Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Advent Week 2

This week’s theme is preparing the way for the king.  The text in Isaiah 40 speaks to preparing a highway in the wilderness by filling in valleys and tearing down mountains, all to make a broad, level road for the king. Our anticipation and confident hope are expressed during our waiting by preparation; by our getting ready for his coming.  We’ve all anticipated some event, whether it was hosting a large or special dinner, having a baby, graduating from school, or any number of other special times.. As we anticipated—in fact prompted by that anticipation, we took special care to get everything prepared, everything just right.

And so with this second week of Advent we consider preparing for the coming of Messiah. There are a number of parables that speak to making ready. One of the most famous is the ten virgins and their oil lamps. Five of them had made proper arrangements ahead of time, but the second five had not, and they missed the coming of the bride groom.

What is the proper preparation for such a special event? An important ingredient must be humility. All of our preparations are in service of something or someone. Then there is the key element in John’s preaching—repentance. Owning our own faults, acknowledging them as incompatible with the character of a God follower, and making an intentional, no turning back decision to thrust from ourselves the attitudes, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that separate us from God and from other people.

This second week of Advent calls us to real repentance in preparation for the coming of our king. Are you ready?
This week read more slowly John the Baptist’s message in Luke 3:1-9. Notice the preparations he encourages—the filling in of valleys and the reduction of mountains—as preparations for the coming of God. Read closely his charge to those he calls vipers—to show evidence of repentance before coming to him for baptism.

Preparing the way of the Lord is about preparing for God to enter our lives and live with us. God won’t force himself into our hearts and minds, but will readily come to those who have adequately prepared for his arrival.

Repentance is no easy endeavor. It isn’t quite as simple as  admitting “Yeah, I need to quit doing that; I’ll try to do better.” Repentance speaks not just to outward behavior, but to interior shifts that change the way we think.

What do you think John means by filling in valleys and reducing mountains? What are some of the valleys and mountains in your life that need leveling?

How does John’s call for behavior change before baptism suggest about preparation for it?

If John were to challenge you to show evidence of repentance, what would you have to change to meet his challenge?

This week’s prayer: God I invite you into my life and I willingly give my will to you. Take me, shape and mold me into your image. Help me to see others as you see them. Help me to see me as I really am. Teach me to reject selfishness and hardness. I rely on your forgiveness and your steadfast love to live.  Thank you, amen.

Friday, November 30, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

The season of Advent is one of both anticipation and preparation. The anticipation is the aspect we associate with joyous celebration. Israel had a history of being oppressed by other countries and now she was under the thumb of the most powerful country in the world. Israel wanted, hoped for, release from her oppressor - and some of her own people who cooperated with  the occupiers. Israel yearned for and anticipated the day that her salvation would come; the day her God would rescue her from her torment. So Advent recalls  Israel’s anticipation of her deliverance, and through Israel, the world’s reception of her Creator.

Israel’s history though, also provided the reason she was being oppressed—she was guilty of not having sufficient faith in her God; of not following him, and not embodying his character. So, Advent  includes not only anticipation of salvation, but also a realization of why she and we needed rescuing. Advent includes self reflection, or examining our own responsibility in Jesus’ ultimate coming to earth. 

And so, as we celebrate our God’s coming to rescue us, of becoming like us and living among us, we also take this time to re-center and refocus ourselves on our calling as his people; as his children. Are we ready for our God to come to us? Will he find us faithful and watching, or will he find us hopelessly off track?

Over this and the next three Sundays, take some time to allow yourself to feel the excitement, and feel the tug of circumspection. Take this time to not only rejoice, but to return your focus to God’s priorities and the call you have accepted.

This coming week, set some time aside to read Luke’s account of the Annunciation, and Jesus’ birth. Slow down while you read Mary’s  exchange with the angel and her song of rejoicing. Mary is asked to bear both a great grace, and a great burden. She has been selected to give birth to the Creator, and yet will suffer through his humiliation and death. 

Have you considered the burden you have been asked to carry? What does it look like in your life? Do you try to avoid it, or do you accept it for the glory of God?

When you read Mary’s Song, what ideas seem to stand out for you? How do or might those ideas apply to your own life?

Mary rehearses God’s history with Israel and she seems to see herself as part of Israel’s history. These are, after all, her own people. How do you see your life in the history of God’s work? Do you feel isolated in the present time, or do you see yourself as a participant in God’s on-going work in the world? How do you perceive the difference between these two views of your place in history? How might one or the other affect the way you live your life?

The coming of God into the world is reason for rejoicing. In what ways do you have reason to rejoice with his coming? 

Here’s a prayer for you: Our Father,  you have promised to save your people and I rejoice in your offer of grace for me and for the world. I know though, that I am imperfect , often distracted, and inconsistent in living the faith I have in you. I trust in your love and in your mercy toward me and I rejoice that you have come to us as one of us—to save us from ourselves. Thank you, amen.

Blogging Matthew - Chapter 20

Three times in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, where he will be killed. The first, in chapter 16 is where we read of Peter's objection and Jesus' response of "get behind me Satan." The second comes in chapter 17. In this instance, the disciples, we are told, are distressed but we have none of the bravado in the earlier event. Finally, in chapter 20, we find the third declaration but absolutely no response from the disciples.

Matthew places this third declaration between the parable of the early and late workers in the first part of the chapter, and the story of who will be on Jesus' right and left hands in the kingdom. A story of the generosity of God on one side, and a power grab on the other, book-ending if you will, Jesus' final declaration of his going to die at the hands of the powerful in Jerusalem.

Jesus' response to the power grab is a reminder that the kingdom of God has set up leadership and priorities different from the world's. Those who would be first among God's people will give themselves for others, just as Jesus will do in Jerusalem. Immediately after this lesson Matthew gives the opening of the eyes of two blind men - who just want to see.

It's interesting that matthew gives us two blind men at this juncture - Mark records one, and that they "want to see." Could this be Matthew's way of juxtaposing the blindness of Zebedee's sons with these two physically blind men who, instead of arguing over who's "better," just want to see. It seems that this is what Jesus has wanted for his disciples - that they see what he's about. 

In these three statements of Jesus' death, we are reminded of his having set  his face toward Jerusalem. It is time for his mission to come to its end and he is stoically set on seeing it through. Knowing he will be mistreated; knowing he will be killed, he nevertheless continues his ministry to those around him. Single-focused and yet still ministering, still present to those around him. Single-focused and ministry become one and the same.

Our calling is the same as Jesus': to give ourselves for others, knowing that we will be insulted, dismissed, and even placed in danger by those around us and even those in power. How do we, you, wade into this calling?

Have you set your face toward self-denial, or are you jockying for position? Have your eyes been opened, or are you still seeing through world lenses?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Blogging Matthew - 11.4-5

“Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

John has sent his disciples to find out if Jesus is Messiah, the one Israel has been awaiting. You see, John’s in prison and his world doesn’t seem to be working for him lately. He’s been out in the wilderness eating honey and bugs, preaching and arguing with self-righteous Jews, and pretty much getting his legs and feet water logged. More recently though, he’s been arrested and is sitting in Herod’s prison, and he won’t get out alive. Maybe he knows that, maybe he doesn’t. I suspect though, that he’d exchange the cell for water logged feet without much coercion. 

Jesus doesn’t answer John’s disciples directly. Instead, he talks around the answer, expecting them to draw their own conclusion based on what has been going on. These signs, he says, that I’ve been doing – healing folks, restoring sight, raising the dead – what do they tell you? 

Keep in mind that John is Jesus’ cousin, that John baptized him and presumably heard The Voice and saw the dove. John has even told others that Jesus is the one who was promised; that John wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

And the answer he gets is essentially, “what do you think?”

This response isn’t unique toward John. Jesus uses essentially the same response or even the same question with his challengers and even his own disciples. When asked for a sign, Jesus’ response is that there will be no sign except that of Jonah. When pressed in another place, he tells his hearers that they can tell the times of the year, but they can’t read the signs of God right in front of them.  Instead of telling his disciples who he is, he asks, “Who do the people say I am,” and “Who do you say that I am?”

He seems to think his identity should be obvious to people who have their eyes open. If they’ve been paying attention it should be relatively obvious who he is. But it’s not as though they don’t see what’s happening. Even John’s disciples are told to consider what they’ve seen and heard. Rather, in keeping with the oft stated admonition, “let him who has ears, hear,” or negatively, “having eyes, they do not see,.” Jesus avoids a direct answer and puts the question back on the inquirer.

The point of these sayings is that we do see what’s going on, but we fail to comprehend what is happening; the import of what we see. We see Jesus, but do we see Messiah? Do we see God? Do we see the salvation of the world in the kept promises of God?

This is our challenge as much as it was John’s. Do our eyes show us, do our ears bring to us the revelation of God’s presence in the world? Do we have the ability, the practice, to discern God in his creation and in our world? Do we see him in our lives?

If we become discouraged and wonder if God is really there, we often want a clear answer. A good, tight, physical hug would help too. What do or will we do if we get an answer similar to the one John received? Can we see God in the middle of our hurried and anxious lives, or do we miss him and wonder if this is all real?

What has been your experience?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blogging Matthew - Mercy, not Sacrifice

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

This short sentence appears twice in Matthew, once in chapter 9 and again in chapter 12. In the first instance the form is “Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” and appears at the end of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees who were complaining (read: judging) about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Our phrase is this instance comes between two statements about those considered Less-Than: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It is the mercy of God that moves him to go to those who are on the outside of proper society, to people who were routinely ostracized by the righteous ones. Jesus isn’t interested in the right sacrifices done at the Temple by people whose hearts avoid considering those on whom they look in disgust. If the Pharisees considered themselves as OK with God, why would the merciful God come to them? More importantly, why don’t they understand that?

In the second instance, the phrase comes in the middle of Jesus’ discussion about the Sabbath. Specifically, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who complained that the disciples had picked and hulled grain on the Sabbath. The phrase appears in this form: “And if you had known what this means….you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

This instance comes after a discussion of correct behavior, specifically with regards to the Law and rules for the Sabbath. Prior to verse 9, we hear the lesson that rules are great for normative behavior, but they take a back seat when they come in conflict with the needs of people. Beginning in verse 9, Jesus drives that point home using an opportunity to heal to make his point. His conclusion?

It is always right to do good – especially on the Sabbath.

Why especially on the Sabbath? Because this day prefigures the rest offered by God to his people. Jesus’ healings are concrete examples of what God’s Sabbath actually points toward – the setting to rights the entire Creation. The rest God offers is made real through these healings. In verse 8, Jesus had referred to himself as the Lord of the Sabbath. This isn’t so much that he is in charge of the Sabbath, but that he is the true Sabbath.

We enter his rest which is he. We enter the cosmic Sabbath.

He is Lord of the Sabbath because he is the Sabbath.

We are then challenged to learn for ourselves what the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means in our time, in our places, to those around us. We are tempted to look for rules and make observations that others aren’t toeing the line because well, it’s easy. Often times we use ourselves as the standard for others; if we can figure out how not to use meth, surely you should have figured it out too. Then we go to church and sing hymns to our God who would have been visiting and healing the meth users that we have just dismissed. Those hymns, sung by us, are of no benefit to either us or God – or anyone else, because they are sung by we who think we are more righteous than they.

Have we learned that mercy is more highly prized by God than is religious ritual or rule keeping? Not that ritual or rule keeping is wrong – except when they prevent us from doing good for people.

An addendum
As with many sayings of Jesus, this one contains a paradox. Mercy and sacrifice are one and the same idea when I apply them to myself. For me to extend mercy to you, I must sacrifice my interest in the situation, submitting it to your best interest. The difference? Mercy is a positive, other centered behavior. Sacrifice is a negative compulsion which has me at the center. While they can be described as two sides of the same coin, properly understood mercy motivates my sacrifice for you. (All Scripture ESV)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blogging Matthew - I Will - 8.2-3

The leper comes to Jesus having heard of his ministry, of his having healed various people apparently without reserve. Based on what he has heard or perhaps seen, the leper approaches Jesus and kneels in front of him. His words are “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

Jesus’ response is a simple and straight forward: He stretched out his hand and said “I will; be clean.”
The force in these two verses is greater than “if you want to you can make me clean.” In this version, it seems as though maybe this is just a whim of Jesus’ taken on the spur of the moment. Much like you or I might pull into Dairy Queen having noticed it on our way somewhere else. Or perhaps in response to a question something like, “would you like ketchup on your hamburger?”

This is no spur of the moment question or response. The force of this word here is closer to “this is what I have come to do; I will it.” Jesus willed this leper’s healing because this is what he had come to do. If we can take a peek at Luke chapter 4, Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the breaking in of God into the world. In that chapter we read that Jesus has come to

“proclaim good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
give liberty to the oppressed,
proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It is the will of God, and it is the purpose of Jesus to heal the leper. This isn’t some “well, OK, I don’t have anything more pressing to do” response from Jesus. This is the very reason Jesus is walking the earth – to heal lepers.

“I will.”

Now the question is for you. How do you approach healing others – in whatever form that takes? Is it something you wait for the preacher to urge you to do? Is it more of an inconvenience when someone asks you for money? Do you wait for someone to ask you?

Or do you enter the day willing to heal, to relieve, to set free? Do you see this as the natural consequence of your baptism, your faith, your transformation? Do you look for opportunities to join with God in healing?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blogging Matthew - The Sermon

Perhaps the most famous teaching of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount, with its Beatitudes and warning against judging. Spanning three chapters early in the Gospel, Jesus’ teaching challenges then-standard understandings of how life is supposed to work. This section includes the Lord’s Prayer, loving enemies, the Golden Rule, and the basis of the children’s song “The Wise Man Builds His House Upon the Rock.”

Take a moment and read chapters 5-7, and notice what is not in this discourse. Among discussions of humility, anger, sexual purity and personal integrity, prayer, fasting, security, and following Jesus, there is no mention of things “church” – except in 5.23-24. Jesus’ interest in this section is teaching about character in the midst of real life and he challenges the popular (then and now) notion that the right way to live is to look out for Number One. Jesus clearly teaches that looking out for Number One is antithetical to life in the kingdom.

The culmination of the Sermon includes three versions of what Jesus is trying to say to his hearers and us. The first is an illustration about a tree’s fruit with the clear implication that the sorts of things Jesus has advocated are a natural consequence of people who are aligned with, and members of the kingdom. If we claim to be Jesus followers and yet our lives don’t look like the description Jesus provides, then we are not in the kingdom. The middle application makes a distinction between public demonstrations of “faith” (prophesying, exorcisms, and other “mighty works”) and doing the will of God. The will of God in this discourse is that God followers would reflect the sorts of lives Jesus has illustrated. The third conclusion Jesus makes concerns those who can hear. Those who are of the kingdom are those who have heard God and do the sorts of things that Jesus has described in his teaching will have established his life on a sure rock – life in, and defined in God.

When Jesus speaks of anger in chapter five, it is in the context of the community and significant disruptions between disciples. This is the only place in this teaching that places itself in the context of worship and it makes the point that worship is of less importance than character. After discussing anger, Jesus says that if someone has something “against you” – not, “you have something against someone else,” that you should interrupt your worship and appeal to that person. This is not just a teaching about anger, nor about relationship. It is rather about being able to release your right, or not defaulting to “it’s their problem.”  It is about living a life that is open and humble.

This discourse, early in Matthew’s description of the Messiah sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel and what God wants from his people.  The rest of the Gospel is going to expand upon this central message and will largely ignore any consideration of “church” as a primary consideration for God. This is because God is after a people rather than a church as we understand the idea. He is after a people who live as though they are in the kingdom on Thursdays simply as a matter of course. Worship then, rightly understood, arises from the people of God who are living in the image of God rather than as a devotional act imposed or demanded by God as the principle mark or purpose of his disciples.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Blogging Matthew - 11.28-30

The gospel invitation occurs, or is alluded to several times in Matthew. One of the most complete is found in his 11th chapter, verses 28-30, which reads:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)

I refer to this as one of the most complete invitations to salvation because it provides a more comprehensive teaching. In doing so, it leads us toward the concept that we are saved today, for transformation and changed lives. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preach messages that point to the immediacy of the kingdom of God, and the necessity of repentance in light of the coming kingdom. Salvation isn’t simply, or even predominantly a legal exchange occurring once and which is forever set. No, salvation is a change of life that must find its expression in our lives.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden….”

Immediately before this verse, we read a passage that Calvinists like to use as evidence to support their argument for the sovereignty of God in the predestination of the Elect. The argument is that the only people that can know God are those to whom Jesus chooses to reveal him, and that’s what that verse says. But then we read “Come to me, all….” spoken as an open invitation to the oppressed and those struggling with life. We then have problem if we are going to take these statements as an either/or proposition.  Either God chooses who he reveals himself to, or his invitation is open to all who labor.

The answer it seems is in the preceding verses, summarized beginning in verse 25. Jesus has just spent the past few pericopes making observations about those who have eyes but cannot see; the arrogant, the wise, the privileged. In verse 25, we have Jesus praising God that he has hidden these things (of the kingdom) from the “wise and understanding,” and revealed them to “little children.” What hides these things of the kingdom from the wise and understanding isn’t God, but the wise and understanding themselves.

Eventually the gospel will have its focus changed, or enlarged when Israel rejects her Messiah, and this can give us a parallel to verse 27. It isn’t God that rejects Israel and extends the gospel to Gentiles; rather it is Israel who rejects God.  It isn’t that God has predestined these individuals for separation from him, and these others for inclusion in the kingdom. These are choices that we make based on self-interest and prior training. The invitation is open to all who labor, not a select, predetermined group of people.

“…and I will give you rest.”

When we come to God, having been oppressed and ignored, we are invited into the rest available in God. This rest is not found only in God, but is expected to be found in the kingdom peopled by God followers. If the rest is God’s rest, then it is manifest in God’s kingdom. We are called to be people of God and participate not just in enjoying this rest, but in extending it to each other.

In a world where we feel that the world is out of control, that we have no power for self-determination, for continued negation and being taken advantage of, God offers both spiritual and physical rest. Spiritual and perhaps psychological in the sense that we change our focus from this dead-end world toward the reality of life in God. Physical in the sense that Jesus is going to raise the dead, heal the sick, and cure their diseases. Physical in the sense that we come together as people of God to raise each other up; to heal one another.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me….”

Here is the expectation in this expression of the gospel. It isn’t simply that “God loves you,” which is certainly important and in fact the motivation for his coming. For those who may have felt, or who may have been told that they weren’t favored by God because of their poverty or physical maladies, being told that God loves you rather than hates you was certainly a load-lifting gift. But God wants more for you; we can’t just sit around and bask in the general love of God. God wants us to learn from him, to grow into him, to be changed into the likeness of God. Paul will call this transformation or allowing the fullness of Christ to dwell in us.

The result of coming to God is that we are filled with the Spirit, develop the fruit of the Spirit, and come to live in the image in which we are made to live. We, in short, come to exhibit the character of God in our lives, today.

 “…for I am gentle and lowly in heart….”

God does not overpower us so that we must accept him; that we must conform ourselves to him out of fear or coercion. Rather, he is gentle with us, encouraging us, enticing us as it were toward what is best for us. Approaches to God that focus on fear, that focus on the absolute raw compulsory ability of God miss the point and paint a picture of God that is not true. God wants you to come to him, but he isn’t going to force you into a mold that won’t fit – into a life you don’t want.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Christian life is often said to be difficult, or seemingly unnatural for human beings. It is true that Paul says we must be transformed; that we are to be “renewed in our minds,” but these speak to the change that must be made more so than what sort of life is most natural for us. Humans were originally made in the image of God and even after the Fall, we are told that people are still made in the image of God. We are then encouraged to become the likeness of God or the likeness of Christ; we are encouraged to develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Becoming Christ like and developing the fruit of the Spirit are essentially equivalent concepts. To be transformed into the likeness of God is to live out of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

But isn’t this unnatural for humans; aren’t we told that this is difficult for us because it is so foreign? We may well be told that, but it isn’t true. It is true that maturing in God is difficult but it isn’t so because it’s all that unnatural, but because we have become trained to be defensive, to look out for Number One, to live insecurely in a world of dog-eat-dog anxiety.

Our levels of anxiety and our seeming understanding of pursuing more and more before someone else gets what we want should tell us that we are approaching this whole enterprise with the wrong attitude. We understand today that we can make ourselves crazy and that our pushing ourselves out of insecurities contributes to both emotional and physical illnesses. Isn’t it clear, upon reflection, that our “natural” way of living is the most unnatural for us?

If we are made in the image of God, living in the Spirit and developing its fruit is the most natural way for us to live. When we learn to slow down, not want more and more, look to the interests of others, and provide assistance to others who need it, we actually live healthier lifestyles. What is the most unnatural way for us to live, is the way we think is natural for the “flesh.”

This is why Jesus can say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light – because we can just be ourselves (as we are made to be) with God and with each other. It is actually harder, more energy draining, more demanding for us to live the way modern society tells us to live. Conversely, it is easier, energizing, and freeing to live as the image of God.

Salvation as Jesus speaks of it is much more far reaching than simply being saved, or believing some academic argument. It is rather a journey back to a place we have never been (my apologies to Merton for that paraphrase); to a life that is the most natural way for us to live. In fact, salvation is about becoming who we are made to be in this life, right now.

In this passage Jesus doesn’t give us a pass, but gives us an expectation to learn from him; to learn him. As we learn him we become transformed into the very likeness of God, the likeness we are made to become from the beginning of the world.  As we learn to let go of “earthly” things and incorporate the Spirit life into our lives we come in contact with who we really are. Life indeed becomes easier and less burdensome because we come to see the Creation as God sees it. As we do, we come to give ourselves for it and do so with renewed energy and positive outlook.

This is the life God calls us to – to become as much like God in this life as we can possibly become. Certainly not overnight, but through a consistent movement toward his life as we learn from our Master what life really is. The gospel then is not a ticket to Heaven as much as it is freedom and acceptance to grow into the person you are made to be.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Is So Yesterday

So it's Easter Monday. 

After the emotional ups and downs of the past three days, we could be pretty spent today. The last three days have brought shock, fear, depression, dejection, and finally exhileration and well, some doubt that all of this could be true. Ups and downs, for sure.

But today, all that is past. What do we do now? Now that Easter has passed, so what?

If we are really Easter people, Monday brings the realization that we aren't dead, and that there is work to be done. Much has not changed; we are going to work or school; maybe we're going to look for work or care for kids. In any case, today is going to look much the same as last Monday. As far as our outward daily routine goes, much has not changed.

And there's the rub. The world seems to go on just as it did. Eventually, we know that the exhileration and expansion of Spring will give way to the hot, dry staleness of Summer. What is there to keep that from happening?

From outward forces, nothing really. But inwardly the challenge is to let the realizations of Easter take deep root in our souls. Roots which will be able to drink from the spirit-refreshing water of the Spirit.

As that spring continuously wells up inside us, it will bear us up and carry us along through the lengthening days. Bear us up so that we can remember that we are Easter people; that our baptisms - our deaths to ourselves - are real for us. Disciples who live into their baptized lives see the world through different lenses, and from a different space. We stand knowing that death is not the end and at the same time that this life isn't necessarily easy (if Jesus' life is any indication). If death isn't the end, then this life isn't driven toward death, but through death.

It is our glimpse of what is past death and what has been brought into this life now. The rule of God in ourselves. Our transformation. Our living with God and He in us. The purpose of our existence now becomes one with God's will and desire. Not looking to escape this world but learning to want to live in this life as God did. To see the suffering, the disorderedness, the confusion, the violence and to extend the grace of God and the knowledge of God to the world that He made.

The knowledge of God is not about God - that He exists or what are the aspects of His existence (as though we know them exhaustively). Knowledge of God is the knowledge of His character, His purposes, His Life.
Easter people are called to this. There is no other purpose for Easter as far as we are concerned. God has once again demonstrated both His love and His power in the Creation and it is our choice whether humankind will again forget Him, and His will for us.

The challenge of Easter Monday is to settle in, but not settle. The challenge of Easter Monday is to keep moving, but in a new direction. The challenge of Easter Monday is to give in, but not to give up.

This is our challenge of living as people of God - to keep His desires ahead of us. To follow Him instead of ourselves. To surrender ourselves to be given ourselves back with transformed hearts refreshed by the Spirit. To spend our lives in His Life. To receive His blessings so that we can bless the Creation.

Your prayer for Easter Monday:

Our great God who has suprised us; and caused us to express great praise for your wonder working. You who gives your Son to die and then raises Him again. You who has set the stars in their courses and at the same time crafts us in finite detail.

We praise you for your goodness and grace; for your patience and mercy in outworking your will for the world despite not being understood and often ignored by us, your very creation. 

As the events of Easter fade, renew in us your Spirit to invigorate our faith and to keep you before us so that we will not forget you. Extend to us your grace so that we might surrender to you and in so doing learn to love being You in this place not for our benefit but for the blessing of others.

Remind us of Easter and our own baptisms; of our own deaths and the Life we can have now.

Make us truly into Easter people, bringing you to this world.


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Easter 2012

The women have returned. They had gone to the tomb, and have returned wide-eyed, breathless, and spitting out that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive! 

Could this be? We're all exhausted and we have all seen some odd stuff that isn't there because of a couple days with little or no sleep. Did they go to the right tomb in the dark? Was the gardener really Jesus, or is this simply wishful thinking? If it was Jesus, why didn't they recognize him right off?

With heads and eyes tired, their hearts now jump in their chests, their eyes become brighter, and they take a deep breath or two; they sit up straighter, trying to grasp the implications of what they're saying. And then they too go to the tomb - sprinting! Maybe more to verify that the women had actually been to the right place, and guardedly but hopefully excited as they remember some vague promise that he wouldn't be dead long.

The tomb is there alright and that rock is out of place. It might be too wonderful - or would it be soul crushing what they might find in there? If the women were right, they would be ecstatic; if they were wrong well, they'd just as soon not go through the last two days all over again.

They hesitate to catch their breath and then....go in.

What is this?! His body isn't here, what does this mean?

Angels speak and their apprehensions evaporate - He is risen! He is risen! HE IS RISEN!

They grasp their chests, their eyes brim with tears, they catch their breaths. Unbidden their arms move and shake; their legs begin to move on their own. Now, their entire bodies are fairly bouncing around!

The others, they have to tell the others!

Run! Back to the house!

Their message on their way back and after they gather the disciples together repeatedly is...

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

He is risen! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Oh how remarkable this is! It's funny, that they're not tired anymore. It's as if they have all the energy in the world. Almost as though they have been given new lives.

Praise God, Jesus is risen!

Your prayer for Easter morning:

Great is our God who announces the coming of Messiah by angels to Mary, to shepherds, and now to the disciples. God who raises the Son out of darkness and into light, so he can lead us out of darkness and into Light.

We thank you for your mercy and grace of giving us the hope of a risen Savior who leads us to you. Help us to see his life and death as our life and death. Lead us into your love and Life.

As you granted you power to raise Jesus, we ask that you extend to us that same power to raise us from our selfish lives into lives that seek to heal and soothe; lives that give grace and act in compassion; lives that seek to be you where we find ourselves.

Father today, we trust that you have noticed these past weeks of reflection, of review, of refocusing, of repentance. We have again stopped our lives for a time and admit that we had let them get away from you. We have determined to return our lives to you and your work. To live in the life that you offer, and in the transformation you promise our surrender.

Father today, accept our praise and rejoicing for this short space. We are embarassed by our doubts and our readiness to give up. Help us to draw on His resurrection for strength and willing acknowledement that you have called us to, and have given us Life with you and for you. Dispell our depressed thoughts and our fears. Pour into our hearts Light and Life, and use us to show others your love for them.

We praise you and we commit ourselves to living in your Life in the world you have created, and extending your love and care to that same world. 

You are great; you are wonderful.

We give ourselves to you.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Holy Saturday, 2012

Today the disciples woke - or came into the day after being awake all night with the stunning realization that their Messiah was dead. As the shock of yesterday's mob violence becomes less than full-view dominating, and the feelings turn to realizing they are alone, the haze of shock becomes the chest-crushing pain of fear.

They stay in their houses or where they had retreated after his death. Not wanting to face the expected jeers of non-believers, and yet afraid of meeting each others' eyes. It is Passover week, the remembrance of being delivered from oppression for all of Israel but these cannot participate; they have been shamed.

Perhaps then, it's good that today is the Sabbath; a perfect excuse to stay in, away from the glances that prompt their self-conscious guilt.

On this side of Easter, we wait expectantly. On their side, they sit in quiet panic, dejection, and a sad wondering what had happened. Ours is much easier and yet we can perhaps imagine their angst. Remove from your mind the reminders of an Easter that hasn't happened yet. After Good Friday and its sudden dark and crack! there is nowhere to turn.

Your sin has killed your God and there is no solution remaining. You are out of options; the full weight of your me-life rests on you; overwhelms you; defeats you. Can you feel your breath quicken and grow shallow? Does your body experience some nervous energy in your chest and shoulders?

This is the challenge of Holy Saturday. To sit in extended time with your guilt and your aloneness. We don't like to do this; we want to run to Sunday to rid ourselves of this hurt. It is all too easy for us on this side of Easter.

Don't rush. Wait and ponder; and pray:

Father, we confess to you our pride, our sins of doing and those of not doing. We confess that our eyes both lead us to sin, and keep us from seeing the hurt we might relieve. We confess that our hands both hurt and fail to heal. We confess that our tongues both curse and fail to soothe.

Father, we confess that in our waiting today, we can see and feel the truth of our separation from you. The weight is heavy; our eyes become constricted; our mouths are dry. Like the people of Nineveh we are tempted to sit in sack cloth and ashes having lost our hope.

In our disoriented state, we bear our confusion as headaches and have no appetite. To run away would be too easy; a denial we do not want. Help us Father to wait this day and not abandon you; give us grace to stay with you.

Give us by your mercy the strength to look for you today. The patience to rest on your as yet unseen and fantastic promise to raise yourself. Help us to believe while we cannot see.


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