RCL: Fifth Sunday Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12: 20-33

Unless a single grain falls and dies… lose your life to gain your life. It is for this reason that I come to this hour. To be lifted up. Lifted up like the snake on the pole in the desert. Lifted up. On an executioner’s cross. Unless a grain falls and dies… but when it does it bears much fruit.

The ruler of the world driven out, and ALL people drawn to me. When I am lifted up. Lose to gain.

Whoever serves me must follow me. Dang it. Why’d they have to add that line in there? 😉

Ahh the letting go. The facing up to the enemy of death. The faith that we will go through and come out the other side.

Resurrection. Life. Eternal.

Jeremiah says the covenant is now written on our hearts. And I believe that. I feel the draw. The calling forth. The Psalmist writes of crushed bones rejoicing. Of the restoration of the joy of salvation.

Letting go. Trusting in Goodness. Believing in the One. Unity. Union.

I know it. I do. I believe that letting go and losing to gain and dying and being lifted up… I believe that is the path. But I really do struggle with taking the next step on that path sometimes. Or all the times. With following the One. Bearing my own cross. I struggle.

So I take great respite from the words of John that say when Jesus came to this hour. He came to his hour. He knew it was his time. But John says he was “troubled.”

Troubled. In his soul. Our great high priest! So I guess the Christ does know how I feel.

Lord, please grant me the courage to let go. The strength to lose my life so that I may gain it. To Believe in the Ultimate Reality of Grace and Love and Hope. Of the Christ.

RCL: Third Sunday Lent

Exodus 20:1-7; Psalm 19; 1 Cor 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

It’s much easier to capitalize on division, to stoke grievance, to solidify factions. It’s much easier, and there’s a great deal of power and prestige that can come from such. But don’t take that path. Seek unity. Seek understanding and forgiveness. Grace.

Don’t store up your treasures. Give to those who have need. Sell all your possessions and give to the poor. Consider that you have everything in common with the believers with whom you have gathered.

Violence feels good. Right. Cathartic. If someone punches you, metaphorically or otherwise, punch back twice as hard. Don’t back down. Stand your ground. Those things provide power and pride. But don’t take that path. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Be meek and gentle. Humble and kind. You don’t have to respond to that tweet or post. You don’t have to respond in kind. Not to be as a doormat or to suffer abuse, of course. There is a sense in which you must protect yourself. But as much as it depends on me, I aim to seek peace. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

Open up your doors. Build bridges. Not walls. It’s safe inside the walls, though. It feels better, perhaps. But open up your doors and arms and embrace the outsider. Welcome the stranger. Dine with the sinner. The untouchable.

Lose your life to gain it. Consider others better than yourself. Lay down your life. Let go of control. Surrender.

Foolishness. That’s how Paul describes how the life of Christ seems to the powers of the world. Jesus who was a part of a despised race, on the wrong side of the empire, and was tortured and executed as a criminal. He’s the King? This is your God? This is Power?

Yes indeed! The world turned upside down. The temple torn down and rebuilt in 3 days in His resurrection Glory.

Yes indeed!

RCL: Second Sunday Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

I have been influenced by N.T. Wright and his emphasis on the historical aspect of the covenant. I believe the story of Abraham is all of our story. It’s the one big story. But this isn’t the space I want to devote to the specifics and consequences of all that. Worth studying Romans using his For Everyone or his commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible though if that’s your thang…

Today I just want to focus on a few verses from the reading in Mark’s gospel. 8:34-35 specifically… “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

That’s upside down it seems. Foolishness Paul calls it. It turns the powers inside out. What we are presented as the reality of this world, this life… things like power and security and greed and selfishness and hatred and an inward focus… those things, it seems, we should release. Let go. And instead embrace salvation in what Paul refers to as the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Considering others better than ourselves. Giving up selfish ambition and vain conceit. Going the extra mile. Offering my coat also. Throwing the best party for the homecoming of the one who squandered everything. Going out after the one that is lost while the ninety-nine hang back. Offering love and hope and grace to those the world claims are untouchable and unworthy. The gospel. Lose the life that the powers of this age claim are necessary to survive and thrive, and be saved by the True Life found in letting go and offering all that you have for the other.

It’s my favorite person’s born day today! She teaches me each day what this self-sacrificial love looks like. A true servant. A generous soul. She empathizes with all and labors and longs to bring wholeness and holiness to bear on their lives. She considers others. I try to be like her.

The Avett Brothers sing in one of our family’s favorites “And if you take of my soul you can still leave it whole with the pieces of your own you leave behind.” I don’t have to worry about giving of myself. Our souls will replenish each other.

So, “if I’m walkin’ through the rain and I hear you call my name, I will break into a run without a pause.”

I’m for self-care. I enjoy quiet time in my special nook. I visit our friend Erin once a month for a healing massage. And I recognize the need for Sarah and the kids to have their own times where they can replenish. But I don’t want to lose sight of the reason for doing those things to re-liven our bodies and souls. This life is a great gift. And in large part, or maybe in all the parts, it is such a gift because of the joy and satisfaction of sharing all that we have and all that we are with others. I suppose it makes a nice perfect circle, or sphere of some other dimension, when we are all giving in that way. The giving and receiving. Reciprocal. Eternal. Much like what I imagine the relationship the Trinity shares. More than One. And also One.

So sing it out! “We came to break the bad, we came to cheer the sad, we came to leave the world a better way!”

RCL: First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Beloved. You are my child. My kid. All my love belongs to you. My love is because of you. You and my love cannot be separated. They flow together like water. You are my beloved.

That’s what the voice from heaven expresses to Jesus, and it is the same message, I believe, that is expressed to us. The Christ has made us new. We are not separate from the Father. We are one as they are One. Beloved.

And in turn, as we are made new, as we experience the renewal of all things–that is already and not yet. The renewal that has already been accomplished and is also being worked out. As we experience that renewal that washes away the old through dying to ourselves with Jesus, and coming through death and out the other side in his resurrection… well… we get to be a part of the renewal! Behold, a new creation! And as the body of Christ we get to take part in the building of the Age to Come… ? Can that be so?!

I’ve been thinking some about the plight of humanity. The human condition. Specifically, how it seems that most people through most of time have had tough lives. At least from my modern, comfortable perspective. Suffering and death were real. Imminent. And perhaps the divisions over the proper methods of baptism and splits in the church over such things were due to the existential necessity to be firm in the translation of their experience. The rigidity was a byproduct of the reality they faced. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that we, that I, fail to live up to the calling of Beloved. Yet, I receive that same voice from heaven over and over. Each day. Renewed. Grace.

If you haven’t heard, I’ve been immersed in the 4 books by Marilynne Robinson set in the town of Gilead, Iowa. Almost finished so don’t worry… then I will move on to another writer from whom I will bombard you with quotes. But here’s maybe a last one… maybe… and certainly one that I’ve already shared at least once. But it captures baptism perfectly in my opinion:

“There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily.  It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that.  I have felt it pass through me, so to speak.  The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.”

The acknowledgement of sacredness. The voice from heaven. May I have eyes to see others through the lens of sacredness. May I hear the voice of heaven saying ‘beloved’ to everyone I meet.

Revised Common Lectionary: Transfiguration Sunday

The texts for this Sunday 2/14/21 are 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Cor 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9.

Marilynne Robinson is one of my absolute favorite authors and I have read her books many times. I am currently back in the one called Home. Her writing captivates and generates many thoughts. She’s the only author I could imagine at the time to follow reading Tolkien.

The Boughton family are Presbyterians living in Gilead, Iowa in the book. A quote from the book that will reveal nothing about the story:

“Their grandfather had sent a significant check to Edinburgh, asking a cousin to assemble the library needed for instruction in the true and uncorrupted faith. He had received in response a trunk full of large books, bound in black leather, in which they all assumed the true faith did abide.”

Here’s the thing I say and think an awful lot. I don’t know. The quote above represents to me that certainty, at least as far as it goes, of thought and belief in right and true tenets and formulae. I mean no disrespect. None at all. I often think I would be better off in many ways if I was able to settle into some sense of faith that is unwavering and certain.

But… yeah. I don’t know. It’s not doubt necessarily. It’s not skepticism. It’s just a lack of willingness to claim certainty. Maybe those things aren’t different. Ha. I don’t know.

And so we come to the Transfiguration. And the 2 Cor text which solidly claims that the Whole of it all is found in Jesus the Christ. Christos. Messiah.

I find comfort in the way Mark’s gospel describes the event. Jesus is covered in white beaming, dazzling light! He’s transformed on the mountain before them and there appears with him Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet. And it seems to indicate that Jesus is the One who fulfills the law and the prophets. But then a cloud overcomes Peter and the boys. It overshadows them. And a voice from the cloud proclaims that Jesus is the Beloved Son. He’s the anticipated Messiah.

I find comfort in the contrast. The both/and of the dazzling white light and the overshadowing cloud. Peter, James, and John know and yet they don’t know it seems. Obviously, as Peter responds by wanting to build some tents so they can hang for a while. They recognize something mysterious. It’s still clouded for them. They can’t put a finger on it. But they experience recognition. The longing that our spirits have to be unified, reunified, with the One Mysterious God. And here he is revealing that Mystery in Jesus. Beyond what we can fully grasp as in a cloud, but a sense of recognition nonetheless.

I don’t know. I know folks who hold fast to doctrine and rigid belief and they bear beautiful spiritual fruit. I know folks who go a bit beyond the traditional and land in the mystical aspects of the faith and they bear beautiful spiritual fruit. I know, unfortunately, many who claim to be solid Christians and yet their fruit is not something I desire. And then there’s me. Often even when it may appear that I am shiny on the outside, well… it’s not hard for me to be aware of my own flaws and need for rescue.

I’ll write more about recognition tomorrow, but to me that’s what I feel when I read these passages. I do not know if Jesus was really transformed on the mountain alongside the lawgiver and the great prophet. Hear this though–I do not have any problem even for a second to think that this happened exactly as it’s written. It’d be kinda wild to put in the part about Peter getting all jittery and rambling on if this was a story just for metaphor.

I have no firm understanding or set of guidelines to offer on Jesus. But I do believe he is the Christ. The Messiah. I believe that he is the fulfillment of the story beginning with Abraham… with Adam and the beginning of all things. I don’t know how it all works. I don’t claim to have a firm grasp on the right answers to all the questions. But I do recognize the Beloved. I recognize him as through a darkened glass, or as being overshadowed by the cloud of glory. But my spirit longs… my spirit desires… it yearns for life and love and peace and humility and grace and forgiveness and joy and goodness and gentleness…. for the dazzling Glory of the Beloved Son.

I should end there, but… it takes a relationship, it takes years and years and conversations and breaking bread and dealing with grief and joy and all the things of life and existence… I don’t know what I want to say. Or I don’t know quite how to say it. These words and concepts are so familiar to so many. I suppose it would be easy to draw conclusions about what I write or don’t write–on any of my posts, but especially ones such as this. In some ways I try so hard to avoid any ‘statements’ that my thoughts can be muddled and confusing. In other ways I simply want to convey that I have faith without certainty. I am ok seeing the dazzling brightness while being enveloped by the shadow.