Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ #7

Lenten Meditation
April 8, 2009

Seventh Word
Luke 24.46, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

It’s one thing to take your life in your hands. Want to scale that mountain? It’s your life. Want to hop on your granddaughter’s skateboard and try out the half-pipe? It’s your life. We tend to think what we do with ourselves in private and that doesn’t affect anyone else is our business. It’s a form of ethical egoism. An ex-Marine friend of mine said they called it the 180 rule when he was in the Pacific—what happens west of the 180th stays there. Vegas took ethical egoism and made it into a PR campaign. As long as no one else can get hurt, why not?

It’s another thing to take someone else’s life in your hands. Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath—first of all, do no harm. When your patient comes in need of help, you diagnose, you treat, but under it all, you recognize that you have an obligation to someone else’s health and happiness. Any time you drive a child to school you’re taking someone else’s life in your hands—so don’t text or do email while you’re driving. For that matter, even when you’re alone in the car, the other drivers on the road are in your hands. Professionally, personally, emotionally, legally—we have a responsibility for each other’s well-being, a sacredness of life to honor and uphold. If the Good Samaritan had come along a little earlier and seen the robbers beating up the man beside the road, he would have been obligated to stop the mugging, not just wait until it was over to bind the wounds. Internationally, politically, we get involved because when you have the responsibility to help someone else and the power to do it, it’s wrong not to. As Emmanuel Levinas put it after the Holocaust, when we meet someone face-to-face, we become responsible for them.

Taking your life in your own hands is relatively easy, but isolating. Taking another’s life in your hands is inevitable, and morally compelling.

It’s another thing entirely to place your life in God’s hands. This isn’t a question of obligation. The great commandment aside, you cannot order someone to love you and force it to happen. No matter how loud you scream, “Trust me!” or how successfully manipulative you are with someone else’s emotions, you can’t make someone have faith in you. And neither can God. With all God’s power to create, enable, and persuade, God cannot force us to love him or have faith in him and maintain that the results are genuine love and faith. It’s up to us. To place my life in God’s hands is to acknowledge that I am not the center of the universe. To place my life in God’s hands is ultimately an act of the deepest trust.

But when you have commended your life into God’s hands, you have done what Jesus did on the cross. You haven’t denied your own strength to act for yourself, because it takes tremendous strength to let go of that to which we most closely cling. You haven’t given up responsibility, because it is an act of great responsibility to decide where your life belongs. Instead, you have embodied the deepest faith and love of which human being are capable. You have come finally to the cross. You have found your life in God.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ #6

Lenten Meditation
April 1, 2009

Sixth Word
John 19.30, “It is finished.”

The artist makes the final stroke on the canvas, and the painting is finished. The surgeon ties off the final stitch. The operation is finished. You push back from the table, satisfied, full, the last drops of coffee cooling in the cup and the crumbs of cake clinging to the napkin. The meal is finished.

So many things come to an end. We live in time, you and I, so beginnings and endings make sense of our experience. Projects at work begin and end. Appointments begin and end. Relationships are more murky, but they, too, have their beginnings—just listen to a couple tell their story—and their ends, sometimes painful. Our main experience of the world is temporal, in time—chronos, in Greek. T.S. Eliot wrote, “For I … have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons; I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

What is so ordinary about Jesus’ death is that it takes place in real time. Each breath, each heartbeat, is measurable on a chart. In the horizontal plane of chronological time, he is nailed to the cross, lifted up, mocked. He dies in time. What is so extraordinary about Jesus’ death is that it also takes place outside of time and connects us to eternity. He dies before he should—the soldiers come to break his legs as an act of mercy, allowing his death to come more quickly, but he has already breathed his last. God’s mercy trumps that of soldiers … or disciples. The horizontal coffee-spoon reality is transformed by the verticality, the transcendence, of Jesus’ final moment.

The word tetelesthai (it is finished) conveys not only the end of something in time but the completion of something that stands outside of time—there is a fullness made complete in Jesus’ death, an action transforming the present. It is like a cup of water with a thin film of oil on the surface touched by a single drop of dish soap. The entire surface is transformed in every direction at once. When Jesus says tetelesthai, “it is finished,” everything, everywhere and every when, becomes different in the eternity of now. Past, present and future are transformed.

With Jesus’ death, what is finished isn’t like the final stroke on the canvas, the painting sold and hung. It isn’t like the surgeon’s work, now healed and never, we hope, to be needed again. It isn’t like finishing dinner, which we then begin to crave again in a few hours. What is finished in Jesus’ death is completed not just in time but outside of it, bringing time and space themselves into a sort of fullness that overflows in everlasting abundance, that burns with an eternal flame casting light through all of history.

We ourselves who have been baptized into his death are thus finished, complete, made whole. We who are in Christ receive newness of life, the paradox of salvation. Evil, sin, and death have no ultimate power. They come to an end. What endures brings wholeness, healing, love and light. What is finished, made complete on the cross, is our salvation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ #5

Lenten Meditation
March 25, 2009

Fifth Word
John 19.28, “I am thirsty.”

There are few moments so intimate and difficult as accompanying someone who is about to die. The voice fails. The breath labors. The vision clouds. The mouth dries. For those who have been there at the bedside, a haunting dismay arises, peaceful and painful, inevitable yet tinged with anger, not forgotten ever, but in time, endured. It is among the most cherished of moments as whatever it is that gives life evaporates, and words fail to make anyone understand. Many who die have stopped taking food days, even weeks earlier. But once it becomes impossible to drink, it may be only hours or at most a few days. That Jesus would thirst before he dies is understandable. He was human. That he might not be able to drink what is offered is painful to recall.

We’ve made the ones who put the sour wine to his lips into monsters. But perhaps it was not so. In Mark he does not drink; in Luke the wine is offered, although mockingly; in Matthew it is simply offered, without opinion; but in John Jesus receives the wine. John is the only one who hears in Jesus’ death his thirst.

The one who soaked the sponge makes me wonder what Jesus thirsted for in life. In death, certainly, the thirst was real enough, a thirst like any other. Psalm 22 puts it well:

    I am poured out like water,
       and all my bones are out of joint;
    my heart is like wax;
       it is melted within my breast;
    my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
       and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
       you lay me in the dust of death.

In life, what do you thirst for? Personal gain and fulfillment, an economic cushion, a good grade, employment that is meaningful, relationships of comfort and of trust, success for your children, a retirement cottage on the lake? Not bad things, not in and of themselves. But even so, the things we thirst for will not satisfy the thirst of Jesus on the cross. Living water carries no mortgage. The bread of life does not charge a value added tax. Unity in faith is not exchanged for entrance to the ball.

In life, what did Jesus thirst for? Unity, to be sure, “that they may all be one,” and justice. Righteousness that rolls down like rivers, and love. When life is near its end, by which I mean its purpose, its goal, its reason; when we walk the Way of Jesus and take up our cross; when we feel poured out like water, and the veil of eternity is lifted, and God delivers up our soul, may Jesus’ thirst become our own. On the cross, he thirsts for water, yes, but also for everlasting peace on earth, for justice, for unity, and for love. May our lives do what sour wine cannot, and satisfy the parched and dying longing of Jesus’ soul.

[We each received a cup of water to hold during the extended silence following the spoken meditation, with the instruction to meditate on how Christ's living water quenches our thirst, and how our lives can quench the thirst of Jesus for unity, justice, righteousness, and love.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ #4

Lenten Meditation
March 18, 2009

Fourth Word
Mark 15.34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

To be forsaken, to feel abandoned or deserted, to believe even for a moment that in all the universe we are completely alone, may be one of the most awful experiences we know. Living alone is hard; dying alone is harder. We value independence, and at times we seek solitude. But not the sort of forced loneliness we call forsaken. You don’t have to hang on a cross to know what it means. A family member walks away. A trusted friend betrays your trust. A lover whose reality did not live up to your imagination abandons you. Your church doesn’t notice. To be forsaken is to feel surrounded by the torn places in the web of life and to hang on by a single, silken thread.

Jesus on the cross felt forsaken. Why else quote the line of lamentation that begins Psalm 22? It is a traditional lament, in that its meter is three-two, while most Hebrew poetry is three-three. There is something missing, incomplete, halting in the dance. Laments stop too soon, leaving empty space in the prayer where God ought to be. The words are honest. They plumb the depth of our darkest feelings. I cry but you do not answer. My ancestors trusted you, but I am despised; why do you not deliver me?

If I said, “Twinkle, twinkle,” you’d say, “little star.” If I sang, “O say can you see,” you’d sing, “by the dawn’s early light.” If I sang, “On a hill far away,” you’d sing, “stood an old rugged cross.” When Jesus says, “My God, my God,” his audience should suspect where he is going. When he continues, “why have you forsaken me?” they should know the rest of the tune. But for some reason, they do not understand. They think Jesus calls on Elijah, and the cruel ones wait to see if Elijah will appear. What we know, and what the early church remembered, is that Jesus was quoting a Psalm that, short of Rachel weeping for her children, wallows in the lowest lows in scripture. But it also has the highest highs. The Psalmist admits, “I am a worm, and not human.” Yet he commits his cause to God. Jesus recognizes that even on the cross, with his life seeping away, it was God who delivered him at birth, God who kept him safe so he could nurse at his mother’s breast, and, even now as trouble encircles him like charging bulls and ravenous lions, even now as he is poured out like water, even now as his bones creak and his skin wastes away and his tormentors laugh and divide up his clothing, God remains his salvation.

If Jesus identifies with being forsaken, he also identifies with the Psalm’s ringing song of praise. You and I who follow in the way of the cross may be tempted to flounder in our forsakenness. Jesus does not want that to happen. He knows we know the words that follow: From you comes the praise of the great congregation! The poor shall eat and be satisfied. Those who seek him shall praise him. All the ends of the earth shall praise the Lord. Jesus’ song continues in us as it reveals God’s purpose for the coming kingdom. As the dead bow down and generations to come will sing, as past and future ring with the songs of salvation, Jesus’ song resonates in our hearts, not as excuse or apology but praise proclaiming our place in the life to come, the dominion that belongs to God.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ #3

Lenten Meditation
March 11,2009

Third word
John 19.26, “Woman, here is your son.”

At birth, the midwife hands the baby to the mother with a gentle whisper, “Here is your son.” At graduation, the neighbor leans over, remembering the rehearsals and games, the late nights and early mornings, points at the stage and says, “There’s your boy.” At the wedding, you walk her down the aisle, place her hand in another man’s hand—a boy really—and the pastor says, “Who gives this woman to be married?” And you say to yourself, “Woman? No, please God, not yet, she’s my daughter.”

Generations pass, and we take pride in our children, joy and anguish, too. Their successes are ours, and their failures. Hands off or hands-on, we live our lives through them. And when, as occasionally and tragically happens, we lose them all too soon, we live our own death through them. This is something larger than sacrifice.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother remains anonymous. Yet watching Jesus die, if she really is his mother and not mainly a symbol, she must remember him in the manger as in Luke, the mysterious strangers bearing gifts as in Matthew; lost and found in the temple with the elders (Luke again); beside himself outside her door in the crowds, herself thinking him possessed; then the dangerous journey to Jerusalem; tables overturned; prison; this. Now her child on the cross with strangers on either side, and his best friend standing with her, she hears what no mother or father can bear: her son making arrangements for his death and her survival.

John gives us something more than a casual exchange. We experience the anonymity of mother and disciple (who really knows another human being?) in the carefully-constructed scene on the cross. Jesus places us in each other’s hands, commits us to each other’s care. His unnamed mother can represent the church, while his unnamed disciple can represent each of us who remain faithful and devoted. On the cross, Jesus constitutes between them the community we are to become—according to John, it is it at the cross and not at Pentecost that the church is formed. “Where are my mother and brothers?” he once asked. And he answered, “All those who do the will of God.” At the cross, the will of God is that mother and disciple become mother and son, that the church become not just a classroom or a cafeteria but a family, a community of mutuality and equal regard.

When we stand at the foot of the cross, we become one faithful people. We may come as beloved disciples, followers, students; we may come as fathers or mothers; but we become something more. At the foot of the cross, we behold in each other a deeper relatedness, for we are all children of God. When Jesus entrusts us to each other, we become related not by our blood but by his spirit. Then, when we come away from the cross, we come away changed, bound by deeper ties. Empowered and encouraged by Jesus’ word, we take each other in.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lectio reflection: 1 Corinthians 1.18-25

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” Philosophy, religion, politics—it all gets turned upside down by the cross. There’s not much wiggle room for reasoned thought, dogmatic theology, deliberative decision-making. Such harsh and sharp words from Paul! They cut to the core, because in fact we value the wisdom of the philosopher, the scribal accuracy and passion of the religious, and the politician’s persuasive power. We grant degrees, ordain, and elect. We give honor where honor is due.

What would it mean for us to take seriously the claim that God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, God’s strength is stronger than human strength? Of course, in the church, we could claim that we’re already living that upside down life. We who follow the way of the cross are already measuring on a different standard, metric measures in an avoirdupois world. After all, we stand up for the poor and needy, run soup kitchens and food pantries, clothes closets and hand-me-up shops. We fly the not-for-profit banner in the capitol of capitalism and get arrested in Selma.

But we haven’t really transformed the world. The Nazi death camps are the most egregious symbol of our failure, but the killing fields are still wet with blood, and the Congo River runs red. Terry Gross interviews Tim LeHaye and John Hagee, men who inspire millions of Christians to ignore threats to creation as theologically insignificant, all the while constructing elaborate houses of scriptural-sounding, self-righteous cards that show the end-times are here (oddly, they copyright their work!). If we who see the world through the concave emptiness of the cross want foolishness, we simply open our eyes, but we hardly want to claim such nonsense as God’s wisdom.

What would our preaching look like if we really preached the foolishness of a crucified savior? We couldn’t offer the popular, pious insights of self-help. We’d acknowledge that the gospel overturns not only our worst but our best. Then we’d have to preach that our expectations are too small. We want tiny miracles, a parking space close to the door, a diet that sheds the final fifteen pounds. We don’t really want resurrection. We don’t really believe people can change. We want Dr. Phil to be right and Oprah to sound prophetic. But the true stranger in our midst? The absolutely other? The one who appears dangerous and threatens decent order with crazy claims about the Confederacy or bizarre notions that cilantro is the devil’s food? Clearly they are fools. But isn’t it just such as these whom God might use to shame the wisdom of the wise? Can we see in the crazy lady on the corner a glimpse of the kingdom at hand?

The cross is a scandal, not a piece of jewelry. We domesticate it at our peril. Instead, we need verse 30, in which true righteousness, sanctification, and redemption become visible in the one who takes the cross, the Christ who “became for us the wisdom of God.” Right relationships include true justice. Holiness reclaims the original goodness of the garden in the face of serpents and fruit. And redemption frees us from any system that accepts as worldly wisdom, faith or politics that slavery is acceptable or that bondage is ever good. The wisdom of the cross is that anything less than death is folly, so long as death holds the power to claim to be our end. Jesters know what is true, for if they didn’t make us laugh, we’d cry. Our purpose is life that turns death on its ear, that answers Paul’s question by pointing to the scandal of Jesus crucified, saying, “There’s your wise, your scribe, your debater. There’s God’s wisdom. Crucify me upside down.”

Seven Last Words of Christ #2

Seven Last Words of Christ
Lenten Meditation
March 4, 2009

Second word
Luke 23.43, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Paradise. Let’s assume for a moment that it’s not Cancun. What has Jesus promised us?

For the first eight centuries of Christianity, Paradise referred to an earthly garden of delights that Adam and Eve lived in for a time. Even into the 16th and 17th centuries, explorers sought to discover the exact location of Eden on the map, God’s walled garden guarded by the angel with the flaming sword. Paradise comes to us from the Greek word paradeizos that translated the Hebrew word pardes that came from the Old Persian apiri-daeza, meaning a walled-in garden. Ezekiel speaks of this garden covered in precious stones (Ez. 28.12-14) on the holy mountain of God. Isaiah sings of God who makes Zion’s desert like a garden, filled with joy, gladness and thanksgiving (Is. 51.3). Much later in Revelation, the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven is described as a new Eden, with precious stones and constant water and abundant food.

Jesus’ promise to the thief comes in response to his plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The thief is no follower of Jesus, has not to our knowledge been baptized or confessed his faith. He hasn’t lived according to the commandments. Why should Jesus remember him? I believe this is what the thief hears: you, who are dying with me, for no reason except that you have asked, will be with me in the primordial garden, the birthplace of humanity, a place of abundance and renewal. Nothing, neither death nor life, nor confession of faith nor lack of it, no, nor anything in all creation will separate you from God’s eternal love made known in Jesus Christ. And the best way to describe the pure abundance of that love is the garden of Paradise.

Plea, promise, and presence are what matter here. The details of such paradise—precious stones, garden walls—are not in the end significant. I don’t need to know if paradise means heaven, with streets of gold and Frank Capra’s angels second-class trying to earn their wings. I don’t need to give the after-life any real thought or speculation. I certainly don’t need to orient my life around the question of whether I’ll be seated in smoking or non-smoking. These issues don’t motivate Jesus during his ministry. They don’t matter to Jesus on the cross.

What matters on the cross, in the midst of suffering and death, is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What matters is the holy assurance that then and there, when life is at its worst, and the veil between life and death is stretched thin enough to breathe through, we will be with God and God will be with us, and we who suffer together and live together and even die together will not be cast away but will be together, in some way that transcends time and space. The key word in the end is not Paradise. Paradise can lead us to distraction. The most important words he speaks are, “you will be with me.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Seven Last Words of Christ: #1

Seven Last Words of Christ
Lenten Meditation
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009

First word
Luke 23.34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Ashes are the right symbol for forgiveness. The palm branches waved as crowds hailed Jesus coming into Jerusalem as a new Davidic king, Messiah, Christ. The thunderous crowds acclaim him, shout Hosanna. But mere days later, Hosanna has become Crucify. The deal is struck. Silver changes hands. Barnabas is released instead.

We burn the branches that once hailed Jesus’ triumph. We grind the ash to powder. We mark our heads with the sign of the cross. Because the stains of sin penetrate past skin-deep. There are at least three sins for as many nails, Betrayal, Abandonment and Denial mark the final days of Jesus’ life.

He is betrayed by Judas. We have had good intentions, to feed the poor, to care for the sick. We can’t know for sure. But who ever really knows why friend betrays friend? Betrayal is bitterest because we are hardwired to expect loyalty from those closest to us. Betrayal undermines trust. Trust is at the root of faith. When you’ve been betrayed, you wonder if anyone can be trusted. Can you even trust yourself? Without trust, life becomes the whiplash of looking over the shoulder, wondering when the other shoe is going to fall. Father, forgive us. We meant well.

He is abandoned by the crowds. So fickle, the public adoration. From celebrity savior to criminal scum—it’s not just a PR campaign gone bad. It’s the crowds, the disciples, even us. We have a collective amnesia that wipes our slates clean. Once the exciting rush of the new and improved is over, and the novelty fades into the background, we go on with our lives as usual, letting the opportunity for real change pass us by. Public inertia. Who can sustain euphoria for long? Father, forgive us. We really have no clue.

He is denied by Peter. The one who first declared Jesus Messiah becomes the first to deny. We know what it’s like to look out for our own self-interest. It’s scary to be different, to be identified with outcasts, to worry what others think. It’s safer to blend in, to look and sound like everyone else. Theological peer pressure is real. Spiritually bland, we are like boiled grain that takes on the flavor of whatever seasoning happens to be nearby. Father, forgive us. We were just taking care of ourselves.

On the cross, betrayed, abandoned, denied, Jesus remains loyal, present, and affirmative. Father, forgive us. We do not know what we are doing. But you know. And you stand with us, you stay with us always, and you raise us up. Mark us not only with ashes that trace the cross skin-deep but with grace that plumbs the depths of our being. Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Youth Congress 2009 Keynote #3 Inclusion

Movin’ on Up: Worship, Generation, Inclusion
February 20-21, 2009


Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria en los cielos (repeat)
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria en el Espiritu
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria Jesu Cristo
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Hate Crimes

Two sources of misunderstanding gay and lesbian issues
1. Bible
See how important it is to Jesus… not at all.
He never mentions it.

See how important it was in the OT … not at all.
The Bible deosn't address same-sex relationships except in contexts where opposite-sex relationships would also be immoral. In other words, the kinds of same-sex relationships the Bible condemns would also be condemned if they were opposite-sex.

It is interesting, though, to see what the Bible says about sex.
Note what's punishable by death:

  • sex during the menstrual cycle (Lev 18.19, 15.19-24);
  • adultery (Dt 22.22);
  • losing virginity for women before marriage (not applicable to men btw, Dt 22.13-21)

Look what the Bible says is sometimes okay:

  • Polygamy – Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon
  • Concubinage – Solomon
  • Sex with slaves – Abraham
  • Levirate marriage – sex with dead brother’s wife so as to produce heir; read Genesis 38.1-11 for several of these at once, including
  • Prostitution – Judah

We should be careful how we use the Bible in figuring out our sexual ethics. It approves some things we would outlaw and outlaws some things that most Christians don't think are quite that bad (is eating shellfish really an abomination?).

There are only about 6 or 7 passages in the entire Bible that are said to condemn same-sex activity. To a text, they all deal with idolatry, that is the fertility rites of other religions (Leviticus 18.22, 20.13, Rom. 1.26-27, 1 Cor. 6.9, 1 Tim 1.10), OR they deal with violations of hospitality (it’s okay to let your daughter be raped to death rather than let your guest be violated by neighbors, Gen. 19.1-29; Judges 19-21).

How does the Bible itself interpret the sin of Sodom? According to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations (where the women, it is charged, boiled their children) Sodom's sin is idolatry. According to Ezekiel 16.49 the sin of Sodom is pride and prosperity without helping the poor and needy, a violation of hospitality to the stranger at the gate. Not once does the Bible say the sin of Sodom was about sex. We’re the ones who came up with that. Not the Bible.

The vast bulk of the teachings found in the Bible defends those at the margins, the outcast, the persecuted. Those who are condemned by the Bible are almost without fail the religiously, politically, and economically powerful, the idolatrous, and those whose resources are not used to help those farther from the margins than they are. Who’s persecuted in our society today? People like Matthew Shepard, Evan Kittridge, and Fred Martinez. Who is doing the persecuting? Christians with Bibles in their backseats. Not all Christians, no, but enough to make us take a hard look at how we talk about gender identity and ethics. Enough to make us look at what the Bible really says, not passages pulled out of context to justify violence or exclusion.

2. Science. That’s what the next video is about.

What does the Science say?

Who has been excluded?
Jesus’ first sermon gives us a clue. You can tell who is important to Jesus by the text he chooses as the theme of his entire ministry. In Luke 4.18-19, he quotes, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ What do the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed have in common? They are at the margins of society. Jesus says he came to fulfill the good news of God not to the rich captors who see perfectly well how oppressive they are, but to their victims.

What Jesus requires (and what he doesn’t)
When Jesus asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is, Peter tells him, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus does NOT then lead Peter through a list of everything else he must believe in order to follow. Instead, he gives some guidelines for making all decisions: The Great Commandment, which is to Love God and Neighbor (no exceptions). Then, in the fifth adn final speech of Jesus in Matthew 25, he makes it clear that the kingdom of God is explicitly for those who treat the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned with the respect they deserve as children of God. This is radical inclusion. Jesus never mentions gender identity or sexual orientation. But he talks about the marginalized a lot.

Who would he talk about today?

To stand by when others are excluded is to participate in the exclusion

I'm going to leave you with some challenges today.

  1. Read the Bible with the same generosity toward the oppressed that the Bible itself shows
  2. Go find someone excluded at school and become a friend to him or her, not on your terms but theirs
  3. Talk to your congregation about how to include the people Jesus came to save

Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria en los cielos (repeat)
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria en el Espiritu
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Gloria a Dios, gloria a Dios, gloria Jesu Cristo
A Dios la gloria por siemre! (repeat)
Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen, Alleluia Amen.

Youth Congress 2009 Keynote #2 Generation

Movin’ On Up: Worship, Generation, Inclusion
February 20-21, 2009


2 Kings 2.13-14
“Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.”

This is one of the main transition stories in the Old Testament. The great prophet Elijah, the one everyone expects one day to return before God sets things right with the world, has gone off to heaven in a chariot of fire. The younger prophet Elisha has asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and now it looks like he gets it.

The mantle is passed. The authority and power and responsibility have passed. In the church, you see a lot of people in times of grief—the death of a parent, often, or an aging spouse. What I’ve noticed is that when the second parent dies, the children feel a strong sense of responsibility passed on to them. You may have felt it, too, or seen it pass to your parents from your grandparents. It is a heavy mantle. It's an honorable one, yes, but you can tell what someone feels they now have to carry on the legacy of the family.

Elisha has willingly taken the role of Elijah.

Watch out for bears

2 Kings 2.23-25
“Elisha went up from [Jericho] to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.”

What can we make of Elisha, the boys and the bears?
At first, the conflict was generational—young boys taunting an old man
But Elisha was also in the wrong for using the Lord’s name to curse the boys
There’s power for harm and for good in our use of God’s name
There’s power in our faith, so hadn’t we better use it generously and well?

These are the generations who may be in our churches
G.I. Generation – 1901-1924
Silent Generation – 1925-1945
Boomers – 1946-1964
Gen X /Busters / MTV – 1965-1985
Gen Y / Millennials 1981-1997
iGeneration 1997 – present

Each generation has its own idea of what it means to be faithful and generous. A friend of mine was consulting once in a church that was conflicted over money. He took a stack of silver dollars and put it on the table in front of one of the old, Silent Generation men and asked, “What should you do with it?” The man covered it with his hands and said, “Keep it safe.” My friend put the stack in front of a Gen X young man who also served on the church board. “What should you do with it?” The young man knocked the pile over, pushing coins all over the table, saying, “Make it move.”

Multigenerational Church
Most churches can serve 3 generations well.
Churches that have been around 30 years or more are serving at least 4 generations.
Most people can worship easily enough with people a generation older or younger than they are.
Most struggle to worship well with people two generations removed.
See the challenge of 4 and 5 generation churches?

It’s in your hands
2 Timothy 1.5-7: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Others’ hands have been placed on each of you. And your hands now have the power, just like your voice has the power, to make good things happen or to call out the bears. Which will it be?

Caring for each other tears down generational walls

Understand the needs of people two generations removed from you or more.
Be honest about your own needs, and find ways to tell your church clearly what you need in your generation to be faithful.
Use the power of your faith to do good, and not to curse; after all, you have to watch out for bears.

Youth Congress 2009 Keynote #1 Worship

Movin’ On Up: Worship, Generation, Inclusion
February 20-21, 2009


Wa wa wa emimimo
Wa wa wa alagbara
Wao wao wao
(trad. Yoruban, Nigeria)

Come, come, come, O Holy Spirit
Come, come, come, O Trinity
Come now, come now, come now.

We’ve rung bells that change the shape of the air by vibrating. We have invoked the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, the fullness of God, Creater, Redeemer and Sustainer, Father and Mother, Son of God and Human Being, Breath that hovered over the face of the waters at the beginning of time and Breath that reaches into the depths of every cell of our lungs. We have one thing lest to do. We need to see and smell what God is doing, too. For that it takes FIRE. So we light a candle.

This is how they do it in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and pilgrims still today come to offer their devotion to God. Thousands each year come to the cathedral where St. James’ remains are said to lie. St. James, named for the brother of Jesus, is the medieval saint who ran the Moors out of Spain. Pilgrims came and smelled the place up. So to sense the sacred, they swing this enormous censer roaring with flaming incense up to the ceiling and back, when pilgrims come to pray.

Tearing down walls
We’ve just torn down some walls by getting to know some Christians on the other side of the world—The ancient Easetern Orthodox by way of Missouri, Evangelical Protestants in Nigeria, and Roman Catholics in Medieval Spain.

Think of the things that separate us.

Language – Greek and Hebrews, Aramaic, Latin, Assyrian, Coptic, and Arabic
Tradition – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant (all varieties), Episcopalian
Nationality – China, Indonesia, Congo, Australia, Chile, ….
Race – red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight
Culture – middle class, rural, high church urban
Age – children, youth, young adults, empty nesters, retirees
Theology – immanent, transcendent, incarnational, spiritual, …

All of these areas create walls. You can come up with others. Think about the walls you live within. How much of the world can you see from where you stand? And then the big questions…

Where is God?
And can worship tear down walls?
We’ve identified some of the walls we live within. We started to worship beyond those walls tonight the moment those first chimes rang and we called God’s presence into our gathering. Let’s be clear. God isn’t contained by our walls. God is not bound up in white, North American Protestant Christianity. God’s not some tool we use to scratch our backs or make ourselves feel good. God speaks English and Yoruban. God is white and black., old and young, and as we’ll talk about tomorrow, gay and straight. God is on every side of every wall. Don’t ever let anyone tell you something’s too small for God or too large. So if we’re going to worship the God of all the universe, our worship has got to find ways that tear down the walls between us.

Ephesians 2.13-15
One of the apostle Paul’s disciples, writing in Paul’s name to honor his teaching, wrote, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace. In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.”

Everybody get up: you’re going to take sides. You have to take a side. I’m going to give you a whole list of two things to choose between. Divide up, left and right.

Left-handed vs. Right-handed
Football vs. Band
Lunch vs. Study Hall
Dance floor vs. Wallflower
Traditional vs. Contemporary
Facebook vs. MySpace
Mac vs. Windows

Where is God?
God is on every side of every wall and cries about the walls we build to keep others out. What I want to do tonight and tomorrow is challenge you to name and then tear down the walls that come between Christians.

“In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two.”

That’s what worship is supposed to do. It creates one humanity in place of two.

Create one humanity in place of two
Think about worship in your home congregation. What does it do that creates one humanity in place of two? What walls does worship in your congregation tear down? I want to start with what it does well. Don’t tell me what fails. Tell me what succeeds.

Music – how does it tear down walls? Give me an example.

Preaching – have you ever heard it tear down walls? When?

Prayer – when have you heard language in a prayer that tears down walls? How about the ways people address God not just as Father, King, and He? Come up with a dozen other names for God that don’t sound like a tyrannical old man in the sky. Right now. Do it. Call them out.

Communion – here’s where Disciples should shine. What do we do that virtually no other church does? Invite everyone to the table. Deny no one. Who would Jesus turn away?

You know that Religion can divide people. You see what it can do with rats. I’m going to challenge to go back to your congregations and help your home church figure out how worship can tear down the dividing walls and create one humanity in place of two.

Two ways to see worship
Thomas Moore has said that there are two ways of thinking about church and religion. One is that worship is the EXCEPTION. We go to church as an exception to the rest of the week, to be for an hour in the presence of the holy, to retreat for a time into that sacred presence. Now, this is well and good. Worship should tell a story that helps us come into the presence of God. The rituals, the smells and bells, the taste of communion bread, the bowed heads at prayer—all of is fine. But when we think that’s all there is to religion—what happens in church—then we start to think that our way is the only right way.

There’s a second way to think about church and religion, according to Thomas Moore. He calls is the “art of memory.” I call is TRANSFORMATION. What happens on Sunday then makes sense of everything else that goes on during the week. Worship isn’t just a once a week retreat. Instead, it reconnects us to God all week long. Did you know that the days of the week are named after gods? That’s because time reveals the sacred. From Monday’s Moon to Thursday’s Thor to Saturday’s Saturn—the days mark the sacredness of time. So what happens on Sunday inspires the rest of the week for Christians. If you’re in worship on Sunday, you have an easier time seeing the sacred in everyday things.

You also become more generous to other religions. Because they are also finding the sacred in the everyday. Let Christian worship and Jewish worship and Muslim worship uncover common ground in the sacredness of the everyday.

Let’s finish out these meditations by invoking God’s presence once again. What you begin tonight should make a difference not only while you’re here at Eagle Eyrie but throughout the rest of your life.

Wa wa wa emimimo
Wa wa wa alagbara
Wao wao wao

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lectio Reflection, 1 Corinthians 9.24-47

There’s a popular trend on facebook right now: 25 Random Things About Me. You write a note about yourself, tag your friends, and they’re supposed to write about themselves. The other day, I saw this on a friend’s page: “I don't believe in participation medals, batting the whole line up in youth baseball, not keeping score, not failing students…. Not everyone can be good at everything, sometimes you are supposed to fall flat on your face and move on to something else.” I think Eddie must have read Paul.

Tertullian calls the race of faith a “noble struggle,” with the Holy Spirit as our trainer, with “the sweat of the brow on everything” (Ad Martyras, III). The language is that of competition, with winners and, presumably, losers in the game of life. Those who see sport as the driving metaphor find Paul on their side here. And it’s not just a practice session. We’re not beating only air. The prize is imperishable, with a shelf life greater even than Hostess Twinkies, the prize of everlasting right relationship with each other and with God. It is a prize to be lost or won. Paul has been speaking about his street cred in proclaiming the gospel, so he uses the language of the street. He’s got the degree, the authorization, the sponsorship. But he doesn’t choose to hold any of that over his hearers. They shouldn’t honor him for all his fancy belt buckles or trophies. They should pay attention to his message. It’s worth reflecting on winning and losing, striving, success and failure.

Here’s the rub. I’m competitive enough on the field, but like most of us, I rarely come in first. What does it do to me to think of myself as a loser? When I hear Paul talk he sounds like the winning quarterback. “We had a great opponent, came to play the game, did what we had to win.” Cliché, yes, but he’s speaking from the position of victory. It’s not an easy point of view to hear when you rarely win, might not even make the team.

How to strive and win, without taking pride in the win or lording it over the losers? This seems to be Paul’s way. And it’s possible because the race isn’t against other people. I’m not boxing my neighbor. Rather, the competition is inside each one of us, I against myself. “I punish my body and enslave it.” Strong words. And hard ones to emulate for the person whose self-esteem is shot, who, never having won anything, doesn’t see how to win at life. Precisely the audience Paul is speaking to.

So, is he saying most of us will lose while dangling hope out there for the precious few who, through practice, patience, perseverance and, yes, a little luck will win? I don’t think so. I think Paul is reshaping the idea of competition itself. I’m not competing against Steve or Jerry or Monica. I’m competing against those forces in me and in the world that would divide me from others, divide me from myself. And victory is difficult but possible. I can run the race, follow the rules, win the prize. But that doesn’t mean others can’t also win. Because other people aren’t my opponents in the match Paul describes. My opponents are perishability: sin, evil, and death when they look like individuals; injustice and unrighteousness when they play as a team.

Sometimes we are supposed to fall flat on our face. But this is a noble struggle. And failure, while possible, isn’t required. This may be a race all of us can win.

Lectio reflection, 1 Corinthians 9.16-23

Preachers are a strange lot. To what lengths we go to proclaim the gospel! We speak truth to power, compassion to the loveless, healing to the ill, and hope to those who grieve. We give people permission to laugh at death. This isn’t a standard occupation. The salesperson meets a need with a product or service. The engineer solves a problem. The politician lobbies for the vote. The physician isolates the tumor. The mechanic diagnoses, replaces the coil. Doings, all. But not for preachers. “Doing” is not the ministry of proclamation. The one who proclaims the gospel isn’t just doing something. She is someone, for someone. It’s about character.

Paul asserts the right of the apostle, the one who is authorized—made co-author with God—but by not exercising the right. His right to preach, and be paid, is clear, but he takes no pride in it; he does not declare that his right to preach supersedes someone else’s right not to listen. Preachers who speak too loudly, take note! Preaching isn’t a privilege but an obligation, not a badge of honor or an act of will but a commission. Bound and free, obliged and indicted, Paul recognizes that to speak the gospel into being one’s own being must change. It must become whatever is real for others to face what is not.

Luther took this passage and built his system of Christian Liberty around it: free with respect to all, slave with respect to all. But what interests me in the text is not freedom or slavery, per se, but the idea that preaching the gospel changes the preacher into something the preacher is not, so as better to communicate. To the Jew the preacher becomes a Jew, to the Gentile a Gentile, to the weak weak. Preaching is ultimately a paradoxical activity, because in proclaiming good news, we preachers become all things to all people. There is an “I must” beneath the “I am.” And “I am” speaks when “we are.”

It’s good to recognize the projections people cast upon us: righteous, holy, saintly even, above reproach, on a pedestal, whether we want to be or not, even as it embarrasses us. When we walk into the hospital room, the patient is well aware that we represent something greater than ourselves. Becoming all things to all people, we participate in incarnation, Word made flesh. We represent. We exercise our right not to exercise our right! And we don’t have much choice in this. Being a proclaimer of gospel brings it on.

Who among us has not wondered at the source of pastoral authority? Perhaps it is bestowed by the hierarchy of the church or laying-on of hands. Perhaps it is authority granted through genuine relationships, the authority of a trusted friend. But I suspect that the authority granted the preacher is more the power of vulnerability, the power that comes to the shape-shifter who can become all things to all people, and in so doing, can accompany them as representatives of the divine in human form. There is an incarnational quality to Paul’s case: as God becomes human, so we reveal God, in all our diverse and paltry glory. In fact, we must. There is imperative built in.

The obligation is heavy: we are not free from God’s law of love. Yet it is also liberating: we are free to engage other people where they are. The door opens. We visit them in homes, coffee shops, workplaces, and nursing homes. We have privileged access in the ER. We tremblingly point the way. Doing so, flawed, imperfect, we still become instruments of salvation. Right becomes responsibility. Proclaim the gospel? That’s a double dog dare.