Monthly Archives: November 2015

Fulfilling Promises

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promises I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteious Branch to sprint up for David;” (Jeremiah 33:14-15a NRSV)

What if we read this scripture passage through the eyes of a Syrian immigrant?  or a victim of the Paris attack?  or a citizen of Mali?  What if we read this passage through the eyes of an unwelcome immigrant to the U.S.? or a woman chained to a wheel chair and an oxygen bottle? or a child abandoned by her parent?  What if we read this passage through the eyes of our own lives when we’ve known disappointment, hurt, illness, death, even terror.  How does this passage speak to us when we read, “The days are surely coming…”

It was difficult for the people Jeremiah wrote to.  Israel had been captured and exiled to Assyria.  Now Judah has been captured and exiled to Babylon.  Their land lays fallow.  Their temple utterly destroyed.  Where is God?  Is God dead?

“No!” says Jeremiah in a loud voice.  God is with each of us and God hasn’t forgotten any of us.  God remembers the covenant God made with David that his house would rule.  This crisis is temporary.  God’s rule of love is forever.

Today begins the Advent season.  Advent is the beginning of the Christian year: the four weeks that lead up to the birth of Jesus.  Culturally it’s a joyful and joy-filled season with shopping and parties and caroling.  There’s a damper on the season this year.  Terrorist activity has occurred and we’re supposed to wonder where it will hit again.  Nations are working together to guard against attacks, but what is our response?

Will we sing a little louder to block out the news casts?  Will we party a little harder to try and forget?  Will Christmas shopping turn into “retail therapy” as we search for that ever-elusive peace?

Or will we dare to step outside of the cultural Christmas season and seek something different?  As we journey to the manger to meet our Lord, once again, we also look to the future to the time when Jesus will return and make things right.  While we celebrate our King being born in a stable and growing up in the poorest of conditions, we’ll also look forward to the time when he will meet us in the future.

These are birth pangs that we’re experiencing.  So, what is waiting to be born in your life?  As you journey to that manger what will find along the way?

What do you long for?  What do you hope for?

For some, the answer is a clear and resounding, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  For others it’s a sense of looking for that day that will surely come.  What will your season of Advent look like?

Once you decide, remember that God is present with you and God meets you there.  God meets you today and everyday and waits for you in the future.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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God’s Life-Giving Truth

“Pilate asked [Jesus], “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38 NRSV)

Good question, Pilate.  What is truth?

Perhaps truth is relative.  It depends on the circumstances that surround the issue.

Perhaps truth is provisional.  This is true only if that is true.

When is truth eternal?  Is it when we’re told the truth in loud and angry tones?  Or when we listen to only one human voice and take it in no matter what is said?  Or is truth what we personally believe with no discussion from outside forces, especially those with whom we may disagree.

Maybe the answer to the question, what is truth?, lies in how we look for truth.  For me, there is only one way to search and that is through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus reveals truth, proclaims truth, belongs to truth.  Jesus is truth.

It’s a nice statement, isn’t it?  Yet, it explains very little.  How do I find truth?

John’s gospel is a good place to begin.  In this gospel we read descriptions of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God calls us into a new status, out of the darkness and into the light.  It breaks down barriers between us and our enemies and challenges us to quit building walls between us and those who don’t look and act like us.

Jesus gives us a new identity in the waters of Baptism, calling us to choose life, even grab it for all it’s worth.  Look at life through a fresh vision that cannot be contained by others.

This takes courage.  It means listening to the media and your friends and even your pastor through the lens of scripture.  It means pushing yourself to understand the views you don’t agree with.  It means changing your mind because you’re older and wiser now and the old beliefs just don’t fit anymore.

It seems the more I study and read scripture, the more deeply I see Jesus calling me to see the world through his eyes.  I’m challenged to break out of my place of so-called security to get to know and understand those with whom I disagree; those I fear because I don’t know them; those I don’t like because they aren’t like me.

And, most difficult of all, when I believe that what I hold to be true and self-evident, I can’t hate my neighbor for believing the very op0ostie even when it hurts my feelings.

Because though I may have truth, sometimes I realize that it’s my truth that I hold to be self-evident, not God’s.

And then it’s back to the Good Book and a long talk with Jesus.  He went to the cross for the truth of the kingdom of God.  I can do no less.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Focusing on the One to Come

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2 NRSV)

 

Several years ago, my husband and I had an opportunity to tour England, Scotland and Wales.  The highlight of the trip was a tour of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry.  Their story is unique and inspiring.

Coventry was a industrial city: manufacturers of bicycles, automobiles, plane engines and munitions.  It was not unusual that it was a target of the Germans during WWII.  75 years ago on November 14, 1940 saw the worst of the bombing raids.  The Germans called it Operation Moonlight Sonata.  They first dropped marker flares.  Follow-up bombers dropped high explosive bombs directed at the city’s infrastructure: water, electricity, telephones, gas and streets.  With bad roads and a low water supply, the fire brigades would be limited in their ability to put out fires.

Then the bombing began in earnest: waves and waves of a variety of bombs meant to hamper the city and damage roofs so that incendiary bombs could do their worst.  Around 8:00 that evening, Coventry Cathedral was hit for the first time.  They managed to put out the fire, but soon after a firestorm ensued and all attempts to save the structure utterly failed.

When the all clear sounded the followed morning, Coventry’s citizens came out of shelter to find their city decimated.  Two-thirds of the city lay in ruins.  Some made their way to the Cathedral to discover that only one wall remained.  The balance of the cathedral lay in ruins.  During the following week a crew worked to clean out the ruins.  Some charred beams were found lying together in the shape of a cross.  The cathedral stonemason tied them together and mounted them on the ruins.

The Provost of the cathedral came across nails from the roof and formed three of them into a cross.  The Cross of Nails has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation in the world.  The most moving event took place in that same week, when the Provost had words written across the only wall to remain standing: “Father, Forgive.”

When Jesus and his disciples left the temple in Jerusalem, they must have felt about the temple the way we feel when we enter the great cathedrals of Europe.  They are huge beyond our imagination.  They represent that God is bigger than all of us and we can feel God’s power and presence.  The temple was described as a huge pile of marble with gold decoration.  These disciples from small villages would have felt that power and presence.  They must have felt something beyond amazement at the size and beauty of the structure.

All Jesus says is, “It’s going to be a pile of rubble.”

When the temple was utterly destroyed in 70 C.E., it must have been a shock.  Where was God?  What was going on?  Was this the end of the world?

When the Cathedral in Coventry was destroyed along with 2/3 of the city’s buildings, perhaps the citizens felt much the same way.  The Cathedral that was more than 500 years old was a pile of rubble.  Where was God?  Was this the end of the world?

And, yet, out of that horrible night of terror and bombing, they were able to begin the process of forgiveness.

For the enemy who wants to destroy our way of life.

Father, forgive.

For humanity’s role in death and destruction and war.

Father, forgive.

For our inability to live peacefully with our neighbors.

Father, forgive.

For greed and hubris and arrogance and evil.

Father, forgive.

Last night, most of us were glued to the newscasts of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  They were attacks of hate and evil and meant to hurt us at the deepest level.  This morning we watch as nations stand in solidarity with France as they try to begin the healing.

Further on in this scripture reading, Jesus warned the disciples about violence and suffering and natural disasters.  “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Is the end near?  Or is our 21st century technology more adept at keeping us focused on disaster and war?  I only know that the birth pangs hurt and most days I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

I admire the people of Coventry who could say, “Father, forgive.”  I admire their courage and their refusal to allow hate to grab hold of them.  Maybe they were able to look beyond the signs of what appeared to be end times and focus on the Christ who is to come.

It’s all we can do, right now.  Focus on Christ at the center of all the chaos.  It’s all we can do to know that God is God and that God is in charge.

And someday, maybe soon, we, too, can say, “Father, forgive.”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Costly Discipleship

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and plces of honor at banquets! They devour widows houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 13:38-40 NRSV)

Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 13:43-44 NRSV)

I used to be disturbed by the story of the widow’s mite. She sacrificed to give to God what she had. And I would wonder what I could do to be sacrificial. What would it look like if I gave everything to God? Hm. That would mean being homeless and that wouldn’t do much to improve our world.

Then the guilt would settle in. Is tithing enough? Am I doing enough? What more is God calling me to do? After a few days of angst and worry, something would come up and I could set aside the widow and her mite and move on to other things.

Today, I see this differently. And by taking the focus off of me, I broadened my reading. First, Jesus is angry with the status quo at the Temple. He loves his Jewish faith tradition and what the law stands for. The Temple officials are struggling to hold onto their traditions and their building. They live under Caesar’s thumb and they have to be careful what they say and what they do. If they lose their Temple, they’ll lose their ability to worship God.

Eventually they did lose the Temple, but they were able to reinvent themselves. During Jesus’ day, they were scared. Their fear caused them to make poor decisions. Some of the religious leaders with fragile egos flaunted their power among their Jewish followers. It may have been the only way in which they could feel whole. Living as a conquered people does something to those people.

Jesus saw beyond it all. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” We’ve all met clergy who behaved in a pompous manner. They make Christianity look like an exclusive club. They are surrounded by those who can make them feel valuable.

Jesus gives his judgement on those who would hurt others with their arrogance and bad behavior. Then he walks over to another part of the Temple and sits down opposite the treasury. He watched the great amounts of money being given to the Temple. Then a widow arrives and puts in what we are led to believe are her last two coins.

And Jesus is exasperated, at least, even angry. Why would that widow be expected to give to the Temple? Why wasn’t the Temple taking care of her? God’s law demands that they care for the widow and orphan and resident alien. Why is she expected to give her last?

Luke’s Gospel shares this, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48b NRSV)

So those with wealth gave accordingly. It appears that they knew their responsibility and acted accordingly.

But, the widow gives her all. She gives everything she has to an institution that will be utterly destroyed soon. She gives everything she has to an institution that is hardly deserving of her sacrifice.

And that foreshadows what Christ will do in only a few days: he’ll give everything he has, his very life, to us who are not deserving of his sacrifice.

What would it look like if we gave to those who are undeserving? How do we balance being good stewards with helping those who wait until the very last minute to get help with their electricity bills? How does the church use its mission dollars to help others?

So my question to myself is: Am I hanging on to an institutional church or sharing Jesus’ calling with those who make me uncomfortable? Is the Church I love so much reaching out sacrifically? And if it isn’t, what am I doing to hold it back?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Fierce Inclusivity

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16 NRSV)

These famous words from the Book of Ruth have been used in wedding ceremonies for a long time. Often the hearers don’t realize though, that these words are spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law: typically not something you would expect to be heard in that relationship!

Not only that, the daughter-in-law is a Moabite and represents a bitter enemy of Israel. In her desire to stay with her Jewish mother-in-law, she knows that she’ll be a side-lined immigrant: socially, ethnically, racially. She’s taking on a huge task.

Naomi and her husband had moved from Bethlehem (House of Bread) to Moab during a server famine. They settled in Moab and their two sons took Moabite wives. Disaster struck, though when Naomi’s husband died followed by her two sons. She and her daughters-in-law were left to fend for themselves: never a good thing, but even worse in Moab in those days.

When Naomi hears that the famine has ended in Judea, she decides to return. She’ll have a better chance in her homeland, although she’ll still have to struggle. She states clearly to her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, that there is no reason for them to remain with her. “Go back to your homes. Find husbands and begin your lives again.”

It makes sense to Orpah and she wishes them well and moves on. Not so for Ruth. She clearly states that she’s going with Naomi, wherever she goes.

This is a form of “hesed.” Hesed is like grace, only it has boundaries. In an act of hesed, the one providing it recognizes that the receiver is in need and that the giver is the only one who can be reasonably expected to to provide it. The well-being, even the survival of the receiver is dependent on someone to take action. But hesed can only take place within a relationship of love and trust and well-being.

Ruth offers Naomi hesed: Naomi would have traveled alone (probably in a caravan, but alone, none-the-less) and would have to find food and shelter once she arrived in Bethlehem. Ruth remains with her to keep her safe. She would probably recognize that Naomi is aging and would require more care as the years advanced. She has willingly taken that on.

Ruth goes the extra step of adopting Naomi’s culture and life-style and her God.

But, before we put Ruth on a pedestal, we need to recognize the difficulty for Naomi. She’ll be bringing an immigrant into Bethlehem; an immigrant from a traditional enemy country. Naomi may pay a dear price for taking Ruth in. Perhaps that was the real reason for sending the young women back to their homes.

The women manage to arrive in Bethlehem, they settle into their new lives. What appears to be hopeless though receives a glimmer of light: it’s time to harvest the barley crops. Ruth finds herself in the fields gleaning and meets a landowner by the name of Boaz. Boaz offers protection from the other workers and even instructs them to leave her extra gleanings.

Now it’s Naomi’s turn to offer what no one else can offer: hesed. Boaz is her kinsmen. This could lead to a marriage between him and Ruth. She loses no time in teaching Ruth about Levirate marriage and Ruth is nothing if not a good student.

Chapter 1 begins with famine and loss. But, Ruth and Naomi are faithful and move forward. And throughout this short book, we don’t “see” God at work as much as we “sense” God’s activity. God is hidden, but active as He brings about reversals. Death leads to rebirth, hopelessness to hope, grief to joy.

This is indeed the God of possibilities. For from the marriage of Ruth the Moabite to Boaz came a child who will father Jesse and he will father David. To think that David’s great-grandmother was an immigrant from an enemy country! And that Jesus would also claim her in his own lineage.

One more thing to consider before we leave this lovely story. We discover that this story takes time during the age of the judges. It wasn’t a good time in the history of Israel. In fact,, the book closes with the statement that, “…there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NRSV)

Turn the page from Judges to Ruth and the sun shines clearly in a land of chaos. This story of Ruth shares with us a group of people who move forward in faith doing the right thing and working for God’s shalom.

Might this be an example of God’s Kingdom? A kingdom of hope and promises and reversals and rebirth?

Perhaps this is a story that says, “This is what God is like!”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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