Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Lent

This week's scripture John 9: 1-34

He was blind from the day he was born. And he spent his days begging to survive. Jesus healed him.

And when he was healed we're told that his neighbors and those who were accustomed to seeing him beg sayed, "Is this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "Yes." And some said, "It's just somebody who looks like him."

Isn't it sad. Here he is, healed from blindness, and the people most accustomed to seeing him can't tell if it's really him. They've passed by him every day on their way to work, to the market, to the synagogue...and they haven't paid enough attention to him to be able to tell if it's really him or not.

I have to admit that I'm a lot like they were. How many people do I pass by and pay only enough attention to step around them as I go on my way. How many people in my mind are identified as only 'that guy who stands in the median begging,' or that fellow who keeps trying to sneak into the building where my office is so that he can sleep in the stairwell.'

If we truly want to "reshape the world around through [Jesus'] sight and touch and sound" like the hymn we sing each Sunday of Lent says; we're going to have to learn to look at the world through Jesus' eyes. Jesus didn't just see a begger, or a leper, or a woman who'd had five husbands. He saw a person. One who hurt, and loved, and laughed, and cried. That's what he responded to. That's where His healing miracles the seeing of real people.

As we begin putting together our church profile, and defining what we see as our church's ministry, what happens if we do this? If we make an intentional choice about it, what will happen if we look around and really focus in on the particular people that we want to reach out to in Jesus' name? If we try to look at them through Jesus' eyes?

The people who passed the 'Man Born Blind' each day suffered from their own kind of blindness. Jesus offered them a healing from their blindness as well. He offers the same to us. Seeing people as individuals through the eyes of Jesus. That's where the healing starts.....for all of us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Third Sunday of Lent

This week's Scriptures are Exodus 17: 1-7 and John 4: 5-42.

I really hope that you're going to join us this Sunday for worship. I have become very excited about what I'm discovering as I study this story from John about Jesus' encounter with the "Woman at the Well." I think that it has a great deal to teach us about God's response to persons who have been isolated and scapegoated by the combination of their own behaviors and their culture's response to them. And I think it has a HUGE word of Good News to those of us who feel helpless and isolated; like we just can't win in life. More on this on Sunday.

For now I would like to point in a different direction: one of the contrasts between the Exodus story of Moses getting water for the children of Isreal and Jesus' comments about water in the John story.

In the Exodus story the water comes through Moses who is acting as a 'go between' between the people and God. And one of the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) lessons of the stories of the Exodus is "don't tick God off...He'll smack you around real good if you do" (my own paraphrase). That's why you have a go-between, to keep you from making some fatal mistake in your conversation with the Almighty.

Yet here is Jesus in His meeting with the woman; never once does he speak a word of condemnation to her. Never once does He speak a word of judgement. This poor woman is already the chief outcast in a village of outcasts. And, as a woman in that time and cultural situation, she is dependent on the very men who reject her for life itself.

Instead of condemnation and rejection, Jesus offers her a "spring within....welling up to eternal life." Think about it: no need to depend on someone else to make sure the water's there; no having to worry that you might 'tick off' somebody; just this bubbling, eternal spring....

This is what Jesus offers to us. To you and me with all our looking to others for approval and love and acceptance. To you and me, who are often so scared that if we tick God off that He'll withdraw His love-or worse. A living, bubbling spring of eternal life, eternal love that wells up from within us. What acceptance. What radical, world changing love.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Second Sunday of Lent

This week's scriptures are Numbers 21: 4-9 and John 3:1-17.

First of all, let me apologize for getting the blog out so late this week. Things just kinda crept up on me.

We've been focusing on the fact that if we will sit with God in the silence, God will show us our true face, call us by our true name. We talked about how we've put on masks because we're afraid of the world's rejection of our true face. We've talked about how we've taken on, or been given names different than our true name. And we've been reminded that our true name is "Beloved."

Still, sitting in the silence is not an easy thing. Not easy for me, at least. I've been reading Anthony Bloom's Beginning to Pray; and I think he puts words to part of what makes it so difficult. He says,

"...a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned. I do not mean this in major terms of eternal damnation or eternal salvation already given and recieved, but it is always a critical moment, a crisis. "Crisis" comes from the Greek and means 'judgment'. To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment in our lives."

I was reminded when I read this that the Chinese character for "crisis" means both "danger" and "opportunity."

Coming face to face with God is a "dangerous opportunity" because it holds our lives up next to what it is that God desires and requires of them. This is a judgement, a 'weighing in the balance.' And the dangerous opportunity is for us to move closer to God's will for us. To respond to that Holy Presence is a frightening thing; particularly since so much of our (at least my) prayer life is caught up in what we want, what we need. I know that I spend far too little time listening and way too much time talking. It's a wonder that God gets a word in edgewise. And I have to ask myself if what I am doing when I do this is really prayer.

The good news is that God is patient; and takes even the smallest effort and blows on it like a tiny spark. Sometimes....every now and bursts into flame. Those are the moments that carry us forward, that give us the courage to risk a little more.

We'll be talking more on Sunday about that risk, about that allowing God's presence to move in us and the love that makes that possible. I hope that you'll join us.

Hope to see you Sunday.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ash Wednesday-Beginning the Lenten Journey

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. And tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. we will meet to recieve our ashes from one another.

This recieving of ashes marks the beginning of our willingness to focus during the time of Lent on the things that interfere with our relationship with God....or as I am calling it during this time, from seeing "our true face." Our 'true face' is a reflection of God, for we are made in God's image. But sometimes in our fear and our anxiety we use other things (usually things that are, in themselves, good gifts from God) to try to sooth our anxiety and calm our fears. Lent is a time when we commit to not turning to those things, but risking sitting with our feelings in prayer and expectation that God will meet us where we are.

Let me give you a small, personal example:

I really like junk food. I mean I REALLY like it. I find it comforting. The amount of carbs and sugar can change my mood in a heartbeat (almost literally). After a day of seeing clients when I feel totally inept; when no change seems to be happening; when I feel like I've missed everything I should have seen...I can be really down.

On a night like that I often give in to the temptation to stop at 7-Eleven and grab a sweet roll and a bag of chips. This would not be so bad...except that I eat them on my way to the Wendy's that I pass on my way down Rte 50 to Annapolis. There I'll get me a double meat sandwich, fries, and a rootbeer float (I was in heaven when Wendy's starting making floats).

Now maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I only did this once a week and I let my depressive feelings about myself and the quality of my work as a therapist just go on by....not clinging to them or wallowing in them. But let's say that I get into one of those funks that lasts a loooong time. At this point I'm in a spiritual dilemma. I'm losing my 'true face' as I drag myself through the mud, avoid the feelings that I should be addressing with God in meditation and prayer, and substituting my sugar/carb high for the assurance that comes when I risk bringing my fears and my failings to God in the silence.

Now this may not sound like such a big deal. But what if we ask ourselves about the parts of our relationship with God that we avoid out of fear of rejection, or judgement, or punishment, or abandonment. How many of us have places in our lives where we have soothed that fear, avoided that pain, with substitutes for this ultimate relationship? Success, money, busy-ness, mood altering substances or behaviors, television-have becoming numbing drugs for some of us.

And when our lives have held great pain, the temptation to stay with that numbness is so much greater.

Ash Wednesday is an invitation to risk setting aside what numbs us. To face, in the presence of God, whatever it is we're avoiding. To trust that God will meet us there in the pain and darkness. It is an acknowledgement that this is not an easy task. Like the old preachers used to say "there is no Easter without Good Friday." But it is also to trust that if we take the risk; God will meet us there with new life.

Ash Wednesday is also a reminder that we don't have to do this alone. The community of faith that calls itself Broadneck Baptist Church makes this journey together as we worship, and study, and pray.

And a final invitation...if during this time you feel like you need to talk; like you want to share you struggle with someone...please call the church or email me at the link on our web page and let's make a time to talk and pray together. We all have our 'ashes' and the work of a pastor is very often "one begger telling another begger where to find food."

Hope to see you Wednesday and Sunday.