Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Entering Jesus (C Jewell)

·        Entering Jesus’ world is like Alice entering her wonderland: we often find things are upside down and backward relative to our everyday world. We find that we must lose our life in order to save it. We find a humble king. We find the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We find the dead become the living. We find the rich and the powerful are on the outside and the poor are blessed. Is it any wonder this man’s own family thought he was crazy? Is it any wonder the good religious folks of his day thought he was wrong? Is it any wonder the religious and imperial authorities saw him as a dangerous revolutionary? Is it any wonder he hung out with outcasts and sinners?
·        This morning we once again drop into the rabbit hole. In Zen Buddhism there is something called a koan. Now a koan is a short phrase from a teaching or a story from the life of a spiritual master pointing to the nature of ultimate reality. Most ancient cultures used stories in this way—including the first Christians and this morning we have what I call the Palm Sunday koan. Most of us know the story of palm Sunday like we know our phone numbers—but if we never get past the symbol or symbols and get to the meaning behind them we never crack the coconut and get to the life giving stuff inside…
·        As we slide down the rabbit hole we drop into a world where nothing is the ultimate something. I’ll say it again, nothing, No-thing is the ultimate something and this has the power to save us. We land in the beginning of Passover week 2000 years ago. Passover marked the passage from winter to spring when new life emerges—a really big deal for an agricultural society. It was also, is also, a time when Jews tell stories of political and spiritual deliverance. It is very significant that our story takes place during Passover—Jesus, the man whose very name means deliverance and salvation is riding into the Holy city…
·        Mark has Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt—a young donkey. The author is implicitly referring to a passage in Zechariah. This is symbolism telling us that Jesus is a humble king. We must be in wonderland—we are encountering a humble king. Why would Mark, the first gospel writer, reference this line from Zechariah about a humble King? What is he saying about Jesus? As usual we can turn to Paul for a clue. As I have said before, All of the gospels are heavily influenced by Paul—none more so than Mark. Paul’s famous lines about Jesus humbling himself, emptying himself, making himself as nothing, they tell us what Mark is describing here. A person who is ready to be as nothing is humble—a person who is proud is trying to be something. Fear of being nothing causes us to try to become something through the accumulation of ideas, materials, and achievements. Most of our lives are spent trying to do something, to be something, all to escape from being nothing.
·        Aryeh Kaplan, a brilliant Rabbi said that the true Hebrew word for “I” also means nothing—the true “I” is nothing or no-thing. God is nothing. God is No-thing!
·        The brilliant Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “Spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than addition”. Instead of asking people what they do for Jesus maybe we can ask what they are not doing for Jesus.
·        At the beginning of Passover week, at the beginning of this time of deliverance and liberation, this man who emptied himself, who allowed himself to be nothing, is riding into the Holy city. And the people are screaming Hosanna, which means “save us”. A humble man, a nothing man,  is the savior. Why? Because only a person that is humble, that allows him or herself to be as nothing is truly a saint, and a saint is a person that allows the divine to shine through them. So when we encounter the person who is nothing we are encountering God. Jesus, The nothing man, is the representative of the most potent power—a power that delivers, a power that saves.
·        The people go on shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. Most of us, if we’re willing to be completely honest, too often come in our own name. We are mostly concerned with self-centered interests. We are conditioned to compete with others to be something—and then we condition others to compete to be something. We value, emulate, and admire the some-bodies, the some-things. Our consumerist culture depends on this. Only a humble-King, this nothing man riding into the Holy city on a donkey can truly come in the name of the Lord—for he has emptied himself, made himself nothing. He cannot come in his own name, he can only come in God’s name.
·        It is the beginning of Holy week and WE are riding into Jerusalem. It is the beginning of Holy week, are WE ready to empty ourselves? Are we ready to be nothing? It is the beginning of Holy week in whose name do we come?


(see Monday for suggestions for lectio divina)

 Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  Then he called his disciples  and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Alternative reflection question:     How does our abundance prevent us from our relationship with God?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week reflections Monday

Lectio divina is a Latin phrase meaning Holy Reading, a practice of many Christians throughout the centuries, particularly Benedictines.  It involves reading, several times on the same subject, with an open heart, inviting God to show you something to reflect on.
This week, read each day one of the events of Jesus’ last week; the first time you read it  watch for what word/phrase strikes you.  Pay attention to it for some silent time.  Re-read again, with the question “what might God be saying to me in this word/phrase?” take some silent time to consider this.   Read it again, then rest in God’s presence, allowing your mind to spend time listening to insights for your life.   Hints:  It’s often helpful to read aloud.                                                                                                                   
 If the text is too long for your attention span, I have highlighted shorter sections in bold which you may want to focus on                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I have also included an alternative reflection question in case this practice is just too much for you!

Monday:  Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”

Alternative reflection:  In what ways has the church lost sight of its purpose?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

a word just for you?

032215            John 12:20-33
There is so much in text, congregation decide what they want to talk about, interactive.   They were asked to listen to the gospel with the ear of their heart and notice what strikes them.
Not all of the following was talked about!
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.
Non Jews who believe in the one Jewish God—maybe the spiritual but not religious, or those whose faith content is different, seekers
Where we are from matters—we judge people by it
Outsiders/insiders…. like – or not like – the onlookers later in story…those not engaged yet
21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
word getting out….Philip Gk name, one like them……..also both were first to bring other Jews to Jesus (Peter, Nathanuel)…. See, not just hear about, go beyond curiosity    What about our life would make someone curious about Jesus
22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Like a committee!  Not…community, not do it alone, shared ministry…..paving the way for others to meet Jesus - act as mediators
We too need to ‘see’ who outside our walls has spiritual needs and help them have a conversion experience, an encounter with Jesus—especially those who seem different or who are feeling like outsiders
Jesus knows that just seeing isn’t believing, so he makes this a teaching moment
 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Glorified trips us up, not a common word….we sing it “In our lives, Lord, be glorified….” But what does it mean?
lifted up /exalted –play on words in English and in Greek with last sentence of reading (when I am lifted up will draw..) …glorify has an element of joy, said one of our SLB people…do our lives lift up Jesus, exalt Jesus….do our lives reveal/show something of who GOD is?
“the hour has come”     Sometimes you just know its time, the right time for something…don’t know why Jesus or the writer saw this as the signal for a turning point…..crisis moment that calls for change…
seed as readily understood image for death and resurrection (singular seed:  dump in dark place, wait, trust something is happening, it changes, slowly grows and becomes plural, more than one dernal—community))
observation from someone this week….Grain of wheat is small, hard, narrow and self-contained!!  hmmmm    need to be cracked open, change
Individual and Congregation has to be like seed: change and grow or die.   BUT
Dying is not a trait we usually give to our saviors. Brian Stoffregen
Indeed our culture tends to be death denying at all costs -  prolong life at all costs, live as fast as you can, do as much as you can, tuck in as much skin as you can, be as thin as you can, dye your hair as often as you can, fix your teeth as white as you can, run marathons as long as you can, spend as much money on these things as you can, for as long as you possibly can
But dying and rising is the eternal spiritual story, in many of the world faith traditions, and in a very clear way in Christianity:    no new life without death, no faith without cross, no easter without holy week
26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Closeness of following, ongoing presence, divine r’ship
 Following Jesus and serving are intimately linked too….and wherever Jesus goes, so go the disciples…..do we?   Do we go where Jesus is or do we assume Jesus comes to where we are?
27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.”
in John Jesus seems to feel little of the agony of suffering that we feel in other gospels, yet he is Troubled in his soul, his psyche, his very self.     This text calls us to grapple with what our living and dying is for….and it can be troubling
-- points to God—Jesus is here to reveal something of God (Lenten cross liturgy says so, and we are also called to be an antidote to the fear of death culture by living lives that reveal, or show God)
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.              
the point is so that they know Jesus comes from God (doesn’t matter if its thunder or an angel) God is active, past and present and future, a promise worth holding on to when your soul is troubled.
31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
Crisis moments, world in crisis….the things that rule our world?     They must and can be driven out by our working with Jesus, our willingness to give up our life/old self…self surrender, self giving….you’ve heard that often from Chris.  And it’s called for   Now.  Now.
32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Lifted up/exalted again in English….the irony of Christianity is that it is through a demeaning (down) symbol, cross, that we find something worth raising up in honor…comes full circle: all people including Greeks can “see’ Jesus but not without going through following Jesus,
All people:  insiders and outsiders, curious and certain, those who get it and those who don’t—all are welcome to be drawn into this Jesus way of new life…as we say at the beginning of worship each week, God is drawing us here for a particular reason
At Simple Suppers, when asked why we are here and why does this congregation exist, we had myriad answers, including “something attracted me”—maybe it was the depth of spirituality in someone, or the sacrifice of service that attracts people, but whatever it is, once you’re here you’re called to die…to old self, to commitment to cultural standards, to exclusive r’ships , to troubled spirits, to fear of death…only you know what in your life needs to die
Prayer from d365:

Holy God, you have invited us into the life and work of Jesus.  Help us have courage as we respond, as we let go of our lives so they may become a source of love and healing in the lives of others and as we learn that in serving close to you we are never alone.  Amen.

Monday, March 09, 2015

what's the point?

What’s the point 030815
Exodus 20:1-17   John 2:13-22
Imagine… I cracked a whip right here in the center aisle….reason you need to imagine is I couldn’t find one at the tack shop and the other places I’d find one you wouldn’t want your pastor to enter……But if I cracked a whip right here and now, i’d have your attention wouldn’t I? Someone told us this week that the crack of a whip is the sound barrier being broken……. Maybe that’s what Jesus was doing….shake them up, get their attention, point out that something’s wrong here, and some barrier needs to be broken!
The writer of John’s gospel has this as one of the first public things Jesus does, and it’s a doozy!  Most of us are very uncomfortable with this whip wielding Jesus; we like him meek and mild and loving us to bits.  For those who didn’t much like what Chris said last week about the radical Jesus and carrying the cross, hold on, cos it get’s just as uncomfortable this week.  In this story it’s clear that Jesus comes to upset the status quo, not out in the big wide world, not in the fields of poverty, but right there in the heart of religion.
What’s his point?  His point is that they’ve forgotten the point.  They’ve become very comfortable with their religion, turned it into something that serves them and their economy, and forgotten their primary purpose.  
The temple had been built originally as a place for God to live, a place where the people could go to worship and encounter the divine……gradually over the centuries it became an institution, a system even, for obeying the rules, following the rituals, and lining the pockets of all sorts of people who profited from the system.
The temple, or religion, had become the servant of the people, a symbol of the status quo, and God had become the so-called reason for it all…..hmmmm
For this gospel writer, God is present and visible in Jesus, and through his life and death and resurrection, God is made known everywhere, not just in the temple.  God’s presence doesn’t require a temple,  God’s presence isn’t limited to a church….Jesus is letting God loose in the world!
Likewise today, Christianity as a religion, church as an institution, has been co-opted into the service of the people—its all about what we can get out of it.   It has been nationalized and privatized at the same time (I know that seems like an impossibility, but think about it.
  Christianity as religion has been coopted by nationalism at the expense of community, coopted by patriotism at the expense of peace, by politics at the cost of relationships.  I know this is true of other religions too, but that’s not a reason to avoid looking in the mirror.  And this has meant that the church as the face of a religion, has lost its meaning as an instrument of God for love and justice.  We have forgotten our primary purpose, the point of having faith as followers of Jesus.
Just as Jesus protested what the Temple had become, I hear him protesting what the Christian religion has become, cracking the whip that gets our attention and saying, “what’s the point?   Remember WHY you’re doing what you are doing”
Jesus wants us to experience faith, to experience God first hand….as a reality, not as a religion.  To reclaim our purpose as a community to be a place (not necessarily limited to a building)….to experience God….. to ask questions…… to find an antidote for the dis-ease of “our 1000 channel, multisensory hyperactive world” as one author I read this week calls it….a place to practice Sabbath, the centre of the 10 commandments we read today….
I suspect it’s no accident that this is the middle commandment, to practice Sabbath….for it looks back to the relationship with God that is primary (vertical) and forward to the relationships with others (horizontal)……it is that  practice that helps us renew that experience of God (vertical) so we can experience God horizontally in our ministry of life, living cross-shaped lives that we’ve talked about for three weeks now. 
 Praising and serving God doesn’t just happen in church, it happens in our every day vocations:  teachers are ministers in classrooms, youth are ministers in school and on the ski slope, accountants are ministers in offices, homemakers are ministers in family care.  God let loose in our world!   That’s the point, that’s the purpose….not just doing programs and sitting on committees in church…..one blogger this week said that our gravitational pull as faith community is outward, not inward.   How we spend each day, our time, our money, reflects our faith….it’s the reality of faith experienced.  God is out there, beckoning us from this training ground out to the main thing—as our mission statement says: to bring God’s love to all the world.
May we hear the crack of the Jesus whip breaking our sound barrier and getting through to our lives.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

(C Jewell) March 1 sermon

·        “The son of man must be rejected by everyone”—after reading our scripture for this morning about the rejected Jesus, I began to look at some of the things modern churches say about Jesus---I found a bunch of things about how great Jesus is—how comforting he is, I found a bunch things about Jesus being awesome and cool—basically our buddy Christ.  That is how many churches in our modern era of marketing our religion reject Jesus---by turning him into something completely non-threatening, completely non-challenging—or they simply reduce him to being nice to people. But as our gospel tells us this morning, that’s not who Jesus was or is. The Christ challenges us, in fact many of things that we consider to be normal or even good—these are things or ways of living Jesus challenges---it’s as if we are looking at reality and saying oh, that’s a 6 and the Christ comes along and says, no, you’ve got it upside down and backward—that’s not a 6, that’s a 9. Maybe the modern church is having trouble just being the church because it rejects the NT message of Jesus in favor of fads and gimmicks. As we heard this morning, We are the church when we pick up our crosses and follow Christ.
·        When we reject that Christ, the one that challenges us, the one that calls on us to pick up our cross—the one that tells us there is no true spiritual growth without dying to life as you now know it—we are, in fact, rejecting our own spiritual growth!
·        Once again, Peter shows us how and why we reject the Christ. After Jesus finishes telling his disciples that he must suffer and die before he rises again, Peter rebukes him—says no, this cannot happen. He’s not protecting Jesus, he’s protecting himself--Peter wants to hold on to Jesus as he knows him now. Isn’t that pretty normal? Peter thinks his experience of the Christ is something he can hold on to, something he can accumulate, some thing he can possess like other things. He is revealing his own self-protective motives—why else do we accumulate, possess, hold on? With his self-protective ways He is betraying his own unwillingness to suffer. Isn’t that why we hold on to our own image or idea of Jesus? To our own perspective, our own conclusions, ideas? For security?  Our culture worships self-protection, holding on, accumulation, possessions—right from the start we develop, and hold on to big selves. We’re told to sell ourselves—protect what’s ours.  Isn’t that what the whole accumulative process or holding on is all about—self-protection? It helps us develop and stay in our comfort zone. A radical Christ who talks about picking up our cross is rejected in favor of a more comfortable image of Jesus
·        Jesus says to Peter, get behind me Satan—SAWTAWN in Aramaic. Satan for Jesus just meant adversary—one who causes us to go astray. Jesus is not saying Peter is literally Satan—but he is saying that Peter’s holding on—his self-protective instinct is a problem in the spiritual life. It tempts one to hold on to life as they know it—then there can be no crucifixion—and therefore no resurrection---our own clinging to life as we know it—our own self-protective clinging to security prevents our own spiritual growth—prevents crucifixion and resurrection.
·        Holding on to, accumulating, possessing our static conclusions, ideas, ways, is setting our mind on human things, not divine things---the divine life is about picking up our cross, the divine life is about letting go. There is no true spiritual growth without dying to life as we now know it—we must let go.
·        Jesus says this clearly in all four gospels—“If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross”
·        And again, “for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
·        Look at verse 36—“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life” holding on to life as you now know it, to all the ideas, conclusions, etc. that you have accumulated---that is forfeiting your true spiritual life.
·        It is Lent, are we following Christ? Are we letting go? Are we letting go and taking up our cross as he did? We cannot take up our cross while we are holding on to all we have accumulated, to all our possessions. We can only take up our cross by letting go: “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
·        There is no true spiritual growth without dying to life as you now know it!