On the Road…

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way… (Luke 13:33)

This weekend we continue our Lenten trek toward Jerusalem. Jesus is spending his journey teaching in parables and healing people who come to him – even on the Sabbath. In essence, he is laying the groundwork that will allow the leaders of the people to kill him.

It is not that the leaders were inherently bad people. In fact, in our passage this weekend, we will see some of the Pharisees (the main group of Jesus’ opposition) coming to warn him. The leaders are not automatically evil – they are just entrusted with upholding the status quo. The problem with Jesus is that he did not come to keep the world as it is – he came to turn it upside down.

How? By healing the sick and the outcast. By welcoming sinners and tax collectors. By preaching radical love. By breaking the laws that keep people from getting the help they need to live. By calling out the powers that be for the way the system continues to hurt people.

None of that maintains the way things are.

Recently, one of my Catholic colleagues pointed out that there are many, even within the church, who get angry when pastors, teachers, and other followers of Christ speak out about racism, poverty, violence, and injustice. They see these things as “too political.” He suggests that all of us should use this Lent to reflect upon “the fact that Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state” (Daniel P. Horan, OFM).

Jesus did not spend his life focused on “spiritual matters.” He cared about the ways that the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak. He focused on life getting better, more full, more complete in this world. The next world is merely an extension of the Kingdom – not an end goal we should use to set up our trajectory.

The question that Lent and Holy Week asks us to come to grips with is this: are we truly following in Christ’s footsteps? It is not an easy path. It is fraught with danger and discomfort. But Christ reigns now. God’s Kingdom is today. We need only open our eyes and ears to find it – and then use our hands and feet to follow on Christ’s own road.

Blessings,     Janie

We are dust…

… you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

Today is Ash Wednesday – the very first day in the forty-day season of Lent. The season offers us the opportunity to consider who we are as we grapple with the reality of all that our God truly is. For, as Martin Luther himself said, it is only when we face God’s grace upon the cross that we can understand the gravity of our own sin.

There is much truth-telling in today’s narrative. We, as the body of Christ, gather together to mark our bodies with an outward symbol of our fallen nature. It is an express contradiction to the “high and mighty” notions that surround Christian culture. And it is something that I am certain much of the world finds refreshing.

Because we are not perfect. Though we are blessed beyond measure, none of us, as individuals or as families of faith, truly lives up to all that God has called us to. We fail. We fall down. We burn ourselves and our world to ashes. Sometimes literally.

Confession of our brokenness  is essential to finding ourselves on the journey.

Yet, there is another truth that is just as important: all of creation (the entire universe) is quite literally made of stardust. Scientists have helped us to understand that all matter is this specific form of “dust” at its most basic elemental level. We are literally all made from dust – from the Biblical and scientific perspective.

And in case you missed it, there are some pretty incredible things made from that same dust. Galaxies. Mountains. Stars. Oceans. Creatures great and small. Planets. You.

Even as we confess our fallenness this day, let us not forget that in the beginning, God drew us up out of the dust, called us good, and breathed life into us. You may have fallen short. You are probably not everything you could be.  However, you are still a beautiful, wonderful and incredible creation of God. Whoever you are. In whatever way you were made.

So yes, confess that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Then, in the following sentence, affirm our thanksgiving that our God makes amazing things out of dust (be it of the earthly or starry variety). Why? Because God is Love. And Love will always want love to grow until it encompasses all that is.

Or maybe, Love will keep reaching out until all that is realizes that we are already part of that same Love. Because in our end is our beginning. We are dust. Broken, yes. But also beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made dust. Thanks be to God.

Blessings,   Janie

Transformation

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  (Luke 9:30-31)

This coming weekend we will celebrate Transfiguration Sunday. It is the final Sunday in the liturgical calendar before we enter the season of Lent next week. In addition to being an opportunity to remind our younger generations that Jesus transfigured long before Star Wars made it cool, this Sunday gives us an essential turning point in our journey.

It is here that we find ourselves turning to face Jerusalem. In the light of Christ’s luminescent appearance we can already see the shadow of the cross looming on the horizon. The world has changed. Christ’s ministry is shifting. The end is coming – an end that is only the beginning of a much bigger transformation.

The disciples, as per their usual modus operandi, miss what is actually happening. They want to stay on the mountain and keep Christ as he is. Keep him in a box, and Moses, and Elijah. Because when God’s work really gets going, our lives cannot remain as they have been.

Though we cannot know what our own future will hold, what we do know is that just as God walked with Jesus on the road to Calvary and beyond, so God also walks with us into the future. There is new life coming. There is transformation already occurring in our midst. The question we must face is: will we welcome it?

Blessings,     Janie

 

Controversial

Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…” (Luke 6:27-28)

This weekend, we will continue through Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain.” It is remarkably similar to the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, though with some key distinctions. However, our passage for this weekend is perhaps one of the strongest connections between the two. He speaks strong words that ring clearly through both gospels.

Living within a “Christian culture” down South, we often forget to think about how controversial Jesus’ preaching actually was. Either that, or we don’t want to remember. For the moment we do, then we start getting into the realm of social justice and nonviolent resistance (gasp).

Contrary to what some in the media and some individuals will tell us, we cannot divest Jesus’ gospel message from social justice or nonviolent resistance – because they are two of its most essential elements. And this passage from Luke 6 is case and point:

Most will tell you to not seek retribution, but go a step beyond that and love your enemies. Anyone can fight back with violence, but go a step further and turn your other cheek to your oppressor so that they will be thrown off balance. Everyone knows you should give alms, but go to the next level and let go of things that are stolen from you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive.

Anyone else feel like they’re ready to argue with these concepts? All of us have at some point. Because if we really listen to Jesus, he is presenting a method of living that does not seek fairness (something we desperately want). Instead this way of living goes head to head with a fallen world and shows tangible love where others seek only their own entitlement.

Why?

Not so everyone can be a doormat. That is not what it says.

Jesus calls for us to resist. To show the world what it should look like. And to meet violence with nonviolence, because it is only when we stand peacefully in the face of oppression that we can show others how truly ugly our world can be. Jesus knew it and lived it. Bonhoeffer knew it and lived it. King knew it and lived it.

We can too. When we begin to live into this controversial way of being, then the world will slowly but surely be knocked off-kilter and begin to change. We have to get out of the status quo to see what is wrong. We have to see what is wrong in order that we might mend it.

And God is in the business of mending it. Not just us as individuals. Not just the family of faith. The whole world. Re-creating it in the image of the God who is Love, who is Life, who is Community.

May we hear Christ’s words and feel the witness of so many who have gone before us as we approach this familiar text this weekend.

Blessings,     Janie

 

Be-Atitude

Jesus said, “Blessed are you…” (Luke 6:20)

This weekend we come upon the other set of “beatitudes.” We have spent a large amount of time covering the set in Matthew, which takes us through the ladder that is our walk of faith. But this weekend we will tackle the set that is presented by Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

These are not like the others. While Matthew offers hope to all who hear Jesus’ message, Luke offers deep and fearful warnings. The blessed in this passage are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated because they stand up for God’s purposes. Then Jesus keeps going: but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what they did to the false prophets.

If you, like me, are generally among the comfortable in this world – yikes.

Luke’s Jesus is very pointed in his assessment of how the world works. Far too often, the poor and hungry exist because others have more than enough and the mourning are just plain ignored. In fact, that is still the world we live in. Even more interesting, Jesus calls out fake piety for what it is – merely a show to gain favor.

So what do we do with this startling passage?

Realize that Jesus is critiquing the status quo – our status quo. We are being called out for the realities that we have inherited, allowed, and perpetuated. It is not enough to say Jesus is Lord when it does not effect anything about how we live our lives.

To put it another way, consider the recent reflection of Evangelist Beth Moore, “When the gospel has become bad news to the poor, to the oppressed, to the broken-hearted and imprisoned, and good news to the proud, self-righteous and privileged instead, it is no longer the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God does still act to change the world – through us. Christ calls us to start grappling with hard truths and stop feigning ignorance. And the Spirit empowers us to stand with all those who Jesus himself sought out in his life: the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the lost, the unwanted, and the forgotten.

May God give us the courage we need to answer Christ’s call.

Blessings,     Janie

 

Good luck with that…

And God said, “Go and say to this people: ‘keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ (Isaiah 6:9)

This weekend, thanks to the lectionary, we will return to a familiar “Trinity Sunday” passage that we usually do during the summer. It is one of the most fascinating call stories in all of the scriptures. Though we will not read all of it, it is important to take the passage in its full context.

In this case, when God calls Isaiah to preach, it is not happy news – at least, not yet. God in fact tells the prophet to basically do a combination of goading the people and praying that they will not repent. Happy stuff.

In this passage it is clear that God is quite frustrated with the chosen people, because no matter how many times God says stop or how many prophets are sent, the children of Israel continue to rebel against God’s purposes. Like any normal parent, it would appear that God, in this passage, is throwing God’s hands in the air.

These days there are many people convinced that God’s purposes are being ignored by this group or that group. Frankly, there is evidence all around us – by all groups. The prophet’s words seem to echo our own.

But something almost every prophet, including Isaiah, does is to move from this place of great frustration to a place of remarkable hope. We still have the history of God’s people to teach us what God truly intends – and what God wants us to do.

Remember that sin, in Jesus’ mind, was less about a list of do’s and don’ts and more about relationships. In other words, sin is breaking relationships. Which means that all of the complex issues surrounding us are just that – a grey area.

What is not a grey area is the heart of God’s witness throughout all of history: that love is the point. That means that to be against God’s purposes is to live into what 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us – impatience, unkindness, envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insisting on our own way, being irritable or resentful, rejoicing in wrongdoing, ignoring the truth, dropping people, forgetting God’s love, creating despair, or letting hatred endure.

Though this passage seemingly sows despair, the passages following it show that though the world may fall apart, God has never left the people. And to be for God’s purposes is to live into all the wonderful ways we can show love through our words, our actions, our seeking justice, our living hope, and our willingness to bear with one another.

May this be our hope as we seek to fulfill our own callings.

Blessings,     Janie

 

 

Cliff Diving

All spoke well of him… but after they heard [the rest of what he had to say], all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town… so that they might hurt him off the cliff. (Luke 4:22, 28-29)

So a little irony here: I plan worship way in advance. I work a season at a time. And I clearly had not remembered my plans for these few weeks – which include preaching on that passage (that was from the lectionary last weekend and on which I wrote the article last week) this weekend. Oops.

To remedy this, we are going to take the full passage as a whole, which includes not only Jesus’ first sermon, but also the reaction of his home synagogue to his words.

Every preacher will tell you that all of us have felt the need, while visiting home from seminary, to preach that sermon. The one that our home church needs to hear. But that one that is very likely get us thrown off a cliff. It is an irresistible urge – that hopefully most of us do end up resisting.

It is one of those things about knowing a church so well. You know the good, the bad and the ugly. Part of you wants to fight the ugly. Rectify the bad. And probably throw the good baby out with the bathwater.

In this case, Jesus speaks to them of how God does not work the way the people expect. During the days of two of the great prophets – Elijah and Elisha – God only sent these prophets to individuals, foreigners in fact, and not to all the “seemingly” faithful people.

That is because it is not about doing the right things or knowing the correct concepts – it has always been about being in relationship with God. Understanding who God is. Becoming bound up with the One who made us. That connection will cause us to do rightly and think correctly – but according to God’s standards, not ours.

Church folk don’t always want to hear that. We humans love our in and out groups and we do not want to hear talk about the ways we might be falling short. We just want to focus on how we can keep the people who are not like us away.

Jesus tears all of that to shreds and asks us to let go of our legalistic ways. Instead, Christ invites us into deeper relationship with God through deeper relationship with one another. Including all those people we want to keep out. Why? Because God is love. And like candlelight, love only grows when it is truly shared.

It is just that simple and it is just that hard. Let’s get to work.

Blessings,    Janie