Friday, December 21, 2012

An Invitation to a New Era

Our texts for this final Sunday in Advent are Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Luke 1:46-55, 67-79, which can be read here.



I've been dreading this day since the 9th grade.  I will never forget the day in my freshman World History Class when we watched a video about the Mayans and learned that their calendar very clearly predicted a day for the end of the world:  DECEMBER 21, 2012 flashed on the screen at the end of the video in ominous typeface.

Well, the so-called "Mayan Apocalypse" is here, and so, still, are we (though there are still 10 hours or so left in this day).  It turns out, though, that that scary video I watched in world history class, however, didn't necessarily speak truthfully about what the Mayan calendar really indicates about this particular moment in history.  Here's what I read about this day in an article on CNN.com this week:

"Some believe the world is coming to an end Friday -- on 12/21/12 -- which is when an important phase on the ancient calendar of the Mayan people terminates. Mayans don't buy it. At least the ones living in the city of Merida, Mexico, don't. Neither does anyone in the Mayan village of Yaxuna. They know the calendar their ancestors left them is about to absolve a key phase -- the end of an era and the heralding of a new one -- but they don't think we're all gonna die."It's an era. We are lucky to see how it ends," said wood carver Santos Esteban in Yaxuna, a sleepy village of fewer than 700 Mayans...He feels it is a momentous occasion and is looking forward to the start of the new age. He is not afraid." (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/20/world/doomsday-coming/index.html)

If today is the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new one, then this week's scripture texts are actually perfect--because in beautiful lyrics, they herald the coming of a new age.  An age where oppression will cease, the proud will be knocked down and the humble lifted up; where God will raise up a savior for us and guide us in the way of peace; where God will personally be present in our midst, and God's people will fear oppression no more.

What if today did mark the beginning of a new era--an era where we begin to finally live into the words of Mary's song and of Zechariah's, of the prophet Zephaniah?  In our broken and battered world, I like the idea of today as a new beginning.  May we, like the Mayan woodcarver, not be afraid, but look forward and live into a new age.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Invitation to Joy

Our texts for this third Sunday in Advent are Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 1:57-66, 80 and 3:1-6, which can be read here.  But for this week, I am going to diverge from talking about the texts and instead address a great worship-related question that one of our kids asked during the Children's Sermon when we introduced the Advent wreath a couple of weeks ago:  "Why is one of the candles pink?"

The answer is complex and ancient, as best as I can tell.  Here's the one I found perhaps most interesting and that seems to have drawn together ideas from several places; forgive me as I quote at length, I just couldn't think of a better way to share this!  :

"In the earliest years of the church the only church season was Lent, the seven weeks prior to Easter. Lent was a season of fasting and prayer as the church commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus. The traditional color of banners in the church during this time was a deep purple, signifying royalty, repentance, and suffering. During Lent the church lit seven candles, one for each week of the solemn season. However solemn the season, the story of Lent also has a twinge of hope and joy since the death of Christ prefigured the resurrection. So, on the third Sunday of Lent, the church was encouraged not to fast, but to feast. In ancient times on this particular Sunday the Pope would honor a citizen with a pink rose, and as time passed the priests wore pink vestments on this day as a reminder of the coming joy. When the season of Advent was instituted the church viewed it as a mini-Lent, a time for reflection and repentance (thus the [primary seasonal color of] purple). In so doing, the church adopted the first four candles of Lent and changed the third candle of Advent to pink in honor of the Lenten tradition. This is why we have a pink candle in our Advent Wreaths. --from http://www.hcna.us/columns/pink_advent_candle.html).

Over the years, the four Advent candles have come to represent hope, peace, joy and love--though many think it is the love candle that is pink, it is actually the joy candle, a splash of difference and color in the midst of the season.  In recent years the Advent emphasis has moved from being a season of repentance to being more a season of hope and anticipation--hence the shift in color for the season from purple to blue that is reflected in our worship space this year.  But I am glad that we have still held onto the candle of joy--a sign that even in seasons of darkness, light is on its way; that we are always invited to lean towards God's joy, even when we may least feel its presence.  As we light the candle this week, remember the joy of Elizabeth and Zechariah at John's long-awaited birth, and then the joy of John when he saw Jesus coming out to him at the river, ready to begin his ministry of mercy and redemption for all people.  Even if this is a dark time in your life--perhaps especially if it is--what reason might you have to light a candle for joy?


"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Invitation to the Visitation

Our main text for this Second Sunday in this Advent season of considering God's Surprising Invitations is Luke 1:28-45, 56, which can be read here.  The first half of this reading is incredibly familiar--the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to young Mary to tell her she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God.  The second half of the story, at least to me, is not as familiar from typical narrations of the Christmas story:  the tale of Mary's visitation to her relative Elizabeth, who the angel Gabriel helpfully mentioned was also pregnant--just 6 months farther along in the miraculous process than Mary.

Why don't we know this part of the story as well?  It is probably true that the story of two women visiting together--even if it does involve a baby leaping in recognition--is not as magical and glamorous as the story of the angel's appearance and announcement.  Yet, when I have visited art museums, I have been amazed to see how frequently this story is told on canvas even when it is more rarely told from pulpits.  It is a story that seems to have captured an undue amount of attention from painters...on www.biblical-art.com, a resource I turn to for images with some frequency, the second half of this week's story--that comprised of those lesser read verses 39-45--has 262 pieces of art ancient and modern associated with it.

The vast number of ways this scene has been brought visually to life amazes me, and so I offer some of my favorites below for your consideration.  Which of these capture your attention?  How do the facial expressions and body language of the two women differ among the paintings?  When other people are included in the images, what do their expressions seem to convey?  What is the mood of these images, and which one do you most connect with?  Reflecting on art is a wonderful way of being invited into the story...so imagine and enjoy!

An Early Eastern Christian fresco

"Visitation" by artist Jim Janknegt (contemporary)

"The Visitation" by Romare Bearden (1941)

Pontormo's "The Visitation" (16th century)

 "The Visitation" by Chinese artist He Qi (contemporary)

"TheVisitation" by Philippe de Champaigne (17th century)

Mary and Elizabeth in the 2006 film "The Nativity Story"



Friday, November 30, 2012

An Invitation to Advent

Our primary text for this first Sunday of Advent is Luke 1:5-25, which can be found here.

Most of the mail I get, I confess, ends up in the recycling bin:  advertisements, unsolicited items from businesses, impersonal pieces addressed to "Current Resident." But there is one type of mail (other than my Thursday arrival of Sports Illustrated) that I always pay attention to:  anything that looks like an invitation.  Something addressed personally to me from someone I know well, someone who has something exciting going on in their lives that they want me to come be a part of and experience alongside of them.

This year, we are going to be looking at the stories of Advent and Christmas as God's personal invitations to us--God inviting us to be part of what God is doing in the world, God inviting us to practice ways of being open to God's movement in our lives.  We will be meeting characters in the first two chapters of the book of Luke--Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Bethlehem shepherds--who accepted surprising invitations to be part of God's story in different ways.  We will be taking time to ask ourselves, what is God's invitation to each of us in this season?  How are we being invited to participate in God's ongoing story in this world in surprising ways?

As part of this season, I want to encourage you to consider who might need a personal invitation from you during Advent.  I recently read a study that said 82% of people who are not part of a church would be at least somewhat likely to visit a church if they received a personal invitation from someone they know.  Broadneck is an exciting place to be right now.  Who in your life needs to share in that excitement with you?  Who might be yearning for the sense of community and opportunity to gather together in God's presence that Broadneck can offer during the holidays?  I want to challenge you to print off the invitation above and personally hand it to someone in your life during this season, inviting them to worship or perhaps to our Christmas Caroling and Chili Supper planned for the evening of December 16.  As God has invited us into God's story, we are called to be inviting others in as well; to whom might you turn this season and say, "Hey, I want you to know you're invited.  Come along with me.  Come and see"?




Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Crowning Day of the Year

Our texts for this coming Sunday, which is celebrated as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, are Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 18:33-37, which can be read here.

As I was explaining to the Worship Ministry Group a few weeks ago, this coming Sunday is the final Sunday of the "Church Year".  The "Church Year" or "Liturgical Year" that we follow in our worship does not follow a January 1-December 31 cycle like our calendars, nor work on a September-to-June sort of school year calendar; rather, our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent (as we anticipate Christ's coming birth) in early December and ends with Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday in late November.  Thus, by worship standards this is the last Sunday of our year before we get a new start for Advent next week and prepare to move through the story of who Christ is together once again!

The end of a year is a good time for looking back and looking forward.  And so I would encourage you to do that with this year of worship we have just been through--and the year of worship that lies ahead.  Perhaps the art pictured above can help you do this.

What have you learned about God through the course of this year?

How have you come to experience Jesus in a new way as you moved again through the story of waiting for his birth, of celebrating the beginning of his ministry through Epiphany and the end of his ministry through Lent?

How did Jesus' resurrection take on meaning for you this year, or how did you come to experience the Holy Spirit lighting your life or joining you to others in a new way?

What have you learned through this long season of Pentecost growth--as we have read letters to ancient churches, prayed together the Lord's Prayer, considered our calls to discipleship, and thanked God for the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us?

How, on this "crowning" Sunday of the year, might you come to see the ways that Christ reigns over all of your life--or, perhaps, invite Christ anew to do so?

These are good things to consider with gratitude during Thanksgiving Week!  And as you reflect on these things, I leave you with these words from a worship website I respect a lot, Liturgy-Link, as a blessing for the coming Sunday:


Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He reigns over us and all our world with justice, mercy, and peace.
So as this year comes to an end and a new one begins, may we sing all joy and praise to Christ who reigns now and always.

Amen!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Family We Can Relate To


My apologies!  I wrote this and thought it published on Friday, but due to a technology glitch it is not appearing until today!  So here are some thoughts around yesterday's lessons:

Our texts this week come from the first two chapters of the book of 1 Samuel:  1 Samuel 1:1-20, 24-28 and 2:1-10, which can be read here.

It is interesting to come to the story of Hannah at this point in the church year.  Odd, I guess, would be more accurate than interesting.  Here's a little lectionary lesson for you:  if we had stuck with the scriptural suggestions of the Revised Common Lectionary all year, our texts through the summer would have come almost exclusively from 1 and 2 Samuel.  We would have already met Samuel, Hannah's prayed for son; the first kings of Israel; and covered the arc of Israel's history through these two books.  So why wait and go back to the start of the story now?  Doesn't that seem a little out-of-order?

I seriously doubt that what I am about to point out is the reason we meet Hannah in late November, but I'll entertain the thought anyway:  maybe this story is one we need to read as the holidays approach.  Because, after all, it is at least in part a story about family dynamics, unfolding during an annual event where all the family was together in a way that highlighted differences and made tensions rise.  Sound familiar to anyone who is approaching holiday family time with a little fear and trepidation?  Every year, this family went through the same destructive cycle:  they'd go up to Shiloh, make the sacrifice, and while Peninnah and her children would receive a large portion of the sacrificial meat, Hannah--childless--would get only one portion, lost and neglected in the family shuffle.  Elkinah, her husband, tried to make her feel better by doubling up what she got--but it was still less than the rest of the family got, and furthermore only highlighted her isolation, her other-ness.  Then, she had to endure the mocking of Peninnah (who apparently was NOT a gracious "winner" in the family childbearing sweepstakes), the confusion of her self-centered husband who thought he should be enough for her, and the emptiness of her arms that reminds her of what she's never had.  In the end, Hannah storms away from the dinner table, refusing to eat.  Ever seen a family circus like this?

So, though I don't think this is what Hannah's story is about at its heart, I think at this time of year we can certainly use Hannah's story to consider how we interact with our families and friends in the coming days of gathering together--how we can be sensitive to the griefs people bear, to the differences in how our lives have turned out and how we view the world.  And, as Hannah slipped away to the sanctuary to fervently pray when she could not take it anymore, we can consider how God might be present as we gather with others, as we deal with those we are missing around the table, as we deal with those we cannot stand around the table.  How does God work through the petty dynamics and story of this one family to begin to bring about something that will transform not just this family story, so they don't repeat the same cycle year after year, but to reorient an entire nation's history? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Can I Just Sing?

Our scripture texts for this Sunday come from Ruth 3 and 4 (specifically, Ruth 3:1-11 and 4:13-22, but the whole of both chapters--actually, the whole book of Ruth!--are worth reading) and from Mark 12:38-44, which can be read here.

I don't want to write a sermon this week.

Well, that's not true; I just think someone has already written what I have to say in this sermon better than I can.

You see, I often think musically--and as I read the texts for this week, song after song kept flowing through my brain.    This happens a lot, but this week the correlations I made were so strong that I wanted, instead of writing a sermon, to just make an iTunes playlist of three or four songs that I think portray what I hear of God in these stories better than any words I can assemble and speak.

I don't think I could get away with this, though; so I am going for a compromise.  I am going to attempt to play one of the songs in worship on Sunday as part of my sermon; and the other two, I offer to you here for your viewing/listening pleasure.  I encourage you to check out the links below to two remarkable songs:  "Show Up" by Jill Phillips, and "Kingdom Comes" by Sara Groves--the first a fairly new song to me, the other a song I have sung frequently in my head for years.  Read the scripture texts, then listen to these songs.  Why do you think these songs are the ones that came to mind for me out of these stories?  What do these songs spark in you?  How do you see them as connected to the stories of these three remarkable-yet-unremarkable widows, Ruth, Naomi, and the nameless widow with two copper coins?

Ponder, listen, and enjoy!






Kingdom Comes by Sara Groves on Grooveshark

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Remembering the Saints

Our texts for this first Sunday in November, traditionally celebrated as All Saints' Sunday (All Saints' Day proper is today, November 1!) are the first chapter of the book of Ruth (read the whole thing--it's worth it!), and the brief but central teaching of Jesus from Mark 12:28-34.

As a Baptist I didn't grow up celebrating All Saints' Day--or even talking about saints, really.  What did saints have to do with my life, after all?  Most of them were nuns or priests or monks, living in another culture and country and day and time, doing insane things like being beheaded for the gospel or drinking the pus out of people's festering wounds (Catherine of Siena did this--no lie).

As I have come to appreciate the liturgical calendar of church holidays as an adult, however, today has become one of the most holy and bittersweet and sacred days of my year.  Because it is a day to remember not just those from long ago, those martyred and canonized; it is the day to remember the people with whom we are connected across time, by faith as well as DNA--those to whom, in many senses, we owe our lives today for the way they blazed before us, and the example they gave us of how to live faithful lives as ordinary, broken people.

Our biblical examples for this week are Naomi and Ruth--two common, unlikely saints if ever there were any:  a bitter aging widow and a young foreign widow, two women with no one left who are suddenly connected to one another by an act of faith--an act that will join not just their futures, but the futures of many generations to come--including ours.  Their story is a rich one I am looking forward to exploring together.

But today, I encourage you to think of who the saints are in your life--those who have taught you by love and example what God's faithfulness, what God's steadfast love, looks like.  Pull out old pictures, old letters, remember those related to you by blood and by spirit who have shaped who you are in Christ.  Remember especially those who have gone on to the next life over the past year whose lives continue to be joined to yours in some mystical, memorable way.  I am going to spend today remembering two great saints I was blessed to be related to who have left this earth over the past year--my Great Aunt Lucy (otherwise known as "Sister"), and my grandmother Eleanor (otherwise known as "Grams").  This picture is the only one I have of me with both of them, and I'm making it my wallpaper on my computer today as I reflect on what sainthood really is.  Both of these women lived lives of faithfulness into their 90s that looked quite different from one another, but that taught me lessons about independence, the fierceness of love, steadiness, unconditional care, and perseverance that I hope I can hold onto into my 90s if I am gifted with a life this long.  They are saints to me because of what they have taught me about my connection to God and the way I want to be connected to others as I live on this earth.

So who has been a saint to you?  Not for the extraordinary things they have done, like slaying lions or bringing about miraculous healings, but for their everyday acts of faithfulness that have changed your experience of God and this world?  Take time today to remember them, to celebrate them, to live in the bittersweet memory of those who have come before and after whom we hope our legacies will be patterned. And hear Paul's words to the church at Corinth as words of blessing addressed even to ordinary old you:

"To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Too Many Roads!

Our texts for this week, our last in our "Road Less Traveled" series on discipleship centered on Mark chapters 8-10, are Mark 10:46-52 and Job 42:1-17, which can be read here.

In the Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken," which we have been alluding to over the last month or so together in worship as a visual way to think about Jesus' call to discipleship, he speaks of "two roads diverging in a yellow wood."  The problem with this week's gospel text, however, is that it does not present to us two roads of interpretation; as I read what seem like 7 very basic verses from Mark, the roads we could take into and out of this story seem almost infinite.  Seriously, I think I could spend 6 or 8 Sundays preaching on this passage and preach a radically different sermon every time.  I'm sitting here this morning, trying to decide which road to take for Sunday, and I feel kind of overwhelmed by the options.

We could talk about the significance of this story taking place outside of the troubled and historic city of Jericho--anything here bring back memories for you of the famous story from Joshua 6?

We could talk about the significance of Mark giving this blind beggar a name--Bartimaeus--when the characters Jesus heals are almost never named!  Furthermore, he emphasizes the meaning of Bartimaeus' name--"son of Timaeus"--and Timaeus was the name of a famous dialogue written by Plato--one that also talks at length about seeing and blindness.  Coincidence or not?

And speaking of names, we could talk about the names given to Jesus in this story--the crowd calls him "Jesus of Nazareth," while Bart (as I like to call him) names him "Son of David"--the first person in this gospel to do this.  There's all sorts of stuff here.

We could talk about the crowd trying to silence Bart, and the fact that they only pay him attention to scold him, while Jesus stops to engage him.  Ouch...there's an indictment of Jesus' followers.

We could talk about the parallels with the two stories of faltering discipleship that preceded this one--the man who came to Jesus and was told to sell everything (notice how Bart threw down his cloak without even being told to do so!) and James and John, who like Bart were asked, "What is it you want me to do for you?"

Then there's this whole metaphor of seeing, so crucial in the Gospel--so tightly tied to believing.  We see it also in the Job passage, where what has changed in Job's heart is that now he not only hears about and knows but SEES God; and we see the irony here that a blind man is the only one who sees Jesus clearly.

We could talk about how this whole section is bookended by stories of blind men being healed--and how different the healing in Mark 8:22-26 looks from this one that happens right before he enters Jerusalem.

And speaking of that, we can talk about how this is the last healing Jesus does before he enters Jerusalem for his final week--what's the significance of this being his final act?

Overwhelmed yet?  I am.  But the multitude of threads here--and I haven't even named them all--tell me above all else that this is more than another healing story; this is a story that has many significant things to teach us about discipleship, about Jesus, about ourselves.  I don't know where we will end up walking together on Sunday, but I am glad we are on the journey together.

Friday, October 19, 2012

God Questions

Our texts this week are Mark 10:32-45 and Job 38:1-7, 34-41, which can be read here.

I ask God questions all the time...and think about questions I wish I could ask God, questions for which I wish I could get some sort of clear definitive answer.

But our passages this week are not full of questions we pose to God; rather, they are full of questions God poses to us.  The Old Testament reading from Job overflows with them.  Which of these questions resonate with you?  What do you hear in them?

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Who determined [the earth's] measurements? Or who stretched the line upon it? 

On what were [the earth's] bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? 

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?

Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are'?

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?

Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? 

Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 

Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?

Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

God is full of questions in Job--absolutely full of them.  But in Mark's Gospel, Jesus has only two questions, both directed at his disciples:

"What is it you want me to do for you?" 

 "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 


So what's the question behind all of these questions?

I guess my question, simple though it might be, is...what might God's questions be for you at this point on your journey, disciple?






Saturday, October 13, 2012

When Roads Diverge, Where Will The Chosen One Lead?

Our texts this week are Mark 10:17-31 with a nod to Job 23:1-9, 16-17, which can be read here.

The Bible has a habit of leaving stories unfinished--all sorts of tales of encounters with Jesus that just beg for a sequel.  So, when I write curriculum for youth, one of my favorite things to do is to let the youth imaginatively finish the story beyond what the scriptural text gives us.  For instance, this week I wrote a lesson encouraging youth to finish the story of Nicodemus after his encounter with Jesus in John 3 where he is told he needs to be born anew (we get hints of the trajectory of his story in John 7:50-51 and John 19:39, but only glimpses!). But what might Nicodemus have told his friends and family--or his fellow Pharisees--about Jesus when he went back home after their encounter. How did he act differently, if at all? How did he interpret what Jesus told him? How did his life change? What encounters might Nicodemus have had with others in the days, weeks, months, and years after his nighttime meeting with Jesus?

You could ask questions like these about several stories--how might the wounded man's life had been changed after he was helped towards healing by his enemy, the "Good Samaritan" in Luke 10?  You could ask it about Job in today's Old Testament text--though we have 19 more chapters in his book to learn about his story, still, how was he different after these losses and the ensuing encounters with his friends and, most of all, with God?

And perhaps this exercise could work best with today's Gospel lesson--the story of the man who is called elsewhere in the Gospels "the rich young ruler."  After Jesus speaks hard words into the man's life, all we are told is that "he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions." So...when he went away, where did he go? What did he do? When he got back to his house and saw his possessions, did he hold them close? Weep over them and then reluctantly let them be pried from his fingers? Toss them all out on the front lawn and have a giant, free yard sale? Just burn the house down so he didn't have to deal with it all? And then...what? Did he just go back to work? Or, like the disciples, did he end up leaving his vocation and livelihood behind and take up the new one of following Jesus?

How do you imagine the story ends? Which diverging road through the yellow wood does this man choose, and where does it lead?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Does Jesus Get Frustrated?

Our texts for this week are Numbers 11:10-16, 24-29 and Mark 9:38-50, which can both be read here.

Here's a fun question:  do you ever get frustrated?

Ha.  Okay, that's a silly question.  A better question perhaps:  what makes you REALLY frustrated?  What just absolutely sets you to ripping out your hair, wanting to climb the walls and scream?  What makes your temper flare, your patience wane, your edginess escalate?

People who don't follow through on commitments, or who are incompetent at their jobs?

Repeatedly falling short at something even though you're trying really hard?

DC/Baltimore beltway traffic?

People who don't listen or repeatedly fail to understand?

Spending 6 hours on the phone with Dell without being able to get a straight answer as to how to fix your computer, getting connected from one department to another (not that this has ever happened to me...)?

What's on your list?  Why do these things frustrate you?  What is it about these things that might cause you to snap, to lash out, even to toss your hands in the air and give up?  What do you do when you are frustrated?

I ask these questions because I know Moses was frustrated in today's Old Testament reading, and I have good reason to think (and I don't believe this is heretical) that Jesus was frustrated in Mark 9.  Who could blame him?  I mean, let's chart what has happened in this chapter:

  • First, Jesus gets followed by crowds EVERYWHERE--and usually those crowds are bickering over something (9:14-16).  
  • Then, he has to step in and exorcise a demon the disciples couldn't handle (9:17-29).  
  • Then, Jesus talks to the disciples AGAIN about his upcoming death, only to have them stare blankly at him and one another (9:30-33).  
  • Then, Jesus catches the disciples responding to his death pronouncement by arguing over who is the greatest among them (are you kidding me, disciples?  nope--9:34-37).  
  • Finally, in today's lesson, the disciples try to get praise out of Jesus because they managed to stop someone from outside of their group who was casting out demons in Jesus' name.  This news causes Jesus to become so exasperated that he busts out every over-the-top metaphor he can think of, telling the disciples they'd do better to chop off their hand than to use that hand to get in the way of someone who is trying to live by faith.  

So...as for my opening question, "Does Jesus get frustrated?" I think the answer has to be yes.  And I'm grateful for that--how else could he be fully human?  But here, perhaps, is the more pertinent question:  WHY does Jesus get frustrated?  And what does he do with his frustration?  What can we learn from the things that really set Jesus off, and how he responds in these touchy moments?  How might Jesus' frustration with these disciples show us where our attention and growth needs to be as disciples today?  As we continue on this "road less traveled" of discipleship, how might the things that frustrate us and that gain our energy and attention--or don't gain it--set us apart as those who have chosen a road rarely taken in a culture full of frustration?



.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Road Less Traveled

As we begin a new sermon series this week on Jesus' teachings from discipleship from the Gospel of Mark, our key text will be Mark 8:27-38, which can be read here.

As I have been reading the texts for the upcoming weeks, a poem has repeatedly run through my head--Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a poem that has been a favorite of mine since I learned it in school growing up.  It may be overquoted, yes--but it still captures my imagination in a way few other pieces of literature have:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 


There are lots of ways to interpret this poem, but here's what it has made me think about lately: that whether we realize it or not, we who have chosen--and are continually choosing--the way of discipleship are making an intentional decision to walk the road less traveled by.

It is an unexpected road;
sometimes it can feel like a road that we are the first to walk, or walk alone;
it's a more challenging than anticipated road, if we fully commit to walking on it;
it is a road that rarely lets us come back to follow the other option once we have given ourselves to it;
But above all, it is the road that makes all the difference.

In Mark 8,  while the disciples are literally on the road on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus begins to reveal to his disciples what a life of discipleship--of following him--really looks like.  What it might be like to choose that road less traveled by, following Jesus in his way of servanthood and surrender and unconditional love and choosing to see when we might rather remain blind.  This Sunday's text is seen almost universally as the linchpin of Mark's Gospel--the moment when, after being challenged to voice the truth of who they believe Jesus to be, the disciples get a glimpse of the unusual places that path will take them.  The road of following Jesus, their leader declares, is not going to look like anything they've seen before, or anything they might have expected when they first chose to follow the Messiah.  But it is going to be the road that leads to life.

How do we walk this road that leads to life abundant, life unusual, life laid down, life that makes all the difference together?  Read this week's verses, then join us on Sunday as we explore this Jesus Way together.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Broadneck!




On September 12, Broadneck Baptist Church will be celebrating the big 3-0!  What a journey we have been on together for the past three decades.  Local reporter Wendi Winters recently visited with us at Broadneck and did a great article on our anniversary for the Capital--click below to give it a read, and join us for our various opportunities to serve, worship, and celebrate this month, starting with our Habitat build and picnic on Saturday!

Around Broadneck: Church celebrates 30th anniversary


Friday, August 31, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray...As We Get Honest

On our next-to-last week of our line-by-line journey through the Lord's Prayer, our focus line is "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," and our scriptures are Matthew 6:5-13 and Matthew 8:23-34.  I'd also recommend a refresher read of Romans 7:15-25, just for fun.  All these scriptures can be found here.

What's your greatest temptation?

It's something we think about a lot around Lent--what should we give up in this season?  One year I gave up ice cream.  One year one of my friends gave up Diet Coke and swearing, which I thought was a spectacularly funny combination.  The author of the blog "fitsugar.com" (yes this is real) confessed  a temptation that will surely resonate with many as Girl Scout Cookie season draws near, and then asked a question:  Thin Mints are my weakness, and actually anything made or coated with chocolate, I just can't resist. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving into your temptations and enjoying a few tasty bites. However, if I ate too much chocolate all the time I'd feel pretty crappy (and end up gaining a few extra pounds), so that totally helps to curb my cravings. Here is the thing: I'm human and if chocolate is in front of me, it can be tough to pass up. So I try to avoid temptations by only buying chocolate in bite-size pieces (instead of huge bars). Since I love to bake with chocolate, I also try to make cookies and treats for occasions or when I'm having people over. That way I can enjoy a cookie (or three), and share the rest. So speak up and tell me, what do you crave the most and how do you stay strong in the face of temptation?


The responses she received were myriad: 
  • "Espresso and baked goods. Keeping it away from me and vanity help."
  • "NACHOS. I could live off of nachos. So my trick is to only use low fat cheese, fresh salsa, and nonfat plain yogurt instead of sour cream. That way it still feels like a guilty pleasure!"
  • "BAKED GOODS! I will eat an entire batch of anything in a day’s time. My trick now is to only make vegan baked goods and to use whole wheat flour. That way there's very little fat, and I'm at least getting some sort of nutritional, instead of just fat and sugar"
  • "Reese's peanut butter cups. I dont really avoid them, I just eat them once in a while. Nothing wrong with that! :)"
I laughed and nodded as I read this, but also wondered if typically--when we think of temptation--we don't tend to come in a bit on the shallow side when we stick to identification of these surface temptations.  I mean really...as people of faith, are these the temptations Jesus was telling us to pray to resist?  Probably not.  So what are we talking about here?  What are the deeper temptations--the darker tendencies--towards which we find ourselves inexplicably pulled, drawn again and again, which we find hard to turn away from or turn down?  How do we learn to identify them?


I am not a person who sits around and thinks about temptation, the Devil, or Evil very much, but when I do, the below song from Andy Gullahorn (whose music I introduced on "Hallowed be your name" week in worship) often comes to mind.  Listen to the lyrics and get honest, if you can:  what are the REAL temptations you face?  As a person striving to live by faith, what is it that pulls you away--sometimes slowly, deceptively, before you even realize it's happening?  And how does the Lord's Prayer help us address these things, to stay strong and connected to God in the midst of them?



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray...As We Let Go

Our scripture texts for this 6th of 8 weeks focused on the Lord's Prayer are Matthew 6:9-15 and Matthew 18:21-35, which can be read here.

I took a year and a half of Greek that, most of the time, is totally wasted on me.  Every once in a while, though, the original language of our New Testament text has something to teach us that we might miss otherwise.

What I learned this week was this:  the Greek word Matthew uses for "forgive" in the Lord's Prayer is aphiēmi, which means literally "to release," or "to let go."  This word appears more in Matthew's gospel than any other book, and in some really interesting circumstances.  At the end of his wilderness temptation, the Devil let (aphiēmi) Jesus go (Matthew 4); when called by Jesus, the fishermen-turned-disciples let go or released (aphiēmi) their nets and followed him (Matthew 4); when Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, the fever left (aphiēmi) her (Matthew 8); when Jesus died, he released (aphiēmi) his spirit (Matthew 27).

In all of these situations we see the underlying meaning of the word forgive--that it's more than something we think or something we feel.  It's related to a tangible action--a release, a letting go.

So here is how I would invite you to pray the Lord's Prayer this week, if you would.  Find a rock--one not too large that you cannot grip it, but that you can feel in a curled hand (I will give you one at church tomorrow if you ask!).  Take the rock and hold it in one of your hands.  Wrap your fingers around it and squeeze tightly as you begin to pray the Lord's Prayer.

Then, when you get to this week's petition:  "Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins [we'll talk about this variation in worship tomorrow!] as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us/those who sin against us," begin to slowly unclench your fingers from around the rock.  Slowly, painstakingly, as slowly as you can.  Feel each muscle and tendon releasing millimeter by millimeter.  And as you do, consider--of what are you called to "let go"?  What do you need to "release"?  What are you holding onto too tightly, such that it causes you pain or injures others or becomes a point of tension in your relationship with God?

When you get to "for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever", I invite you to lay your rock down in front of you and spend some time looking at it.  What might it be like--even just a little bit, even just for a moment--to aphiēmi and let go?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray...with Eyes wide Open


Our texts for this fifth of eight weeks journeying through the petitions of the Lord's Prayer are Luke 11:1-13 and Exodus 16:11-32, which can be read here.

Most of us were taught to pray with our eyes closed, and for good reason: closing our eyes is a good way to not be as distracted by all the stimuli around us, to focus in on the God we are seeking, to use our other senses--our ears, our hearts--to perceive God's voice.

But I think this week's focal line of the Lord's Prayer is meant to be prayed with eyes wide open. Because, after all, we are praying about and for not something ethereal, but very tangible, visible, real: bread to sustain us. The food we need to survive each day. This petition is, among other things, an invitation to see: the depth of our needs and dependence on God, and the needs and situation of our neighbors--those with whom we seek to live on earth as we would in heaven.

So here is what I would invite you to do this week: to pray through pictures.  Below is a link to a photo essay done by one of my favorite journalist/photographers,  Peter Menzel, for his book, "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats." Take time to scroll through these pictures and Consider...what does it look like to pray with and for daily bread with our brothers and sisters around the world?  What might it look like for the needs of all to be supplied? And how might we pray and partner with God for this to happen?

What the World Eats, Part I

What the World Eats, Part II




Monday, August 13, 2012

On Earth (or, in West Virginia) as it is in Heaven

I did not post a blog last week because I was in the mountains of West Virginia sans internet access with an amazing crew of a dozen Broadneckers and 70 or so others from churches across the country, spending their 15th summer partnering with the community of Belington, West Virginia to do construction, lead a Music and Arts Camp for kids, and build relationships.  This year's theme was "Planting Seeds of Hope," and we caught glimpses of this hope all over the place.  If you missed the slide show on Sunday, it is posted below.  Watch it and reflect:  where do you see earth and heaven meeting in the images here?  Where is God's will being done--and where do we still have so, so far to go?

video


August 5 Sermon: "Your Kingdom Come"

Many people have asked for copies of the August 5 sermon on the "Your Kingdom Come" portion of the Lord's Prayer.  Since it did not get recorded, here is the text of the sermon--not exactly as it was preached, of course, but close!


Your Kingdom Come
August 5, 2012
Luke 11:1-4 and various words of Jesus from Gospels

The London Games have been called “the first social media Olympics.”  At the last Olympiad sites such as Facebook and Twitter were beginning to gain widespread use, but they were nowhere near as prominent as they are now.  I am not on Twitter, which involves 140 character or less observations, but I watched the Opening Ceremonies with a friend who is an avid Tweeter, she offered me a constant stream of interpretations of what was happening on the screen before us as tweeted by people around the world.  Some were serious observations, such as “2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony is showing the historical development of London, yet I see no colonization, building of slave ships or racism.”  Other tweets were distinctively American in their speculation about the dramatic retelling of British history:  “How are they going to dramatize us kicking their [tails] in the revolution? #USA #USA #USA.”  During the parade of nations, as North Korea marched in under the name “Democratic People's Republic of Korea,” one person tweeted, “My mother always said "if a country's got democratic in its name, it probably isn't."”   But my favorite social media reflection on the evening was this picture posted on Facebook of the Queen of England sourly surveying the scene, captioned, “Look at all these countries I used to own.”

These observations from around the world of this gathering of many nations and people of the world got me thinking, inevitably, about the nature of the world we live in.  I watched the resilient march of Arab nations that have recently overthrown dictatorial leaders and are struggling through unrest; the proud flag-bearing of nations I’ve never heard of, most of which are still the protected territories of bigger nations—including Britain and, yes, the United States; listened to stories of what nations used to be called before they gained independence, or changed leadership, some of whom even still name themselves by their former relationships, such as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”  And as often happens, my thoughts went to scripture—particularly the scripture we are immersed in during this summer journey through the Lord’s Prayer.  What, I wondered, does it mean for us to pray “Your Kingdom Come” in a world where a kingdom has been so rarely a good thing—when we live in a country where countless lives have been lost for the cause of independence and calling our own shots and rejecting any form of monarchy—where royal leaders become sources of internet jokes and kingdoms seem, to us at least, a quaint thing of the past—nostalgic at best, horribly imperialistic and violent at worst?  Like we talked about with the opening address of “Our Father,” our associations with any sort of kingdom can cause negative reactions—or our unfamiliarity with any sort of kingdom outside of fantasy books and Disney princesses can make us think of a kingdom as something of a child’s imagination rather than a world’s reality.  Kings, queens, sovereigns—why would we ever go back to this, or want any sort of kingdom to come?  And why would this be something Jesus, who certainly knew the horror of kingdoms run amok via King Herod and the Roman empire, taught us to pray?

Well, in Jesus’ day kingdom language was not only integral to the people’s everyday secular world, but had long been used in a meaningful religious sense in Judaism.  The Jewish concept of what one talked about when one talked about God’s Kingdom or, perhaps in a more accurate translation, God’s reign, involved four basic ideas:  that the one God was the creator and sovereign over all; that the rule of the world has been wrongly usurped by forces who oppose this God and to whom we have errantly given allegiance; that God has “given” the kingdom to the chosen people of Israel, who accepted the “yoke of the kingdom” when they embraced the law and covenant at Sinai and made itself a particular community within this world that had subjected itself to God’s revealed will; and that the consummation of God’s kingdom, though beginning now in part, is still future.  The Jews thought their knowledge of the Kingdom of God was pretty clear and complete, and that one day a messianic warrior-king would come to overthrow the kingdoms of this earth and institute the reign of God.

Jesus was raised on these ideas; most of his hearers would have been raised on these ideas, this clear sequence of thought about the kingdom of God.  Yet in his teaching, Jesus effectively debunked and dismantled traditional images of the Kingdom—upended them, rearranged them, and remade them into a collage of crazy paradox.  Jesus spoke of the kingdom a LOT—it appears in all four Gospels multiple times, as you heard in our reading this morning that combined words about the kingdom from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—yet, he never came right out and said what it was.  He never gave a Webster’s dictionary definition.  Rather, he offered metaphors—stories—parables—questions to ask:  “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what may we compare it?” is a phrase he utters again and again.  The images that emerge from this question are abundant:  God’s kingdom is like a tiny seed that’s considered unclean but explodes into a tree that defies explanation, wheat tangled with weeds in a field, a nondiscriminatory fish net hauling in everything it can wrap itself around, fungus that causes bread to rise, a hidden treasure that caused a man to buy the whole field it was nestled within.  God’s kingdom is like a farmer who scatters seed not just where the ground is carefully plowed and prepared but everywhere, a king inviting shady characters to his son’s wedding feast, a gardener who finds things growing he doesn’t even remember planting, a landowner who pays everyone the same wage no matter how many hours they worked, a ruler who departs leaving his servants in charge to hold down the fort.  Depending on which words of Jesus we are reading, this kingdom presently “comes near,” already “has come,” or will “come” in the future, with some seeing it before they die.  Some people are threatened with not being able to “enter” the kingdom, while othersare already “going into” it or even given keys to it.  According to some of Jesus’ teachings people are given signs of the kingdom to look for; yet when asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus cryptically answers them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”—or within you—or within your grasp, depending on how you translate the—surprise, surprise—ambiguous and open to interpretation word that Jesus uses here.

So what are we praying, then, when we pray “your kingdom come”?  How are we living when we live both in the reality of and in anticipation of this already-not yet, here-yet-not-here, within-us-yet-around-us, agricultural, personal, aquatic, economic, political, culinary kingdom?  None of this looks like the images of a kingdom given to us by the Opening Ceremonies, or our history classes, or Orlando's Magic Kingdom.  But I think the unorthodox way Jesus speaks about and teaches us the nature of the kingdom reveals things that can guide and undergird the way we pray and live into this prayer.  First, to pray for the coming kingdom is an act of great imagination.  I think that’s why Jesus gave us so many images—he didn’t want the kingdom to be boxed in, and he didn’t want us to be boxed in in the ways we live and work towards that kingdom.  That’s why I left the picture blank on the front of our worship bulletin today, with space for you to respond with your own words and images—what IS the kingdom of God like?  How do each of us imagine this in our own context?  How do our various images of the kingdom weave together to help us get a bigger, broader picture of God?  How might we be surprised—as Jesus often used surprising images—by the things that can turn out to be hints and glimpses of God’s kingdom, God’s way of organizing the world? 

Second, Jesus speaks about the kingdom in a way that reminds us we are not living out a definition, but a story—the kingdom comes, in all of Jesus’ teaching, in the living out of stories—in everyday acts of gardening and real estate transaction and baking and relating with our families and being surprised by things we didn’t plan for and having our sense of what’s right upended by something unruly.  Perhaps the most influential class I took in college was called “The Kingdom of God in America”—a course I thought would help me clearly define this kingdom thing Jesus spoke about so much.  Most of my college courses in religion had been rather heady, but this turned out to be a class of stories about the Church as it has lived, moved, and responded to the various crises of American culture that have called the Church to action—in particular, the Civil Rights Movement.  This was no study of abstract, barely graspable theology far removed from my own life; it was a look at how actual people in my own time and culture read Scripture and understood God, applying Christian principles to their own lives and using the Church as a vehicle for Christ-centered change.  We learned about Martin Luther King Jr, who moved from craving financial stability, prestige, and denominational fame as a young pastor to being caught up in what he saw as a movement of God in the Civil Rights movement, seeing that his theology had to move, as he put it, from “thin paper to thick action.”  We learned the story of southern farmer Clarence Jordan, whose version of the Lord’s Prayer we will pray together next week, who decided that change in the segregated and economically unjust South would come not through political movements of history but by a God movement breaking in to history and began an interracial farm that, Jordan believed, would allow the Kingdom of God to invade the history of the present-day world.  We learned about countless others who saw the Kingdom of God not as a thing of the past or the future only, but of this present day—a story being written with their lives—and were challenged to consider how our lives might now contribute to that story—a powerful message for a class taught at a public state university founded by the author of the separation of church and state, and one that I think helped lead me into ministry, the more I think about it—that made me want to dedicate my life in a whole-hearted way to being part of this story.

And that leads me to one last thing I think we can learn, beyond how imagination and story are the ways we embody and pray and work towards the coming of the kingdom:  that, unlike the top-down kingdoms of the past, the dictatorships we bristle against and seek to overthrow, this kingdom—in whatever form it takes—requires us to be deeply invested, participatory, and involved.  As John Dominic Crossan put it in his tremendous book on the Lord’s Prayer, “the Prayer’s challenge about God’s kingdom coming is not about the imminence of divine intervention, but about the empowerment of human collaboration.  Here is what counts:  God’s kingdom did not, could not, and will not begin, continue, or conclude without human collaboration…That is why Matthew’s Abba prayer has two even parts with the divine “you” in the first half and the human “we” in the second half. Those two parts are correlatives.  They come together or never come at all.”  Sower and seed and soil, yeast and dough and baker and oven, time and persistence and extravagance and risk—all of these things are part of the great collaboration that, bit by bit, reveals more of what the kingdom of God is like.

And so that picture Jesus painted with his myriad images and invited us to contribute to with our own imaginations and stories just keeps getting bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?  But that’s what praying for the Kingdom to come is about:  not reverting to some failed system or utopia or fantasy of the past.  Rather, as good old Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas put it—I seem to quote them every week in this series, don’t I?—this part of the prayer is a reminder that “the Christian faith is not satisfied with things as they are, now, today.  The Christian faith is not preoccupied with an archaeological exhumation of some distant past by which it attempts to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless present.  The Christian faith is always leaning into the future, standing on tiptoes, eager to see what God is bringing to birth among us.”  We lean our way into West Virginia, tilling kingdom soil, and with Habitat in Brooklyn, planting kingdom trees; we stand on tiptoe, knowing that our little acts of collaboration still have the power to unexpectedly bring about something new.  Can you imagine it—a kingdom growing among us, taking root, being birthed by the stories we live, a story in which every one of us is involved?  What might that kingdom of God look like?  And how can we imagine, narrate, and collaborate our way, bit by bit, right into the midst of us—so that kingdom of God truly is within us, near to us, among us, around us?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray...With Our Imaginations


Our texts this week--our third week in our series on the Lord's Prayer, where we will focus on the great petition "Your Kingdom Come"--are Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:1-4) and a collection of sayings of Jesus about the nature of God's Kingdom.  Some of these can be read here.

Jesus was a painter...did you know this?  By this I don't mean that his works are hanging in the Louvre or the Uffizi, or that he worked with oils and canvas and watercolor.  Jesus painted with words that created pictures--with images so vivid they could capture the hearer's imagination and draw it into wonder, speculation, and deeper engagement.  Jesus told parables that left many meanings open for interpretation, used metaphors from every day life, and engaged our senses of sight and sound, taste and touch, justice and indignation--in particular as he taught about the great mysterious reality known as the Kingdom of Heaven (in Matthew, who had a particular reverence for the name of God and often substituted "heaven" for it) or the Kingdom of God (in Mark, Luke, and John).

As we learn to pray "your kingdom come" this week, Jesus seems to have taught us by example that the primary way to do this is with the imagination.  Imaginative prayer is nothing new (read more about its history here) but to those of us who are used to working with the concrete and who put our creative sides out on the curb after childhood to deal with more practical matters.

So here is how I want you to try praying this week:  place the blank canvas of a sheet of paper before you and a pencil, markers, or (best of all!) crayons close at hand.  Or, close your eyes and let the inside of your eyelids be your canvas.  Then, using your imagination, complete this sentence so often uttered by Jesus:  "The  kingdom of God is like..."  If you were to picture something that could be described as congruent with and reflective of God's kingdom, what would it look like?

After you let your imagination run its course (and seriously...let it have free reign!  No passing judgment on what comes to mind!), spend some time praying with this image:  "Your Kingdom Come...Your Kingdom Come..."  What might God be wanting to say to you through this image?  How might it shape the way you live and move and pray in this world?

I highly encourage you to do this in the next few days...it will make our corporate worship experience much richer as we engage this question together!