Monday, January 30, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
(Today we used Psalm 62, Nan Merrills version, with a reflection on my silence experience in airport meditation room--see Facebook entry from early January)
Around church you’ll see all these orange flyers from last week’s SS classes: Jesus is the good news. Well, we could surely use some good news. But in today’s text Jesus isn’t the good news. It’s quite clear-- Jesus PROCLAIMS the good news, which is not a private, individual message saying believe in me and you’ll get into heaven.
The good news is that ‘the kingdom of God is drawing near, coming close’—the good news was a public, political message for an impoverished and oppressed people….a people who knew they needed God to break into their culture and free them.
Now this kingdom of God, or even kin-dom of God, would be a phrase they’d understand. They knew things weren’t right. They wanted God to come and replace the kingdom of Caesar with a new social order, but they imagined it would be simply with a replacement king of their own.
We too know things aren’t right; all around us are the signs that Empire forces, not God forces, are in charge. For us, kingdom language doesn’t really work, so try this. The good news Jesus brings is that the culture of God is coming close, a new social order is possible, but it requires a cultural change.
God’s culture is very different from ours, but unlike the people in Jesus’ day, we quite like ours, we’re quite comfy thanks. So if you’re quite satisfied with things as they are, and don’t really want to hear any more, you can stop listening now. I just ask that you don’t do anything that will prevent someone else from hearing God’s good news.
Moments like that experience in Newark airport, the culture of God is this close….
days when our youth are offering a free lunch in a downtown park, the culture of God is this close….
times when a child in SS ‘gets it’, the culture of God is this close….
when urban gardens transform empty lots and a child sees her first butterfly (from On Being this morning),
the culture of God is this close….
when a stranger offers you a random act of kindness —those are points when we feel the culture of God coming close…almost here….almost tangible, this close.
This is the good news Jesus proclaimed, and we, like those first disciples, are called into it, to embrace it and enlarge it.
When we talked about this cultural change at SLB on Tuesday, someone said it’s spelled LOVE. And wouldn’t that be a major cultural shift! Imagine a social order based on LOVE….imagine a church that actually lived its mission statement to bring God’s LOVE to all the world….hmmm
Follow me, says Jesus. It’s invitational, we have a choice; but it’s not wimpy. It’s actually quite a challenge: if we’re going to say we’re Christ followers this becomes a commanding tone and we need to actually follow (!) through.
We all, at some time, and in some areas, are followers --who do you follow on Twitter or Facebook? Or what teams do you follow, or which political party or candidate?
It is vital that we are discriminating in who and what we follow—look at your political party’s manifesto for example, or your company’s investment policies, or your family’s calendar or your own checkbook, or your church’s mission statement—are they in line with God’s culture? Does your participation in them bring about the culture of God? Who or what are we following?
Follow me means we go where Jesus goes (as opposed to inviting Jesus to come to where we are, which is how we often treat God)
AND learn about Jesus so we can BE like Jesus
AND move out of our cultural mindset into the culture of God.
That movement is the real challenge: disciples left their nets and livelihood for a whole new way of life. Some Christians ARE called to leave behind everything and go off somewhere, but most of us are called to leave behind everything and start out new where we are, with a new identity, Jesus people, a new attitude, following, and a new purpose—gathering people in.
Imagine still doing what you do, but with a God purpose.
Imagine saying what you say, but with an “other” orientation.
Imagine being who you are, but with a Jesus identity.
What would be different? What must be different if the culture of God is to reign in our world? Starting with you, with me, then with our families, then our church, what must be changed? Then our society, our policies, our politics, what must we work at changing?
To follow Jesus is a social action with personal, public and political dimensions.
Fish for people, Jesus said. This is not a call to add one more thing to your already overcommitted lives. No, Jesus calls us to change our inward, self centered mind into an outward, other-centered life, so that we can gather people in to this good news that’s transforming the world.
Good news is exciting! It’s worth sharing. Does this good news get you excited? As excited as the current political hype? As excited as the thrill of the road to the Superbowl?
If we get more excited about a sports event or political process than we do about God’s good news, no wonder nothing changes, no wonder God’s culture is still a ways off. We keep it at a safe distance. Shame on the church, which is supposed to be a movement that brings the God-culture close: visible, tangible, practical.
Get fishing! Share the good news that God’s realm is alive and well here at FUMC;
get involved in the God-culture stuff that’s going on and leave behind the cultural stuff that’s like wet fishing nets, heavy and useless.
And follow Jesus, nothing else. For it is Jesus who’s been there, done that, and can show us the way.
Thanks be to God.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Waterwashed and Spirit-led January 8, 2012 Gen. 1, Ps. 29, Mk 1
(streamers of blue crepe paper hang in the sanctuary doorways; the font is front and center with blue waterlike fabric streaming down from it; there was a water fountain bubbling on top of font)
It should be pretty obvious today that things are a bit different; decorations gone from Christmas, new things here—what’s with the streamers and fabric and stuff?
If you’re on our weekly email list, you’ll be somewhat prepared for something that’s not business as usual…I commented in that email that we ‘ve made Christmas much bigger than it is in the bible- Jesus’ baptism is much bigger in scripture. Maybe we should be celebrating baptism anniversaries like birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas. Hmm, but maybe if we did, we’d just tame it, like we have Christmas.
And baptism isn’t tame, no matter how sweet we’ve made it with babies and photos. Baptism is dangerous.
One big clue to that is the combination of scripture readings for today, and the biblical imagery of water…..water shows up in all three texts, and none of it is gently dribbling from a tap, nor is it barely wetting a baby’s head
In genesis, the author imagines waters as the deep chaos before creation begins—everything is dark and formless and empty.
In the psalm, an ancient song sees the massive force of a storm lashing the country, whipping up waters below and driving rain from above while thunder echoes and lightning flashes.
In the gospel, the water imagery is a river, but not just any river, it’s the Jordan: a river that is vitally important historically and deeply symbolic to the people who’re coming to be immersed in its waters to prepare themselves for the one God will be sending to straighten them out…water that was a crossing point to a new life in the people’s history is now a turning point in their present, and a decision point for their future.
Does any of this sound tame?
This past week I was in Scotland, and the country was lashed with violent gales and rain for three days, causing much damage, power down, traffic disrupted, and people told to stay home as it was dangerous….and that got me thinking about how all of these biblical water images are great images for times in our lives:
· Chaotic, out of control times, when we’re waiting for something creative to come out of it, waiting for a voice from God to bring order out of our chaos…times when everything feels dark and empty
· Stormy times, when we are disoriented by life (one of the Brueggemann stages John talked about last week) and we see the trouble we’re going through as somehow God’s fault, if not God’s activity, when God’s voice may seem angry and punishing…..
· Transition times when we are faced with the need to make decisions—confronting the past and turning to the future
No, none of this is tame; today is not business as usual in any way whatsoever. And into this rich water imagery steps Jesus.
The liturgical day called Baptism of our Lord is a day that confronts us with the waters of life, whether we’re in chaos or storm or decision, or even if we walked in here today in business-as-usual safety mode.
Some of its danger and discomfort is that it’s sacramental. It’s God’s work. Oh, yes, we might choose to be baptized or to bring a child for baptism, just as those people came to John. Just as Jesus decided to come too.
But what happens at baptism is God’s work. That’s why we ask you not to take pictures during baptism that distract all of us from the mystical power of water-washed grace that comes upon that child or you through the pastor and water. Joyous it may be, serious it is.
It’s a moment like Mark describes, a tearing apart of the heavens, eliminating the dividing line between heaven and earth, bringing the power of God’s Holy Spirit and indicating a very special relationship with God. Not tame. When the heavens are torn apart, nothing can ever be the same again—this is a permanent rupture. No more barrier between us and God, no more compartmentalizing God into a safe place up there somewhere.
To be sure, God says the affirming and loving words to Jesus, and to each of us: you are my child, I love you and you give me pleasure. But it’s more than a Mr. Rogers’ “It’s you I like” kind of affirmation, important as that is.
It’s a whole new image of God trying to break in on us….imagine a God who pours out grace without your having to do anything, a God who takes pleasure in you yourself, in who you are at your core, even if you’re the worst sinner in the world or can’t believe anyone would love you, let alone the God of the universes. The God whose Spirit hovers over chaos, whose voice thunders in nature….takes pleasure in me?
If/when I really believe that, it’s life-changing. But we’ve tamed the image of God into a sweet, loving, fairly harmless God.
Last week John quoted Brian McLaren, who challenged readers to step outside their small minded judgments into “God’s larger more gracious space”—to be able to see people like God does, “each one precious, each one in need, each one at once beautiful and broken and dangerous and dignified”
To see people that way is not tame; that’s not business as usual. That’s a whole different mindset. But as baptized Christians, that’s our call as beloved children of God; we don’t just receive God’s affirmation—like Jesus we allow it to direct the rest of our lives.
It’s in the torn places where God comes through, whether in our chaos or stormy days or decision making dramas, or in the torn places of our world that other people are experiencing, where Nobodies need to become Somebodies through the love and justice of God.
The call of baptism is a call to much more than the material level of life—ho hum, baptized, went to church, now back home to dinner and business as usual. No! It’s a call that involves all of us, body, mind and spirit.
The call of baptism is for us to move out of the water and on to the wilderness, to change our lives so we can be used by God in the cosmic business of world transformation. Nothing tame about that.
If you hear God’s voice, loving and calling you, and if you’re willing to say yes again to this dangerous mission, then I invite you to come forward as we all sing together Water River Spirit Grace—John and I will hold ordinary water, and you can use it in any way that means something to you (wet hands, touch a wet finger to your forehead or heart, etc).
Those not coming forward are invited to be in a spirit of prayer through the song where you are, and those who come be sensitive to those who are staying in the pew, for this act may not be for everyone.
But for all of us, let us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s sweeping over us so God may give us what each of us needs, and God may make of us what the world needs…come to the water…..come.
Monday, January 02, 2012
3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
3:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3:3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3:4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
3:6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
3:7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
3:8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?
3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.
3:11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;
3:13 moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.