Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections on a Black Friday

I remember how much fun my best friend in high school and I used to have taking my mom to work early on Black Friday, and then hitting the sales. We were more in the market for $10 deals, rather than big ticket electronics, but we always had a great time, and felt very adventurous. 

I know many folks are opting not to shop today (I'm too lazy to get up that early anymore!) and were very upset to see all the shopping deals yesterday. I get that. I delight in being able to spend the time surrounded by family on Thanksgiving, the chance to, for one precious day, cut away from the relentless pace of our world as a collective body, and say, "There are much more important things to do." I feel sad that we are eating away even at that small practice. 

But, I also think the issue is bigger than when we choose to shop, and so we need to think carefully about how we speak about what we see happening. I'm at a point in my life now where if I miss the sale price on Black Friday for something I want, I can afford to pay the higher price another day. I can afford to choose to shop locally instead of from big corporations. I can choose organic and whole foods over imported and processed items. And so I try to whenever possible.

But this hasn't always been the case in my family. In my Doctor of Ministry Research group, we've spent a lot of time talking about costs, and how the cost of things always goes *somewhere* when we are able to get something cheaply - it doesn't just disappear. But most often, the costs shift more and more to the poor - domestically and internationally - but become more hidden. Rarely do the most wealthy pick up more cost. For the cheap prices today (and every day), we perpetuate a system where the most vulnerable incur more costs - in low wage jobs, in lack of benefits, in organizing and labor rights power, etc.

We continue to live in a culture that says that all the items on sale today are valuable to have. A bigger (or super smaller) TV, headphones, tablets, smartphones, whatever. I certainly have many of these items! We create a culture that says these things are necessary. And then, we shame people, who are already struggling financially, for trying to fit in to the culture, and buy the things we've determined everyone must have - we shame them for trying to secure them at a cheaper price! 

When I think about the message of the gospel, the message of Jesus, I'm reminded that his message was so much more than opting out of a day of shopping (which I know you all know!) Jesus was about opting out of a whole system! Jesus was about opting out of the relentless culture of stuff, and offering a kingdom of God that said people were far more valuable than things, than status, than corrupt power. That true power comes from vulnerability, from service, from heading to the end of the line. And Jesus never communicated this message by shaming anyone - except maybe the rich and powerful and influential - to whom he simply to spoke the truth. 

Anyway, sorry for the rant. But I want to make sure that when we're shaking our heads at the commercialism of the day, we're doing it for the right reasons. Not because we can't believe "those people" are fighting over a good deal - but because we've created a culture where "those people," just like the rest of us, believe that these things will bring us life. That, indeed, is something to be sad about.

(This post was originally shared here on my facebook page with slight variations.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lectionary Notes for First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for First Sunday in Advent, 12/1/13:
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

Isaiah 2:1-5:
  • "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more." ah, I long for the day when this vision will be made plain on earth. It certainly retains timeliness, doesn't it? This is one of the verses (along with Micah 6:8) that graces the rotunda of the General Board of Church and Society's United Methodist building in Washington, D.C. ...
  • also, about the above verse: notice that the image is not just of peace, but of turning weapons into tools, tools that help growth and creation and life. Non-war, Non-fighting is not enough. Proactive, pro-creative is where God calls us.
  • "The Lord's house . . . shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it." This is a unique visual - if you think of God as mountain-top and nations as rivers - they stream upwards, against the usual flow, to meet with God.
  • Oh, indeed, let us walk in the light of God!
Psalm 122:
  • "peace be within your walls . . . "peace be within you." Peace in your house - that's good. Peace within you. That's better. Let's not ask it only for "relatives and friends" but for all.
  • "for the sake of . . . the Lord our God, I will seek your good." This is an important verse. We are good at seeking our own good, aren't we? But do we seek the good of others? If we can't do it for them or for ourselves, can we do it, as the psalmist says, for God's sake?
Romans 13:11-14:
  • "you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." There is such urgency in this statement and in this passage. I dislike our obsession, in Paul's time and today, with the end times. But I do like a sense of urgency. What are we waiting for to get going with doing God's work? We know what time it is: time for peace. time for justice. time for grace. Now is the moment to wake and work.
  • "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." No provision? Poor Paul - so black and white sometimes in his thinking - body or spirit instead of body and spirit.
  • "salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers." - this is a good verse to plug John Wesley's idea of sanctifying grace - grace that grows in us as we become disciples. A time of conversion (justification) when we first come 'be believers', however we might define that, is not the end and all and all of our relationship with God.
Matthew 24:36-44:
  • note on the Greek: the word for flood, kataklusmos, means literally, "inundation." neat.
  • "at an unexpected hour" Another passage talking about end times, if that's only as far as you are wanting to look. Better to think of it this way: so often in my life I am putting things off - procrastinating - not so much about day to day things, like sermon-writing :), etc., but about big things: I will start giving more ... when I'm out of debt. I will take risks for God .... after I get my PhD. I will speak out about what I really believe .... after I'm ordained elder. But the Son of Man comes unexpectedly. I should stop acting like I have something to wait for before I get to work the way God wants me to. Again, is in the passage from Romans, the time is NOW.
  • Note that Jesus makes no mention of why some get taken and some left, or where they get taken, or anything specific. We bring a lot of assumptions to the text about what this means, but be careful not to read things into the passage that aren't there.
  • Why do you think Jesus tells the disciples (and us) these things? What's his intention? We react, today at least, with fear and anxiety and worry. Is that what Jesus meant for us to feel? If it isn't, (and I'm thinking it isn't) how come we're missing what he's getting at?   

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Advent

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Advent
(Tune: VENI EMMANUEL)

The Lord be with you as we gather here
Lift up your hearts unto the Lord your God.
For it is right to give God our praise.
Let us prepare our hearts for coming days:
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

You created all things and called them good,
Made us like you, but we cast off your love.
You set us free and claimed us as yours,
Through sage and prophet spoke to us your word.
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Holy God of power and might,
Bless’d be the one who comes in your name,
Hosanna in the highest, God!
Hosanna in excelsis.
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Holy are you and blessed is your Son,
Jesus, the Light, your presence here with us.
You sent him in the fullness of time,
He came to preach good news to all.
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And on the night he was betrayed,
Christ took the bread, and unto you gave thanks
He broke the bread and shared it with friends.
“Take, eat, my body given for you.”
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

After the meal he lifted up the cup,
“My blood, my life, I pour it out for you.
This covenant I make anew.
Set free from sin! Remember me!"
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Spirit of God descend upon us now,
And make these gifts become for us.
The body and the blood of Christ
A holy, living sacrifice
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Prayer after Communion:
We thank you God of Mystery
For sacred meal, community
Send us forth now to share your light,
Disciples of the One of Peace!
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Text: Rev. Beth Quick, 2013.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn text with author attribution.

 Creative Commons License
A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Advent by Rev. Beth Quick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Reign of Christ, Year C

Readings for Reign of Christ Sunday, 11/24/13:
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 1:68-79, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Jeremiah 23:1-6:
  • Woe to shepherds who lead God's sheep astray! That's a warning to those of us who are clergy, but more generally to any of us who have power to lead and abuse it. Certainly, following November's elections, this can be a word of warning to our leaders, especially those who say they lead out of their religious beliefs.
  • Out of David - a righteous branch is raised up - this is good language we'll see again in Advent.
  • the name: "The Lord is our Righteousness." Our righteousness is not our own doing, our own making - God is our righteousness.
Luke 1:68-79:
  • Instead of the usual Psalm, we have this ‘prophecy’ spoken by Zechariah at the event of John’s circumcision, when his mouth is opened, after his silence for doubting God’s promise of a child.
  • Note again the reference to David - emphasis of the family line, the lineage of Christ's "kingship."
  • Zechariah also talks about the role his own son, John, will play. "You will be called the prophet of the Most High."
  • "to give knowledge of salvation." I like this phrasing - we have to learn how to be saved, how to let God save us, and how? "by the forgiveness of our sins."
Colossians 1:11-20:
  • words of blessing: "may you be made strong..." Do you give others words of blessing?
  • On the day we celebrate Christ's nature as the one who reigns, Colossians gives us a long list of Christ's divine characteristics: first born of all creation, in him all things created, through him and for him, the head of the body, head of the church, first-born of the dead
  • "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" - I just love this phrasing - a joy for God's fullness to dwell inside Jesus. And to me, what makes Jesus the Christ - the dwelling of the fullness of God within him. We strive for that. 
Luke 23:33-43:
  • Reign of Christ Sunday throws us into the crucifixion story abruptly. It's a shock to us, as we're about to hit Advent, and as we've been focusing on the teachings of Jesus. Use the abruptness - we're meant to be shocked, shocked out of our comfort zones!
  • Some interesting Greek notes here: the word for soldiers in verse 36 is stratio^tai means literally, "citizen bound to military service." Just thought that was an interesting phrasing. Also, in verse 39, what we read as "kept deriding" in NRSV is eblasphe^mei in Greek, to blaspheme, or literally, "to drop evil words" or "to speak lightly of sacred things," a definition I especially like.
  • Notice the repeated question/command to Jesus to save himself. If we have an ability to save ourselves, why might we choose not to? Who wins and loses when we use our own powers for our own self-interests?

Sermon, "Immediately: Jesus on the Water," Mark 6:45-52

Sermon 11/18/13
Mark 6:45-52

Jesus on the Water


            This week I took a 56-hour trip to Indiana and back to see my brother Todd in his first grad school theatre production, Anna in the Tropics. Before seeing his show on Friday night, we sat down for dinner, and he told my mother and me about different exercises he has to do in his classes. For example, in his movement class, he and his classmates have been working on physical expressions of emotions. They spent one class session practicing different types of crying – sobbing, wailing, keening. In another, they had to jump into imaginary boxes that represented 9 different emotions and instantly embody that particular emotion – surprise, disgust, anger, joy, and so on. In another class, they’ve been studying an acting method that involves trying to make your acting as “honest” as possible. And so the actors have to practice being as honest with each other as possible in class. This resulted in a classmate of Todd’s weeping while talking about her cat that died, Todd explaining, honestly, that he didn’t care about her cat that died, and the woman telling Todd, honestly, to get out of her sight! My mother, God bless her, soaks up every word Todd says about his experiences, but I can’t help but roll my eyes sometimes at the descriptions of these exercises. Still, they are all meant to help make an actor more honest and vulnerable on stage. Because the best actors stop being themselves, and start becoming, losing themselves into the roles they play. They have to be vulnerable and honest to do this, to let go enough to become someone else. And after seeing Todd’s first show, I found myself thinking that one of the actresses would have benefitted from some of the exercises that Todd was telling me about. She didn’t seem “honest” in the role to me – I never lost sight of the actress in the part she portrayed.        
Today we read a story in Mark’s gospel that is probably at least somewhat familiar to you. This is a story that appears in variation in all of the gospels – Jesus either calming the storm after having fallen asleep in the boat with the disciples, or Jesus walking on the water and inviting Peter to walk on the water as well, or, in Mark, this combination of both events. Walking on water, calming the winds.  In Mark’s gospel, this story appears right after the story we know as the feeding of the five thousand. We read that immediately after the meal is finished, Jesus gets his disciples into a boat and send them to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he remains to dismiss the crowd, and to spend some time in prayer by himself.
            After praying, Jesus looks out onto the lake and sees that the disciples are having a hard time navigating the windy weather. He begins to walk out onto the water towards them. Then, we get what I find to be the most confusing verse of the passage: “He intended to pass them by.” What? He sees them struggling, he’s going to the same place as they are, but he just plays to walk by them on the water to the other side? Isn’t that a bit strange? But, the disciples see Jesus, and they think it is a ghost walking towards them. I’m not sure if this is because the storm makes it hard to see Jesus, or they are so thrown by his walking on water that they assume he must be a ghost, or what. But they see him, and are not calmed by his presence, but terrified. Note, it isn’t the wind that causes them to cry out in fear – but the sight of Jesus walking on the water that fills them with terror.
            Immediately, we read, Jesus speaks to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Those are words we hear frequently in the scriptures – upwards of 80 times, more than a dozen of which are spoken by Jesus. Do not be afraid. He gets into the boats with them, and the wind stops. Mark tells us that they are astounded, and, peculiarly, that they are astounded because they didn’t understand about the loaves, and their hearts are hardened. In other words, their reaction to Jesus walking on water and calming the wind is somehow related to what they thought was happening when Jesus fed the 5000 with a few loaves and fish. How can they possibly relate? Mark says that the disciples have hardened hearts – the same language that is used to describe the Pharaoh when he won’t let Moses leave Egypt with the Israelites despite all of the plagues that have been visited on the Egyptian people. After this, after the passage we read today, we only find out that the disciples and Jesus finish crossing the sea and that people recognize Jesus at once and come to him for healing.
            I keep coming back to this phrase, “Jesus intended to pass them by.” None of the other gospels include it, only Mark, which makes me wonder if even the other gospel-writers weren’t sure what to make of it. And also missing from other accounts of this event – the connection with the feeding of the 5000. Mark is the only one who ties Jesus calming the storm with the disciples not understanding the miracle of feeding the crowds. This language of “passing by” occurs in a few other places in the scripture, most notably in relationship to Moses and Elijah, who throughout the New Testament are the two figures who represent the law and the prophets – all that Jesus comes to fulfill.
            In Exodus 33, just as Moses is about to start the final stretch, leading the Israelites toward the promised land, after such a long journey in the wilderness, Moses asks, begs of God: Promise that you’ll go with us. That you’ll be with us. That we’re not sent out alone. And then Moses says, “Show me your glory, I pray.” That’s a pretty bold request, isn’t it? And God replies, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord.”” And while Moses is tucked into a cleft of a rock, God passes by him, and Moses is allowed to gaze on God’s back, God’s face being too much, too full of glory for a mortal to see.
In 1 Kings 19, we read about the prophet Elijah, who is being chased by those who would like to kill him for the prophecies, for the truths he’s been bold enough to speak. Elijah is ready to give up, and, after a time in the wilderness, he spends another night in a cave, when God tells him: Go and stand out on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. The text says, “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” And Elijah steps out to speak with God, and God tells Elijah what will come next, and who Elijah will pass his mantle to in order to continue his work.
These passages are known as theophanies. A theophany is one of those fancy church words that means a simple thing: A God-appearance, where the glory of God is revealed in a particular act or moment. You know the word epiphany – when something is revealed suddenly, when we have sudden clarity – a light bulb moment. A theophany is when God is suddenly revealed – when the presence of God in our midst is revealed. So when God passes by in the scriptures, it isn’t a sign that God is passing us by and moving on to something better, too busy to stop for us. No, in the scriptures, God passing by means God revealed. A theophany. In Jesus, we encounter the ultimate theophany – the ultimate revealing of God’s presence. In Jesus, we aren’t looking just at God’s back, or hearing God only in sheer silence, but encountering God face-to-face. God-with-us.  Jesus passes by the disciples – first in the feeding of the five thousand, and then as he calms the storms – something the disciples would know only God could do – and still, even though God is revealed, they don’t get it – yet. They’ve been longing for the Messiah, for the Savior. But what the disciples miss – both in the feeding of the 5000 and in Jesus calming the storm – is the impact of what they’re seeing – a theophany – God revealed in Jesus – they are encountering God-with-us in the person of Jesus. Their savior has shown up, been revealed for who he is – God in the flesh! And how do they react? Jesus passes by the disciples – and they’re terrified! Not by the storm – but by the tugging in their hearts and minds that maybe Jesus is really more than this cool guy they’re hanging out with. And when they get beyond their fear, their next reaction is to harden their hearts against what they’re experiencing.  
            In two weeks, Advent begins, and we’ll start singing carols about longing, waiting, hoping for, expecting our Savior to come to us again in the birth of the Christ-child. Do we know what to do with the Christ-child when he arrives? Sure, maybe with the gentle baby who we can cuddle, but who doesn’t talk yet. But we long for Jesus, in theory, not just as a child, but as the grown Savior, Son of God and Son of Man, who comes and tries to hand us a cross to carry as we follow him. Jesus has arrived, will arrive, is arriving now. What do we do now that Jesus has shown up? Now that Jesus is revealed, what happens? Like the disciples, our responses to God’s appearances in our lives are often either full of fear or full of hardened hearts! Jesus tells us again and again to let go of fear. We can’t soak in the glory of God when we’re afraid. And we can’t soak in the glory of God when our hearts are hardened against transformation. In Advent, when we sing, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” we’ll ask for God to “From our fears and sins release us.”
I think of all of those goofy theatre exercises in Todd’s classes, and I think about being vulnerable. Sometimes being vulnerable is a frightening act. Someone might hurt us if we’re vulnerable, hurt us badly. Sometimes we harden ourselves, our hearts, instead of becoming more vulnerable. But when he’s on stage, for a little bit, Todd stops being Todd because he so completely relates to the character that he’s become. Todd has to keep practicing until it becomes second-nature to him, a way of life as an actor.
And so it is with us. We’re called to imitators of Christ. To follow him. To live as he lives and love as he loves. To empty ourselves to be filled with Christ. To let the light of Christ shine from within us. To be known as Christ-followers by our ways of love. We can’t embody Christ, be the body of Christ, if we can’t be vulnerable, if we can’t let go of ourselves enough to put on Christ. We’ve got to practice opening ourselves up, being ready for God when God shows up, ready for the Christ we long for. Where have you seen God revealed – and how did you react? How will you react? Don’t be afraid. Let your heart be softened. For the glory of the Lord is revealed in our midst. God is passing by. And we don’t want to miss it. Amen.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Ordinary 33, Year C)

Readings for 26th Sunday after Pentecost, 11/17/13:
Isaiah 65:17-25, Isaiah 12, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

Isaiah 65:17-25:
  • This is a very Advent-sounding text, is it not? It makes me wait for the season of waiting! Reminds me of Isaiah 11, and the peaceable kingdom.
  • However you look at it, what a beautiful, hopeful passage. Compare to Revelation 21 - another vision of a new heaven and new earth. Personally, I prefer this vision from Isaiah - there's a sense of justice being fulfilled: no infant mortality, no young death. But more than that, no building without dwelling in the home, no planting without harvesting. "My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain."
  • Not only a vision of justice, but also a vision of peace, as the typically dangerous becomes friend to the gentle: wolf and lamb together. We can all pray for this place to come quickly on our earth!
Isaiah 12:
  • Blessed with a double reading from Isaiah today! I can’t read these verses without thinking of anthem my home church sang on this text, “The First Song of Isaiah,” by Jack Noble White. It’s really gorgeous.
  • Here is a passage where the understanding of ‘salvation’ in its most basic sense of safety, safe-keeping from harm, is quite evident. In God, we are safe, safe from ourselves, safe from others, safe from being lost and destroyed.
  • This is a picture of an angry God I can handle: "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me." Because, though God is angry, God still comforted. I can imagine God angry - we humans certainly do enough terrible things to cause God to anger. But I have a hard time when the scriptures depict God as acting out of this anger to harm humans. This, a God who is angry but still comforts, is a God who can reach me instead of reject me even when I am sinful.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13:
  • Eesh, unfortunately, I could just see this text being used against those who were poor and/or receiving welfare today. "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." I get the author's point, and the context, but taken from the situation, this text could be used to abuse and keep others 'in their place.'
  • "keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us." Interesting, isn't it, that it is believers that we're warned away from, not non-believers. Perhaps believers who aren't acting like believers are more dangerous than those outside the faith community? An interesting thought.
Luke 21:5-19:
  • An odd sort of gospel lesson to deal with this week, and a long one. It reads like an end-times text, and I think that's what congregants will hear: Oh my gosh, the end of the world is almost here! But I think careful reading reveals more than that.
  • "many will come in my name and say, 'I am he'" I wonder who Jesus had in mind? We love tossing around the 'anti-Christ' label. Who is trying to get us to follow them as if they were our all in all? As I write this, just a few days before the election, that's a good question for us to ask...
  • Jesus is totally up front: following me is not easy. You will be persecuted, tried, tested, betrayed, even killed. We like to think that our faith would withstand all this, but I'm actually full of doubt - in my comfy 21st century American middle-class environment, I may have to defend my faith to other Christians who don't agree with my liberal views, but I've never come close to feeling threatened or fearful because of my beliefs. Could we withstand this kind of testing? Sometimes I feel the lack of pressure put on my faith makes it easy for me to demand little of myself as well. Christianity, full of grace and love, is also full of demands that we radically change the way we live. Are you ready? "By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Sermon, "Immediately: A Woman Healed, a Girl Resurrected," Mark 5:21-43

Sermon 11/10/13
Mark 5:21-43

Immediately: A Woman Healed, a Girl Resurrected
(Damsel, I say unto thee, arise!)

            Have you ever been trying to accomplish something, some task, and found that you were nearly constantly interrupted? Sometimes we want to be interrupted – I can’t tell you how many other things I can find to do while I’m supposed to be writing my sermon! But sometimes, just when we’re getting productive, just when we feel like we might actually start checking things off our to-do list, just when we feel like we’re “in the zone,” that’s when a stream of people knock on the door, or call on the phone, or just need a few minutes of your time. Interruptions!
            I think of learning, as a child, that interrupting is rude. This is an important lesson for children to learn, because children usually think of all of their concerns as demanding immediate attention. I want this and I want it now! My mother used to joke that my three brothers and I might not need anything from her for hours, but if she would take a phone call, talking to someone else, suddenly all four of us needed her time; all of us were interrupting her, seeking her attention. Think of the responses you might hear a parent give to an interrupting child: “Not right now.” “In a little bit.” “Just a minute.”
            Or think of the person who, when you see them, your mind races to find some way, some excuse, some ruse you can come up with to avoid interacting with them – because you know that you have only five minutes before you have to be somewhere and you know that conversations with this person never last for less than an hour. You know what I’m talking about! Where an interruption will turn into not just a pause in your day but a screeching halt?
            Today’s gospel lesson from Mark finds Jesus being interrupted while he’s on his way to resolve another interruption.           Jesus has traveled across the Sea of Galilee, and finds crowds waiting for him on his arrival. The crowds included a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, and perhaps one of a group that did not usually welcome Jesus and his way of teaching in the synagogues with open arms. But, Jairus, it seems, has no such qualms about Jesus, at least not in this case. His daughter is sick, and he knows, believes fully, that Jesus’ touch will heal her. Jesus doesn’t hesitate, but follows Jairus to his home.
On the way there, the crowds continue to follow him. One among the crowds is a woman suffering for some twelve years from hemorrhages. We read that she has seen physicians and poured money into her care without result. She tries to get to Jesus in the crowd, just to touch his clothes, confident she will be made well. She reaches him, and is healed immediately. Jesus knows he’s been touched – he can feel it. He looks to see who touched him. The disciples discourage him, wanting to get on with it, get going. But he stops, and takes the time to seek her out. When she comes forward, scared, and tells him what she did, Jesus says to her, with gentleness, “daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Then, while he’s still speaking, as if in rebuke for his taking time with the woman, people come from the Jairus’ house to say that the girl has already died, and not to bother with Jesus coming. Jesus simply responds, “Do not fear, only believe.” He proceeds as planned to the house, and entering, seeing the mourners, asks, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” Of course, they laugh at him. Surely, even without advanced technology, people could tell the difference between sleeping and death. Jesus sends them outside, and takes the child’s hand, and says, “little girl, get up.” And immediately she gets up. And they were all properly amazed.
We see Jesus as a healer again and again in the scriptures, and this passage gives us a healing and a resurrection. We are reminded of Jesus’ powerful ability to bring healing to our lives when we let him. But this text has a unique structure – a story within a story – a healing within a healing – and I think we can learn from the structure of the story itself – from the fact that Jesus heals one woman while on his way to see another. This is a story of Jesus being interrupted, and what he does when that happens.
            There’s a wise woman in this congregation who has told me that one of the things that frustrates her most is when people say they don’t have time to do something. If we want to do something badly enough, she insists, we’ll find the time. If we were being honest, we’d just say, “That’s not a priority in my life right now,” when we receive a request and our answer is going to be “no.” But, I suspect many of us – and I know I do this – opt to say: “I don’t have time.” I think we like the way that sounds better. It sounds better than saying, “this thing that you are asking me to do isn’t as important to me right now as other things I’ve chosen to do with my time.” When is the last time you told someone you didn’t have time? What were they asking you to do? Would it have been more accurate to say that something wasn’t a priority for you right then? I think about her words often, and try to remind myself of what I really mean when I think I don’t have time.
            I’m amazed, in ministry, at how often it is the gift of time that people find most valuable. I’ve shared with some of you that I spent time interning as a chaplain at Crouse while I was in seminary, working primarily in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the NICU. It took me a while to learn that parents of struggling newborns already knew I couldn’t fix their problems for them, even though I wanted to desperately. What I could do though, was give them my time – sit with them, without filling the time with clich├ęs about their suffering. We fancy it up in the church by calling it the “ministry of presence.” Being there with someone. When one of us – pastors and lay people alike – spends time visiting a shut-in or hospitalized member of our church family – that time spent is so valued by the person being visited. Honestly, sometimes I find it embarrassing how thankful someone can be that I’ve spent thirty minutes or forty-five minutes of time with them. It makes me wonder what we typically communicate to one another if people feel like we’ve done something extraordinary when we give them a small piece of our time.
            One of the only things Jesus ever seems to ask of anyone for his own benefit is in the gospels when, just before he is betrayed and arrested, Jesus is spending time in the garden praying. Repeatedly, he asks for the disciples to stay awake, to remain with him. They can’t do it. They’re too tired or overwhelmed, emotionally spent. What Jesus wants is not that they solve his problems – they can’t. But that while he’s grieving what he must go through, he would be surrounded by people who love him. He wants their presence. Their time. Their company.
            In fact, how we are present or not present with one another, how we do or don’t see each other is the measure by which we are judged, Jesus says. Recall the parable of the sheep and goats. Notice, when Jesus talks about what separates the sheep from the goats, the king doesn’t say: You sent me food and drink, you sent me clothing. No, the exchange between the king and the people revolves around when they saw the king or failed to see the king in their interactions spending time with other people. It is the time spent visiting, the time spent caring for the sick, the time spent welcoming the stranger – face to face time – that Jesus notes as significant. In order to see Jesus in people you actually have to spend some time with them!
            Why is it that giving someone our time is so important? Why might someone be so thankful for forty-five minutes of our time? I suspect, it is as that wise woman has said: Our time says that something is a priority. And making something a priority says that that thing, whatever it is, person or event or activity – that thing is worth our time. That thing is valuable. And that is the key. That is what Jesus is about in his ministry – letting people know – particularly the ones who have been told otherwise over and over again through the actions of others – often through the actions of those claiming to be closest to God – letting people know that they are worth time. They are valuable.
            The question I want us to ask ourselves is this: What does the way we spend our time say about who we find valuable? Who do we consider “worthy?” Now, I’m suspecting for most of us, that our families and dear friends are near the top of our list. They’re certainly on the top of my list. But the scriptures remind us that we actually can’t pat ourselves on the back for that – even those who are evil, Jesus says, can take care of “their own.” Who else is worth your time? Who else have you made a priority? And perhaps, some harder questions: Are only certain people – certain kinds of people – worth your time? Who hasn’t made the cut? Jesus spends huge chunks of his time with the most vulnerable. He doesn’t have money to send them. He’s not adored by the poor, the sinners, the outcasts because he’s giving them things. No, he gives them himself. He gives them value and worth because he knows them and spends time with them.
Jesus’ ministry is full of interruptions. Everything we read about seems to happen when he’s on the way somewhere. He’s on his way somewhere else when he sees Zacchaeus in a tree and makes plans to eat dinner with him. He’s eating dinner with people when a woman anoints his feet with oil. He’s hanging out at a wedding when he’s called on by his mother to change water into wine. He’s in the middle of teaching when a man is lowered through the roof to be healed. He’s on his way to heal a sick girl, when he’s interrupted by a woman who needs healing and disciples who don’t consider the woman worth Jesus’ time. But Jesus always seems to have time. The woman is healed immediately. And a girl to be healed becomes a girl to be resurrected – but Jesus can do that too, and she gets up immediately. Because each person – two people, in this case, who were ritually unclean in one way or another – each person is worth it to Jesus. Valuable.
            You can rest assured that Jesus would stop in his tracks for you. Be interrupted for you. You’re worth God’s time, right now. Immediately. Who is worth yours? Who will make you stop in your tracks?
            Amen.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Ordinary 32, Year C)

Readings for 25th Sunday after Pentecost, 11/10/13:
Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38


Haggai 1:15b-2:9:
  • I just have to say: Zerubbabel. What a name! It means 'the seed of Babylon.'
  • "take courage . . . for I am with you." These are words of comfort from God. Take courage! God is with you, even when things look - terrible! There is hope. There is God.
  • This scene of devastation and God's promising and rebuilding - I found it very reminiscent of the flood narrative, Noah, and God's promise through the rainbow.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21:
  • This psalm illustrates the characteristics of God - God saves those who cry out, God is "unsearchable," etc. Of course, there is also an obligatory verse about God destroying enemies...
  • "one generation shall laud your works to another" - the passing down of the story of God. How have you learned your faith stories? Through Bible school? From your parents? How did you learn the things about your faith that are important for you today?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17:
  • The author says, "hold on folks, it is not the end times yet." I wish somebody would make that announcement to some people today! I'm sure hardly anyone could fail to notice such things as the Left Behind series that are so popular today, or all of the Armageddon-esque movies that have been out in the past few years. Why are we so end-obsessed?
  • "Do you not remember that I told you these things while I was still with you? . . . So then . . . stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us." Sometimes, progressive/liberal Christians can react to tradition as if it is a dirty word! And indeed, with pain that calling on 'tradition' has caused, there's reason for caution. But sometimes, 'tradition' can help keep us steady and centered. We just have to be careful and discerning about what is central to us, what is important enough to hold on to.

Luke 20:27-38:
  • The Greek word for "like angels" is isaggeloi, and this is the only place this word occurs in the Bible or anywhere, much as I can figure from my brief research. I mention it because it struck me, this word, as odd coming from Jesus. Aggelos is a word best translated as messengers. The Bible often specifies "messengers of God" which is where our idea of angels develops, I think. But what does Jesus mean by saying this isaggeloi? I'm not sure!
  • The Sadducees, as Luke tells us, don't believe in a resurrection. So why ask Jesus such a question? They are trying to make him look dumb, and silly, by showing how impossible this "rising up" is. Instead, they look a bit silly, when Jesus points out that outside of the bounds and constructs of our world, the rules we've set up, like Levirate marriage, won't exactly apply anymore...
  • For me, the importance of this passage is not so much as a teaching about the afterlife: I think the afterlife is something hard to teach about, too strange for us to worry about. We can think about the afterlife in the afterlife, whatever God has planned for us! For me, the benefit is in showing the difference between the rules we have set up for ourselves that don't have meaning, and the thing that matter: we are children of God, not God of the dead, but God of the living, and to God, life is everywhere.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sermon, "Immediately: Man with a Mat," Mark 2:1-12

Sermon 11/3/13
Mark 2:1-12

Immediately: Man with a Mat


            Today we’re beginning a new worship series, focusing on the gospel of Mark and theme of Mark’s often repeated word, “Immediately.” Back in June we spent a little time looking at this concept in Mark, when we looked at the story of Jesus calling the disciples. In that story alone, the word immediately occurs a handful of times – Jesus sees and immediately calls some of his first disciples, and they, in turn, immediately stop what they are doing and start following Jesus. I told you that Mark is both the oldest gospel – it was the first written of the four that are in our Bibles – and it also the shortest – where Matthew and Luke fill their stories of Jesus with details and verses, Mark always seems to take as few verses as he can to get his point across. I shared with you that Mark’s hurried nature and his nearly 30 uses of the word immediately suggest to us that Mark wants us to feel the immediate nature of the gospel – the good news that Jesus comes to share about repenting and experiencing the reign of God on earth is a message for right now – and that Mark wants our response to be pretty immediate – he’s given us all the information he feels he needs to repent and follow. If we believe what Mark says about Jesus, why would we wait? Act now, immediately.
            Throughout November, we’ll look at some of the stories farther into Mark’s gospel where the word “immediately” appears and we’ll try to figure out together what, in each case, makes Mark want to hurry things along. Today, we read a story about a man who was paralyzed being brought to Jesus for healing by some people. They have to lower him in through the roof since so many people have gathered to listen to Jesus teach, hearing he was back in town. In through the roof is the only way that can be found to get the man to Jesus.
            There’s a lot of information we don’t get in this story. We don’t know much about the paralyzed man, the man on the mat. We never hear a word from him or from the ones who brought him to Jesus. The text says four people carried his mat, but it sounds like there may have even been additional people involved in the effort to get him there – four of whom actually carry the stretcher.
            When Jesus sees “their” faith, we read, as in, the faith of the whole party of people who got the man to Jesus, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. He just announces it: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Apparently there are some scribes there, educated Jewish men who acted as lawyers, interpreting and caring for the Torah – they’re there listening to Jesus too, and they question Jesus’ words in their hearts, thinking that Jesus is speaking blasphemy when he announce the man’s sins are forgiven. Blasphemy is an action which profanes or insults God, and claiming authority to forgive sins would have been seen as usurping God’s power to forgive. Still, this is the only time I can think of where the scribes are grumbling in their hearts instead of openly questioning Jesus. Jesus knows their hearts though, and asks them: What’s easier? To say, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Stand up, take your mat, and walk?” We don’t know if the scribes would have had an answer to that question. But Jesus just continues on, saying that he will heal the man physically so that people will also know he has the authority to heal spiritually – Jesus can forgive sins.
            Jesus says to the man, “Stand up, take your mat, and go home.” And immediately, he does just that. In fact, as far as Mark records, he doesn’t say anything to Jesus, or anything in this whole scene! He is brought to Jesus by friends, he is healed and forgiven, although we know nothing about what sins Jesus forgave of his, and he goes home, all without a word in the story. And here, again in this story, a fairly unique response: everyone is amazed and glorifies God. At least here, at least now in the beginning of Mark’s gospel, even the scribes who had been questioning in their hearts seem to join in the rejoicing.  
We can imagine ourselves in many roles in this story – a scribe, a stretcher bearer, in the crowd. But first, today, I want us to think of ourselves as the man on the mat. Since we know so little about him, since he never speaks for himself, we can put ourselves into his position. How would it feel to be brought to Jesus? How would it feel to know that your sins were forgiven? How would it feel to have that forgiveness embodied in your own physical healing, complete and instant? This man’s life is changed in an instant. Immediately. Immediate is what Jesus wants us to know about his ability to heal our souls, forgive us, and love us.
            Today, on this All Saints Sunday, I want us to consider the people in our lives from the perspective of the man on the mat: Who carried our stretcher to Jesus? Who walked alongside of those stretcher carriers? Who was willing to remove parts of a roof in order to help you? Who moved out of the way inside the building so that mat could be set down, maybe a small role, but an important one nonetheless? What faces were in the crowd, looking on as you were carried to Jesus? Who had questions at first, but eventually gave glory to God because of how God has been at work in you? As we think over our lives, there are so many people that have brought us to the relationship with Jesus we have today, that have taught us, encouraged us, sometimes carried us, sometimes removed roofs for us, or sometimes even just made room for us at Jesus’ feet. These are the saints in our lives. These are the people that we honor today. The people that in some way have made space for us, who have looked out for us, who have carried us, who have loved us enough to make sure that we can be near Jesus, and experience the immediacy, the fullness, the completeness of what Jesus offers to us: healing, forgiveness, new life.
We are called, in turn, to remember that we can play this role for someone else. Where are we in the story where someone else is the man on the mat? What role can you play in making sure someone gets the gift of life Jesus urgently offers?

And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ Thanks be to God. Amen.