Saturday, March 30, 2013

Resurrection Responses

Our texts for this Sunday are Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18, which can be read here.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter in the morning, an important caveat:  Easter is not a celebration of just a single day!  Actually, tomorrow is just the beginning of what are called "The Great Fifty Days" of Easter; over the next seven weeks, we will be returning to the resurrection again and again, trying with the earliest witnesses of the Risen Jesus to figure out what on earth just happened and what it means for us.  And then, actually, every Sunday is a "little Easter"--each Sunday is a day meant to celebrate and contemplate the resurrection, not just tomorrow!

This is a relief to me, because the resurrection is hard to get our minds and hearts and souls around.  It is unfathomable even to those who should have been most prepared for it--this is seen in the disciples' first responses of being pretty clueless and, after taking in the empty tomb, returning home and locking the door.  Jesus had told them this was going to happen; but still, they didn't know what to do with it.

What are we to do with the resurrection?  What does it do to us?  How do we respond to it, not just on the one day of Easter, but throughout our lives?  These are the questions we will be asking ourselves not just on Easter Sunday but throughout the Great Fifty Days and beyond. Jesus’ resurrection was not something people could hear about or experience and then just move on unchanged. It was an event that changed history and challenged all who learned of it to respond. And so, each week we will focus on a different character who learned of the risen Christ just hours, days, and years after the first Easter, considering how their lives were transformed. How are we, 2000 years later, still called to respond to the resurrection and live as Easter people, both individually and as Christ’s church?

We start with Mary Magdalene, who all four gospels agree was among the women who made it to the tomb before dawn on that inaugural Easter Day, and who was commissioned by Jesus as the first to share the news of the resurrection (I love how this encounter is depicted in the picture above, which I took of a sculpture in a Spanish mission church in Santa Barbara last year, as Mary sees Jesus outside the tomb). Join us as we celebrate the good news of Easter--that Jesus is standing beside us, even now, and that, as this great essay put it, "Resurrection is more than dead men walking: it points to the inbreaking of God’s rule over all that alienates itself from him." As we begin to encounter and respond to resurrection once again, thanks be to God for this news we need to hear again and again!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Solemn Reproaches

On this Good Friday, I would encourage you to read Psalm 78, which recounts God's deeds of love for God's people throughout history.  This Psalm is the basis of the text I would like to share with you for your reflection in the darkness of this night.

I had never heard the Solemn Reproaches of the Cross until I started participating in our Ecumenical Crosswalk Good Friday Service with the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in our community upon arriving at Broadneck 3 years ago.  Today, in our noonday service, I led them for the first time, and was absolutely undone in a way I did not expect by reading these words that have been read over the centuries by Christians to conclude Good Friday worship.  Each is crafted as a response to the amazing deeds of God as told in Psalm 78, with the concluding line that despite all God has done, "you have prepared a cross for your Savior."

Take time to read these tonight.  And may God's peace be with you as we keep vigil, waiting for the light of Sunday morning and the new life God is working to bring forth beyond all our brokenness.

O my people, O my church, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? Answer me. I led you out from the land of Egypt to make you free, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

God, have mercy upon us.

What more could I have done for you that I have not done? I planted you, my chosen and fairest vineyard; but when I was thirsty, you gave me vinegar to drink and pierced my side with a spear.

God, have mercy upon us.

I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you have led me to the judgment seat of Pilate. I gave you a royal scepter, and the keys of the kingdom, but you have given me a crown of thorns.

God, have mercy upon us.

My peace I gave, which the world cannot give, and washed your feet as a sign of my love, but you draw the sword to strike in my name. I offered you my body and blood, but you scatter and deny and abandon me.

God, have mercy upon us.

I sent the Spirit of truth to guide you, and you close your hearts to Him. I pray that all may be one in the Father and me, but you continue to quarrel and divide, and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

God, have mercy upon us.

I grafted you into the tree to my chosen Israel, and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt, and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

God, have mercy upon us.

I came to you as the least of your brothers and sisters; I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. And you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

God, have mercy upon us.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pay Attention!

Our texts for this Palm Sunday are Luke 19:28-42 and Philippians 2:5-11, which can be read here.

You may think you do not need to read the Palm Sunday narrative again; this is one we've heard enough to have down.  Jesus rides donkey; people wave palms and cry "Hosanna"; giant mob raves over Jesus on Sunday, cries out "Crucify Him" on Friday morning.

If this is your assessment, please click the link above and read again.  You will notice that Luke's version of what happened on Jesus' entry to Jerusalem bears little resemblance to what I just described:

  • There were no palms or even "leafy branches" described by Luke, but only the people's cloaks laid along the road and atop the donkey (we get the palms from John's version; never worry, though, I won't make you all wave your coats during the opening hymn on Sunday--though it's kind of tempting!)
  • The traditional cry of "Hosanna" is not uttered; rather, we get a rephrasing of one of Luke's favorite calls, a one similar to that heard at Jesus' birth, is heard now again here: "Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"  
  • We do not see huge crowds here, but rather just the "multitude of disciples"--those who have been following Jesus along this road.  It may have actually been a somewhat quiet, smaller brood than the throngs we imagine (though rowdy enough to get the attention of some Pharisees desperate to keep the peace!).  This also means that, at least in Luke's account, those who acclaim him in the Palm Sunday entry are not the same ones calling out for blood five days later.  The disciples fail him, yes, but they do not turn on him; they simply disappear.  I don't know if this is better or worse, but it is different.

So what do you make of these differences?  What kind of picture is Luke trying to paint of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem?  Consider this, then spend some time reading the events that will unfold later in the week--I might recommend reading on, to the events of Thursday and Friday, perhaps in a version such as The Message.  How does Luke's entry set the stage for the more somber story he will tell a few chapters--a few days--later?  What do we need to pay attention to in this familiar story that we may have overlooked?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why I Love These Passages

Our passages for this week are threefold--Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4-14, and John 12:1-8, which I strongly encourage you to take time to read here.  If you'd like to hear them in an additional translation, you can read them in Eugene Peterson's modern paraphrase The Message here--it might help you hear them anew, which really is the whole point of these readings this week!

So, a quick lectionary lesson:  each week, four readings are suggested for use in worship:  an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an Epistle New Testament reading, and a Gospel New Testament reading.  Typically at Broadneck we only really look at two of these each week (that is, we only read two of them aloud in worship); sometimes a third will be used in the Call to Worship, but that's usually it.  This week, however, we are going to read three of them, because I could not leave any of the three out (and actually the Psalm is amazing, too--though we won't read it on Sunday, check it out!).  I love all three of these readings, and here's a little taste why:

The Isaiah passage has been one of my most beloved for a long time.  I wish I could remember the first time I read it--I feel like it was at some really vital pivot point in my life, when I needed a word of hope, and there God's beautiful promise and question was: "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs up, do you not perceive it?"  Though I've never preached on this text before, I feel like I preach on it often, that's how core it has become to my theology:  that God is still working, creating, moving, transforming, if we can open up our eyes to perceive it and find courage to participate in newness we don't always readily recognize or welcome.  It's just beautiful stuff here at the end of what is, overall I think, one of the most beautiful Old Testament chapters.

The Philippians passage is Paul at his best--you all know my love-hate relationship with Paul, but Philippians is a place where I really resonate with Paul.  Here we have Paul being both bold and humble, claiming his faith with passion but yet acknowledging how much he still doesn't know, how much he got wrong, how far he still has to go.  I relate to this Paul--faith is a journey on which I have learned so much, yet--as my campus minister wisely told me as a prepared to go to seminary--"the more you learn, the less you'll realize you know."  So true.

The John passage takes us to one of the most beautiful scenes of love poured out--though, this week, I came to appreciate this story in a new way. When I read that great line about the whole house being filled with the fragrance of the perfume, I always imagined it being like a superpowered fantastic scented candle permeating the air. But one my clergy friends purchased some nard essential oils this week to use with her congregation in worship on Sunday, and she posted this on her Facebook page: "Holy cow this stuff smells bad- like cigars mixed with dirt, moldy fireplace and socks with a touch of lavender for fun. Making me consider the story of John 12 in a whole new way." Another colleague had a similar reaction when the nard she ordered arrived: "Three comments," she wrote: "#1, not my favorite scent by a long shot. #2, no wonder it was used for burial. #3, I'm not surprised Mary smelled up the room with it when she anointed Jesus' feet." Huh. What if Mary's act filled the house with a gross smell rather than a lovely one? How does this change how we view what she did? Something new to consider and learn here as well!

Spend some time with these texts before Sunday--you won't be sorry. Where do they challenge you? Where do you love them? Where do you find yourself making connections between them, and to your own life?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Prodigal Confessions

Our texts for this Fourth Sunday in Lent are Joshua 5:9-12 and Luke 15:1-2, 11-32, which can be read here.  Don't read them til after you read this blog, though--you'll see why below!

Okay, so here is my Lenten confession (well, one of them, anyway):  I am terrified of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or the Parable of the Prodigal Father...or Lost Sons...or Dysfunctional Family...whatever you want to call it).  Perhaps this explains why, though this is one of the most beloved stories Jesus told, I realized recently that I have been preaching for 10 years now and have not yet taken on this second half of Luke chapter 15.

I think the reason I haven't is primarily because it is so well-known.  It's the same reason it's so hard to preach Christmas and Easter every year, even thought those are central stories of the faith that need to be heard over and over:  after the Christmas Story and Easter Story, perhaps alongside of the Good Samaritan this is arguably the most well known Gospel text.  It's a story, at least in skeleton form, that most of us can tell without a Bible in front of us:  younger son runs away from home and squanders all money.  Comes home to beg forgiveness, only to be extravagantly welcomed by father.  Older brother grumbles bitterly at younger brother who gets away with everything.  There are a lot of cultural details that we can and probably will draw out to give this more nuance, but this is it in a nutshell:  a story that most of us probably, at one time or another, have seen play out in our own relationship structures in some form.

And maybe, other than its biblical familiarity, this is the scary thing about this parable:  we can find ourselves in it.  We can find ourselves all over it.  We can perhaps see ourselves in the younger brother, remembering our arrogant pride and massive screwups and the ways we were welcomed--or not welcomed--back home. We can remember the times we have been the father, hurt deeply by someone we love and having to decide what reconciliation will look like--or maybe, sometimes, standing on the front porch for years only to never see the other person return.  We can connect with the times we have been the older brother, thoroughly annoyed by those whose mess-ups take all the resources and attention while we get nothing for our faithfulness--the times we haven't been given a party even though we feel like we've done "all the right things" and find ourselves unable to join the party because we are so angry and bitter, staying at a distance--we get completely left out of the picture, like in the painting above.

There are even more places to connect than this with this story, which is great news--but also terrifying for the preacher trying to take the story on!  I think, though, that what I would encourage you to do in advance of Sunday, to get a fresh look at this story, is something I often write into curriculum when I am working with a particularly familiar story.  Sit down with a pad of paper and write down every detail of this story from Luke 15 that you can remember.  Then, read slowly, carefully through the story again, noting things you didn't remember, things that capture your attention.  Where might there be something fresh for you in this familiar story?  And where might you simply need to hear its ancient, timeless, all-too-relevant message once again speak its truth into your life and teach you, again, about the bizarre, unconventional mercy of God?