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Looking for resurrection…

April 24, 2011

Easter A
Scripture text:  John 20:1-18

The yearning for resurrection is all around us. Listen to these lyrics: “I’m living in an age/That calls darkness light….  Set my spirit free/Set my body free.”  They come from an album (Neon Bible) by Indie rock band Arcade Fire who won a Grammy for album of the year in February.  They make music with political and religious themes.    They also express a yearning for resurrection.

It is a yearning for renewal that I experience when I paint a room or dig in the dirt to plant a garden.  The yearning for resurrection is also in the groaning we hear when we pick up the newspaper, when we hear our brothers and sisters being detained in China as they gather for Easter worshipAll of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us, we hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay, we wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.  (Roms 8:18-25)

In the midst of a groaning world, we turn once again to the gospel in which our hope is grounded.  In the account of resurrection in John’s gospel, Peter and John hear from Mary Magdalene that something has happened at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid to rest.  They run to find out what has happened.

John gets there first, but its Peter who goes into the tomb only to find two piles of old clothes.  The linen wrappings are lying in a heap and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is rolled up in a place by itself.  When John enters the tomb, he sees the same thing and believes.

Believes what?  That resurrection had taken place or that Mary’s report was true?  They saw and believed, but they did not yet understand.  If Peter and John were emoting we don’t see it in the text.  Encountering empty tombs where bodies have been laid can be confusing—disorienting.  They did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead, so they see the empty linen clothes and return home.  Sounds like a journey inward.  Read more…


Beyond our vision…

April 18, 2011

Stumptown Mennonite Church
Matthew 21:1-11

At the core of Christian faith is the affirmation that God enters history as a human being. This affirmation calls us to examine what happens that gets him killed. Since today is Palm Sunday, it seems only right that we pick up the story with Matthew’s account of the events that lead to Jesus’ passion.

In chapter 15, the Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to confront Jesus about some matters of right practice. There is the healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Great crowds are following Jesus. There are more healings and the God of Israel is being praised. Peter confesses Jesus as the long-expected Messiah in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi. Then in 16:21, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Their pilgrimage reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem in the town of Bethpage, on the Mount of Olives. As he has throughout his gospel, Matthew is clear about the connection between the unfolding events and the prophetic tradition of Israel.

The location is significant. The Mount of Olives was the traditional location where the Messiah was expected to appear. In Zechariah 14:1-5 the Mount of Olives is the place where the Lord declares he will stand in order to defeat those who have gathered in Jerusalem. From that mount the Lord will become king over all the earth.

The mode of transportation is also significant. Jesus rides on a donkey, Matthew tells us, because in Zech. 9:9 the ruler of God’s people will come in this way. In sending two of his disciples to go into the village and bring a donkey and colt back, Jesus is making preparations for an entry into the city of David in a way that would clearly be perceived as an explicit messianic claim.

If this is a triumphal entry, it is also unconventional. Donkeys are not a creature normally associated with kings. He has come to be acknowledged as king. But what kind of king?

Some commentaries actually imagine two processions into Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the city, the Roman governor—Pontius Pilate—will enter the city on a war horse at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. His purpose in coming is to maintain law and order during the days of the Jewish festival of Passover. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God. Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.

What does the crowd see?

Read more…

Beyond our vision…

April 3, 2011

Lent 4A
Scripture: John 9:1-41

This is a story about healing. It is also a story about seeing. It is about the way we see sin—in others…in ourselves.

The sin question emerges at the beginning of the text (v. 2). The disciples and Jesus are walking along; they see a man who has been blind from birth. The question: Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents?

The question may seem strange to our ears. We do not interpret blindness as a sin issue. When we encounter a blind man making his way across a busy intersection, we may even admire the courage of a human being overcoming the challenges of a disability.

We might want to ask the disciples: how could the man have sinned in the womb? What are the temptations of a zygote, an embryo, a fetus?

Perhaps blaming the parents makes more sense to us. When we think of sin issues, we are aware of generational patterns. It is easy to blame parents for juvenile delinquency.

But Jesus does not seem to be interested in having a theological discussion about sin. He sees the situation of the blind man as an occasion to “work the works of the one who sent him.” Read more…

An unexpected call…

March 20, 2011

Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a; Luke 1:26-38

At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland.  He was sold as a slave and forced to herd livestock.  After six years of slavery, he escaped to his native Britain.  Because he saw the hand of God in his captivity and deliverance, he devoted his life to ministry.  He returned to Ireland in 432—not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith.  Over the next thirty years, he established churches and monastic communities across Ireland.  He was known for his life of prayer in places of solitude and retreat.  This is the story of St. Patrick.

God’s call comes in unexpected ways…from unexpected places…

For Abram and Sarai it began as a call to leave home–voluntarily.  They begin to journey with God to a place not yet known.  Along the way they face challenges.  When they arrive at the Negeb there is famine in the land.  Abram and Sarai decide to cross the border into Egypt where there is food—opportunity (Gen. 12:9-19).

When you cross borders as aliens sometimes you are fearful.  You worry about how you will be treated.  Abram has fears.  Sarai is a beautiful woman.  He imagines that the Egyptians will see her and want to have her.  He imagines they will kill him to get to her.  So he schemes.  He will say that Sarai is his sister.

It turns out Abram’s fears are not unfounded.  As they are crossing the border the Egyptian officials take notice of Sarai.  She is taken into Pharaoh’s house.  Eventually the plan unravels.  The truth comes out and Abram is called before Pharaoh.  Why did you tell me she was your sister?  Why did you let me take her for my wife?  Here, take your wife and be gone.

This is the way God’s salvation story begins in history—with the naked vulnerability of a great patriarch of Israel.  When we respond to God’s unexpected call, we bring along our humanity.

God’s salvation story is often told through a patriarchal lens.  But when we read closely, we see it also depends on the active participation of women.  Sarai had a little skin in the game and when Exodus continues the salvation narrative a few generations later, the account begins with the story of two Hebrew midwives.

The setting once again is Egypt.  The political situation has changed and the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are now slaves.  Their favored status during the time of Joseph fades as they are driven to make bricks and mortar by ruthless Egyptian taskmasters.

Weary days turn into months…years.  Hope for liberation grows dim.  Nevertheless, the Egyptians are fearful of the Israelites.  The word comes down from the Pharaoh to Shiphrah and Puah (the two Hebrew midwives).  If a baby boy is born in the births you are attending…kill him (Exodus 1:15-16).

The midwives fear God.  They defy the orders of the king and put their own lives at risk.  As in the tradition of Br’er Rabbit during the time of black slavery, Shiphrah and Puah come up with a subversive tale.  Their lives are spared and their disobedience saves the life of Moses.  As the exodus tradition is being recorded, it will be remembered that even before God acted through Moses to liberate the people, God acted through two courageous midwives to bring about deliverance. Read more…

Naked vulnerability…

March 13, 2011

Lent 1
Scripture reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-2

One of our family’s favorite Shel Silverstein poems goes like this:

There’s too many kids in this tub
There’s too many elbows to scrub
I just washed a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine
There’s too many kids in this tub.

There are not too many things cuter than a naked baby–especially one with rolls.  Anne Geddes has capatilized on this concept in her work.  Babies have no problem with nakedness.  In fact when you have damp, stinky diaper, having your legs set free can make a baby pretty happy.  There are giggles and playful kicking.  (I know I am remembering diaper changing through rose-colored glasses.  Of course there are the cranky times, the diaper rash times…).

You get a two-year old in a playful mood at bath-time and look out.  When we are innocent, we can unselfconsciously run buck naked through the house to avoid getting our PJs put on.

Somewhere along the way, we become aware of our nakedness.  Like when the group of missionary kids (boys and girls) decided to go skinny dipping.  For some reason the adults got pretty worked up about it.  That group of kids became more aware of their nakedness that day.

Our text from Genesis is a story about becoming aware of our nakedness as humans.  In the context of the garden, Adam and Eve are naked and without shame.  Nakedness is part of God’s good work in creation.  Nakedness, physicality and natural functions are part of what it means to be authentically human.

The Genesis account also portrays human existence as one that involves testing.  From the very beginning, human existence has involved choices…freedom.  We see that what we consume has consequences.  In our text inappropriate consumption has to do with a tree.

How does this story shape the way we live in the world?  What are the issues of consumption…of good and evil for us?

Alan Hirsch (quote in bulletin) reminds us that trillions of dollars are spent on advertising.  Advertising that offers scripts no less deceptive than the words of the serpent in Genesis.  It is the task of advertising to create desire.  Perhaps this story calls us not so much to avoid certain trees, but to be aware of the power of the market to deceptively manipulate our sense of self. Read more…

LMH chapel on Lent…

March 8, 2011

Station 1:  The Sharpie station

What is a practice that you would be willing to commit to over the season of Lent?

Perhaps it is something good that takes too much of your time, or is too important.  Are you willing to take a break (fast) from it?  Or, perhaps it is a renewed commitment to spending time in prayer or reading Scripture.

Take a sharpie and write that practice on your hand which you will commit to for the season of Lent.

Station 2:  Self-examination/Confession

What is something in your life that is not like Jesus…an attitude or behavior that needs to die for the life of Jesus to be resurrected in you?

The invitation is to self-examination.  Are you aware of anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, or gluttony influencing your life?

You may take a piece of paper, write down one of those words that you want to die to and put it in the urn. These confessions will be burned with fire from the Christ candle.

Station 3:  Ashes

In Scripture, ashes are a sign of repentance and humility.

You may mark your hand with the sign of the cross as a way of expressing your desire to walk in humility and repentance during this season of Lent.  It is a way of identifying with the cross of Christ. Read more…

Eyes to see…

March 6, 2011

Scripture readings:  Exodus 24:12-18; Matt. 17:1-9

The Kindergarten class had a bulletin board illustrating what the students wanted to learn in school that year. Most of the statements were like, “behave,” “learn to sit still,” “follow the rules,” “listen to the teacher better.”

One child said “I want to know why the ocean shines like fire.”

There’s a kid who has not suppressed the gift of wonder…who is willing to go off-script.  A kid who probably is oblivious to the fact that there is a script.

Our scripture readings this week call us to embrace the gift of wonder.  They defy understanding.  We cannot offer material evidence that might convince critical historians about what happens on those mountains.  Yet, these texts speak to the human yearning to ascend out of the mundane…to touch the face of God.

In the OT reading God invites Moses up on the mountain.  Moses goes up to meet God for forty days and forty nights.  It is during this time that the liberating God of the exodus gives the law.  God makes covenant with Israel and invites them into a committed relationship that involves worship practices, ethical relationships, holiness.  For the people of Israel at the base camp, the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.

We remember that this is not the whole of the story.  Distractions surface even after experiencing God’s work of liberation from Egypt.  The glory of crossing the Red Sea fades. There are grumblings about hunger pains. Wilderness life is not easy. There is nostalgia for the security of Egypt. There will be worship of the golden calf, even after the fire on the mountain and Moses descends with the stone tablets. Read more…