Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Do We See God?

This week's scriptures are Genesis 22: 1-14 and Matthew 10: 34-42.

The Genesis passage for this week, often referred to as "The Binding of Isaac" is one of the more disturbing passages in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Matthew passage with its "who ever does not hate mother and father" and "I have come to bring not peace, but a sword" may not be quiet as disturbing as Abraham getting ready to make a sacrifice out of Isaac...but it's close.

As I'm living with these two passages this week there are a couple of thoughts that keep coming back to me...and before I share them I want to offer a big THANK YOU to Jeremy for his conversation with me about them-it really helped my processing of these passages.

Part of the problem is that we tend, way too often, to look at God through the lens of our culture and/or our family. We get caught up in what C.S. Lewis referred to as "Christianity and..." This is a view of our faith that defines our belief in terms of things which have nothing to do with Christianity, and, finally, these things take over and become part of our understanding of what it means to be Christian.

Abraham, lived in a culture in which the sacrifice of children was, if not normal, not unusual either. What WAS unusual in this story is that God relinquished any claim to human sacrifice here. In fact-with one exception-there is no occurance of human sacrifice in the Hebrew faith from this point on. One way to look at this story is that it is the account of the Hebrew faith breaking with the cultural expectation of human sacrifice.

This all sounds really good til we get to the Matthew passage. We don't have any trouble believing that faith should not demand human sacrifice. But when Jesus says, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and who does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me".....that's harsh.

Can we challenge ourselves to look at our faith and seperate out all that isn't Jesus? Can we put Jesus first? Can we be willing to go against those who would make culture or family or politics a god?

These are the thoughts that are moving me toward Sunday. I hope you'll join us as we continue to explore these passages and what they mean for us and our faith today.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Dark Story of Crooked Lines

This week's scriptures (a whole bunch of them): Genesis 16: 1-16, 21: 8-21;
Psalm 69: 1-3 and 16-18, 86: 1-10; Matthew 10: 26-39.

Whew! I don't think I've ever posted this many scriptures for a Sunday before. And to be prefectly honest with you, as I read them I'm not totally sure where we're going to wind up on Sunday when it comes time to preach.

What I do know is that the story of Sara and Hagar is a dark story of jealousy and rage; of using people to get our goals met; of God's hearing the cry of the mistreated and the throw-away; and of God (to use the words of an old Portugese proverb) "drawing straight with crooked lines."

It is faith in God's action in the face of our pain and despair....that gives the Psalmist the strength to call out. To say, 'I'm drowning here,' and to give voice to the anguish of the moment.

And it is this understanding of His Father's concern for us-not just as a piece of history or part of some ongoing Will-but as individuals, as persons, that causes Jesus to remind us that not even a sparrow (often used by the poor for their sacrifice or as food) falls without God's knowledge.

The idea that the same God who is the God of history-who has a hope, a dream for what creation will be....cares about you and me in all our tiny, small, petty, cruel, heroic, is truly an Awe-ful thing.

That God heard the cries of Hagar and Ishmael does not diminish or excuse Sara's cruelty or Abram's cowardliness in sending them into the wilderness. But if I have to live in a world where cowardliness and cruelty are often in the driver's seat, I'm grateful that God hears the cry of those who are driven out.

A final word. One of the things that I love about scripture...even when it makes me that it does not blink in the face of the truth about the people whom God called to be God's friends. It does not soft-soap their shortcomings or their sins. The Hebrew Scriptures are especially noted for their brutal honesty about the human condition and its potential for being less that what we are called to be. It gives me hope that if these persons, with their issues, found a place in God's friendship, perhaps there is room for me as well with all of my sins.

See you Sunday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Like Sheep Without A Shepherd

This week's scriptures are Matthew 9: 35-38 and 10: 16-25.

Matthew 9:36 tells us that as Jesus went about in the cities and villages and saw the crowds "he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Now, as a prelude to understanding this verse it might be helpful to notice what Matthew records Jesus has having been up to before this verse and his sending out of his disciples: he's cleansed a leper, healed a centurion's servant, healed Peter's mother-in-law (and those who came to the house when they heard about it), stilled a storm, healed a paralytic, been ranted at by the Pharisees for hanging out with sinners, raised a dead girl, healed a woman who was hemorraging, given two blind men their sight, and given a mute man back his voice....and that's just in the space between this verse and 8:1! No wonder, being faced with this overwhelming expression of human suffering, that Jesus would look at his disciples and say 'the harvest is plentiful...ask God to send help.'

Jesus looked around him and was acutely conscious of the state of 'harasssed helplessness' of those who came to him. What do harassed sheep do? The become nervous. They may run in circles. They flock closer together. Except if they're seperated. Then a sheep will become paralyzed and lay down. This is why we see pictures of the 'Good Shepherd' carrying the sheep. The creature has frozen and cannot even respond to the voice of the shepherd (which it will do under other conditions). I'm reminded of experiments done on traumatized mice. They were shocked without any ability to escape their cage...then they were put in a cage with the door open...having been exposed to this inescapable trauma, they would go to the corner of the open cage, huddle down, and not move to escape further shock---even though there was now a door open for them.

How many of us know people like that? How many of us, if we're honest, have places in our lives where we are like that?

Frightened, frozen, unable to see the doorway(s) to freedom. We ask ourselves, perhaps, "can't they hear God saying that they are loved? Can't they hear the shepherd's voice?" But the honest answer is "no, they can't." In my work as a therapist, I often see traumatized clients who's entire early life had been a case of "inescapable shock." You know them too. The battered spouse, the grown up abused child, the abandoned one.

This is the 'harvest' that Jesus was talking about. It wasn't about 'saving souls' when a few verses later Jesus sent out his disciples. He sent them out saying, "proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (10:7-8)-these, by the way, were the things Jesus had just been doing. The coming of the kingdom meant that human needs were being met. Illness was cured, alienation releaved, voices long silences were being heard.

As we look at our world; as Broadneck explores the new opening phase of its life; can we hear Jesus saying, 'Look! there's work to be done...ask God to send help' and can we realize that, just like the disciples...that help is us.

Hope to see you on the water Sunday for our outing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How Can I Give You Up?

This week's scriptures are Hosea 5: 15- 6: 6, 11: 1-9, 14: 1-9.

I love the story of Hosea. It is filled with longing and anger; pathos and passion. It is Hosea's way of looking at his own life, and in conversation with God, coming to believe that "this is how God feels about the relationship with God's people."

It's not a pretty story by any means. Hosea marries a woman named Gomer. But Gomer is a prostitute. She has children by other men. She abandons him. Hosea rages. He gives the children names like "not pitied" (another version of this name is "never again forgive") and "not mine." In fact, no sooner has Gomer weaned her daughter "not pitied" than she conceived "not mine." Finally she leaves. And if Hosea was like most of us, this would be the end of the story.

But somehow, Hosea saw in what happened between him and Gomer, an example of what was happening between God and Israel. Hosea came to believe that God's heart was being broken just like his was broken. And, wonder of wonders, God showed him that the story didn't stop with anger...not God's story with Israel, or Hosea's story with Gomer.

God tells Hosea "Go again and bestow your love on a woman loved by another man, an adulteress; love her as I, the Lord, love the Israelites..." And Hosea does. He goes and finds Gomer-who is for sale. We don't know if she's been put on the auction block as a slave, if she's working as a temple prostitute, or if Hosea buys her back from a pimp. What we do know is "I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver, a homer of barley, and a measure of wine..."

When God, through Hosea, talks about the deep love that God has for Israel, Hosea uses incredibly beautiful feminine images of a mother teaching her child to walk, bending down to breastfeed her infant, and lifting her baby to rub it's face against her cheek. God uses the equivilent of childhood pet names in talking to Israel and even in the midst of God's anger at Israel's unfaithfulness says, "How can I give you up...a change of heart moves me, tenderness kindles within me...I shal not turn and destroy Ephraim, for I am God, not a mortal; I am the Holy One in your midst."

No Biblical writer, in my mind, has come so close to the heart of God's anguish at humankind's betrayal and lack of trust; or to the depth of the love that moves God to stay connected to us...even at tremendous price.

And we could stop here...but it wouldn't be the whole story. Because if we take this story to heart, you and I aren't Hosea (and we're certainly not God)-we're Gomer. Loved-when there was no reason to keep loving; forgiven-when there was no right to expect it; bought back and brought home-when we were the ones who sold ourselves out in the first place.

Hosea doesn't pull any punches. He's incredibly blunt and brutal about Gomer and Israel's sin; about God's anger (and his). But he makes the point that God's love doesn't pull any punches either. God will not pretend that our sins don't exist, that they haven't happened. But God refuses to be controlled by, defined by our sin, our failure, our shortcomings. Consequently, we don't have to pretend either. We can come to God with all we are, all we've done, and trust that God's response to us...just like it was to Israel...will be "how can I give you up?...I will heal my people...I will love them freely."

God's love for us is bigger than where we've been, or what we've done. That love still seeks us out and brings us home.

Hope to see you Sunday.