Friday, November 26, 2010

What Time Is It?

Our lections this week are Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:36-44. Check them out here as we begin a new season and a new lectionary year together with a new Gospel writer (welcome, Matthew!) who will be our companion, with the exception of a little relief pitching from John on occasion, from now until next November.

You might notice that the blog is showing up a couple of days later than usual this week (or maybe, lost in a turkey coma, you didn't notice this at all!). This is not because of the holiday per se--it's because I've had a hard time shifting gears! How can we do Christ the King, Thanksgiving, and move to Advent all in the same weekend? It's been hard for me to figure out what time it is when it seems like so many different times of such rich significance are overlapping and intersecting, catching us breathless in their dizzy swirl.

My family is working to put up their Christmas decorations today and tomorrow in these post-Thanksgiving days at home, which makes me feel like perhaps this Sunday is time to start talking about angels and the manger and shepherds and the like. But on the first Sunday of the Advent season--our four weeks of preparing for the coming of Christ into our world once again--our lectionary texts don't lend themselves to stables and sheep. Rather, on the first Sunday of Advent our texts are apocalyptic in nature--pointing us to visions not of Christ's humble first coming, but of some future time where Christ will break again into our world to make all things new and inaugurate a new day.

Isaiah's image of this day, perhaps, is one we can get behind--a vision of peace, of humanity in unity, of people "walking in the light of the Lord"--an apt vision for this season where lights appear all around us to cut through winter's growing darkness. Matthew's, however, is a little more troubling. I laughed out loud at the response of one of my favorite lectionary websites,, to the seemingly anachronistic selection of this passage: "Nothing raises my holiday spirits like the anticipated threat of Jesus kidnapping someone at work and then breaking into my house and robbing me. And the fun part is, it will all be a surprise! Yeah!" This passage doesn't seem to fit with our warm fuzzy desires to go ahead and start singing "Joy to the World" since we've been hearing it in stores for weeks now; rather, it brings to mind images of how this passage has been interpreted (not correctly, in my opinion) in the Left Behind books to instill fear in people and lead them to "get right with God or get left," and led others (in direct violation of what Jesus is saying here, actually) to think they can interpret the signs of the times to say exactly when "the rapture" is going to happen--something Jesus says that not even he can do.

I think all of these things weave together, somehow, to disorient us and reorient us as we move into this season. We think we know what time it is--time to think about the baby Jesus in the manger, time to sing carols around the fire--but our scripture invites us into a different time altogether--a time of waiting and not knowing, a time that doesn't look like anything we've seen before, a time that is not to be feared but to be anticipated with great expectation and attentiveness--because in the midst of our spinning time, God is about to break into our world again and do something new. Join us as we enter into this season this Sunday and consider what time it is in our lives, in our world, and for our God who was before time, who dwells among us in this present moment, and who is to come again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If I Was the King...

And just like that, our last Sunday of Ordinary Time is here--a Sunday known in the Christian world as either Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday...a Sunday that bridges us from these many weeks of following Jesus' long journey to Jerusalem to the new "looking forward" that will take place the following week as we begin the Advent season. It's a whirlwind of time, just as we talked about last week, and the readings are powerful: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 1:68-79 (in place of Psalm), Colossians 1:13-20, and Luke 23:33-43. Read them all consecutively and the impact is pretty can do so, as always, here.

One of the many things I love about worship at Broadneck is that I get to do a Children's Sermon every Sunday. I love this for lots of reasons, but I love it because, in thinking about how to make these texts accessible to our kids, I find entry points and insights into the texts that I might not have found otherwise. As I've been thinking about our children's sermon for Christ the King Sunday, I've been considering posing to the kids this [admittedly dangerous, but which ones posed to kids aren't?] question: "If you could be king/queen for a day, what would you do?"

I can only imagine how our kids will answer this question...knowing them, I can guess three things: their answers will be honest, they will be creative, and they will be likely not what we expect.

In our Old Testament lesson for this week, God announces, "The days are coming..." and then begins to outline what it will look like on the day when God raises up a ruler to reign over God's people the way God would reign over them. God's people have known some REALLY BAD rulers (imagine that...human rulers who fall short?), some of whom claimed to have been sent by I could see how Jeremiah's prophecy could elicit some skepticism. But as God begins to describe this "righteous Branch," the ruler sounds like no one they have experienced before: one who deals wisely, who acts justly and does what is right, one who actually brings about safety for the people and brings them together. In describing what will happen in the day God's ruler takes the throne, the answer God gives, like the one I anticipate from our kids, is honest, speaking the heart of God's hopes and dreams.

In our Epistle lesson, we hear what things look like on the day when God has "transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). Consider this description of Christ's reign offered by Eugene Peterson in The Message:
"We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies."
What does it look like when Christ, as the image of God, is Ruler over all things? All things find their beginning...all things find their place...all things are brought together in wholeness. Certainly sounds creative to me...quite literally.

Finally, in Luke we get a picture of that day--literally--when Christ was revealed as king. He was revealed not in a coronation, but in a humiliation--mocked by the leaders of his day, silently undefended by the crowds and his friends, his lordship genuinely realized only by a powerless criminal who hung on a cross beside him. In his day of being "raised up" as king, Christ forgave his mockers and abusers and welcomed a criminal into God's paradise. Christ the King chose not to save himself, but to give himself up freely. What kind of king is this? I can tell you one's certainly not what we would have expected.

Honesty...creativity...unexpectedness...all of these things grip us and shred our perceptions on this day as we see what it might really look like to call Christ the King and to accept the Reign of Christ in our world and, even more frighteningly, in our lives. Join us on Sunday as, appropriately enough, our kids will lead us to consider...what would we do if we had the chance to be king? And what did Christ do when Christ actually did?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spinning in the Vortex

Our Lectionary Readings for this Sunday, which is technically our last Sunday of Ordinary Time (!), are Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, and Luke 21:1-19. You can read them here (though you'll notice that I added four verses to the beginning of the Luke reading...not because I didn't think there were enough verses there, but because I think they are somehow important to understanding what Jesus is talking about here! But more on that later).

So as I was reading our texts for this week, an image came to mind. It was the image of those spiral vortex things that always used to be around the checkout areas of restaurants when I was a kid--those big, yellow plastic funnel contraptions you could drop a penny into and watch it spin its way to the bottom (see picture at right if you have no idea what I'm talking about). I was fascinated by these things--how the coin would spin slowly at first, then faster and faster and faster as it moved towards the narrow part of the funnel until it became a noisy whirring blur and finally dropped to the bottom, where it became still.

Why is this the image that came to mind here? Well, see if you can follow this logic: I like to think of the church year is a cycle, a spiral of sorts. We move through this long, long season called Ordinary Time from early summer to late fall, five to six full months of time to meander through a gospel (in this year's case, the Gospel of Luke) and dawdle about in some Old Testament stories (in this year's case, those fun guys called the Prophets). This is where we've been since I arrived at Broadneck in June on the second Sunday of Ordinary Time--just moving through these stories at a steady pace, but really without an end in sight. We're with Jesus on his long road to Jerusalem, and with the Israelites on their long road into exile, so to speak...a journey that is far more tortoise than hare, that's like the endless time the coin rolls around the top of the funnel before it drops, time that tests both our endurance and our gnat-like twenty-first century attention spans.

Now, however, suddenly we've hit that narrow end: we are spinning rapidly, rapidly, rapidly towards our final Sunday of this Church year (Christ the King Sunday next week), and then beginning a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent the following Sunday. We're spinning so fast that, in this week's lections, it is almost like we've lost track of where we are--for this week's readings, in many senses, seek to keep us not in our present Ordinary Time for one more week, but to launch us prematurely into some sort of Extraordinary Time. In the Old Testament reading, we suddenly encounter a new heaven and a new earth that God is creating, where it seems that the Book of Revelation is suddenly thrust back into Isaiah's prophecy. In the New Testament readings, people are looking ahead to things to come, spinning rapidly and sometimes acting foolishly out of their hopes of God finally putting all things under the reign of Christ. The themes that will emerge in the coming weeks--Christ's kingdom beginning to be established on earth, God breaking into human history to do something new--seem to be bursting in upon us a little early this that coin spinning down the spiral, we are being launched out of this slow journey we've been on into something new altogether, something disorienting in its difference.

As we encounter these texts this week, however, here's a question to ponder, one that has been on my mind this week that can perhaps help us think around how these texts that seem to speak of future other worlds might ground us in our present realities: when we dream about, talk about, and consider the new future God is working to bring about among us--what is our role in that process as God's people, and what rests in God's hands alone? How can we be faithful and passionate participants in God's future without trying to become the god of that future? It could be an interesting exercise to read these texts this week with these questions in mind...questions that, maybe at least a little, can slow down the rapidly spinning spiral and help offer some perspective on the journey.

In the meantime...I love the irony of the fact that, in the midst of this spinning coin imagery, our Gospel text opens with the reading about the widow giving her two coins. Somehow I think this could be part of the grounding we need to dive into these texts faithfully this week...

See you Sunday for a time that promises to be anything but ordinary!

Sidenote: not familiar with the seasons of the church year? Check out the diagram below for a refresher on this worship cycle in which we as Christians dwell...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BBC Blog, Special "Dreams" Edition

Hello Friends!

Our usual Wednesday lectionary blog will still be coming your way tomorrow...but as a follow up to our Dreams Session on October 24, I wanted to share with you some "word pictures" you painted of our church's present and possible future.

These images were created by Wordle--a site where you can enter text and these "word clouds" will be created with the words that show up the most being largest in font. Check out our word pictures--which words jump out at you? What emerges from these pictures for you about who we are at Broadneck and who we might be called to be in the future?

Feel free to comment on this blog, to comment to one another at church, and check out the bulletin board with more feedback from our Dreams Session coming soon to a Broadneck Baptist Church near you! Keep dreaming, friends, and if you didn't make our session on the 24th, there's still time for you to answer the question: "I dream of a Broadneck Baptist Church where _________." What are God's dreams for us? Let's seek them out together!

Broadneck Baptist Church 2010

A Vision of Broadneck Baptist Church 2015

"I Dream of a Broadneck Baptist Church where..."

Possible Priorities emerging from our Ministry Groups:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For All the Saints...

In honor of All Saints' Sunday, we are going partially off lectionary this week. Our Old Testament reading will be Genesis 35:16-21 and our Epistle reading will be 1 Peter 2:4-10; our Gospel Reading is the appointed lectionary text for this special day, Luke 6:20-31.

So, what are Baptists doing talking about saints? All Saints' Day (which technically is November 1, but is celebrated in most traditions on the first Sunday in November) is not a day that has gotten a lot of attention in Baptist circles. In fact, though I've been in a couple of churches that light candles on this day to remember those who have died or maybe sing a few verses of the hymn for which this blog post is named, I don't know that I have ever heard a sermon geared towards this particular day of remembrance, reflection, and celebration in the life of the church. Perhaps this is because the exact meaning of All Saints' is a little ambiguous. This day was originally made part of the life of the early church to remember all the unnamed martyrs who had died for their faith in Christ. Over time, the day expanded to a time to remember all those who have been part of the community of faith but have now passed on to be part of the heavenly "communion of saints" of which many Christian creeds speak.

It is a day, however, that I think has power us in this particular day on several levels, which is why it is a day we will embrace in our worship on Sunday. First, loss is an unavoidable and, in many senses, integral part of human existence. Precious people have been part of our lives on this earth who walk this soil no longer, and their absence radically alters the way we move through this world. How do we find hope and meaning amidst such loss as people who believe in a Christ who even the grave could not keep away from us?

Second, we are not the first generation of Christ-followers to walk this earth, nor (hopefully) will we be the last. We are part of a "communion of saints," a "cloud of witnesses" that was begun long before we took our first breath, that extends beyond our church buildings and communities, beyond even this earth through time and space. We are part of a family that is bigger than we can get our brains around...and this reality should affect how we understand ourselves as a congregation in this day and time.

And third, as we are seeking to live on this earth, we are not having to completely reinvent the wheel. We should and can gain wisdom from those who have gone before us, those who have struggled to live faithfully and in the process become for us models of faith.

In light of these observations about this day, it is interesting that one of the traditional readings for All Saints' Day is the Beatitudes. Since we are spending this year in Luke's gospel, Luke's rendition of the Beatitudes is the one we are given this week rather than Matthew's more well known account. Whereas in Matthew Jesus delivered his description of the blessed life from a mountaintop, here in Luke Jesus preaches on a plain, among the people right where they live. Whereas Matthew's Beatitudes are lengthier, more poetic, and in some senses more "spiritual," Luke's beatitudes are harsh in their contrast and almost uncomfortably direct. A life of holiness--of being a saint blessed in the eyes of God--does not sound like a comfortable one, nor a glamorous one. Rather, it is an uncomfortably embodied one--a life of being poor, hungry, grieved, excluded, hated, and defamed. Such a list of what blessed life on earth could entail should not make us hurry to be among the "saints", for to live a life blessed in the eyes of God is to live on the margins among hardship.

Yet is this not what it is to be a saint, at least in the biblical definition? To be "in Christ," as Paul so often described the saints, is to share in Christ's life and death as well as in Christ's resurrection--to discover that the life we live on this earth will be a trail fraught with hardship, just as Christ's was. Who have the saints been who have modeled such faithful living "in Christ" for us? How could connecting our journeys with theirs help us find a bit more of the blessedness of which Jesus spoke, help us (in the words of Ephesians 3) "have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God?" Join us on Sunday as we celebrate this unique day together and consider its power to shape our lives as a community of faith living among a communion of saints.