of context as an excuse not to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed and impoverished. If only he could imagine how wrongly we would use his words!
  • Overall, I think Jesus is speaking about the time of God. As a freshman in my first religion class at OWU, with Dr. Emmanuel Twesigye, I first learned the Greek words chronos and kairos, our regular human time, and "God's right time for action." I think Jesus allows Mary's action here because she is rightly sensing the kairos time they are in. This was precious time with Jesus, preparation time, on the extremely difficult journey to the cross. After Jesus went to the cross, there would be much work, much work to do. And God would/does indeed demand us to do this work of service. But for a moment, these matters of preparation had there place.

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Oops - sorry these are being posted after-the-fact!

Readings for 4th Sunday in Lent, 3/10/013:
Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Joshua 5:9-12:
  • "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." Wow - just like that - tabula rasa - a clean slate. What is on your slate that you want to have wiped clean? On the one hand, I'm a firm believer that it's not healthy to live life with regrets over the past. Our choices, even bad ones, effect our lives in ways we can't possibly know - to change one think would be to change everything, sort of like the Back to the Future movies. But on the other hand, what can be wiped clean, what can be changed over time is our feelings about the past, the emotions, those parts that linger with us. Note that God does not say here that God wipes their experience of Egypt from them. No, God wipes their disgrace, their emotional damage from the experience.
  • Joshua finds the people finally coming into the promised land that God had shared in a promise to Moses. This is, indeed, an awesome homecoming. Not just returning to a home place, but returning to the very concept of having a home for these people. I love how their eating of the "produce of the land" and the "crops of the land" tie them to their home. The land is their home now, they have eaten of its fruit. If only we all viewed our tie to our land, our planet, our earth, in such a way, perhaps we would not treat it with such disregard!
Psalm 32:
  • Watch for the change of voice in verse 8-9. It threw me off for a couple minutes. First the psalmist is talking to God, then God to the psalmist. "I will counsel you with my eye upon you," says God. What an image! Being a Lord of the Rings fan, the big eye of Sauron comes to mind first, but that's not exactly how I like to imagine the eye of God! Think perhaps instead of those pretty "God's Eye" craft projects you might have completed in elementary school.
  • There's a Hide and Seek theme going on here. The psalmist talks about hiding and not hiding our sinfulness from God. But the psalmist also talks about God being our hiding placeGod is the one seeking us. We can hide from God or hide in God. Which will it be? God will cover our sin.
  • Note the theme again of clean slates - God is wiping out our sins.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:
  • More clean slate language. "New creation." "Everything has become new." Our trespasses are not counted against us.
  • Our response? We, in turn, are ambassadors, sharing the message of reconciliation.
  • I like the opening of this passage. We are not to view anyone from a human point of view. When first we meet Jesus, we view him from a human point of view, perhaps, but Paul says "we know him no longer in that way." What does he mean? Well, perhaps Paul wants us to view people from God's point of view instead. If we look at people with the eyes of God, how would we see them, ourselves, Christ differently?
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32:
  • One final story about clean slates, this one perhaps most familiar. As with all very familiar Bible stories, right down to the resurrection, we are in danger of missing the whole point because of how well we think we know them. Be careful!
  • Jesus tells this story because the Pharisees and scribes point out that he welcomes sinners and eats with them. As much as we like to think otherwise, church people are SO OFTEN in the habit of using their faith as an excuse to separate themselves from perceived sinners, not as a reason to welcome them! When was the last time you intentionally sought to spend a great deal of time with people whose behaviors you thought were really offensive??
  • Notice that there is no sin, really, in the younger son demanding his inheritance and leaving to seek his own life. We think of that as wrong, but that is not the tone of the text here. Where he goes wrong is in "dissolute living" once he is gone. Even still, his journey home is full of struggle, feeling valueless, repentance, groveling. Certainly, I feel he has 'paid' by the time he gets home.
  • Why is the older brother so hostile? One quadrennium, I had heard that there were petitions to the UMC's General Conference to shorten the probationary period before ordination from what it had been. But, the rules weren't to  apply to people like me who were already mid-process. My reaction - outrage that those who come after me will have an easier time of it! For some reason, we want everyone to have it as hard as we have had it. Thank God that God does not operate on the same system!
  • Which character are you? What if this was mother and daughters instead? Or a mix of genders? Use your imagination!

Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent, "New Arrangements: Beneath the Cross of Jesus," 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Sermon 3/10/13
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

New Arrangements: Beneath the Cross of Jesus

            Elizabeth Clephane was born in Scotland, in 1830, and grew up in the village of Melrose. Her parents died when she was rather young, and Elizabeth, one of three sisters, was known to be frail and sickly most of her life. Despite this, she and her siblings worked hard to care for others who were less fortunate in their village, and Elizabeth was known as “one of those cheerful people who brighten every corner.” She and her sister tried to give away everything they did not absolutely need to live one, and she was nicknamed “Sunbeam” for the light she brought into the lives of others. Clephane’s hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus was not published until after her death, in 1872. None of her hymns were, actually. It appeared, along with a handful of others, in a Scottish Presbyterian Magazine called Family Treasury, as a poem titled, “Breathing on the Border.” The magazine editor, W. Arnot, wrote, “These lines ex­press the ex­per­i­enc­es, the hopes and the long­ings of a young Christ­ian late­ly re­leased. Writ­ten on the ve­ry edge of life, with the bet­ter land ful­ly in view of faith, they seem to us foot­steps print­ed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of Etern­i­ty. These foot­prints of one whom the Good Shep­herd led through the wild­er­ness in­to rest, may, with God’s blessing, con­trib­ute to com­fort and di­rect suc­ceed­ing pilg­rims.” (1)
            I find Clephane’s hymn fascinating. “Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand, the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land; a home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way, from the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.” Most of our Lenten hymns that focus on the cross focus on the passion, the crucifixion of Jesus – and certainly, Clephane does that in her hymn text as well. But her emphasis is on the place of the cross as a refuge. The cross of Jesus is a resting place, a home in the wilderness, protection from the burning sun, and from the burdens of the day. She makes reference to Isaiah, who wrote, “the shade of a great rock in a weary land,” text that is found too in a famous spiritual – Jesus is a rock in a weary land. But here, Clephane is specific – not just Jesus, but the sacrificial gift of Jesus’s life is her refuge. As with most of the hymns that we know today, the original actually had more verses – two more than are included in our hymnal. In the second verse, she writes, “O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet, O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!” I just love that line – O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet. The place where Clephane pictures finding rest and comfort is the meeting place of God’s love and justice.
            Our epistle lesson today is from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing about the urgency with which he and his coworkers are undertaking their ministry. And then he says, “16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Paul continues, talking about reconciliation, saying that our newness is a gift from God, made possible because God has reconciled with us through Jesus, and we, in turn, undertake the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation, as Paul defines it, means that our sins are not counted against us, even though they could be. Knowing that we have this gift from God, we become ambassadors for Christ, like Paul, urging others to be reconciled with God. Reconciliation means, literally, “to bring together again” or “to make friendly.” It also has a sense of “making discordant statements or facts consistent.” In that sense of the word, you might think of reconciling your bank statement with your checkbook. You want to make sure both match, and if there are conflict, you have to resolve them – you have to figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Reconciling your finances might be challenging. But I think the first kind of reconciliation is infinitely harder, and more rewarding: bringing together again, where there has been a separation in a relationship. Maybe we try to approach reconciliation in relationships the same way we do in our checkbooks – figure out what went wrong, who’s to blame, cross things out, erase, do over. Reconciliation in relationships is usually not so black and white. Whether with one another, or with God, reconciliation in our relationships means closing the gap that has formed between you.
            Paul tells us that when it comes to closing the gap between us and God, God offers the gift, and makes reconciliation possible by offering Jesus to bridge the gap. I’m a fan of the Christian band Newsboys, especially some of their older music, you know, from when I was a teenager. One of their songs is called Real Good Thing, and the chorus goes: ʺWhen we get what we don’t deserve, it’s a real good thing. When we don’t get what we deserve, it’s a real good thing.ʺ You can spend a lot of time thinking about that. Although we value fairness a lot in our culture, God isn’t really into fairness. I have a lot more to say about that in some other sermon! But we should be thankful that God isn’t all about what is fair, because sometimes we forget that if God was being fair to us, giving us what we deserved to get – well, maybe we, sinners, makers of bad decisions, hurters of others, ignorers of God's calls and commands, wouldn’t really deserve much actually, or wouldn’t want what we did deserve. What we might deserve is God declaring us too out-of-sync for reconciliation to be possible. What we receive from God then, instead of fairness, is God’s love and compassion, God’s forgiveness meeting face to face with God’s justice, and that’s infinitely more valuable to me than fairness. We don’t often deserve it. But thankfully it comes as a gift, free, without price. Not cheap. Rather, priceless.
            “O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet, O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!” Elizabeth Clephane wrote. In other words, the refuge, the rest she finds beneath the cross is the place of reconciliation, the place where God meets us, where God closes the distance we keep trying to create. Instead of trying to make do with crossing out mistakes, erasing, recalculating, God reconciles us by making us new creations in Christ. New. Everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!
            Paul says we are ambassadors of this reconciling Christ. We’re representatives, the messengers meant to tell others what we know. Think of the ambassadors we send to other countries to represent our country’s priorities and points of view. You are an ambassador for Christ, for this work of reconciliation, a representative of what new life in Christ looks like. What message will others receive from you? Elizabeth Clephane lived her life in such a way that people saw her and thought, “She’s a sunbeam.” I think she delivered her message. What message is your life delivering?