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.