Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Peace In Mylittleworldistan

In the famous shepherd scene in Luke 2, after a messenger angel gives the shepherds the GPS coordinates for the manger, a huge choir of singer angels crowd into the sky and sing: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth PEACE, good will towards men (and women)!”

So, of course, we have these angels to thank for the fact that there has been peace on earth since that day. Oh wait! There have been some exceptions… such as the fact that there hasn’t been a single day in human history during which there was peace on earth. Someone is always doing violence to someone else in at least a jillion places, i.e. homes, countries, businesses, villages, marketplaces, etc, etc. But other than that…..

This insult to the wisdom of the choir of angels is so huge that we stand helpless to help. Not much we can do if a bunch of greedy idiots in somewhereelseistan, attack the people of zimplyfishingambawie, especially since they have been at each other’s throats since the ark beached itself on the top of some mountain in Turkey.

Even more embarrassing, though, is the fact that so much non-peace stuff happens in the name of religion. Ouch!

A friend sent me a podcast from the Oprah’s Spirit Newscast that sheds some light on this topic. Oprah was interviewing Rev. Dr. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. (we can just call him Ed) who is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. They were discussing religious persecution. Ed characterized religious persecutors as having this point of view: “My faith, that’s something I would die for… my dogma (theology), that’s something I would kill for.” Bingo! Ed has said a mouthful there. There won’t be peace on earth as long as people of faith (all faiths) hold that kind of view.

My heart longs to give the nice choir of angels an encore. I mourn the violence done in God’s name. To make it even more personal, I mourn the violence done by Christians even in my community of Newberg. I especially am heartbroken over the times I have done violence to the spirit of others in the process of a myopic defense of my dogma.

This has to stop. The angel choir’s song of hope was a call to those who would follow this baby God at all costs, even the cost of their lives. This hope was a call to Christ-followers to let Christ be the judge of other’s beliefs and behavior. Christ can defend the Truth, can’t he? He said that His Kingdom was not of this world so he wouldn’t fight to defend it. Wouldn’t that include religious systems?

“Today, in the city of David, a Savior is born!” Oh, how badly I need a savior to save me from my own arrogance, my own selfishness, from my own narrowness, from my inability to see “that of God” in all my brothers and sisters. A savior born to show and teach me how to love unconditionally, now that’s a savior I desperately need.

If I read Romans 12: 1-2 even remotely correctly, I can have hope that this Savior can indeed transform my mind and heart so that I know God’s perfect will. I have a feeling that as my mind/heart is transformed I will increasingly mourn the ways I am directly or indirectly benefiting from violence to others – economic, racial, sexist, social, and religious violence - perpetrated in the name of the Prince of Peace.

We may not be able to bring peace to everywhereelsesylvania, but we can live at peace among ourselves, in our own community, among the mix of races, economic situations, religions, and political points of view that surround us. That’s my hope, at least – my guess is that it is your hope too. Our longing for peace on earth, as declared by the angelic choir, finds its hope in our own willingness to follow Christ’s example and refuse to do violence in the name of God’s kingdom.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, Peace, good will to women (and men)!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Advent Call To Worship

The Mystery And The Manger

Clouded in mystery the Creator hovers over the earth with a watchful eye. Armed with limitless power, demonstrating complete sovereignty, claiming absolute authority, meting terrible justice, sharing the space of divinity with no being either in the heavens, or the earth, or under the earth, God reigns, supreme and invisible.

Completely intimidated by this Divine Mystery, human beings played out their part in the cosmic drama by building alters, offering sacrifices, praying and praising, beseeching and begging, predicting and prophesying, following the law in lock-step obedience, and hoping against hope that they have remained faithful enough to escape God’s wrath.

With a name too Holy to speak, Jehovah, whose inscrutable councils judged human response, and whose mysterious ways defied understanding, none-the-less sought intimate relationship with his often terrified creatures - the unknowable seeking to know and be known.

Then in an act of miraculous mystery, the distant suddenly becomes proximate, the transcendent becomes immanent. This happens not in the palaces or temples or public places of honor and/or celebrity among the elite of human beings, but in a feed trough, a manger, in an unremarkable cave somewhere near Bethlehem, witnessed only by a displaced teenager, her young husband, and a handful of livestock.

A revolutionary relationship of Creator to Creation burst like a thunderclap on the landscape of the world, in a manger in Bethlehem. In that moment the full paradox of God’s awesome mystery and God’s unlikely presence in the lowly manger exist side by side, each pointing to the other in an event of revelation unrivaled in human history.

In that moment, the birth of Christ manifest God’s awesome power and presence, which had been mysterious and invisible to the eyes, in an event that had particularity and specificity. God had come near. The fullness of time had come. By some divine and mysterious working of power, the fullness of the creator had come to dwell in this baby God, in this specific place, and at this particular time.

Manger and Mystery still dwell together, each undiminished by the other. They point to the unknowable and the knowable at the same time. They create in tandem the paradox of relationality with which we struggle and in which we find deep spiritual intimacy.

Praise be to the Creator in whom we find our being. Praise be to the Redeemer in whom we find our present teacher, and Praise be to the Spirit in whom we find God’s voice. Praise be to this Holy Trinity through whom Mystery and Manger are held in tension so that we rightly fear, and joyfully experience the fullness of God’s power, love, and presence.

Thursday, March 27, 2008



“Mary.” The resurrected Christ’s first word: Mary. It must have been the sweetest sound Mary had ever heard. The voice was so familiar, its peculiarities unmistakable. It was the voice of her Lord. Unbelievable! The world started up again.

Mary had suffered unimaginable loss. Jesus was friend, teacher, master, and hope for the whole nation. His death had brought despair too deep to imagine. One word, one glance, and all that grief and fear and guilt and loss were wiped away. “He’s here.”

I wonder sometimes if, in our dark times, we overestimate what it would take to speak to our condition. Sure, there’s the stone that has to be rolled away, there’s the problem of the care of the body, there’s the political fall-out still to come from the Romans and the religionists. And life has been racing headlong in a single focused direction requiring more and more resources. Plans are made. But...where now… and to what end?

In a heartbeat, or we should say, in the loss of a heartbeat, hope is taken away, and then in a word, hope is restored. The problems of the stone, the body, the future, the mortgage, the faltering relationship, unemployment, the estranged daughter, the bitter co-worker, the unspeakable loss, are all rendered less than lethal on the basis of one small insertion into the picture. “Mary.”

Sometimes that’s all we need to take the next step - a word from Jesus that he is still with us. We are, in fact, not alone as we had assumed. “Jesus is here.” My goodness! How sweet and savory those words can be!

We thought that Jesus had gone on about his business – reconciling the world, ushering in the Kingdom, building the church, working for peace and justice through a thousand different expressions of faith. We thought that the whole “Jesus and me” concept was just Sunday school fodder to keep away the boogie man. We thought that the cumulative impact of our taking our own path had finally led to a wilderness to which Jesus would not venture.

But there it is, clear and distinct in the morning air: “Mary.” And there He is, breaking bread with those nail-pierced hands. Suddenly we are transported across the unfathomable chasm between are greatest hope and our deepest loss. However we experience his presence, just to have him near tips the scales, frees our paralyzed hope, and warms us enough to move on in spite of the cold.


It doesn’t get any better than this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Conversation before Easter

“What’re you doing for Easter, Jesus?”

“I’m going to be resurrected.”

“What?” (The disciples are aghast.)

“Resurrected.” (Laughter all around.) ”No, really. I’m not kidding.”

“You mean like Lazarus?”

“No, he was resuscitated. He has to die again someday. I’m going to be resurrected. It’s a whole different thing.”

“Wouldn’t you have to be dead for that to happen?”

“Sure, I’m going to be killed first. Then in three days I’ll be resurrected”
“Oh yeah? If you’re dead, how’re you going to pull it off?”

“God’ll have to do it. We’ve got it all worked out.”

“Jesus, what’re you talking about? It’s not even funny. You’ve come close enough already to being killed – its nothing to joke about.”

“I can’t believe you are surprised about this. I’ve been talking about it for the whole last year. Haven’t you guys been listening?”

“OK, not to hurt your feelings, but it’ll be years before anyone figures out what you meant by over half of the stuff you say. You tend to get a bit esoteric with all the parables and stuff.”

“Don’t give me that. You understand more than you’ll admit. You guys spend half your time in denial of the stuff that scares you. Think back on what I’ve been saying. The whole take up your cross idea, the save your life by losing it concept, the seed has to be buried and die. Or how about the whole eat my flesh and drink my blood teaching….I am the bread of life… Aren’t you guys writing any of this down?”

“Ok, we’ve heard you talk about suffering and dying and all but we’ve still got to start the church,and then there’s the tearing down the temple and rebuilding it, not to mention the Kingdom. That’s a lot to accomplish and Easter is just a week away.”

“That’s all going to happen but you’re going to do most of it, not me. I’ll do the temple thing but the rest is all yours. I’m serious guys, it’s curtains for me in just about a week and then it’s all up to you.”

“Hey, you’re scaring us half to death with all this talk.” We’re not going to let you get killed…we’ve left everything for you, we’ve given you our lives.”

“Yes, you have…and for that I love you more than I can say. I’m going to take those lives you are giving me and use them to change the world. When I pop out of the grave, proving God’s love is for everyone, and that death is not the final word, I’m going to usher in a Kingdom that’ll be the most wonderful thing you have ever seen. You’ll be delighted to give your lives for it…really!”

“This is too surreal, Jesus. We’re out of our league here.”

“Ok, remember the parable of the pearl of great price?”

“Yeah, it was so beautiful that the pearl merchant sold everything to buy it”

“And remember the story about the guy that found a treasure in the field and sold everything to buy the field, to gain the treasure?”

“Yes, but what do those stories have to do with your death?”

“Absolutely nothing. Those stories are about your death, not mine. See, I’m the treasure – not just me, but my Kingdom – and you are the merchant and the farmer. you’re the ones who give everything-and I mean everything- for the Kingdom.”

“But what about us reigning with you in the new kingdom, with us sitting on your right and left and all? We have our hearts set on that.”

“I’m sorry. I know you have no way to imagine a reality that includes what I’ve just told you. But believe me, in a few years this guy named Paul, who is really great with words – except for some terrible run-on sentences- will write this about me:'I want you to know all about Christ's love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or even imagine.’ That’s what’s coming.”

“Master, we sense great hope and power in your words, and we have seen you do some pretty awesome stuff, but we could never go on without you. We don’t even know what going on would look like.”

“I know, guys. I probably sound like a lunatic. But mark my words. My Kingdom will be the most powerful kingdom the world has ever known. Instead of war-horses, bombs, and weapons of human making, I’m going to use forgiveness, peace, meekness, grace, and unconditional love to identify my forces. Then I am going to use you, my followers, as my weapons. Zechariah said it beautifully in his book, chapter 9. Check it out.”

“None of this makes any sense to us, Jesus. None at all.”

“ I know, my friends. Thanks for listening though. Everything is all worked out and will happen regardless of your actions. Just remember, three days after I die, show up at my grave and you’ll be witnesses to the most wonderful event in world history….and don’t just send the women!”