“Lenten Wilderness, Extravagant God”

 

Isaiah 55:1-9
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Remember the movie, “Oliver!”? Based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist? A young orphan boy in the London poorhouse is sold off as punishment for asking for more food, and after a rough and tumble series of events, is taken in by a well-to-do stranger. There’s a scene in the movie where Oliver, who has grown accustomed to wearing dirty rags and sleeping in the company of thieves in dark and dank places, wakes up to s voice singing, the sounds carried in with birdsong and morning light streaming into his bedroom at the gentleman’s house. Oliver is clean, in a nice place with clean bedding and white curtains, and he looks out his 2nd story window onto the mostly still empty street, where the singing is coming from a woman selling red roses, singing “Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two blooms for a penny?” She is joined by a group of other young women singing a different but harmonious tune querying, ”Will you buy any milk today, mistress?” and still other voices offering “Ripe strawberries, ripe strawberries….” The harmonies blend and lift, the sun streams down, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and everyone is offering….something in great abundance! Oliver is utterly enchanted and wonders “who will buy this wonderful morning…such a sky you never did see! Who will tie it up with a ribbon and put it in a box for me so I can see it as my leisure when

 [Note:  I couldn’t show this film clip in church because we aren’t set up for it, but I made a clip of the clip so I could just upload the beginning part here. However, WordPress tells me the file format is not supported and won’t let me upload it. SO — if you watch this clip, feel free to cut it about 2.39 — otherwise it’s 8 minutes of 1968 Disney musical dancing, which, you know, I love, but I wouldn’t have included it all here if  I could have worked around it!]

 

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Of course, the items being offered in Isaiah are without price, while the ones in London cost money – but the essence, the beauty, the spirit on the surface of it all is the same.

This 55th chapter of Isaiah was probably written by someone during the Babylonian exile, for the Israelites who were in exile at that time. That period of time was ending, and they were about to be heading back toward Jerusalem – not knowing that Jerusalem was in horrible shape and unlikely to be able to offer abundant living of any sort to anyone.

But the invitation that is extended transcends time and world events, because it’s indicative of how God works,
and God is not bound by our human conventions and constructs.

I don’t know about you, but my dad taught me that most things that seemed too good to be true usually were, and that nothing was really free.

What’s being offered here? Is it REALLY free? Listen again.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that hamilk-wine.jpgve no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This runs counter to our world. What our experience shows us is that there’s always a catch, isn’t there. There’s never a free lunch. You get what you pay for. What goes around comes around. Time to pay the piper.
But the prophet is promising an extravagant bounty for free. Just pull up a chair and dig in.

The prophet also says, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So, maybe, we don’t have to pay money for any of these things. They are free in that sense. But there is still a cost, just not a monetary one.

It’s like any of the choices we make. We can’t do and be everything. We have to pick and choose. If we choose what God is offering, we’re NOT choosing something else. Our choice costs us whatever we didn’t choose.

Choosing to follow Christ means we have to acknowledge our own brokenness. That we’re unable to do it on our own. God’s ways are not our ways, thank goodness.
Sometimes if we’re choosing to follow Christ, we have to sacrifice our egos. Our pride. We have to take ourselves off center stage sometimes and let someone else have the spotlight.

Sometimes the people with whom we share the stage aren’t even people we like at all. After all, everyone is invited to the same feast. Sometimes they have different values than we do, different backgrounds, different issues and opinions. They might even vote differently than we do. They might even have done something to us. They might even be people we need to forgive.
And really, if we manage to come to terms with all those things – our own weakness and brokenness, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-importance and fallibility, we’re left with our humble humility that can also be a deterrent to accepting the grace and abundance our extravagant God wants to give us. It’s possible to allow ourselves to become crippled by our own unworthiness. We have to be able not only to forgive other people, but to forgive ourselves too.

Why is it, if we KNOW how much more satisfying and sustaining God’s ways are, from banquets to unnamed.jpgBasic Life Choices 101, why do we have such a hard time staying in a right relationship with God? Why do we forget? Why do we wander? Why do we so easily get wrapped up in things that move us away from God?

It’s all part of being human. Which, in spite of our shortcomings, is a pretty wonderful thing to be. Life is an amazing adventure, different for each one of us even when we walk together in the same direction. Even in those moments when we DO manage to be in a right relationship with God and with each other, we are together, but not the same.   And God has ways to use us all. Each one of us. Every day. All the time. On Tuesdays, in November, in England or Iowa or Western Hills or New Zealand, on land, on the sea, in the air, scrubbing the floor, cleaning out the garage, nearby, far away , when we feel good, when we’re sick, whether we are sad, grieving, full of energy, bored, excited, sleepy, baking bread, during Christmas, driving the car, walking around the block, in the hot summertime, during this season of Lent….God is always there, inviting us, nurturing us, loving us.

Saying, Ho! Hey you! Christian! Follow me.

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“Jerusalem Chicken”

 

Luke 13:31-35
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

 

Here’s a bit of Lenten brain exercise for you

A farmer is standing on one bank of a river, with a fox, a chicken, and a bag of grain. He needs to get to the other side of the river, taking the fox, the chicken, and the grain with him.

Howanimalmasks-fox.jpgever, the boat used to cross the river is only large enough to carry the farmer and one of the things he needs to take with him, so he will need to make several trips in order to get everything across.

In addition, he cannot leave the fox unattended with the chicken, or else the fox will eat the chicken; and he cannot leave the chicken unattended with the grain, or else the chicken will eat the grain. The fox couldn’t care less about the grain; he can be left alone with it.chicken-masks-printable.png


How can the farmer get everything across the river without anything being eaten?

 

 

 

  • The man first takes the chicken across, leaving it on the other side. 
  • He returns alone in the canoe and picks up the bag of grain. 
  • After bringing across the grain, he takes the chicken back to the original side, dropping him off, and picking up the fox. 
  • After bringing the fox to the other side, and leaving it with the grain, the man returns back to the original side, retrieving the chicken, and making his 3rd and final trip crossing the river. 
  • At no point was the fox left alone with the chicken, or the chicken with the grain.

 

Most of us have heard this one before, but do you know why it’s hard for some people to get initially? Because it doesn’t occur to us to carry the chicken around, to make the same trip twice. We don’t initially “think outside the box.”

But Jesus did.  And he was a master at metaphor.

In this morning’s scripture passage, who is it that comes running to tell Jesus he better leave because Herod wants to kill him? Some Pharisees. Seems odd. After all, the Pharisees we hear most about were not particularly fans or “friends of Jesus.” He called them hypocrites and was known to stymie them with tricky questions their legalism couldn’t answer. They maintained what was often an antagonistic relationship with each other, or at best, a sort of watchful truce…but apparently, there were those among them who believed in him, even if they did so secretly.   And speaking of Herod – what is WITH him? Still hatin’ on Jesus from a distance after all these years…

Everything Jesus is doing in the scripture today has to do with him establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth. He is clearly on a unique mission; he’s been working his way toward Jerusalem for a while now, healing people on the Sabbath (to the irritation of the Pharisees and the annoyance of Herod) and trying to explain to followers what the Kingdom of God is like, using parables – mustard seed, barren fig tree, yeast in bread, and so on. It’s all part of a bigger picture, and he knows what he has to do. So, in a nutshell, when Herod says, ‘Jump!’ instead of asking, ‘How high?’ Jesus replies by calling Herod a fox and says – maybe with a sarcastic subtext- ‘Aaah! You want to kill me? Don’t bother me now! I’m busy healing and freeing and teaching (aka bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth) today, tomorrow AND the third day so I can die, ok? And I have to go on and get TO Jerusalem today, tomorrow and the next day so I CAN die, because (sarcasm) prophets can only die IN Jerusalem. Not outside it. So, see ya when I see ya.’

Then Jesus goes into this very non-sarcastic, heartfelt lament about his unrequited love for the people of Israel – God’s love, his love, it’s all intermingled – how he has yearned so many times to protect the Israelites as a hen spreads her wings over her chicks to protect her brood…’ but they won’t have it. They push him away; they don’t let him in. Nonetheless, the wheels of the cart Jesus is driving have been set in motion, and nothing can stop it. He weeps over it all.

It’s lonely and frightening to be the only one aware of the big picture. And that’s significant.

I get that it’s significant. And when you pause for a moment and think about it, it’s really moving. And,  I’m always intrigued by animal metaphors in the Bible. But…why a chicken? Why not an eagle? They’re noble. Or a lion or some big cat or hawk or something. Heck, even a turkey buzzard is inspiring in flight if you don’t get too close. But a chicken? How does a hen fit into the big picture? Is it because Jesus has already alluded to Herod as a FOX? Chickens are pretty benign creatures. Pretty defenseless against almost anything, especially a fox.

Then I stumbled on an article by Barbara Brown Taylor in the Christian Century that affirmed I had not been concerned about the chicken in vain.

I haven’t been to the Holy Land, but Barbara Brown Taylor has, and she makes reference to the chapel of Dominus Flevit. It’s on the western slope of the Mount of Olivimgres.jpges, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. Its name means Jesus wept, or the Lord has wept or the Lord weeps. Tradition claims this chapel marks the spot where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The chapel itself is built in the shape of a teardrop, and there is a big window with open ironwork partially covering it that looks out onto the skyline of Jerusalem.

 

 

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Embedded in the front of the chapel altar is a mosaic medallion of a white hen with a golden halo around her head. Her red comb looks like a crown, and her wings are spread wide to shelter the seven little yellows chicks around her feet. The hen is flared up and out as much as she can be; the effect is a bit cobra-like, as menacing  as a hen can be. Do not mess with her chicks.

 

The medallion is rimmed with red words in Latin, which translate into English as, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” The last phrase – the “and you were not willing” part, is set outside the circle of the other words, in a pool of red directly underneath the chicks’ feet.

When I read about this, I felt vindicated about my chicken metaphor fixation. There is a mosaic hen outside Jerusalem that dates back to antiquity. The protective hen was a significant enough image to have been created in the first place, and to remain unto this very day.

[In the interest of full disclosure, the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away, and when I searched out a few more things, I discovered that this ancient chapel really only dates back to 1955. It’s BUILT over the ruins of a 7th-century church, from which some mosaics still remain…it’s not clear from anything I read whether the chicken medallion is that old or not. But I still think it’s pretty cool.]

Jerusalem has always been a hugely important city. Nothing that happens in Jerusalem is insignificant. The Temple is there, the hub of life, a place of beginnings, prophecies, teaching, honor, the very dwelling place of God. When Jerusalem obeys God, all is well with the world. If it does not, there is a definite disturbance in the force, like a gravitational wave that threatens to unhinge everything. We know from the scripture text that Jesus has Jerusalem on his mind. If Jesus had been standing near this particular spot, he would have had the same view, not identical of course, but awe-inspiring in it’s own time. And he would have understood the full significance of hens and foxes.

Barbara Brown Taylor says this about the delicate balance concerning Jerusalem, faith and obedience:

If the city were filled with hardy souls, this would not be a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, it is filled with pale yellow chicks and at least one fox. In the absence of a mother hen, some of the chicks have taken to following the fox around. Others are huddled out in the open where anything with claws can get to them. Across the valley, a white hen with a gold halo around her head is clucking for all she is worth. Most of the chicks cannot hear her, and the ones that do make no response. They no longer recognize her voice. They have forgotten who they are.
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them.

 So of course it is fitting for Jesus to have chosen to compare himself to a hen. He’s forever thinking outside the box, turning things upside down, flipping our expectations end over end. Losers get the prize, the last become first, it’s children and little people who end up on top while the kings and scholars land on the bottom. The God of all creation comes to us as a bastard child born among a bunch of barn animals; this God-Man rides into town on a donkey, not as the King of anything except perhaps the unexpected.

There she is, this mother hen, this Jerusalem chicken, standing between her chicks and anyone who means to do them harm. She has no defense. She assumes what is simultaneously the most vulnerable and the most powerful position in the world: wings spread wide, chest out and unprotected, drawing herself up to the full height of her chicken stature, a sacrificial position. If the fox wants her chicks, he will have to kill her first.

Which is exactly what he does.

On a hill outside Jerusalem.

Alone, but in full view of all the foxes and chicks.

WE know this is not the end of story. But this is Lent, and we still have wilderness to travel.

Thanks be to God.

“What’s In YOUR Wilderness?”

 

February 14, 2016

Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf IMG_4583-300x200.jpg
of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
If you were among the 20 people here Ash Wednesday evening, you’ve been reminded that you are dust and to dust you shall return, and extended blessings for holy Lent. Whatever that means! What does that mean, actually? How do you go about observing Lent? People do all sorts of different things: some people give up something – chocolate, caffeine, meat, TV, something. There are always those who observe Lent in name only by giving up something that doesn’t affect them to start with, like bananas when they don’t even like bananas to start with, or getting up at 4 a.m. if you don’t get up until 7:00 anyway – not the point, but… There are folks who observe Lent by adding something extra in: an intentional time of prayer or Bible reading, a daily random act of kindness, a walk, an extra workout at the gym. There are as many ways to observe Lent as there are people. The main thing is to do something intentional that makes you examine yourself and bring you into a closer relationship with God. It’s really between you and God.

maxresdefault.jpgThe scripture today always reminds me of those Capital One credit card ads – a few years back there were Vikings, now it’s Samuel Jackson asking, “What’s in YOUR wallet?” Except the question for us as it pertains to Lentis “What’s in YOUR wilderness?” We base so much of our faith experience on this passage – not just about Lent, but about strength and temptation, Christian values – a LOT.

90fd8a66c8cad1a83db72c55ed021141.jpg

The temptation for us is to think that this text is actually ABOUT us.  That there is some kind of overarching, universal theme that can be drawn from the text and applied to our lives and churches today.  Of course, that’s what most of us do with everything at least some of the time, since each of us is the center of our own universe.

But you know what? It’s not about us, at least, not in the way we usually think. We use it, we refer to it and learn from it and live with it, and that’s all good. But I think it’s important that we at least try to understand it in the context in which it was written. This passage is about what was in Jesus’ wilderness. It’s about Jesus being properly vetted as God’s Messiah at the start of his public ministry.

First there was John the Baptist announcing him, then the baptism, and then the 40-day calm before the storm of the beginning of Jesus’ ministerial career. Our perspective here in the 21st century is skewed by hindsight and the fact that we look BACK through so many cultural and historical filters. There’s no way to know the importance of Jesus’ credentials to his would-be followers. But they had to have mattered.

He has come to wrest power away from the world, from the powers and principalities that were in place instead of God. WE know there will come a time when he turns his face like flint towards Jerusalem. But people then didn’t know.  He will provoke a confrontation with the powers and principalities.  AND he will call his followers to join him. But all that is still in the future. At this point, it is important to know just what kind of man Jesus really is.

The devil represents sort of a compromise, really. The devil is that voice that whispers soothingly in your ear that you and he can be mutual partners of a sort. You can each have your own way, and nobody will be any the wiser for it. What are a few stones into bread, anyway? Nobody gets4c4a3822ea075942c0240ab4e055b843.jpg hurt. Nobody needs to know. And you’ll feel a whole lot better.

It’s just that, the way God has things set up, there can be no compromise with evil. No meeting half-way, no negotiation of terms. So….that doesn’t make for a nice, neat, happy ending. It leads instead to a messy crucifixion.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we always trot this passage out for the first Sunday of Lent. If we’re actively participating in an intentional Lenten observation, chances are we are abstaining from something, or adding some beneficial activity to our schedules, or doing something on a regular basis to help someone else. We hold up this text as an example of how Jesus was able to resist the devil in the face of these temptations, and since Jesus was fully divine and fully human, and we’re at least fully human with maybe an occasional spark of divinity, then we therefore have the spirit and the power to resist temptation like Jesus did.

There’s nothing wrong with asking God to help us in facing whatever temptations we may be facing. It’s a spiritually healthy thing to realize we lack much real power of our own / on our own, and that we have a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. God giving people strength is wrapped up in the core of our beliefs as Christians.

Wilderness pinacle.JPGAll that is good. But let’s just be clear that this passage from the 4th chapter of Luke is NOT about those things. There is just nothing in there that says, “Alright now – go resist evil like Jesus did.” What Jesus had at stake was on such a different theological plane and of a magnitude so much greater than anything we live with that we just can’t compare his situation with ours. We may be concerned with being able to avoid chocolate or red meat or coffee for a few weeks. Jesus was concerned with power. Far-reaching power. Ultimate power. God’s power.He had to convince people that his quest for power was not going to result in it being abused and misused for oppressive purposes. People were sizing him up and taking note of whether he would use his “power” among people, or above them, over them, against them…what was this so-called Messiah going to do? Not unlike how we might watch a presidential candidate in the stretch before election day.

Another thing we think is at stake that isn’t is whether Jesus is going to slip up somehow and make a mistake with all the testing and temptation going on. I mean, what if he slips up? That would mean he is less than perfect, and if he’s less than perfect, then he can’t be the “perfect” sacrifice for our sins. He can’t be the true Messiah, and then, oh my, everything is ruined!

In order to be fully human, Jesus had to be vulnerable. What would it mean if he had been some superhero who never experienced doubt or humility or any uncertainty? Being vulnerable is definitely a part of the whole human experience. We are all vulnerable, at some times more than others.

What does it actually mean to change the world or to become a spiritual power that is incorruptible? What does it mean to be a power that avoids the usual traps that result in oppression and the continuation of inequality and injustice at every turn?

I learned something from a confirmation class a while back when I was still at Quapaw Quarter. They are a group of 8 middle schoolers and 1 high school student. Getting all of them paying attention and on the same figurative page for more than about 23 seconds at a time is really difficult. But there is one thing I’ve found that brings them up short and drops them in their tracks: tell them you’re giving them a test. I think this ploy becomes effective kicks in maybe around the time they get to the far side of 5th grade and I think carries pretty far into adulthood. Earlier grades, not so much. First they think you’re joking. Then the smiles fade and they start getting worried. If you want to be really mean, tell them it goes on their permanent record. But they’ll only buy that once. Anyway, I gave them a test a couple of weeks ago. Just some basic multiple choice questions about John and Charles Wesley, True-False questions about baptism and sacraments, the Bible, and finally some short answer opinion questions. All in all, just things we had talked about at one time or another over the past 5 weeks.

Nobody really did very well on the test – but they got focused and we had some really good discussion time.

Maybe THAT’S the ultimate take-away for us from this passage. For the tests and temptations we face to be the foundation for some really good discussion time with God. For remembering Jesus was a real person with dirt under his fingernails and a huge job to do. It’s by the grace of God to begin with that the Bible is such as rich source for us, that there are truths in it that span centuries and levels of understanding. I leave it to you to connect the dots. But I would like to offer a poem I was fortunate enough to stumble across. It’s by a Canadian blogger named Andrew King. For me, it brings this passage to life.


DESERT LESSON (by Andrew King, a Canadian blogger)

It is the empty time just before morning,
the light just beginning to touch

the tops of the hills,
just beginning to palm the skins
of the desert stones.

First one stone and then another
begins to change color as
in slow grandeur
the sun lifts
into red-orange sky.
First one stone and then another
emerges from shadow,
small solitudes of darkness
in the solitude of wilderness
in the emptiness of early morning.

Jesus is awake, blankets clutched
to keep out the cold
while he sits and watches stars
fade in the spreading dawn.
Hunger gnaws at his belly
like a dog chewing a bone.
Looking at a stone, he thinks,
How like a loaf of bread
this rock appears.
How comforting such
food would be. . .

Lifting his head in the direction
of the Holy City, Jesus pictures
the sunrise on the rooftops
of the Temple,
gleaming in the light like
the spires of marble mountains.
He imagines his feet astride
that proud building’s pinnacle
and himself
not weak but mighty,
not being hungry but full,
not vulnerable,
not breakable should I fall. . .

The wind begins to rise, stirs
the dry and scrawny grasses.
Jesus ponders the passage
of time, the rise and fall
of kingdoms, the tides
of marching armies,
the endless quests for power
that sweep up people and nations
like sands in a desert wind.
He imagines himself
at the head of
a host of armoured thousands,
lands and nations to serve me
like the Pharoahs, like David,
like Caesar ruling from Rome. . .

Jesus sighs, and stands and stretches,
a solitary and hungry
yet somehow satisfied man,
and folds the dusty blankets.

He will not bid the stones
turn to bread today
to ease his pressing hunger:
for the hungry and poor
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

He will not evade
frail humanness today,
or deny his utter mortality,
for even the mighty
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

He will not seek
the throne of a kingdom today,
selfish wealth or glory:
for the outcasts and hurting
of the world cannot,
and he is in the world
to bear their burden.

Day has come to the wilderness around him.
The sun is full and blazing.
Saying,
“Get away
from me, Satan,”
Jesus starts to walk fromcliff-view-of-dead-sea-450.jpg
the desert testing
toward the towns and the cities
where his ministry of love
will begin.

His feet leave firm prints in the sand.

 

THAT’s power. That’s what’s in Jesus’ wilderness. What’s in yours?

Thanks be to God.

A Buechner Perspective on Theology…

I wish there were a Frederick Buechner summer camp for grown-up kids.  I’d be a happy camper for sure.

Theology is the study of God and God’s ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study us and our ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.

~ originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

 

 

“Of Mountains and Mirrors”

February 7

Luke 9:28-36 – The setting for this passage: Jesus has given the disciples the power to heal diseases and have authority over demons; sent them out to preach and teach heal, all of which creates quite a buzz that perplexes Herod, who doesn’t know who is doing all these things but wants to find out. Then there’s the feeding of the 5,000, and Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection, saying pick up your cross and follow me……


28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

 

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Here we are again. Another month, February now, and today is the last Sunday in Epiphany – a season of light. It’s Transfiguration Sunday. Next week will be the first Sunday in Lent. But I want to talk a little about transfiguration. Jesus has gone up to pray in the mountains with Peter, James and John. And this THING happens.

Jesus is praying, Peter, James, and John are trying their best to stay awake but are only about halfway successful, and suddenly — this THING happens. Dazzling white light, and not only Jesus’ appearance and clothing change, but big dogs Moses and Elijah suddenly appear as well – talking shop about what’s about to go down in Jerusalem. Peter and James and John may have been not very alert at first, but all this gets their full attention. They are there and witnesses to this experience, even if they don’t understand it fully. It was a God thing. A holy moment. Holy ground. And as such, it is perfect. It defies all words. Absolutely nothing is needed. No applause, no explanations, no words – just a perfect moment that transcends and eclipses everything else.

article-2165423-13CFDD4D000005DC-953_634x441.jpg So Peter says – Hey! This is great! Let’s build a house for each of you!  Gotta love Peter – totally missing the point, as he does so frequently. He’s my favorite disciple, I guess because I can see so much of myself in him. He’s very human. But even his mood-breaking observation is sort of drowned out by a cloud of light enshrouding them and a disembodied voice saying “This is my Son , my Chosen– listen to him!”

Then – it’s gone as quickly as it came. The light fades, they’re alone again, and it’s like it never happened. Except, it HAD…

What do you do with that?

What’s it even mean?

Some would say Moses represents the LAW and Elijah the PROPHETS – the two sides of
Jewish scripture. Jesus had gone to the mountains to pray, after all, and God is revealed through encounters with scripture…the true nature of Jesus is revealed by this 74_1mirror_book.jpgtransfiguration. That’s what Transfiguration IS – it does not mean the same thing as the word transformation. Transformation implies a remaking of the nature of a person or object. Transfiguration implies a revelation of the true nature. Jesus is not transformed on the mountain that day. He doesn’t go up there like some sort of caterpillar, to wrap himself in a cocoon and emerge as a glorious butterfly, full of light and beauty. That is what happens at the Resurrection event, but not here, not today. Even though Peter and James and John were half asleep when it happened, there was never any doubt for any of them that it was Jesus there with them.

That said, while transfiguration is not the same thing as transformation, it can be transformative. Transfiguration happens all the time, in big ways and small ways, whenever something in us – or in something we see — reflects the glory of God. And those reflections can provide enough “light” so that transformation happens – to other people, to the world – it sets things in motion.

 

We’re made in God’s image. But we are not perfect and whole. We are like broken mirrors. There’s a huge broken mirror out in the dumpster on the parking lot right now that someone wanted to get rid of. Thank goodness our God doesn’t throw US away even though we are broken mirrors. That’s called grace. J Those broken piece still reflect and Broken-Mirror-by-Bing-Wright-2.jpgcan be very bright. When a connection happens that brings out that kind of light, it’s a
kind of transfiguration. It’s bigger than us. It’s not of our own making, but it’s part of us. It’s God IN us, the good in each of us. When your child as a baby really and truly SEES you for the first time, or when he takes his first step, there’s a deep connection that flares, that exists, that sparks and ignites.  When you watch the face of someone who is watching someone they love very much. When you look into the face and eyes of someone very old and see all the younger versions of themselves they have been. When you’re at summer church camp and feel the presence of God so strongly you think you’ll burst and all you can do is give yourself to God. If you’ve ever felt wonder an awe at watching wild geese fly over in a night sky, or witnessed the birth of kittens or watched a butterfly emerge from a cocoon, or been mesmerized by the glint of silver sunlight on the water of a cold lake on a fall day, or the shifting glow of embers as a log burns in a fireplace, or felt the rolling boom of thunder surround and shake you in a storm, smelled rain on hot, dry dirt, stared into the gray sky watching snowflakes float down from dizzying heights, or lost yourself and all track of time in a piece of music or a riveting story… when you watch your children or grandchildren sleeping, or meet the eyes of hungry person you’ve just served food to Under the Bridge.

I think those are transfigurational moments.

That’s what Lent is about, in a way. Between Transfiguration, when three apostles catch a glimpse of Christ, the unbroken mirror, in glory – Shine, Jesus, Shine – and Easter, when the whole community sees his resurrected glory, we get ready. We catch a glimpse of the nature of what is truly there, and what is yet to be.
Marshall Scott is an Episcopal priest in California, and he says it this way:

The discipline of Lent isn’t about reshaping us or transforming us into someone, somethingsky-reflection-mirrors.jpg
different. It’s about buffing us, polishing us, so that the glory of Christ, already present in our lives,
is more clearly reflected in the world around us. We are called to reflect the presence of Christ within us. And we’re called to do that, not by becoming someone or something we are not already, but by allowing the light of Christ that shines on us to reflect from us out into a dark and weary world. Through this Lent, and through every day of our lives in Christ, let us pursue our own transfiguration, and in time the world will see us, literally, in a new light.

Thanks be to God.