Thursday, August 25, 2011

Confessions of a Pastoral Nerd

Our lectionary readings this week (which technically were last week's readings) are Exodus 1:8-2:10, Romans 12:1-8, and Matthew 16:13-20, which can be found here.

Remember Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a Redneck if..." jokes that were so popular a few years ago? Well...I have a variation on the theme:

"You might be a Pastoral nerd if you have spent the last year being excited about the arrival of September 2011, when you will get to preach for two or three months on the book of Exodus."

Seriously. When I realized the Fall 2011 Year A Lectionary takes us on a lengthy journey through Exodus, I could not have been more excited. Why, you ask? Well, many reasons, and I will give you just a few below:

1. Exodus brings us face to face with the great questions. You all have known me long enough now to know that I love asking questions, and Exodus' narrative takes many of the major questions of our faith head-on. Genesis may be the first book of the Bible and allow us to dip our toes into some of these issues, but Exodus is where the story really begins and the questions begin to flow...questions such as, "Who is this God?" "What does this God care about?" "What is the human relationship with this God, and the human role in this God's world?" "How does this God want us to live with one another?" "What does this God think of our suffering?" "How can we begin to honor and worship this God?" "Where is God?" And seriously...this is just the tip of the Exodus iceburg. Now til November won't be nearly long enough to get to all of these, but Exodus can prompt us to wrestle together with the questions that matter most.

2. Exodus shows us what salvation looks like. Centuries before Jesus, God set about saving God's people from themselves, from the snares of sin, and from each other in a daring act of liberation that unfolds across Exodus' pages. Long before Jesus, here we learn that salvation often involves suffering; that it involves a relationship of incredible trust between God and God's people; and that God will go to any length to see God's people restored to the freedom for which they were intended. Our relentless, passionate God emerges full force here as one who will not let us go, challenging us to consider again the ways we need God's salvation and the ways we can participate in God's redemptive work in this world.

3. Exodus is a story of community. Here, for the first time, God works not just in the life of one individual or family, but an entire people, knitting them together to be a sign of God's presence in this world. It lays out life together not just as one of morality and being "good people", but of being utterly concerned for the common good and the welfare of both one's neighbors and one's enemies. It shows the life of God's people as a life lived collectively, and navigated in covenantal relationship with one another. This means it is a story with tremendous power to shape and define our life together with one another in community at Broadneck.

4. Finally, Exodus is a story for a time of change. We see that in the first startling line of our reading for this week: after rehashing Israel's history, and its favored status in Egypt because of Joseph's work, we get this disruptive news: "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." The Hebrew people had to navigate a rapidly changing world, one that tried to strip them of their core identity as people of the promise, one that required innovative new leadership and great discernment of God's movement. As we seek what it means to be God's people in our rapidly changing times--times this week rattled by earthquake and threatened by hurricane, among so many other things--how can the Exodus journey provide us with wisdom for our own?

I could go on forever about this, but will stop here and just encourage you to join us for Bible study on Saturday morning as we enter into Exodus, to check in with the blog each week for reflections on parts of Exodus we may not have time to cover in worship, to spend some time with this great book yourself, and to take advantage of other opportunities that may emerge this fall that allow you to immerse yourself in this great story. It may make me a pastoral nerd, but I think the possibilities for this book to reshape our congregational imagination are rich beyond description, and I cannot WAIT to get started.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Challenge of openness to "the other"

Abby’s are jottings perhaps mine are scribblings. Pray that Abby has a refreshing week full of fun and joy as she spends time at the beach with her family. njpl

This week we will work with four scriptures that challenge us to see a faith that is wide open and inclusive. We will see a God who wants to be part of the life of each person on earth and who longs to be part of what happens in each life. Now can you read that sentence and put your own name in the two places which say ‘each person on earth’ ‘each life’?

Like this- God wants to be part of Miranda’s life. God longs to be part of what happens in Miranda’s life.

Then read it again and think of the person or group of people you are least likely to love and appreciate and put that person or group of people in the spot where your name was before.

That is the crazy, wacky God we worship each Sunday. Not only does God love and care for you and the rest of us who try to be a part of God’s mission on earth but God loves and cares for those who are far from being a part of the plans God has for all of creation.

Before you come to worship this Sunday, think back over this past year from last August until now. Jot down for yourself things that have happened to you that you could never have anticipated last August. If you are like me when you make this list, you will be stunned to recall much of what occurred. I won’t give you any suggestions for how you deal with what you find as you look back. Let your own heart and mind ponder the events of the past twelve months.

Then think of the events others have lived through on our planet both people you know and those unknown and perhaps far away. What did they face? What did they live though?

Read Psalm 67 – a nice short passage on which to meditate.

In keeping with our theme this Sunday of the Inclusive love of God, please take a few minutes and view one or all three of these music videos to hear one hymn illustrated with pictures that will at once open, challenge and touch your heart. This is the God we worship. Do we dare to live out the challenge of this amazing openness to ‘the other’?

See you on Sunday


(posted by Jeremy on Nancy's behalf)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Location, location, location...

As we are still scooting along a week behind the Lectionary Calendar,our texts for this week are Genesis 37:2-28 (you'll notice I expanded this from what is in the lectionary--what's the point about talking about Joseph the dreamer if we never mention his dreams?), Romans 10:9-15, and Matthew 14:22-33, available to read here.

Sometimes, when I talk about how we can approach our texts for the week, I feel kind of redundant in the things I encourage you to do. This isn't for lack of originality, I promise; it is more of the fact that there are perspectives it would behoove us to bring to scripture that we have often been trained to neglect. Our worship practices, ironically, are what often keep us from hearing the scripture as we need to. What I mean is this: the lectionary does have us reading scripture *somewhat* in order. Thanks to the fact that we've spent the last few weeks with Jacob, this story of his family is not totally out of the blue; and we have been traveling the road of Matthew's gospel, with just a few detours into John, since December. we read the stories of scripture each week in relative isolation from one another as individual events rather than as part of a bigger story (which, due to our inability to read an entire book of the Bible in worship every week, is--I suppose--a necessary shortcoming), we often miss so much of the richer meaning that can be found from putting stories in context. This is why it is so crucial that we constantly ask ourselves when reading scripture, "What is the bigger context here? What has taken place before this? What is going to take place next? How does this connect to where we've been and where we're going?"

I think Matthew 14 has a particularly significant context, the more I think about it. We spent a lot of time in July with the parables of Matthew 13, covering that chapter almost in its entirety; last week we read the story that immediately precedes this one, Matthew 14:13-21, the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people. But what we skipped is the critical tale that occupies the first 12 verses of Matthew 14, and I cannot get away from the possibility that that gory account of the beheading of Jesus' cousin, forerunner, baptizer, and friend John the Baptist is the story that is the undercurrent of this whole chapter. The one preparing the way for Jesus has just been killed in a horrifying manner; and throughout the rest of the chapter, one can almost see Jesus reeling from this news, trying to figure out his next move, trying to process his grief. He begins by withdrawing to an isolated place, perhaps to hide out from Herod for a bit since it seems inevitable that he will be next, perhaps simply to pray and lay out his sorrow and--dare I say it--fear before God. But the crowds follow him there, finding him even in this remote place, and Jesus is filled with compassion to put his own grief aside long enough to teach, to heal, to feed.

In this week's story, however, Jesus gets a chance to get the quiet he needs again--he makes the disciples get in a boat and leave him so he can sit and pray. Maybe he is sending the disciples away from him so they won't be caught up in the fate he is now realizing will likely be his--maybe he pushes them out to sea on a raft for their own safety, who knows? But soon the sea is not safe, and again Jesus abandons his solitude to come to them where they are, to meet their needs. It is as he does this that, for the first time, Jesus is identified as the Son of God--one not just human but divine, with power to save. And it won't be long after this before Jesus begins telling the disciples of his now inevitable fate: that John the Baptist is not going to be the only one to lose his life in this divine mission.

I just wonder how we read these miraculous acts of Jesus--feeding the masses, going to the disciples--differently in their critical location amidst Jesus' grief and Jesus' apparent recognition of how this mission is likely going to end. How can we see Jesus' compassion and presence and provision and salvation more fully as we locate it within the turmoil within him, turmoil he seemed to find strength to repeatedly put aside for the sake of caring for those around him--an act miraculous enough to leave his friends in worship, recognizing for the first time that this one among them was more than they'd ever dreamed? Location, location, location...what difference does it make?