Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Re-discovering Our 'True Face'

This week scriptures are Exodus 24: 12-18, 32: 1-6 and Matthew 17: 1-21

These two stories, taken together, give us an excellent picture of how you and I sin (that is "miss the mark" or "fall short") in today's world.

Now mind you, I'm not suggesting that we partipate in religious orgies-like the Exodus story; or are incompentent at casting out demons-Matthew's narrative. What I am saying is that you and I and many around us fall prey to the same fears exemplified in these two stories.

We'll talk about this at length on Sunday (I hope you'll be there), but here's the down and dirty version:

The people in the Exodus story were afraid that they'd been abandoned. Their line, "as for Moses, we don't know what has become of him" is expressive of that fear. And in their fear they went to Aaron and asked for an image, a god, that they could worship. One thing you've got to say about idols-particularly ones like Aaron made-they stay where you put them. You can control them and they'll never leave you.
The bad news is that they can't do anything either.

Many of us who have been abandoned in some way in our life time struggle with how these gets played out in our faith.

The disciples struggled with their fear of failure. By this time in Jesus' ministry they had already been sent out two-by-two and had healed the sick before. But this was a particularly harsh situation. The demon encountered (epilepsy) had serious social reprecussions. What if they couldn't do it? What if they were taken over by the demon? What if.... What if.... What if......

At Bible study last night Alan asked if I was using these scriptures (and Sunday's) to move us toward a theme or focus for Lent. The answer is "Yes."

Each of us struggles with things that keep us from our "true face" our true identity. Things that keep us from recognizing and affirming the Image of God in ourselves (and in others). Many, if not all, of these are rooted in our fears. Fears that we will be abandoned, be alone. Fears that we will fail, be judged as not capable or worthwhile. Fears that we will be shamed in some way.

Lent is a time to explore the things that keep us from our True Face. In Sunday's sermon I said that if we sit in the darkness of these fears and struggles long enough, the darkness will become the Face of God. And we will see our own face reflected in God's face; because you and I are made in God's image. Scripture tells us that the one who was the complete image of God-that is Jesus-shows us what you and I are created to be. Lent is a time for clearing away things that seperate us from that image.

I hope you'll join us Sunday; and then again on Ash Wednesday. Let's make this journey toward resurrection together during this time of preparation and prayer.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Choices About the Light

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 9: 2-7 and Matthew 4: 12-23.

This week's Matthew passage refers to Jesus as being the "light" that Isaiah spoke of; the Light that came to those wo lived in darkness. Matthew seems to echo some of the same thoughts expressed by John 1: 4-5: "In him was life, and that life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it."

Light is an interesting thing. It transforms everywhere it goes. Turn on a light, open a window to the sun...the room is suddenly different. Things that once were frightening become less so. Things we could not see become visable. Artwork such as paintings, carvings, and sculptures depend upon light to make them truly touch us in our deepest self (imagine Monet without light).

Light demands our immediate attention...it's really hard to ignore (not impossible, but pretty difficult). So it is with the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" there is an immediacy, a 'here-and-now'-ness about it. This Light, this presence of the Kingdom in the person of Jesus, calls for a response. Matthew uses the words "at once" to talk about the ways in which Peter and Andrew, James and John responded when Jesus said, "follow me."

So what do we have here? Those who have sat in the darkness, who have suffered in the inability to see, to hope, to believe in a future. They have seen a great light. And that Light says, "look here; the Kingdom of Heaven is here-right now. You don't have to wait. But you do need to change (repent), radically change what you're doing." It's not a 'wait and see' kind of question. It's a NOW event. The Kingdom of Heaven is here NOW. And you and I are invited to live in it's light...today. To follow "at once." To open our eyes to the light that the darkness can never conquer.

Join us Sunday as we explore what that may look like.
Hope to see you then.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 49: 1-7 and John 1: 29-42.

Our Bible study group is growing! And with that growth comes a lot of discussion that keeps me on my toes. I really enjoyed our discussion last night and am grateful for the ways the group makes me think about our scriptures.

One of the things that came up in the John passage is the reference John makes to Jesus as the "Lamb of God." Most of us, if we think about that phrase, think about it in terms of the lamb as a sacrifice. The pure lamb used during the Passover and other major high holy days. The image from Revelation of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" may come to us if we're familiar with those scriptures. We also have the picture in our minds of a lamb as a mild, meek creature.

But there is another use of the lamb as a symbol that would have been know to John the Baptist and to the readers of John's gospel. That is the image of the Lamb as "God's Champion." Particularly the symbol of a 'horned lamb' is used in this way; and that symbol is associated, for example, with Judas Macabbeus who led the Jewish people in recapturing the Temple from the Syrian occupation.

Now we know that the writer of John's gospel like words and phrases whose double meanings made his readers think. Perhaps this is one of them. The Lamb, who is God's Champion, who will take away the sins of the world, is also the Lamb who fits the description of a servant in Paul's passage in Phillipians (this 'servant' image first shows up in our Isaiah passage). "He was in the form of God; yet he laid no claim to equality with God, but made hiimself nothing, assuming the form of a slave...he humbled himself, and was obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross." (Phillipians 2: 6-8). And this was the attitude that Paul pointed to when he said one verse earlier "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ."

What if God's way of conquering sin is to become vulnerable in Jesus. and what if following Jesus, being His body, means that you and I can only be "God's Champion" by taking on a servanthood that makes us vulnerable-even as He was vulnerable? And what does it mean for us to be vulnerable in our world today? What kind of vulnerablity are we called to?

These are some of the questions that our scriptures for this week raise. Where do you come out on them? Join us on Sunday, come to the Bible study, or just email me and let me know what you think. You and I are called to wrestle with these questions together. I'd love to know where you wind up in your contemplation.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Difficult Stories-Hard Questions

This week's scriptures are Jeremiah 31: 15-17 and Matthew 2: 16-23

Last night was our first Bible Study focusing on the scriptures for the coming Sunday. As we were leaving, Alan looked at me and said, "I want to see what you do with this one."

Though it was not intentional timing, our first time together focused on one of the most troubiing passages in the story of Jesus' birth and infancy: the 'Slaughter of the Innocents.' In fact, until quite recently, Matthew 2: 16-18 was not even included in the Lectionary readings.

The passage is troubling on a number of levels. It raises questions about evil-the murder of helpless children simply because they are under the age of 2 and live in the wrong place. About the relationship between God's power and our free will-how could God let such a horrible thing happen. And about the fact that this kind of horrific, ugly tragedy continues to occur in our time; from ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to the killing in Darfur to the current violence in Kenya. This passage is not an isolated incident either, but an example of the ongoing expression of the viciousness of corrupt power throughout history. In fact, it wasn't even an isolated incident in the life of Herod, the king who ordered the slaughter. Compared to some of the other atrocities he initiated or ordered, this story is small potatoes.

Nor does one have to go looking for large scale events to find examples of this kind of traumatic event. Caesar Augustus is reported to have said, "you'd be better off being Herod's pig than his son." How many of us grew up knowing (or know now) families about which the same kind of statement could be made. Corrupt power and violence are not limited to kings and governments.

As we struggle with these questions, let me remind you of the questions I posed about studying scripture in the first blog I wrote here:

1. What does this passage tell us about the nature of God?
2. What does it tell us about the human condition?
3. How is this story, my story?
4. What does it call us to do or be?

Though the folks who compiled the Lectionary readings may have wanted to avoid this passage, scripture is notorious and wonderful for its refusal to avoid the difficult and the disturbing. This passage is one of those that cries out for us to look with brutal honesty at the world we live in and to respond as God's people in this time and place.

As Baptists, believing in the 'Priesthood of All Believers,' we know that my sermon on Sunday won't tell you how you have to answer those questions above. You have to do that for yourself. In fact, our theology as Baptists requires that we answer these questions for ourselves-and respect the answers that others come down with as well. What will happen Sunday is that I'll share with you some of the places my wrestling with this scripture has taken me. I hope and believe that this reflection will be helpful to your wrestling as well.

Finally, my thanks to the folks who showed up last night and struggled with this difficult passage together. Your comments, questions and reflection are a real gift to me, both as a pastor...and more importantly, as a fellow Christian seeking to understand and live out the Gospel's call to us.

Hope to see you Sunday.