Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after Easter, Year C


Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter, 5/4/13:
Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:1-10, 22 - 22:5, John 14:23-29

Acts 16:9-15:
  • I am particularly interested in the description of Lydia in this passage, one often overlooked by those who insist the Bible directs women to submissive, secondary roles.
  • Note the changing voice/narration in this section. Luke becomes first person narrator instead of third. People have speculated on why - poor editing? Was he particularly passionate about passages where he slips into first person? Food for thought.
  • Lydia has her whole household baptized. We don't hear anything of a husband, or his position on all this. Interesting.
  • "If you have judged me to be faithful . . . " How do you judge the faith of another? We are not supposed to 'judge others' in some senses, but when are we called to judge, in what ways and situations? By what criteria? I thought this an interesting criterion she sets for them - if I am faithful, share my home.
Psalm 67:
  • "Let the people praise you, O God." Amen!
  • Asking for God's blessing. Do you ask God to bless you? Part of the Prayer of Jabez phenomenon I found troubling - so much prayer for more for ourselves, so little prayer for others. But sometimes we go to extremes, and don't pray for God's work in our own lives. We just have to remember to be thankful to God as well when we are indeed blessed.
  • Switching of voice. Notice changing from directly addressing God to referring to God in the third person. I really like this - it gives me the sense that the psalmist just had to address God directly - wanted it to be close and personal, hence the flip-flopping. Just a thought!
  • "You judge the peoples with equity." Not something you would think of offhand to be thankful for, but indeed, even today, or maybe especially today, we can be glad that God can make sense of our worldwide messes even when we cannot.
Revelation 21:1-10, 22 - 22:5:
  • Note that the first part of this text is a repeat of last week's passage from Revelation - so check out those notes as well for more details.
  • No sun, no moon, new earth, new heaven. I don't know - I guess we have indeed messed up what we have. It's tempting, like John of Patmos, to want new everything, wiped clean everything - more than that - torn down and recreated everything. But sometimes I think it would be more rewarding to renew, refresh, rebuild than to wipe out and start from scratch. I think of God's Old Testament act of destroying the earth with a flood, and when it's all done, God says - "Nah - not gonna do it that way again" - almost like the starting from scratch wasn't all it was cracked up to be after all. Instead, next time, God tried something new, and sent Jesus. Not from scratch, but certainly earth-changing enough for me!
John 14:23-29:
  • Love - all about love
  • "We will make our home with them." Compare to Revelation: "See, the home of God is wit mortals."
  • "I am going away, and I am coming to you." I like this verse. Jesus is going away - being crucified, resurrecting, ascending, not going to be there in the way they have been used to. But Jesus is also coming to them - in a new way, a constant always-with-them way that will shape the rest of their lives.
  • This is the around-in-circles talk from John that can be - overwhelming? confusing? annoying? hard to make sense of? Take your pick.
  • All this stuff provides some fodder for Trinitarian theology as well.
  • Notice the tense (at least in my NRSV - I'm too tired to look up Greek today!) of verse 28b - "If you loved me, you would rejoice" (emphasis added). What does Jesus' wording say about what he believes to be the position of the disciples?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C


Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter, 4/28/13:
Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

Acts 11:1-18:
  • As a long-time vegetarian, this is one of those passages I often has quoted at me as reason why it's ok, Bible-approved to eat meat. Makes me laugh in frustration. We read, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." Indeed, I agree with that - but what humans have made unclean? Those things God asks us to be careful in how we use.
  • But basically, I like this passage. It's about Peter getting over himself. For as much as I like to rag on Paul for his constant boasting, I love him for his vision that the Jesus message wasn't just for Jews, but for all. Peter's vision is always limited - he always seems to need to confine the mission, have rules, tests, for who hears it. But here, he gets it: "who was I that I could hinder God?"
  • Hear Peter's epiphany: He comes across believers who share in the baptism of the Holy Spirit with him. His conclusion: "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" I pray that we do not continue to attempt to hinder God and God's call on our people. Where do we do this within the church and world? 
Psalm 148:
  • I like Psalms that are simple and clear in their focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. It is a reminder to me, to us, in our worship preparations, to remember what is our focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. Sometimes we try so hard for something fantastic that we lose focus on why we put together such wonderful music, beautiful liturgies, and carefully crafted sermons. Praise God!
  • Psalms like this that include things like: sun, moon, starts, mountains, fire, hair, hills, trees, cattle, birds, young, old, men, women, rules, snow, and wind, all in one litany remind us of our relationship with ALL creation. A little stewardship of the earth, please? If the psalm says all creation praises God, we do a good job of putting a stop to the praise when we destroy the creation...
Revelation 21:1-6
  • "See, the home of God is among mortals." Revelation is certainly an interesting book of the Bible, and I never know quite how to take it. But this right here - this is one of my favorite verses. After all, it is the good news that Jesus was trying to communicate, is it not? Jesus' gospel was this: "The kingdom of God is at hand." God's reign is here. Right. Now. So John of Patmos says it well - the home of God is with the people. That is good news.
  • This passage is often used at funerals. It's funny these words of comfort come from a book that causes fear and anxiety in so many readers when they hear the 'prophecies' of the 'end times' that they discern in earlier chapters. But I think this passage really is core to the whole book - God with the people. Death and mourning and tears done. Alpha, and Omega, Beginning and End.
John 13:31-35:
  • Glory, glory, glory. From the Greek root dokeo^, meaning extol, splendor, magnify, and the like.
  • "Where I am going, you cannot come." The Ascension, impending. But interesting words. Where can we go that Jesus goes? He wants us to follow him in most of the places he goes. Can we? Should we? Will we?
  • New commandment: Love one another. That's how people will know you are followers of Jesus. One of my favorite 'camp' songs was always "And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love", from this text. I'm afraid that my life doesn't always confirm that. I think about ends and means. The end: our Christian identity is visible. The means: love. In this case, Jesus suggests we can't get the end we desire, to be known as disciples, except by the means of loving as he has loved. And how has he loved? That's an easy one!

Sermon, "Not-So-Secrets of New Life: Generosity," John 21:1-19


Sermon 4/21/13
John 21:1-19

Not-So-Secrets to New Life: Generosity


            The last time I asked you all if you had seen a movie – at that time What Dreams May Come – I got a bunch of blank looks from most of you. I gave this a test run at our Christian Ed Leadership Retreat yesterday, and I’ll have better luck so I’m going to try again! How many of you have seen the Bill Murray 1993 movie Groundhog Day – gosh, did that really come out 20 years ago? The premise is this: Bill Murray’s character, Phil, isn’t really enjoying life. He’s a news reporter, and he has to report on Punxutawney Phil, and whether or not he sees his shadow on Groundhog Day. The day doesn’t go very well as a whole. He finally goes to sleep, wakes up in the morning – and instead of being the next day, it’s the same day all over again. He finds, for some reason, he has to keep living the same day over and over. And at first, he doesn’t really try to do anything differently. Presented with the same day, Phil does basically the same thing. Eventually, eventually, dissatisfied with the life he is experiencing, dissatisfied with the way he’s spent this day, again, and again, he starts to make changes. Finally, when he’s changed his life, inside and outside, he wakes up to February 3rd and a new beginning.
            We are still in the season of Easter. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we are Easter people – we always live in the reality of the resurrection, and we specifically celebrate the Great Season of Easter for 50 days – the time between Easter morning and the day of Pentecost. And today, that’s where we again find the disciples. They are in this sort of limbo time – Jesus has been resurrected, he’s been seeing the disciples, but they haven’t been doing anything different. They’re not talking to others, as far as we can tell, about the fact that Jesus has been resurrected. They don’t seem to be talking about his teachings, or his miracles, or his healing, or his ministry, or the last three years of their life. In fact, at the opening of this passage, they’ve gone back to doing exactly what they were doing when Jesus first called them years earlier. They’re fishing, and not catching any fish. It is as if they’re just starting over, back at square one. And just as before, Jesus intervenes. He tells them where to cast the nets, and they catch so many fish they can barely get back to shore.
            Once they’re back on land, Jesus shares a meal of fish and bread with the disciples, and he sits down for a conversation with Peter. Jesus say, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ which has the sense of, “Do you love me more than anything?” And Peter answers, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ And Jesus says, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he says to Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ And Peter answers, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ Then Jesus says a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter, we read feels hurt because Jesus keeps asking him this question over and over, as if he is not satisfied with Peter’s response. But he answers again, with more detail: ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ And Jesus says once more, ‘Feed my sheep.’ With just a few more verses, the gospel of John comes to a close.
            Peter had, of course, denied he even knew Jesus, three times in a row, just days before this encounter. Even though Peter seems hurt, frustrated here, I see this encounter as a generous gift from Jesus. He’s telling Peter that even though Peter thinks everything is the same, back to normal, his regular old life, in fact, everything has changed. He is forgiven, forgiven, forgiven. Jesus accepts Peter’s love, and lets him say it as many times as he once denied Jesus. And Jesus, three times, tells Peter he has work to do, work that God is entrusting to Peter’s leadership, even though Peter has made mistakes, sinned, screwed up in major ways. God is far from done with Peter. It is just beginning. Everything is about to change for Peter, again. There is no going back. His life has been transformed, and he’s been resurrected alongside Jesus.
Jesus reminds us that the thing we need to inspire change has already happened: Resurrection! New life! All things new! New creations in Christ! If we are looking for that one thing that will finally inspire us to live new lives, Jesus reminds us that we’ve already received the gift. We just need to open it, and put it to use, instead of leaving the wrapped gift sitting on a shelf. We need to be resurrected alongside Jesus. Otherwise, we read the gospel and find that life before and after Easter looks pretty much the same.
That’s what I’m wondering about today. It is fascinating that a story in the gospel before and after the resurrection can look so similar – until you get to the part where Jesus pushes and prods and encourages and nurtures until Peter is finally ready to do a new thing. What about our lives? Do they read the same, before and after? Is there any difference in our lives with and without Jesus? I think of those images, those puzzles, where you see two images side by side, that are almost identical, and you have to find the minute, tiny changes. Is our before and after picture with God like that – so small you can hardly tell that it isn’t the same old same old? Or is the transformation obvious?
            I just shared this story with some folks here in the past few weeks: Some years ago, when I was serving my first church, I had found a lump in my collarbone that wasn’t there before. My mother, always an optimist, was hopeful, encouraging me to be so too. But I couldn’t be. I just had a bad feeling about things. I was very worried. Stressed to the max. A big black cloud hanging over my head. I had an exam with my doctor, who didn’t just wave it off as nothing. He recommended a CT scan. I had a scan, then a second, which showed several lymph nodes that were slightly enlarged. One doctor wanted to do surgery, a biopsy, right away. But at the last minute, he wasn’t able to do the procedure, and I had to see another surgeon. He wanted to wait. He thought it was an infection that would resolve. And so I waited, six weeks of waiting. I found it to be a long time to wait.  And in those six weeks, I found I’d become something of a hypochondriac. I worried about everything, and wasn’t really enjoying anything. But finally, the six weeks passed, and I got good news. News I hardly dared to hope for. All the lymph nodes were smaller. I walked out with a clean bill of health, and I knew I should be grateful for receiving news that so many others wished to receive and didn’t. Only, I didn’t seem to feel much relief. My good news was too hard for me to believe. I had been so convinced that something was wrong that I kept forgetting, actually, that I'd had this good news. I kept checking my collarbone, feeling the node, worrying. I'd been in such a funk for so long that I kept wanting to feel and react as if I hadn’t had the good news yet. I wasn’t quite ready to believe that the news could be so good. There was no difference between my before and after picture.
In the book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, he writes, ʺMerely to survive and preserve our life is a low-level instinct that we share with [animals], but it is not heroism in any classic sense. We were meant to thrive and not just survive. We are glad when someone survives, and that surely took some courage and effort. But what are you going to do with your now resurrected life? That is the heroic question.ʺ (21) God wants so much more for us, for our lives, for our congregation, for our world, than that we survive. More than getting by. More than the same old-same old. So much more. So much more, that God breaks into our life in human form to give it to us – life, abundant, resurrected, transformed, new, more than we’ve imagined.
We’re embarking on our stewardship campaign today. We’ve been asked to think about what dreams and hopes for our congregation will fill our buckets. In our wildest dreams, what is God calling us to do? In my experience, it is really hard for us to dream big, and believe that God has big dreams for us. Somehow, we’re sure that there’s nothing new under the sun. Somehow, we’re sure that we’re going to wake up tomorrow, and it will be Groundhog Day all over again, and instead of trying something different, we might as well just go through whatever we did to get through the first time. Somehow, we’re trying to just survive. Somehow, we’re just getting back in the boats and fishing in empty waters.
Friends, our generous God offers us forgiveness for whatever has held us back in our past, and reminds us as many times as we need to be reminded that the slate’s been wiped clean, just as Jesus reminded Peter. Our generous God will fill our nets again, or fill up our buckets again, if we need reminding of what God at work in us can do, the beyond-our-wildest-dreams miracles God can work in our world. And again, our God will start us out with a charge, a call, a commission, a challenge: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Get going, get moving, get dreaming, get loving. The resurrection is now, new life if yours, start living. Our generous God will give us as many beginnings as we need. Let’s take advantage of even one of them, one new beginning, and we’ll see God’s dreams become our reality. God is doing a new thing here. It’s a new day. Where we see endings, worse – where we see the same old thing, God gives us a new beginning. An after picture. A flock to feed. A gift to open. A tomorrow that’s today. How will you change?
Amen.
           

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C


Readings for 4th Sunday of Easter, 4/21/13:
Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

Acts 9:36-43:
  • note: "a disciple whose name was Tabitha . . . she was devoted to good works and acts of charity." This is a very empowering description of a new testament woman! A disciple: in Greek, a mathetria, the feminine of the same word used to describe the twelve - a pupil/student, just as they were. This is the only place in the bible this word appears.
  • Compare this to Jesus' raising of Jairus' daughter. Yes, different details. But the point of this passage is that the disciples, like Peter, are truly living now as Jesus lived, doing what he did, working in the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had left them with. It is possible for them to imitate and be like Jesus. As it is possible for us.
Psalm 23:
  • Ah, perhaps the one passage of scripture that most people, regardless of their usual preference of translation, prefer to hear in the poetry of the King James version, myself included. Just a part of our identity as people of faith.
  • "I shall not want." Hmm. I think we skip right over this little phrase. We like to hear about our overflowing cup. Less interesting to us, less believable, is that we could be without want.
  • Have you ever tried writing this as a reverse Psalm? Verse by verse, reverse the meaning of the phrases. Not necessarily point for point, but in the sense of it. Instead of "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," try, "I have no one to lead me, and my need is boundless." I've been led in this process, and led my Bible Study in it. At first you might ask, "Why do it this way?" But, especially when in a group, reading back all the hopeless examples of our life without God, we see the power of this psalm more clearly.
  • Like all well-known texts, there is a danger of it communicating nothing fresh to us. This psalm is often used at funerals - many people know it by heart. Many find it comforting and strengthening. What else can it be? Challenging? Guiding us?
Revelation 7:9-17:
  • "Salvation belongs to our God." Salvation is God's, not ours. Hm. Puts it in to perspective, for us humans who are forever trying to make sure we're saved.
  • "These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal . . . they will hunger no more, and thirst no more, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat . . . " Frankly, Revelation is not always high on my "favorite books of the Bible" list. But this is verse is so comforting: those who have been oppressed, who have come out of "the great ordeal" will be clothed in white, be free of hunger and thirst, and have God bring them to the water of life and have God wipe the tears from their eyes. I can see how much hope and anticipation can be found in those verses.
John 10:22-30:
  • This scene takes place just after Jesus teaches about being the Good Shepherd and coming to bring abundant life, one of my favorite Bible passages.
  • "How long will you keep us in suspense?" The Jews gather around Jesus to demand whether or not he is the Messiah. This is such an odd passage - nowhere else does it seem people have a clue of his identity, much less demand a straight answer from him.
  • Note that the festival of Dedication is what we know as Hanukkah.
  • Jesus explains his role, but in metaphorical sheep/my voice language. This is not the kind of Messiah the people would have in mind.
  • "The Father and I are one." That is a huge verse for supporting the divinity of Jesus for early-churchers trying to nail down doctrine and theology. What do you think Jesus means? 
  • "No one will snatch them out of my hand." Protection. Comforting.

Sermon, "Not-So-Secrets of New Life: Simplicity," John 9:1-41


Sermon 4/14/13
John 9:1-41

Not-So-Secrets of New Life: Simplicity


            Many of you know I’ve been trying hard to have a healthier lifestyle – eating better, moving more. I’ve been getting into a rhythm, and it feels good. But, like most people, I admit I sometimes wish there was an easier way, a quick fix, that would still allow me to eat as many slices of pizza as I want at our pizza and games party this afternoon! The easy way out. Aren’t we all looking for that sometimes? I still vividly remember meeting a woman while I was serving as a chaplaincy intern at Crouse Hospital during seminary. She was telling me about her diet plans, because when people are stressed and worried about big things in their life, they will often talk a lot about the less stressful, worrisome things just to have a break. She was frustrated that her dieting didn’t seem successful, and she explained to me in detail what she was doing. On certain days of the week, she’d follow the Atkins plan, and on certain days she’d do South Beach, and certain days she’d do Weight Watchers, and so on. A little bit of this plan, a little bit of that plan. The end result seemed to be that she picked the foods she liked best from every program, and ditched any parts of the diet that were too tough or unpleasant. And surprisingly, this was not proving to be a successful plan!
            We can smile/laugh at this obvious plan for failure, because we can see the absurdity of it. But I suspect that all of us have some areas of our life that we approach the same way. There’s something we want to do or be or achieve. We may even want it very badly. But we really, really want to find an easy way to do it, to get it, to be it. We know the steps it would take to accomplish the task, but we’d really like to skip steps 2-9 and go straight to the last step. In my experience, though, almost nothing worth having in life can be attained in this way. As Jesus-followers, I believe that sometimes we approach our discipleship, our walk with God in the same way. There are certain things we’d like to get out of relationship with God. But we really, really want to find an easy way to do it.
For example, there’s how we read the Bible. We all have different ways of reading, understanding, and interpreting the Bible, which is not a bad thing. We bring different perspectives together in a community of faith, which makes for great conversation, where we learn from each other. Most of us tend to use the same techniques to read the Bible for the whole book. For example, if we tend to read stories and view them literally, we do that consistently. If we see a lot of metaphor in the Bible, we tend to always see a lot of metaphor. If we seek out the historical fact of a passage, that’s often how we read the whole Bible. The usual “lens” we use to look at the scriptures is called our hermeneutic. Your hermeneutic, your lens, might be different from my lens, and that’s ok. But it is the best if you are consistent with what lens you use. What raises alarm bells for me is when we suddenly discard our usual method of interpretation when we get to challenging passages of scripture because we don’t like the conclusion our usual method brings us to. If your usual way of reading scripture works for you right up until you realize you’d have to change your life if the scripture means what you think it mean, well, we’re probably looking for that easy way out. One of my favorite quotations is from theologian Søren Kierkegaard. He writes,
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament. (1)

Kierkegaard writes with a sense of humor, certainly. But he also means very much what he says. He argues that what the Bible calls us to do, how it calls us to live – that’s simple. We try to make it more complicated to protect ourselves from having to do what the Bible says – we take the easy way out, ironically, by pretending the Bible is too difficult to understand. I love this quote because of how uncomfortably true it rings for me! I think simplicity is something we seek after in our crazy, fast-paced culture. I seek it. I value simplicity. I think the Bible even speaks to the value of simplicity. But I think sometimes we hear “simple” and we think “easy.” We’d like that too – easy. Just like the Staples commercials. A nice, big, red Easy button. But simple and easy are not actually synonyms. What God calls us to do might be simple. But I’m not sure that means it is easy.  
            Our gospel lesson from John today is a passage that starts out as a simple healing story. Ok, healing might not be simple for us, but for Jesus, stories of his healing are frequent, and if you just read the several verses of this story, you’d think it was a “typical” healing story. Jesus sees a man who is blind, a beggar who has been blind since birth, while traveling with the disciples, and Jesus, saying he is the light of the world, creates mud with his own spittle, puts it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash the mud off in the pool of Siloam. The man does as Jesus tells him, and sure enough, he is healed. He can see.
            A healing. How would you respond? If someone was blind, and this man, preaching about God, healed this person’s blindness, what would you say? Well, of course, we’d rejoice! We’d be thrilled, right? We’d thank God! If we didn’t know God, or know this preacher, we’d probably start to take this man and his message a little more seriously, maybe think there was something to this God thing after all. Simple, right? The most natural way in the world to respond to this miraculous healing, right?
And yet, instead of this passage being a few verses long, it is 41 verses, one of our longer single scenes with Jesus. And in those 41 verses, no one, other than Jesus and the formerly-blind man himself seem particularly happy about the healing. Something else is happening here. We’re tipped off in the first verse when Jesus and the disciples first encounter the blind man. One of the disciples asked, “Who sinned, that caused this man’s blindness? Was it the man, or his parents?” That question might sound weird to us, but in Jesus’ day, blindness or illness in general, or really any bad circumstances in your life, like poverty or disease – they were mostly attributed to sinful behavior, punishment from God as consequences for not being righteous enough. And the punishment could span generations. If you, a parent, were sinful, your children might be punished. Part of us recoils at this logic, thinking it totally ridiculous. But part of us can relate – the questions we ask when someone gets sick, gets cancer, aren’t always so different today. Why did this happen? What did so and so do to deserve this? Our questions imply we believe God is the cause of the event, don’t they? When Jesus answers the disciple, “neither this man nor his parent sinned,” his response is hugely impactful. Jesus heals to glorify God, to show that he is the light of the world. And a man who was born blind can now see. But the rest of the passage shows us the curious reactions of everyone around Jesus and this man.
The disciples start out wanting to analyze the reason for the man’s blindness, as if he is an interesting subject of theological debate. They never speak to the man directly – Jesus does that. The man’s neighbors, when they see him healed, don’t recognize him. Remember, nothing has changed about this man’s physical appearance. He was blind, and now he can see. But his neighbors, who have lived near where he sat begging, aren’t sure it is him. How can they fail to recognize him? I can only suspect that as a blind beggar, someone on the fringe of society, his neighbors never really paid him much attention, never really looked him in the face, made eye contact, as we sometime do when we are confronted with need and we’d rather keep on walking. So the neighbors aren’t sure this is even the man born blind at all, or that maybe, this man wasn’t blind his whole life as he’d claimed.
The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, get involved. They fight over whether the man was healed by a person from God or not, since the healing took place on the Sabbath, and healing would have been a forbidden act of “work” not “rest.” Some of them say only a man from God could have done this healing, and the formerly blind man calls Jesus a prophet, but other Pharisees can’t believe a rule-breaker like Jesus could have performed this healing. How they explain the man in front of them who can see, I’m just not sure. So they call the man back to explain his situation again, and to urge him to call Jesus a sinner, and tell the truth – in other words, tell some other version of the story that would fit with their rules about who God can use and how God can use them. The man, once blind, is baffled. “Do you want to become his disciples? Is that why you have so many questions about this miracle?” The Pharisees become more enraged.
The man’s parents are called in. Surely, they will be thrilled, right? But instead, they deflect questions. They will confirm that he was blind, and now he can see. But they say they know nothing about who healed him or how, and repeatedly they tell people to talk to their son, not them. They’re afraid of getting in trouble with the synagogue leaders.
Finally, the man who was healed is reunited with Jesus, and when Jesus confirms his identity as the son of God, the man worships Jesus. Jesus responds, “‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The Pharisees, overhearing this, can’t believe that Jesus implies they are the ones who are blind. But Jesus concludes, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.” This story, this healing, is about something that should be so simple. A man was blind, and now he sees. Thanks be to God! But we witness in this passage everyone taking what is very simple, and making it very, very complicated, so that they can take the easy way out, and not have to change their lives, not have to give up their power, not have to admit their wrongs, not have to wrestle with their assumptions, not have to let go of their prejudices and stereotypes, and not have to let God be in charge.
Easy sounds so good to us sometimes. But that’s not that how we receive the fullness of the abundant life God promises. Fortunately, even though discipleship isn’t always easy, it is pretty simple, when we don’t muddy the waters. Follow Jesus. Try to do what he does, love like he loves. Not always easy. Maybe the hardest things we will ever do. But Jesus, light of the world, opens our eyes, and leads the way. We simply have to follow. Amen.     
(1)   From Provocations, by Søren Kierkegaard.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday of Easter, Year C


Readings for 3rd Sunday of Easter, 4/14/13:
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20):
  • This is the story of the conversion of Saul, a favorite of many. I prefer using the extended text - the 'whole story'.
  • "any who belonged to The Way" - I like this name for Christianity - perhaps less boggling in some respects. The Greek is hodos, which means Way as in path or road, a highway. What does that say - our faith is the road we are on?!
  • "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Think of Matthew 25:31-45 - Jesus is the one who is impacted by our actions, be it positively or negatively. I'm guessing we don't really believe this - if we did, I would hope we would stop doing some of the atrocious things we do to one another, and start doing some of the so basic things we're always overlooking!
  • "He is an instrument I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." How hard it must have been for Ananias to trust God's plan in this case. But how comforting it should be, or challenging, to realize that God always picks the least likely, the least equipped, the least sensible to carry about God's plans.
  • "something like scales fell from his eyes" - I think of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Eustace Scrubb is turned into a dragon, a symbol of his misdeeds. To become a human again, he has to get rid of the dragon skin - he tries to peel it off himself, but can't get deep enough. Aslan (read Jesus), has to tear deeply into Eustace's flesh to get all of the old scaly skin away...
Psalm 30:
  • Eesh - not a favorite psalm. All these images of God are terrible - pleading with God to care and act, trying to convince God to act by appealing to God's desire to have more people to worship God (v. 9). Not a very flattering picture of God. But I guess it's more about where the psalmist comes from than about who God really is...
  • "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." The youth of my CCYM love the praise song "Trading My Sorrows", which takes this verse as a line of the song. These words comfort and give hope - but how do we speak to those who feel like this morning of joy never really comes?
  • "You hid your face." - Ugh - to think of God turning God's face from us. Devastating - like an eclipse?
Revelation 5:11-14:
  • Sorry - not much to say about this short blurb. Not to say the passage is not important - but - it is so short and so little is happening in it.
  • So what is it about? Everybody is worshiping the Lamb, Jesus. I guess that is a powerful image. But I'm more interested in what's going on with God and Christ here and now.
John 21:1-19:
  • I love this passage from John - it is so rich in symbolism and imagery. For some, Jesus eating is a confirmation of his physical resurrection, as opposed to spiritual resurrection. Personally, I find the fish more symbolic of Jesus' journey with the disciples. He called them when they were fishing - then there nets were breaking, now they do not despite the large catch. Then he called them to follow him - here he does again, to Peter, but now there is knowledge of what this means. He also shared the meal of bread and fish with them when he fed the 5000. They are again by the sea, on the water, where so much ministry has taken place, where so much meaning is attached.
  • Another Chronicles of Narnia tie-in, also from Voyage of the Dawn Treader. At the very end of the book, when the gang is finally approaching the Eastern end of the world, they see a lamb who is cooking fish for them to eat, who turns into Aslan before their eyes, who is the Christ figure. Hard to get it all into this blurb, but READ IT(!) for some great illustrations.
  • "Do you love me more than these?" What these? The disciples?
  • Chris Haslam suggests that Jesus asking Peter three times and Peters confirmation of love is a reversal of Peter's thrice denial of Christ before his crucifixion. He has come full circle - his shortcoming is turning into a strength - he can be the leader of the new church that Jesus needs him to be.
  • "Follow me." Indeed.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday of Easter, Year C


Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter, 4/7/13:
Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Acts 5:27-32:
  • The compact gospel message given by Peter. It's interesting how quickly the work of the disciples shifts from the teachings of Jesus about how to live and love the neighbor to an almost complete emphasis on Jesus and his resurrection with a seeming lack of talk about what Jesus taught. I think that's still where the church get's stuck today!
  • "We must obey God rather than any human authority." Do we believe this? It gets tricky when different people claim God telling them conflicting things. Just heard about a woman who stoned her sons to death because "The Lord told me to." On the other hand, I think of gay and lesbian folks who have been called by God and have to act against church law in order to claim their place as pastors. How do we judge who is acting on God's authority and who is abusing God's authority?

Psalm 150:
  • A popular psalm for its lively message of praise! Often set to music.
  • It strike me that this would be a great text for children's time - to actually bring in the instruments - the trumpet, a harp, a tambourine, cymbals, etc. Have people play them or let the kids try them out if possible.
  • "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" That's all creation - not just us humans. I like the holistic world view implied in that!

Revelation 1:4-8:
  • People have a fascination with the "End Times." I took a class at Drew during seminary on Revelation with Dr. Stephen Moore. Everything, while still over my head sometimes, made more sense after learning much more about the context in which Revelation was written. Learning that, I could finally let the text speak to me in meaningful ways! Anyway...
  • "I am the Alpha and the Omega" - Unfortunately I have read this text too many times recently, at the funerals of dear church members. But there is comfort in knowing that our beginning and our ending and everything before, after, and in between, is with God, in God, of God.
  • "Look, He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him." Human nature wants to make sure people pay and get what they deserve, right? All while being convinced that we deserve better than they do! Here is Jesus returning, and the biggest concern is that the bad guys get what's coming to them. Where is the joy at being with Christ?

John 20:19-31:
  • Ah, doubting Thomas. Most of us are less excited than I am to think of ourselves as being like Judas, but doubting Thomas we can relate to all too well. Who wouldn't want to see for himself, when everyone else had the benefit of seeing the risen Christ up close and personal?
  • "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Maybe today it is harder for us to take things on faith because we are so good at finding tangible - or at least scientific - proof for so many things. We can prove so much with our God-given minds - why not prove God? Prove Jesus? What do you believe without proof? Can you prove someone's love for you or yours for them? We try, but in the end, we just must trust.
  • John is obviously concerned with verifying the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection by having Thomas touch and feel Jesus, see the wounds. To me, as I mention in the Acts passage, I think the life of Jesus gets ignored in our obsession with his death and resurrection. Obviously, his death and resurrection are important to us - but would they be important if he had taught nothing in his life? If he had not been in such radical ministry for three years? So, John wants us to know Jesus' resurrection is the real deal. That's fine by me - but the statements about belief are more powerful in this passage, I think. More challenging.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Jesus Christ Superstar: From the Other Side



        This year, after twenty-one years of seeing Jesus Christ Superstar performed by Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, Ted Neeley’s various touring incarnations, my alma mater, and the Stratford Festival, and after harassing various church musicians into incorporating Superstar into worship so I could get a small taste of participating in the production, Saturday night I finally got to take the stage as a bona fide member of the cast, in all my miscellaneous-villager glory, instead of singing along quietly(ish) from my seat.
            I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the production over the years, reviewing the show, offering my peanut-gallery comments. Now, as a cast member, I can’t exactly give an unbiased review, so instead, I offer some reflections.
            First, I had so much fun being in the show. I was a theatre minor in college, and even though theatre was my minor and pre-theology was my major, my life in college revolved around theatre. That’s what took up my time. I worked on just about every regular season show during my three years at Ohio Wesleyan in some capacity or another. I loved it. I’ve missed it. Since becoming a pastor, I hadn’t yet been able to figure out how to incorporate theatre into my life. During my first year of ministry, I did makeup design for a community theatre production. (I cannot even recall the title of the show I worked on – how sad is that?) I ended up missing several shows due to deaths in my congregation, and I never really tried to get involved again. Recently, I noticed that one of my colleagues (thank you, Michael Terrell) was doing some theatre in his community, and I began for the first time in a long time to consider whether or not I could get involved in something again.
            But this wasn’t just any show. This was Jesus Christ Superstar. As I was waiting in the wings right before my first entrance – “What’s the Buzz?” – I realized I had a huge grin on my face, and I was having a little trouble wiping it off to replace with “perplexed townsperson.” I’ve imagined being in the show for so long. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but I really didn’t see how I would be able to be in the show that went up during Holy Week while I was serving a church. I am so thankful for this experience.
            In fact, as I think about my experience, a lot of “thank yous” come to mind. I want to thank my co-pastor, Aaron Bouwens, for not minding, for being supportive, when I told him I had committed to a project that would mess up our carefully worked out schedules, make me unavailable for some meetings, leave him on his own at Good Friday worship, and render me exhausted on Easter morning. I have to thank my congregation at Liverpool First UMC. It would be easy, especially when we are still in our first year together, for folks to have balked at my spending so much time away during Lent, rushing out at the ends of meetings to catch second halves of rehearsal, rescheduling programs to accommodate my schedule, etc. Instead, they were totally excited for me, and got together a huge group to come and cheer me on Saturday night (and then they still showed up on Sunday morning for worship!) I feel very blessed to be their pastor. I’m thankful to Bob Brown and Cathleen O'Brien Brown for being so flexible when I filled up my audition form with a huge list of rehearsal conflicts, and for Bob, as a director, going out of his way to make sure that the other pastor and I who were in the show could choose to portray our villager-characters in a way that wouldn't be harmful to our spirits – so thoughtful. I’m thankful to my family, and my dear friend Heather, for celebrating me on Saturday! There were flowers, “Beth Quick, Superstar” t-shirts, and Heather, also a pastor, might have had other things on her mind Saturday night, but she was still there, cheering me on! And of course, I have to thank Henry Wilson, who was playing Judas the first time I ever saw the show, who I had a huge crush on, which in turn fueled my love of the show, my questions about Judas, my theological searchings, and really, impacted my path into ministry in some important ways. I’ve been very upfront in writing about this influence on my blog and in my sermons over the years, and to be the focus of that commentary – well, there are many different ways a person might react to that! Henry, who I finally met after all these years, was entirely kind and gracious, and I enjoyed getting to watch him, now playing Jesus, bring the same depth and quality to this role that he always has, always taking rehearsals seriously, culminating in a truly moving performance.
            I know the folks involved in Superstar bring a variety of faiths and believes and experiences to the show. For me, though, it is always a spiritual experience. What would you have done, if you’d been there? Where would you be in the crowd? As a teenager, watching Superstar awakened in me the lifelong quest to answer those questions. It is so easy to believe that we would be supporters of Jesus, defenders, pleading for his freedom, pleading for his innocence. The thing is, I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. Heck, I even sat in my car for a good while on the night of Superstar auditions, talking myself out of auditioning several times before I finally went in and took the plunge, and that was for an experience that was all for my benefit, that I knew I would love. Would I risk raising my voice in an angry mob, shouting for crucifixion? I wonder how many of us would even be in that crowd, and how many of us would avoid the scene altogether, just trying to stay out of it. Where would be in that crowd? Where I am in this crowd? I claim to be a disciple of Jesus – what risks am I taking today to stand up against injustice? To speak for the marginalized? To love in the radical, sacrificial way of Jesus? What cost am I willing to incur? What truths must I speak and live? On this Easter Sunday, I feel particularly blessed to have had such an awesome vehicle for exploring these questions in Superstar, as I continue seeking new life.