The fire of God

Many Waters is a song Julie Lee first released in 2000, on an album recorded in the chapel at Downtown Presbyterian Church. It was the first song of hers I ever heard, and I became a fan the moment I heard her voice soar into the chorus the first time. I used to play it in the car and sing harmony in that little sanctuary of song, and when it was over, I felt like I’d been to church. No, I’m not going to play it, let alone sing it; I want to share some of the lyrics with you:

Love, set me as a seal upon your heart

As a seal upon your arm

Love’s as strong as death

Oh love’s as strong as death

Jealousy, well it’s as cruel as the grave

It consumes you like a fire

With an unforgiving flame

Then the chorus:

Oh but love,

Many waters cannot quench it

Many waters cannot drown it

When it’s true…[1]

Some of you studied Song of Songs this morning in Sunday school, and perhaps you heard echoes of that beautiful collection of love poetry in these lyrics.[2] Many Waters is a song for lovers as well as a passionate affirmation of faith for God’s Easter people; it plays beautifully on both levels. Love’s as strong as death, oh, love’s as strong as death – that is what we see when we look to the cross; that is what we see when we remember Jesus laying down his life for his friends, loving God, loving his disciples, loving all of us: love as strong as death. And then, on the third day, the Easter chorus rises, Oh but love, many waters cannot quench it, many waters cannot drown it – because love is stronger than death, and the life laid down in love is raised, and new life washes the world in joy and hope.

First John, from which one of today’s readings was taken, was written for communities whose faith and life together had been shaped strongly by the Gospel of John. We commonly refer to First John as a letter, but it’s more like a sermon on the great themes of the Gospel of John, a sermon written during trying times when theological differences in the community had led to deeper divisions and fractures.

There are two great themes in that Gospel: One, Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God’s own self. And two, Jesus commands those who believe in him to love one another. And the two are inseparable. Toward the end of today’s reading from First John it says, “This is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Jesus has commanded us.”[3] It’s a single commandment, combining the two themes in a union of belief and action, heart and hand, knowing ourselves to be loved and loving one another. In Julie’s song, it’s “set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm,” because the love of God, the love revealed in the life of Jesus, is meant to redeem and renew the core of our identity, the heart, the defining center of who we are, as well as all that flows from it, namely our thinking, speaking, and doing. The Venerable Bede, an English monk who lived from 672 to 735, wrote

Note that here John gives us only one commandment, though he goes on in the next verse to speak about commandments in the plural, adding love to faith, since these can hardly be separated from each other. For in truth it is impossible to love one another in the right way if we do not have faith in Christ, just as it is impossible to believe in the name of Christ if we do not love one another.[4]

Some three-hundred years earlier, Jerome, a priest and scholar mostly remembered for his translation of the Bible into Latin, wrote,

When the [Apostle] John could no longer walk to the meetings of the church but was borne [there] by his disciples, he always uttered the same address to the church; he reminded them of that one commandment which he had received from Christ himself, as comprising all the rest, and forming the distinction of the new covenant, “My little children, love one another.” When the brethren [and sistren] present, wearied of hearing the same thing so often, asked why he always repeated the same thing, he replied, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is enough.”[5]

You see, there’s a theme being played and replayed from generation to generation, from the Song of Songs to the life of Jesus, to the Gospel of John, to First John, to Jerome and the Venerable Bede, to countless sermons in countless gatherings of the church, to Julie’s song, and to this preacher’s retelling of it all, it’s a theme connecting all of life from the dawn of creation to its completion in glory, and the theme is love – love pouring from the heart of God and flowing without ceasing to the day when we, in countless variations, love one another the way we are loved.

“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[6] And the writer of First John picks it up and tells us, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”[7] Jesus is the pattern. Laying down our lives for one another has a heroic ring to it, doesn’t it? What comes to mind are Christian martyrs bravely stepping into the arena to meet the lions. What comes to mind are men and women in exceptional circumstances, demonstrating exceptional faith and love. Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered in Memphis for his vision of the beloved community, laid down his life for us. Bishop Oscar Romero, murdered at the altar during mass for his witness to Christ’s love during years of government-sponsored terror in El Salvador, laid down his life for us. Sister Rani Maria, murdered by a hitman for her work with the landless poor in India, laid down her life for us. But laying down their lives wasn’t a single, heroic act of martyrdom; it was their life.

Jesus is the pattern, and Jesus didn’t wait until government and religious leaders came together in uncommon accord to condemn and execute him. He laid down his life for us from the beginning. With every word of his, with every gesture and touch, with every step, every breath he laid down his life for us.

How do we lay down our lives for one another? In First John, the answer is given in the form of a question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” We lay down our lives for one another, not in rare heroic moments, but in the everyday encounters of each week. It begins with seeing a brother or sister in need and not turning away. She is thirsty? We give her something to drink. He is hungry? We give him something to eat. They are strangers? We invite them to stay. Laying down our lives for one another we begin to see our lives and theirs — whoever they may be and whatever labels the world may have pinned on them — we begin to see our lives and theirs not as separate, but as inseparably connected in the love of God. We lay down our desire to live for ourselves. We lay aside our claim to own our lives and we let ourselves be re-created in the likeness of Christ.

In his essay An Experiment in Love, Dr. King writes about

an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. It is a love in which [individuals seek] not [their] own good, but the good of [their neighbors]. [Such love] does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every [person] it meets. … [It] makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both.[8]

Dr. King calls this unsentimental love “a willingness to go any length to restore community.”[9] We see and receive this kind of unsentimental love in Christ, and we participate in it in countless, everyday ways.

There’s a fire burning in the world, a fire the shroud of death cannot suppress, a fire the violence of the oppressor cannot smother, a fire sin cannot snuff. Many waters cannot quench it. Many waters cannot drown it. It’s the fire that lit the bush where Moses took off his sandals. It illumined a path in the the night for the Hebrew slaves on their way to freedom. It burned in the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It flickers brightly wherever people stand up and raise their heads in hope. It’s the fire of God. May it burn in our hearts and illumine our path.

 

[1] Julie Lee / Country Gentlemen Music Pub. / SESAC / 2000. See https://julielee.org/music for all her recordings.

[2] See Song of Solomon 8:6-7

[3] 1 John 3:23

[4] On 1 John, Patrologia Latina 93: 105.

[5] Jerome (347–420), Comment. in Ep. ad Galat. c. vi.

[6] John 13:34

[7] 1 John 3:16

[8] Testament of Hope, 19,

[9] Ibid., 20.

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Irrevocably claimed

Where do I begin? Do I begin by telling you how sad I am? How much I will miss working with Hope and Greg? Do I tell you how we met over twenty years ago because of this congregation and the kind of witness and ministry it offers in this city?

Or do I begin by talking about how you’re feeling? It’s been over twenty years for me, so for some of you that’s for as long as you have been alive. Some of you have told me how sad you are, how angry, how you wish there had been another way. Others among you, I imagine, haven’t even begun to name the weight that’s pressing down on your shoulders or the heaviness at the bottom of your stomach. Where do we begin?

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are,” we read in First John. Gathering in worship, hearing the witness of scripture, and affirming our faith we claim our true identity as children of God.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” This is the language of astonishment, wonder, and praise: children of God is what we’re properly called, and that is what we actually are, because of the love that has claimed us as God’s own. This is where we begin. We remember who and whose we are – with astonishment, wonder, and praise. We know our brokenness; we each feel the weight of the twisted self-images offered by our culture; many of us also carry layers of betrayal, abuse, and lies – but our true identity has been written on our skin and in our bones: child of God. Remember who and whose you are.

Desmond Tutu is the retired Archbishop of Cape Town and one of the great souls who help us remember. He was talking with Krista Tippett, and recalling three hundred years of colonial oppression in South Africa and the decades of struggle against apartheid, he mentioned the Bible. He talked about the discovery how the Bible could be such dynamite. Dynamite, he said, and he said it with an explosion of laughter, beautiful, infectious, full-of-Easter laughter. “If these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn’t have given us the Bible.” Colonial rule and apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that the dignity of a human being was dependent on ethnicity or skin-color. But on the very first page the Bible declares that we are created in the image of God, and that has revolutionary consequences for any system of oppression.

Bishop Tutu talked about a small parish he served in Soweto while working for the South African Council of Churches. Most of the parishioners were domestic workers in the big homes of white families in Johannesburg. It was common for the white employers never to use a black worker’s name, even though they worked in their home every day. Their names, these employers said, were too difficult. And so women would be called “Annie” and most black men would be called “boy.” You know that nobody calls a grown man boy because his name is too difficult. And you know that nobody denies a woman her own name except to remind her that who she is is not up to her to detemine but to those who call her by whatever name they please. But in that small parish in Soweto they helped each other remember who and whose they were: We are God-carriers. We are God’s partners. We are created in the image of God. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

The bishop remembered seeing those dear old ladies as they walked out of church as if they were on cloud nine. “You know,” he said, “they walked with their backs slightly straighter … it was amazing.”[1]

This is the dynamite that blows away the layers of lies. See what love the Father has given us to break the chains of sin and death, and set us free.

Where do we begin? We remember who and whose we are, and we walk with our backs slightly straighter on the road to the day when all God’s children dance in glory.

On Easter morning, Kyla, Duke, and Calin were baptized, and as they emerged from the water Dan, Hope, and Greg called them each by name and by the family name we share. Kyla, child of God; Calin, child of God; Duke, child of God: you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever. We come from different places, each with our own story. We come with complex and colorful personalities, with the experiences that have shaped us and our expectations. We come with the lies we have come to believe and the truths we have forgotten – and streams of mercy wash away all that could keep us from being who and whose we really are. In baptism we bathe in the divine assurance that in Christ we have been adopted into one family as children of God. Our true identity is God-given from the beginning and affirmed anew in the sin-conquering, life-healing love of God, revealed to us in Christ. We are irrevocably claimed as God’s own.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now,” we read in First John; ”what we will be has not yet been revealed.” What we will be has not yet been revealed. We begin with who and whose we are, and we let that shape how we move into an unknown future. We trust that we have indeed been irrevocably claimed as God’s own, as children of God and as partners in Christ’s service, both individually and as a community.

What we will be has not yet been revealed, and it would be easy to get bogged down in the what-if’s and the what-might-be’s and other worries. And so we make plans, the best plans we know how to make. And we develop strategies to help us adjust to the changing contexts for our life and ministry. But it’s not our plans and strategies we rely on; it’s the faithfulness of God. And it’s not merely adjustment to changing contexts we seek, as though the contexts determined who we are and what we do. What we must continue to seek is what Dr. King liked to call “creative maladjustment.” “Maladjusted,” he said on more than one occasion, “is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the welladjusted life … But I say to you, my friends, … there are certain things in our nation and in the world [to] which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all [people] of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism [and the] selfdefeating effects of physical violence… In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”[2]

Men and women who will be as maladjusted as Jesus, because they have found their true identity in being his brothers and sisters, and therefore each other’s brothers and sisters in the one family of God.

“Beloved,” we read in First John, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

In love God has created and redeemed us, and irrevocably claimed us as God’s own; that is who we are. And what will we be? We will be fully what we already are as children of God. We will be called, embraced and sent by the same love. We will be restored, fulfilled and made whole. And we will see the day when we will all be like him who is forever alive with God. What we will be has not yet been revealed, but we move forward with hope.

At the conclusion of this service, you are invited to join a listening circle to share your response to the news that Greg and Hope will offer their gifts for ministry elsewhere after June 3rd. Various leaders will start a circle by holding up a sign, and we ask that you simply flock to them — not all of you to the same two three. We want to keep the circles to no more than 8-10 people to give all ample opportunity to talk and ask questions.

We call them listening circles for a reason; please make room for each other, surround each other with care, and hear each other out. And not just today. In the coming weeks and months we will begin to notice just how much good work Hope and Greg haven been doing, because some of it won’t get done or will only get done with a lot of extra attention and time by others. So the next few weeks will not only give us occasions to say thank you and good bye to two fine ministers, they will also offer us many opportunities to step up, lend a hand, and help us keep the course through these uncharted waters, opportunities to claim anew ministry as the work of the people.

You will soon hear from the Board leadership about plans for a search committee to find an Associate Minister and the details of that process, but not today. It will take time for the full extent of our loss to sink in. Some of us will feel it more than others; every soul moves at its own pace. So be gentle and kind to yourselves and to each other; the work of advancing creative maladjustment in our time is hard, and we need to pace ourselves – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We need to draw water from the deep wells of God and drink, not just occasionally, but daily, continually.

We need to remember who and whose we are, and take it from there. All that we need for our witness and ministry has been given to us. There is no need to wait until there are more members, or more resources, or more of whatever we might believe is necessary to be church. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Already. Today. Now. This is where we begin.[3]

 

[1] http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2012/tutu-god-of-surprises/transcript.shtml

[2] Excerpt from a speech at Western Michigan University on Dec 18, 1963. Dr. King frequently repeated the theme of “creative maladjustment” in speeches and sermons.

[3] With thanks to Audrey West http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3474

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Easter laughter

Ever read Ecclesiastes? Did you like it? Not my favorite book. The writer of Ecclesiastes must have been having a particularly miserable day when he wrote this maxim: Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.[1] I can see him sitting at his desk, dour-faced, and I’m waiting for him to look up and shout, “April fools!” but nothing happens. He just sits there like he’s for real. Most days I just leave him alone. I much rather hang out with the writer of Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” or Psalm 126, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy!”

I stumbled upon this little work of poetry that seemed most appropriate for this day when we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, and our Jewish friends and neighbors celebrate Passover.

This week’s calendar offers surprises
In both Old and New Testament guises:
One God has sufficed
For both matzoh and Christ,
But it’s only the latter that rises.

Easter is the day when laughter is our prayer and our praise, for the Lord has raised Jesus from the dead. Do you know this one?

Two snowmen are standing in the backyard. One says, “Hm.” The other says, “That’s funny, I smell a carrot, too.”

Or this one:

What’s the best thing about Switzerland? I don’t know, but the flag is a big plus.

What’s the difference between a hippo and a zippo? A hippo is really heavy, and a zippo is a little lighter.

Not corny enough?

Murphy’s law says that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Cole’s law is thinly sliced cabbage.

And an old favorite:

A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, “Why the long face?”

Not funny? Let me tell you a story about the KKK:

In 1953, Eldon Edwards formed the U.S. Klan’s, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in Atlanta. He attracted few members until the following year, when the Supreme Court ordered school integration in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education and many whites throughout the South were determined to oppose the law and maintain segregation. By September 1956, Edwards was host to one of the largest Klan rallies in years, drawing 3,000 members to Stone Mountain, the site of the rebirth of the Klan in 1915. By 1958, Edwards’ group had an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 members.[2]

Tom Long grew up in Atlanta, he was a teenager in the 1950s, and every year in the fall, he remembers, on a Saturday, a horrific spectacle would happen. The Klan would gather on Stone Mountain for a ritual of hate during which they would burn a cross. And then they would get in their cars and drive down US 29 into downtown Atlanta honking their horns. And then in downtown Atlanta they would pull their hoods over their faces and they would march down Auburn Avenue. Auburn Avenue was Main Street in black Atlanta. The citizens of Auburn Avenue would lock their doors and shutter their windows for fear of the men under those hoods.

But then in the 60s the civil rights movement began to flower, and the first light of a possibility of a new and different way of living in society began to dawn. One year, fall came around and the Klan did as usual: the burning cross on top of the mountain, the motorcade of hatred down US 29, the robes and the hoods. Then they came to Auburn Avenue, and they started their parade of terror. But this time, the people living on Auburn did not lock their doors, and they did not shutter the windows of their homes and businesses. The citizens of Auburn Avenue stood out on the sidewalk; and, as the Klan went by, they laughed and laughed and laughed. And the Klan has never marched down Auburn Avenue again. The laughter of the redeemed, the laughter of hope toppled the powers and principalities.[3]

God raised Jesus from the dead to redeem us, to fill our hearts with hope and our lips with laughter. God raised Jesus from the dead to teach us how to laugh at the power of the oppressor and at our fear of the oppressor; how to laugh at death and our fear of death, how to laugh at sin’s power to weigh us down with shame, despair, and regret; how to laugh at the devil who thought he had the last laugh when Jesus was brutally executed; God raised Jesus from the dead so all of us would laugh and live and follow the Risen One in the beautiful morning light of the promise that love wins.

The raising of Christ is proved by our courage to rise against death,” writes Jürgen Moltmann. “That is not just a play on words. We show our hope for the life that defeats death in our protest against the manifold forms of death in the midst of life. It is only in the passion for life and our giving of ourselves for its liberation that we entrust ourselves utterly to the God who raises the dead.”[4] The raising of Christ is proved by our courage to rise against death by joining the citizens of Auburn Avenue and laughing with them at the absurd displays of supremacy and exclusion in our streets, our schools, and places of work. We show our hope for the life that defeats death in our protest against the manifold forms of death in the midst of life. But what about Mark’s story?

Mark ends his gospel in midsentence, So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid … That’s hardly a shout of victory over death. Not exactly a rousing display of courage to rise against death.Why would Mark want to tell us the story of Jesus with such a strange ending?

We have heard and read the whole story, from its beginning to this moment. We were there when Jesus was baptized and the heavenly voice declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We were there when Jesus began proclaiming the good news of God in Galilee. We heard him preach and teach about the kingdom. We watched him inaugurate God’s reign by healing people and breaking bread with them, forgiving their sins and driving out demons. We heard him tell us three times about his death and resurrection. “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”[5] He did tell us, didn’t he? We were there when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and the disciples couldn’t keep awake. We were there when Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, and all the disciples deserted him. When Jesus was arrested, questioned, and convicted, mocked, abused, and crucified, we were there. And now we’re here on Easter morning, and we’ve come to the tomb with these three grieving women, and Mark tells us that they too fled, seized by terror and amazement. End of story? No. We’re still here. The story Mark wrote down is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ—and the gospel is still unfolding with us as participants. It’s as though Mark were saying, “This is my story, now you tell it from here.”

The women were terrified. Something had gone wrong – or had gone so right they couldn’t take it in. There was the word that Jesus had been raised. And there was the word about a new life for them: Leave the tomb. Tell the disciples; tell even Peter. The risen Lord is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

God had raised the body of Jesus to new life and by doing so, God had reversed the whole order of reality itself – of time and history, of life and death. God had raised Jesus from the dead, but for the three women, the new order of reality had only begun to sink in. And so they fled and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. If Jesus ends up rejected, crucified, dead, and buried – it may break your heart, but it also confirms everything you have suspected about the world all along. It’s a Friday world, after all: Might makes right. Blessed are those who take what they want. The meek inherit nothing at all, except the scorn of the bullies.

But if we can open our fearful hearts to the promise and the new reality of this glorious day, Easter laughter floods this Friday world with hope, and we are given the courage to follow the Lord of life on the way. We know that at some point those three women started laughing and following, or Mark wouldn’t have had a story to tell.

“Easter,” writes Moltmann, “is the beginning of the laughter of the redeemed and the dance of the liberated … Since earliest times Easter hymns have celebrated the victory of life by laughing at death, by mocking at hell, and by making the lords of this world absurd.”[6]

God raised Jesus from the dead so all of us would laugh and live and follow the Risen One in the beautiful morning light of the promise that love wins.

So, here’s the question that Eastertide begs:
Is is all about candy and eggs?
No, the point to be praised
Is that Christ has been raised
And death taken down a few pegs.

 

[1] Eccl 7:3

[2] https://www.splcenter.org/20110228/ku-klux-klan-history-racism#fear%20and%20violence

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahr8a2Cla-M

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 32.

[5] Mk 14:28

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 32-33.

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A conversion of the imagination

Thousands were on the roads to Jerusalem for Passover, actually hundreds of thousands. Pilgrims converged on the city from all directions, and there must have been sheep everywhere, the closer you got to the temple. More than 250,000 lambs would be slaughtered in the temple for the Passover meal, one for each family or groups of friends who had made the journey together.[1]

During Passover, the population of Jerusalem quadrupled – there were people everywhere! Residents opened their homes to welcome the pilgrims as their guests – some because hospitality was a sacred duty, others because short-term rental provided a little extra income. The city was packed, and those who couldn’t stay in the city, camped in the hills or found lodging in the surrounding villages.

The roads around Jerusalem were full of people men, women, children, most of them on foot, all of them looking forward to the festival, sharing the joy and hope of remembering how the Lord had brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and had led them to the land of promise. It was slow-moving traffic, much slower than 440 during rush hour, but in my imagination I see a cheerful throng, a happy crowd, people talking and laughing, sharing food and water, helping each other find the children that inevitably got lost in the crowd – and on the last few miles, when they could see the city from afar, the temple glistening like snow under the bright spring sun, on the last few miles they sang the songs of Zion, songs of longing and fulfillment.

Jesus and the disciples must have been in the middle of that joyful traffic jam several times that year; they were staying in Bethany, a small village just a couple of miles from the city, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Jesus had told the disciples up in Galilee, long before they began the journey south, what awaited him in Jerusalem – he told them repeatedly, but they were unable to hear or grasp what he said when he spoke of rejection, betrayal, torture, and death, let alone being raised.[2] James and John heard him talk about his humiliation at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities, but all they could think about was who would get to sit in the seats of power at Jesus’ right hand and his left. One more time Jesus taught them how greatness was about servanthood, but who knows if his words really sank in.[3]

Now they were approaching Jerusalem, and a very curious sequence of scenes began to unfold. Jesus sent two of his disciples to go and get him a colt. His instructions were very clear and detailed: where to go, what kind of animal to look for, to untie it, even what to say should anybody ask them what they were doing and why. And then everything happened just as Jesus had said it would: they went away, found the colt tied near a door, began to untie it; bystanders asked, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” and they told them what Jesus had told them to say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.”

Now imagine this: a couple of guys show up in your neighbor’s driveway, and you watch as they open the door to the car, and they’re looking for the keys behind the visor what do you say?

“Excuse me. What are you doing? Can I help you find something?”

One of them looks at you over his shoulder and says, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.”

“Oh, the Lord needs it, well, in that case, go ahead and take it.”

Sounds slightly surreal, doesn’t it? But the point is, as surreal as the scene may seem, Jesus told them what would occur, and then it happened exactly as he had said. Jesus knew what lay ahead, he really did, and he made careful preparations for his entry into the city. And he wasn’t the only one.

Every year, in time for Passover, the Roman governor moved his headquarters from Caesarea by the sea to Jerusalem. Passover made the empire very nervous. Large crowds were difficult to control under any circumstance, but add the hopeful memory of Israel’s liberation from Pharaoh’s yoke, and the situation could turn quickly from joyful worship to revolt. So Rome made its presence and power known. The governor, Pontius Pilate, entered the city riding on the biggest horse he could find in his stable. Behind him, elite soldiers on horseback, followed by row after row of foot soldiers. The pilgrims stepped off the road so the long column could pass through. They saw the banners on poles topped with gleaming eagles, they saw helmets and spears reflecting the sunlight; they could hear the beating of drums long before they saw anything, the could hear the clopping of the horses, the rhythmic beat of soldiers’ feet, the clanging of metal against metal.

The parade was designed to impress and intimidate. Rome knew how to project power and quell any outbursts of enthusiasm that might escalate into a governor’s nightmare. The heavy wooden beams that would be used to crucify the most dangerous troublemakers in the name of the Emperor had already been stacked at the governor’s headquarters; Rome was prepared.

On the other side of the city, the disciples brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. It was a red carpet, and the colt was a throne.

It was a parade, a procession, with people in front and behind shouting acclamations, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! And Jesus didn’t say a word. He didn’t tell them to be quiet, he didn’t correct them like he had done before.

He entered the city, went to the temple, looked around, and then he went back to Bethany with the twelve for the night.

Jesus entered the city like a conqueror, but his parade was nothing like the governor’s imperial procession on the eve of Passover, and his conquest was nothing like the conquests of other rulers. The words of the prophet Zechariah surround this scene with the hope of generations, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey...”[4] Triumphant and victorious – that’s our kind of king, but look how poor he is: he doesn’t even own a donkey, he had to borrow one for the parade. What kind of king claims the city, the throne, and the kingdom for himself by riding into town on an Uber?

Our own visions of a world made right often have more in common with Pilate’s parade and with imperial dreams of world domination than with the peculiar way of Christ. We get power wrong. And so those of us who wish to follow Jesus on the way celebrate this triumphal entry every year, hoping that this humble savior will convert even our dreams and imaginations.

We call this week ‘holy’ because we enter the mystery of God’s power revealed in the death of Jesus. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul urges believers in Philippi. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit … Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”[5]

Such words were rare and foreign in a city like Philippi. The citizens of Philippi cherished their connections to the imperial household, and their privileges as friends of Caesar. Roman culture valued force, competition, and honor-seeking. Humility was not considered a virtue. Roman society, much like ours, was built on the pursuit of status. You move up, and you socialize with the people who can help you move up even higher. You only look around to check out the competition, but you press on, your eyes on the next rung of the ladder, leaving behind those who cannot keep up.

Jesus moves in the opposite direction. Jesus emptied himself, Paul tell us. He humbled himself. He “made himself of no reputation,” as the King James Bible renders the words so beautifully. He reached down, his mind on nothing but the will of God, loving us sinners with a passion and a vulnerability for which we have no words.

We call this week ‘holy’ because the final days of Jesus’ life on earth reveal to us the heart of reality, and it’s not relentless competition in the pursuit of status. It’s God’s relentless love in the pursuit of communion with us.

We call this week ‘holy’ because our humble king died on a cross, and it was to him that God gave the name that is above every name.

We call this week ‘holy’ because in Jesus’ death and resurrection we see love that goes all the way for the life of the world.

Yesterday morning, in downtown Nashville, we had ourselves a parade. Thousands were on the streets, walking from City Hall up to Legislative Plaza and back, marching for our lives, and not just our lives, but our life together. With hundreds of thousands in D.C. and in other cities across the nation we marched for a better vision of our life together. We marched for a common life that isn’t shaped by proud, gun-toting self-assertion, but by care for each other’s well-being.

I can’t speak for all the participants, all the children, women, and men who walked together, laughing, shouting, chatting and chanting, I can’t speak for all of them, but I had Pilate’s parade on my mind, and I knew we were walking in the other procession, the royal procession of Jesus, the humble king of life.

 

[1] According to Josephus, Jewish Wars 6.9.3.

[2] See Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34

[3] See Mark 10:35-45

[4] Zech 9:9

[5] Phil 2:3-4

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Surrender to love

What do you do when you want to see Jesus? “Hey, Google, show me Jesus.” I tried that, I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps you have better luck with Siri or Alexa?

It’s not terribly difficult to find pictures of Jesus. I did a quick image search, without any filters, and the results were, well, let’s say, interesting. Perhaps you’d be better off getting one of those big, glossy art books from the library, Jesus through the Centuries, or some such title, with pictures of early drawings in the catacombs, medieval book illuminations, icons, renaissance oil paintings, frescoes, statues and murals from cities around the globe. All those representations will tell you how people of different times and places have seen Jesus in their imagination. I expect they did what most of us do when we think about seeing Jesus: they had a collection of pictures in their minds, they were somewhat familiar with the stories about Jesus in the Bible, and they went ahead and created a composite of all those impressions. When you create an image of Jesus in your mind, it’s always a mash-up of what you’ve seen, what you’ve come to know about him, and how you think he looks at you.

To celebrate the new millennium, the National Catholic Reporter invited people to submit original artwork to answer the question, “What would Jesus Christ look like in the year 2000?” The contest was a huge success: The panel of judges received 1,678 representations of Jesus from1,004 artists in 19 countries from six continents.[1]

The winning entry was “Jesus of the People,” by Janet McKenzie, age 51, of Island Pond, VT.

“The painting simply came through me,” she said. “I feel as though I am only a vehicle for its existence.” McKenzie said her work has always walked a “spiritual path.” In the early 1990s, however, she began to feel discomfort with the art she had been producing, mostly images of white women.

“I realized that my nephew, a mixed race African-American of 9 or 10 living in Los Angeles, would never be able to recognize himself in my work,” McKenzie said. “I determined to be more varied, to make a racially inclusive statement.”

Since that time, McKenzie said she has worked with a variety of racial types, and her commitment to inclusivity shines through “Jesus of the People.”

“I decided I would use a female model,” she said, “to incorporate, once and for all, women, who had been so neglected and left out, into this image of Jesus.” The model was an African-American woman from her neighborhood. Despite wearing a crown of thorns, McKenzie’s Jesus does not seem anguished.

“It’s a total acceptance of his fate, and that’s what the painting is about – acceptance,” she said. “I want to remind people of the importance of loving one another. I hope people are able to go to the essence of the work, which is kindness and peace.”[2] This is the Jesus McKenzie sees and wants to show us.

It was on Passover, John tells us, in Jerusalem, when some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” People had been talking about him. Over in Bethany, they said, only days ago, he called a dead man out of the tomb, and he was dead for sure, he had been in that tomb for four days. People were interested, people were curious, and Jesus’ opponents said, with worry in their voices, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (12:19). And as though to prove them right, some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew, and then he and Andrew went and told Jesus, and Jesus’ response Jesus’ response leaps out of the story and addresses every last one of us. “The hour has come,” he says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

We’re never told whether these Greeks got their wish. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. This is where you go, if you wish to see Jesus, John seems to be telling us. He paints a picture for us, a picture of the moment – the hour, he calls it when it is fully revealed who Jesus is. And the first layer of that picture is a brief parable.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Falling into the earth, and giving its life, the single grain doesn’t become lifeless.

It becomes fruitful, it participates in the fruit-bearing, seed-producing, life-multiplying fullness of life. Later in the unfolding story of his final days, Jesus talks about branches that bear much fruit because they are connected to the vine. Jesus’ life bears fruit in the lives of the people who abide in him. His own life-giving, selfless love multiplies in the life of all who believe in him, all who serve and follow him.

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the witnesses tell us – the glory of life and light, of grace and truth, the glory of God’s boundless love. With all that he is and does in the world, Jesus embodies divine love for the world, the same love that unites him and the one he calls Father. These relationships are his life: the world and all who live in it and God. Now the hour has come for the Father to glorify his name and for the Son to be glorified in death and resurrection. Now the hour has come to reveal the unbreakable bond of their love.

No matter what the forces of evil will do to Jesus, they will not take from him his love for God. He will lay down his life in free, surrendering love – surrendering not to the powers of the world, but to God and to the promise of a world where love reigns supreme, a world fully at home in the intimacy of their relationship. He will lay down his life in sovereign love for God and his friends, with his death not the tragic end of a beautiful life, but the complete gift of his beautiful life for the glory of God and the life of the world.

Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Jesus isn’t calling us to be life-haters. He calls us to be lovers of life in the fullest sense of the word. In John, the word hate means reject, and it typically refers to what the world does to Jesus and his friends: it rejects the life Jesus embodies and proclaims, and it clings to its own definition of life as a small and isolated existence, ruled by fear and self-centered obsessions.

Those who love life and live in love in the company of Jesus will reject that stunted version of life and its hatreds. They will embrace life in communion with God.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and the hour presents the world with an urgent choice: Will we respond with faith to the invitation to find life in communion with God? Or will we cling to the promises of the ruler of this world?

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

John has added another detail to his portrait of Jesus. The world and its ruler will sit in judgment and condemn Jesus to death by crucifixion. He must die because domination, violence, and death are the world’s ways under its ruler’s reign, and all that does not fit must be eliminated. And Jesus does not fit. There’s no room in this ruler’s world order for fearless truth-telling or self-less service or table-flipping temple-cleansing. Jesus can’t be silenced. Jesus can’t be bought. Jesus must die.

“If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus later tells one of his judges, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” But his kingdom isn’t from this world. His kingdom is the end of this world.

He lets the world have its way with him. And he refuses to respond in the ruler’s own violent terms. He lays down his life and dies. He dies as though the devil were in charge. He dies as though sin, violence and fear would continue to have the last word.

McKenzie painted a picture of Jesus who shows total acceptance of his fate. But Jesus was no believer in fate. He entrusted himself completely to the love that holds this rebellious world in its wide embrace.

The cross looked for all the world like the judgment of Jesus, but it was God’s judgment of this world and its ruler. The cross revealed the institutional captivity of our religion, the violence at the heart of our justice, and our willingness to do just about anything for the sake of political convenience.

But the other side of that story, the other side of this picture in which we see Jesus as well as ourselves revealed, the other side is the deeper truth: Jesus was lifted up on the cross, he was lifted up in the resurrection, he was lifted up in the ascension and lifted up from the earth, he continued to draw all people to himself, to life in fullness, to life in communion with God. He continues to draw women, men, and children from every tribe and nation into the community of believers who participate in God’s liberating and reconciling work.

What do you do when you want to see Jesus? You follow him.

“Where I am, there will my servant be also,” he says.

You let yourself be drawn to him. You let yourself be drawn more deeply into the kingdom that is not from this world, but for the world and its life.

You renounce the ruler of this world and embrace the life of Jesus. You renounce the logic of domination, violence, and fear and you surrender in love to love. You surrender in love to the love that breathes life into dust.

 

[1] https://www.ncronline.org/jesus-2000

[2] http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/1999d/122499/122499a.htm Please follow the link to see the picture.

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Alive with Christ

“You were dead,” the apostle writes to the Ephesians. What an odd thing to say. I don’t think I would ever have spoken these words had the apostle not made me say them. You were dead. People may say these words in the third person, “He is dead” or in the past tense, “She was already dead.” But to say, “You were dead” is rather odd, because generally we only speak to the living, to those we expect to hear our words and for whom has death ever been a past reality? We are used to thinking of death as what awaits us all, but not as a situation in the past which a person might recall when somebody tells them, “You were dead.”

The apostle wrote to Christians in Ephesus, reminding them of their life before they knew Christ, before they were baptized and became members in the body of Christ. You were dead, he writes. You were following a way of life so far removed from life, it can only be called death. You were following the course of the world. You were captive to cultural and spiritual forces that were beyond your control, powers that drained the life out of you. You were pushed and pulled by relentless currents, obedient to desires of the flesh, heeding every inclination that led away from God, aimless and helpless to extricate yourselves. You were dead.

All of us once lived like that, children of disobedience, strangers to the covenants of promise, playthings tossed around by systems, forces, trends, and fads. We were dead, and the dead can’t do anything for themselves. They are done doing anything.

Then, in v. 4, the apostle writes two words that signal the great reversal in the history of humankind, “But God.” We were dead, but God, rich in mercy and with love beyond our imagining, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of, but rather something you can only receive like life itself. We are God’s accomplishment. We have been created anew to show what God can do through Jesus Christ, and to do the good things which reflect the gracious love of God. We have been created anew to live the life of Christ as members of his body.

As a season of the church year, Lent has its beginnings in the ancient tradition of preparing candidates for baptism. For forty days, they fasted, prayed, and studied, seeking to ready themselves for entering the Christian life in the darkness before Easter morning. The opening chapters of Ephesians are widely regarded as a portion of an early baptismal liturgy, and what is being impressed on the candidates is not what they need to do, but what God has done. To enter the Christian life, we are told along with them and all who came after them, to enter the Christian life is to entrust oneself to the current of God’s grace, both as a recipient of its healing and redemptive movement and as a participant in channeling its unceasing flow to the parched places where life is distorted, fragmented and broken. To enter the Christian life is to step into the history of God’s people, to join the great cloud of witnesses who proclaim the mighty acts of God; it is to say we were in Egypt, we were in the wilderness, we were in exile, we were in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, in Antioch and Ephesus and Rome, in Wittenberg and Cane Ridge. The story of God’s people becomes our story because Jesus Christ has embraced every last one of us with compassion and forgiveness, because no one is excluded from the solidarity of his love.

In him, the reign of sin comes to an end in what at first looked like sin’s ultimate triumph yet was revealed as its demise: Christ was crucified, he died, he was buried, and he was raised and enthroned at the right hand of God.

To be a Christian, according to the testimony of our text, is to be made alive together with him. It is to be crucified with Jesus, to die with him, to be buried with him, to be raised with him and be enthroned with him. To be a Christian is to let him make his life ours just as he made our death his.

Baptism into Christ is deeply personal, but the ultimate horizon of the resurrection is cosmic in scale. In ancient mediterranean cosmologies, the universe consisted of a subterranean region, the earth and the heavens, and several layers between earth and heaven; this is what the apostle is referring to when he writes about this world and the heavenly places. Every layer of this multi-tiered universe, according to Ephesians, is inhabited and ruled by powers hostile to the purposes of God. The letter’s first audience had no trouble imagining a demonic ruler of the power of the air. We do not commonly describe that which drives us to destructive behavior against each other and ourselves as an independent power; but we know well how people can be trapped in ideologies and structures and not know it. We can be caught in deadly systems and we are and be convinced that life’s just like that, or worse, that it’s supposed to be like that. We may not need saving from the ruler of the power of the air, but we do need saving because we live in a world estranged from its maker, with myths and idols that have arrogated to themselves the place of our story and our God. And without God, without God’s story of life, we become confused about who we are and how we are to participate in the miracle of life.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.

In the cosmology of Ephesians, the powers that confuse us about who we are and what life is, inhabit the air between earth and the moon, hence the name, ruler of the power of the air. But Christ has been raised and seated beyond them – and we with him. This doesn’t mean we’ve been taken out of the world – obviously we haven’t. But with Christ we know who we are as God’s own, and with Christ we discover how to live as free servants of God rather than in bondage to the powers that oppress us.

For redemption in Christ to be complete, it must range as far and wide, as high and deep as the forces of evil. That it does indeed do so is the great promise of God’s vindication of the Crucified One. For all their power to cripple, control and alienate, all hostilities in the universe will not only cease ultimately, but will be reconciled.[1]

Every baptism is an act of faith, a testimony to the liberating power of the resurrection and to Christ as the revelation of what it means to be a human being. Few of us see the world the way people in antiquity did, but the image of being seated with Christ, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, still speaks to us: All that robs us of life, all that could ever get between us and the life God has intended for us and the whole creation, has been overcome by the love of God in Christ. Christ has made us his own, and through him we live in communion with God.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

When all is ended, by the grace of God, we are not what we have made of ourselves and of each other, but what God has made us. When all is ended, by the grace of God, life is not what we have made of it, but what God created it to be. So our being seated with Christ in the heavenly places doesn’t mean we have been removed from he world, spiritually or otherwise. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. The redeemed life is not about being rescued out of the world, but about being in the world and walking the path that has been prepared for us. Every human life has good works as its purpose, which means every person has a divine calling: to follow a way of life that reflects the mercy of God, that is to walk with Christ, to work with Christ, to be alive with Christ.

We read portions of Psalm 107 this morning; it is a song with a recurring refrain, calling on the redeemed to thank the Lord for his steadfast love. The psalm sings of people wandering in desert wastes, hungry and thirsty, their souls fainting within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way until they reached an inhabited town.

At first glance, that straight way is simply the shortest way out of the desert. But at second glance, we recognize that straight way as the way of life God has prepared for us to lead us from the desert wastes to the community where life flourishes.

The psalm goes on to sing of some that sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons; they fell down, with no one to help.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.

At first glance, that verse is about getting out of prison. But at second glance, it is about all of us who are trapped in lives that are neither our own, nor God’s—until God breaks our bonds. Yes, we were dead through the trespasses and sins in which we once lived, but God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

[1] With thanks to Fred Craddock https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2003-03/god-god

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Articles of liberty

The late Justice Antonin Scalia once said, during oral arguments before the Supreme Court, “I think 90 percent of Americans believe in the Ten Commandments. And I bet 85 percent couldn’t tell you what the 10 are.”[1] He was probably right. The question before the court was whether certain displays of the Ten Commandments in public spaces violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. It’s a complicated question, and the Court’s rulings so far have boiled down to an equally complicated “depends.”

The Ten Commandments have not been in the headlines much recently, although the State Senate in Alabama voted again, just last week, in favor of allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property. The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Gerald Dial, stressed the importance of placing the symbol on public property, including at public schools, because it could cause a potential student shooter to rethink their attack plans. “I believe that if you had the Ten Commandments posted in a prominent place in school, it has the possibility to prohibit some student from taking action to kill other students,” Dial told the Alabama Reporter. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols to “be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display.”[2]

I don’t know if the Senator hopes that students walking by such a display in the hallway on a daily basis will over time absorb the good words or if he envisions an armed invader who might lay eyes on the words, “You shall not murder,” and suddenly realize that the plans he had been hatching in his heart went against the will of God. I honor and respect the Senator’s desire to help shape communities and individuals who respect life and law, but there are many more things he and his colleagues can do to reduce violence, things that students, parents, teachers, and law enforcement officials have supported for years.

The Ten Commandments have gained weight as cultural icons, displayed as yard signs in front of suburban homes and as stickers on the tail gates of trucks, but as texts that actually inform the moral reasoning of people and communities they don’t seem to get much play. Tom Long suggested that for many proponents of their public display, “the commandments are heavy yokes to be publicly placed on the necks of a rebellious society.”[3] For such an understanding of the Decalogue, the piece of granit on which the words are to be engraved cannot be too monumental. It appears that we have forgotten that the gods of Egypt and Babylon were heavy idols, and that the God Jews and Christians worship is the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and brought them back from Babylon.

What we have come to call the Ten Commandments are words of great weight, but they are not burdensome. They weren’t given to weigh people down, but to equip them for a life in freedom as people of God. They are words spoken by God to the people whom God freed from bondage. They begin with a preamble, and it doesn’t say, “I am God. Here are ten rules. Obey them.” The first word declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

They had escaped, and they were clear on only two things. They would no longer submit to the brick quotas of Pharaoh’s empire. And the Holy One who had freed them was the great new fact and force in their life. It was this God of liberation and promise who had demanded of Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” and now they were free. “Let my people go,” the Lord demanded, “that they may serve me.”[4] The Holy One had broken the oppressive bonds of Egypt, and now, at Sinai, God offered to make the exchange of bondage for bonding permanent in covenant – in a constitution of freedom that would allow the former slaves to flourish as God’s people in the land of God’s promise. The words God spoke at Sinai are as much declarations of freedom or articles of liberty as they are commandments:

Because the Lord is your God, you are free from serving other gods. Because the Lord is your God, you are free from the tyranny of lifeless idols. Because the Lord is your God, you are free to rest on the seventh day; free to honor covenants between generations and spouses; free to live without killing, stealing, lying, or coveting; free to live in covenant and not in bondage.

The freedom of God’s people is not spelled out as autonomy, but as loyalty to God, as a commitment to the promises and purposes of the God who brought Israel out of the house of slavery, the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

The Ten Commandments aren’t a set of ten memorable and somewhat intuitive rules to make life better for everybody or to ensure greater morality in a society where many believe morality is on the decline. They belong entirely within the story and history of God’s covenant with Israel, a covenant God opened to Gentiles through Jesus, so all may know the freedom of the children of God. The commandments belong with the people who continue to tell the story, the people who continue to hear it and live it in synagogues and churches.

Posting the Ten Commandments in our children’s classrooms or in the hallways of their schools won’t help them learn that killing and stealing are wrong. But they might learn something else, something very destructive for the life of our communities. Martin Marty wrote several years ago that the fights about posting the Ten Commandments, with the first commandment ruling out the beliefs of many children in classrooms or of many adults in court, are, in the end, not about religion. “There are plenty of places to post the Ten; the reason [significant numbers of people] want them in public places … is about who belongs and who doesn’t, who gets to set the terms and who has to adhere to them.”[5] Turned into cultural icons on the walls of our schools, between the flag and the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments may teach some of our children how to tell our children who are Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, “We were here first and you have to play by our rules!” As cultural icons, the Ten Commandments are in danger of becoming symbols of supremacy and oppression, the very opposite of their purpose as articles of liberty.

The display of the commandments in order to have them visible and continuously before us is a good idea, just not in court rooms, public schools, or metro offices. The best places for posting the Ten are in the settings where the mighty acts of God are proclaimed, where the story of Passover and the story of Easter are sung and told and studied, where God’s people gather to enter the story of redemption in order to live it more fully. The best places for posting the Ten are synagogues and churches.

How, then, will the commandments shape life in our schools and communities, State Senator Gerald Dial might ask, if we don’t give them a prominent place in those public spaces? The commandments impact our schools and communities through the people who receive their moral and spiritual formation in churches and synagogues, the people who hear all these words God spoke and continues to speak, the words at Sinai, the parables of the kingdom, the words of resurrection and discipleship.

God frees us from the powers that hold us in bondage – from the exploitation and abuse in Pharaoh’s brick yards to the oppression by guilt, fear, and shame. God frees us and draws us into the covenant of freedom – men, women, and children, students, parents, teachers, and state senators: Because the Lord is our God, we are free from serving other gods; we are free to participate in God’s mission of redemption and reconciliation, wherever we are.

Folks in our schools have been on my mind in recent weeks, and I’ve often thought about Calin, Duke, and Kyla, and other young people who are preparing for baptism. What does active shooter preparedness mean for followers of Jesus? They will have to sort that out, and I hope we can help them do that important work – important for them, for the church, and for the world and its future. I was reminded of going to confirmation class when I was about their age. We studied the catechism then, something that has gone out of style in Christian formation, mostly for good reasons. So, thinking about what our children and the rest of us are facing, I reread the passages dealing with the Ten Commandments, and I was touched by the wisdom and care I found expressed there. I’m reading from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. 105 What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds— and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword. …

Q. 106 Does this commandment refer only to murder?

A. By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder. …

Q. 107 Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

A. No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.

Because the Lord is our God, we are free from serving other gods. We are free to find fullness of life as servants of God.

 

[1] See Dahlia Lithwick, “The Two Tablets: The Supreme Court picks through the rubble of its Ten Commandments jurisprudence” http://www.slate.com/id/2114258/

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/ten-commandments-alabama-republican-gerald-dial-school-shooting-christian-roy-827195

[3] Thomas G. Long, Living by the Word, The Christian Century, March 7, 2006, 17.

[4] Ex 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3 See Walter Brueggemann, “The Commandments and Liberated, Liberating Bonding.” Journal For Preachers 10, no. 2, 1987, 15-24.

[5] Context, August 2005

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Laughing with the Lord of life

Genesis is a book of beginnings. The beginning of heaven and earth. The beginning of light and life. The beginning of humankind, made in the image of God, and the beginning of the puzzling, deep contradictions that mark our experience of life. In the opening chapters of scripture they are presented from God’s perspective: one the one hand, God saw everything God had made, and indeed, it was very good; and on the other hand, God saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.[1]

Life is a source of profound delight as well as heartbreak, for God as well as for us. The Creator’s desire for life’s flourishing and our desires are out of sync, as it were, and as a consequence life is not the way it’s supposed to be. There’s a brokenness within us and between us, and the cracks don’t just appear out of nowhere; they’re always already there, inescapably so, it seems, and we do what we can to heal them, but we also contribute to their spreading, with what we say and do or fail to do. In scripture it is called sin, this inescapable brokenness we both suffer and commit.

Genesis is a book of beginnings, and it traces the beginnings of sin to fractures in our relationship with God, to a desire to be self-made men and women rather than creatures made in the image of God and for communion with God and our fellow creatures. Our loveless ways break the heart of God, but in the heart of God we are also embraced, forgiven and healed. Our sin is great, and we all fall short of the glory of God, but God’s faithful love reaches wider than the deadliest consequences of our lovelessness.

In the story of the great flood, we are asked to imagine the impossible possibility of God’s No to humanity without the Yes of a new beginning, the impossible possibility of the complete undoing of creation, and at the end of the story God makes a promise, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”[2] God will not abandon God’s creation because of humankind’s proud determination to live as masters of the world rather than covenant partners.

Genesis is a book of beginnings, and in chapter 11, after the story of the tower with its top in the heavens, and after God scattered the people abroad over the face of all the earth, the narrative zooms in on one family in Ur of the Chaldeans, the family of Terah, and then it zooms in a little closer on one of his sons, Abram who was married to Sarai and Sarai, we’re told, was barren; she had no child.[3]

End of story. No child, no future. The story of the whole human family has reached a dead end. And God chooses this couple to make a new beginning.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[4]

Go, I will make of you a great nation, the Lord said, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you. And they went, trusting the promises of God and obedient to God’s call. One night, the Lord came to Abram in a vision and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.”[5]

Abram had faith in the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness, but Abram and Sarai still had no child, only the promise of a future rooted in God’s faithful intention.

Years went by; still no child. Abram was ninety-nine years old when the Lord appeared to him and spoke again of making him exceedingly numerous, exceedingly fruitful, the ancestor of a multitude of nations, and gave him a new name, a new identity: Abraham, “father of multitudes.” And Sarai’s name now would be Sarah, “princess,” mother of nations, mother of kings of peoples – the contrast between promise and circumstance could not possibly be drawn any starker.

Abraham fell on his face and laughed. “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”[6]

When Paul wrote to the churches in Rome, he pointed to Abraham as the example of one who was righteous, in right relationship with God, based not on obedience to the law but on faith, on trust in the promises of God. Paul didn’t mention that Abraham fell on his face and laughed, but portrayed him in slightly heroic colors: unwavering in his faith, fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised, not weakening in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.[7]

What if he did waver occasionally, like most of us do? What if Abraham wasn’t some Olympic super athlete of faith, zipping down a snowy mountain with great skill and fearless confidence, but a rather shaky skier who took wide turns in the steep sections, who even stopped sometimes on the edge of the slope, wondering how long it might be to the foot of the mountain and if he should perhaps walk down? What if Abraham barely managed to hold onto the promise during the nights when doubt crept in? Didn’t he fall on his face and laugh when he tried to imagine himself and dear Sarah in the maternity ward struggling to remember when to pant and when to breathe deeply?

Abraham and Sarah became the ancestors of Israel because they became the parents of Isaac, and they became the ancestors of all who have faith in God, because they learned to trust the promise of God when their circumstances clearly suggested other visions of the future. They learned to trust, not through unflinching determination, but in the ups and downs of daily life, in times when confidence was simply the air they breathed and in times when the world felt like a conspiracy to snuff the flickering flame of hope.

We still tell their story, not because they were such exemplary believers, but because God, in steadfast love and righteousness, made a new beginning with humankind, introducing a way for us, sinful human beings, to be in relationship with God, a way not based on our high score performance of holy demands, but on the fidelity of God who keeps faith with us and invites us to trust the promise of life.

All of us have experienced the pain of broken promises, promises we have made to others or to ourselves, or promises others have made to us. For many of us, all people need to say is, “Trust me,” for alarm bells to go off in our minds and heavy doors of skepticism to slam shut. We have seen and felt how the brokenness within and between us can undermine our best intentions and turn us away from each other or against each other.

During Lent, for the sake of repentance and renewal, we reflect on how we betray our true identity as creatures made in the image of God and how we contribute to the fracturing of life rather than its healing. But this is not the end of our considerations. We remember Jesus Christ whom we betrayed, accused, condemned, and executed in the name of justice and of true religion and for the sake of maintaining the status quo we remember Jesus who was handed over to death for our trespasses and raised to life for our justification. And so we reflect on our brokenness not in despair, but in the light of God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. We look to the cross and we see the empire of sin having its way with the Beloved of God, crucifying the Son of God, wanting to silence the proclamation of the coming kingdom, bury the body of God’s incarnation, and be done with the promise of redemption.

But God is faithful beyond what we can imagine. Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God continued to speak of a future that had a baby in it, his and Sarah’s little boy. Sarah laughed when she overheard three guests they had invited into their tent talking about her having a child in due season. They both laughed incredulously when they considered the circumstances, but hoping against hope, they still held onto the promise. And when the child was born they named him Isaac, “laughter.” It was the laughter of unbridled joy. It was the beginning of the great Easter laughter when all of creation will rejoice in the redemption of life and erupt in praise of God.

 

[1] Gen 1:1-31; 6:5-6

[2] Gen 8:21

[3] Gen 11:30

[4] Gen 12:1-3

[5] Gen 15:5

[6] Gen 17:17

[7] Rom 4:19-21

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Hearing voices

Sharon Risher was resting on her couch in Charlotte, N.C., when reports about the Florida shooting came across her television. Her heart leapt at the sight of children fleeing a school and she switched the channel. You see, Sharon’s mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the nine black congregants shot dead by a white supremacist during a Bible class at Mother Emanuel in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Sharon said she already knows what will follow. “People will rally, and they will voice their opinions on social media about how sad it is, and how they’re praying,” she said. “But in the next month or so, it will be gone. And those families, like me, will have to deal with the devastation of our lives while everyone else moves on.”

“Governors order flags to fly at half-staff. Funeral services for children are staggered, so as to accommodate a broken community. Schools everywhere announce that counselors stand at the ready. And a nation sends thoughts and prayers,” wrote Dan Barry on Thursday.[1]

When a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead, a priest was going down that road, and he sent thoughts and prayers. So likewise a Levite.[2]

There’s nothing wrong with thoughts and prayers. Only the man by the Jericho road needed somebody to bandage his wounds and take care of him. Thoughts and prayers are wonderful, except when they are nothing but mumbled excuses for passing by on the other side of the road and not just once, but again and again and again. "Deadly shootings in schools — that is, the killing of children in sanctuaries of learning — have become a distinctly American ritual" (Dan Barry) that will repeat itself as long as the people who make the nation’s laws are paid by the people who make the nation’s guns.

On Wednesday, it was Broward County Sheriff, Scott Israel who stepped before the cameras to announce the toll of a massacre inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: 17 children and adults dead, another 16 wounded. “It’s catastrophic,” he said. “There really are no words.” No, there aren’t, because there’s so much sadness and so much anger and frustration, and half of the words that do come to mind you don’t want to use in the presence of children lest you frighten them even more with your rage.

What does it mean to be church in this moment? How do we proclaim the good news of God in this moment? How do we live the baptized life in this moment, and how do we remember that this is what we are called to be and do? We follow Jesus.

On Wednesday, we entered the season of Lent with ashes smudged on our foreheads and somber words urging us, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are all that’s left of the palm branches we waived and spread on the road  when Jesus came riding into town on a donkey and we were so excited about God’s reign on earth. The branches went up in flames like straw. Ashes is all that’s left, and we use them to trace the symbol of our hope on our foreheads, the cross of Jesus.

Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

One moment there’s a heavenly voice calling Jesus my Son and the Beloved, and before he can draw another breath, the Spirit drives him out, still wet, into the wilderness. Mark tells the story with urgency. Wilderness. Forty days. Satan. Wild beasts. Angels. Forty days in five quick strokes. It’s like Mark is flashing an image, and a movie starts playing in your mind. He plays just two or three chords, and I can hear the whole song. Can you?

I hear wilderness and I see the Hebrew slaves on the long journey to the promised land and I hear Isaiah sing of the end of exile. One word, and the scenes start rolling, and songs of redemption and hope are playing.

I hear forty days and I see Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on the way to Mount Horeb; the words are like hashtags that connect Jesus’ wilderness time with the memories and hopes of God’s people.

Wild beasts – that sounds dangerous and threatening, and perhaps you imagine hyenas laughing in anticipation of a good meal or lions prowling around the solitary man in ever closer circles. But can’t you also hear echoes of Isaiah’s beautiful prophecies of peace, of the days when the wolf lives with the lamb and the leopard lies down with the kid? The hashtag #wildbeasts touches our deep longing for creation at peace, as well as our hope for one who is with us in danger and fear.

Mark tells the story with urgency, but let’s linger a little at the flash of a scene where the angels wait on Jesus. The story that comes to mind is the story of Elijah. He was in the wilderness, not because the Spirit of God had driven him there, but because he wanted to get away from the fury of Queen Jezebel who wanted him dead. Elijah had fled into the wilderness for his life, but he was also exhausted. Physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted. So exhausted, he wanted to die, just not at the hand of Jezebel. He was tired of fighting. He was tired of calling his people to repentance. He was tired of feeling like he was the lone voice of resistance in a culture insisting on continuing its idolatrous ways. “It is enough,” he said, exhausted in body and soul, before he fell asleep under a broom tree. He woke up when an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” There was a bread and a jar of water. Elijah ate and drank and went back to sleep. The angel of the Lord came a second time and waited on him, saying, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”[3]

Mark flashes the words “and the angels waited on him,” and we know that Jesus is being nourished for a long, demanding journey. In the wilderness, you have only what you bring and what the angels give you. In the wilderness, it’s only you and the great silence; you and your thoughts and all that gets stirred up by the great silence. Kentucky farmer, writer, and teacher, Wendell Berry wrote in 1977,[4]

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.[5]

The forty days of Lent are about our “inner voices” and our “most intimate sources.” The forty days are about remembering how to live the baptized life; how to let the voice from heaven that calls us beloved, name us and claim us; how to let the Spirit that descended into Jesus be our most intimate source of life and hope and courage.

In Scripture, Satan is the name given to voices that whisper, scream and argue, with cold reason, seductive tone, or blunt intimidation – voices that only speak in order to drown out the voice from heaven that calls us beloved. In the wilderness, says Berry, “One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”[6] We enter the forty days in the company of Jesus who has faced all that we face in our loneliest, hungriest, and most exhausted moments, who responded to other lives with blessed clarity, and who goes ahead of us into the glorious communion of all creatures that life is meant to be.

Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus stopped Satan’s chatter or how he silenced the voices that did nothing but add question marks to God’s affirmation of who he was. But in the very next of Mark’s fast-paced scenes we see Jesus back in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

What does it mean to be church in this moment? The contours may not be as sharp and clear as we would like them to be, but they are clear enough. We may not know yet which of the comfortable certainties of being and doing church we will get to keep and which we will have to let go of but we do know that God wants us to live the baptized life, lives deeply grounded in the knowledge that we are God’s beloved and in the call to proclaim this good news to every human being. And we do know that God uses this and other communities of witness to help us turn from our idolatrous ways and follow Christ on the way to the glorious communion of all creatures that he called the kingdom of God. And so we move forward with faith. We take each step trusting the One who, in the words of Psalm 25, leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/15/us/florida-school-shooting-thoughts-prayers.html

[2] Luke 10:25-37

[3] 1 Kings 19:1-8

[4] Wendell Berry, “Healing” (1977) in What are people for?: Essays (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), 9-14.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Ibid.

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Seeing what's really there

Sometime on the way Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him some folks thought he was John the Baptist, and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. Jesus clearly got people’s attention, but they didn’t quite know who he was. So Jesus asked the disciples. They had been following him around for a while, listening to his teachings, and witnessing his miracles. They had had opportunities to hear and observe him in a variety of settings, so he asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[1] In Sunday school, he would get a gold star for giving such a splendid answer, but this wasn’t Sunday school. This was Jesus in the villages and on the streets of Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God’s reign. And Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Which is odd, because you’d expect that the Messiah announcing the kingdom of God would want the word to get out.

It appears Peter gave the right answer, but he may have given it too soon. The amazing teachings, the astonishing healings and miraculous feedings were not the whole story. So Jesus began to teach the disciples about the road ahead; he told them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And Peter wouldn’t hear it; he took Jesus aside for a little constructive feedback, something along the lines of “You gotta be kidding; are you serious?” Because in Peter’s book, suffering and death were not included in the job description for God’s Messiah.

Peter, spokesperson for the disciples, gave the right answer, but it was the wrong answer, because he thought he knew the playbook for God’s Messiah. He didn’t yet grasp that declaring Jesus to be the Christ meant that no one but God and Jesus himself would determine what the implications would be. To follow Jesus didn’t and doesn’t mean to watch him live up to our hopes and expectations, but to have our hope and our lives shaped by him.

In the next scene, Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and talked with them about discipleship. He taught them and teaches us what it means to say to him, “You are the Christ.”

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. [2]

To follow Christ is to trust that the way of the cross is indeed the way to redemption and fullness of life, and that kind of trust doesn’t just happen overnight. And so before the journey takes us to Jerusalem, we follow Jesus up a high mountain. And don’t go looking for this mountain on the map in the back of your Bible, and don’t go looking for it on your trip to Israel. Because this mountain, as Tom Long reminds us, “juts out not from the topography of Galilee, but from the topography of God. This is the mountain of revelation, the mountain of trans-formed vision, the mountain of true seeing.”[3]

There, Mark tells us, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. There was fire on the mountain. It was like light bursting through the seams of Jesus’ clothes—his face and hands and feet shining with luminous beautyand everything was bathed in this glorious light. It was as though time collapsedMoses and Elijah appeared, the great prophets of old, and they talked with Jesusit was as though heaven and earth had merged into one or the veil separating everyday reality from what’s really real had been removed. A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud came a voice, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This is the first and only time in the gospel that the voice from heaven addresses the disciples, addresses us, showing us that this is as much about us as it is about the identity of Jesus. It is not enough to say that Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, because it is our perception of him that is changed. We see who he really is, his true identity as beloved by God. We could never have seen that in the plains of everyday, let alone down in the dark valley; we could never have guessed that he is beloved by anybody. Admired, perhaps, during those moments when he drew crowds with his miraculous actions, but otherwise misunderstood by his disciples, rejected by folks in his hometown, drained of his power by his neighbors’ scoffing unbelief, and plotted against by the authorities. Beloved? Hardly. And even more powerful winds of hell were about to be unleashed.[4] He was after all on the way to Jerusalem.

But before the storm, before the darkness of Golgotha, the veil separating past, present and future is lifted, and we are given a glimpse, a foreglow of the glory of life’s redemption and fulfillment and a divine affirmation of Jesus who accomplished this redemption and fulfillment on the way of the cross.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” They looked around and they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. But now they could no longer see him or the world as they had once done. What they had witnessed on the mountaintop, they did not leave behind. What they had seen there now permeated what and how they saw here, in the plains and valleys of life.

And the plains and valleys is where their journey with himour journey with himtakes the disciples. It doesn’t take us out of the world and into realms of pure spiritual splendor. Jesus leads us down the mountain to the plains and valleys below where the whole world is awaiting its transfiguration. Down the mountain, to the places where life’s brokenness seems to always have the last word; where people languish in camps and shelters, longing to go home; to the places where ignorance and chaos seem to reign and where men, women, and children experience life as though they were the playthings of demons; down the mountain, to the valley where the heavy blanket of despair threatens to suffocate all hope.

Our journey with Jesus doesn’t take us out of the world, but deeper into it as servants of God’s reign; as followers of Jesus who dare to believe that his way, the way of the cross, is the way of life because we have caught glimpses of what love can heal, and every glimpse changes what and how we see. And so we follow him down the mountain and then on the long climb up to Jerusalem and to the hill they called Golgotha.

On Golgotha, there is no bright cloud overshadowing the scene, but rather a great and dreadful darkness. On the mountain, Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white, but under the cross soldiers tear them into souvenir rags. On the mountain, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus, but on the cross he is taunted by bandits. On the mountain, a heavenly voice spoke truth, but on Golgotha a hostile crowd is shouting ugly insults. On the mountain, our friend Peter wanted to stay and build dwellings, but at the crucifixion he is nowhere to be found. The contrast is startling and stark. On the mountain of the transfiguration, we reflect on our desire to see and be with God, but at the foot of the cross, we reflect on God’s desire to be with us. We climb this mountain before the long journey of Lent so we remember in the darkness of Good Friday that it is God’s Beloved whom we betray, deny, judge, abandon, mock and crucify, and, even more importantly, that God’s desire to be with us has overcome the power of sin.

Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah,” but he didn’t know what he was saying. On the mountain, Peter heard the voice of God declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” But only after he had failed repeatedly to stay awake and pray with Jesus in Gethsemane, after he had denied Jesus three times, and after he had fled from the cross was Peter ready to follow the Messiah who suffered, died and was raised. It was not on the mountaintop, but at the lowest point of his life that Peter began to fathom who Jesus is. When there was nothing left but hopelessness and the love of Christ, and love prevailed, that’s when Peter knew the Messiah.

On Wednesday we begin the long journey of Lent, a journey that is about our transfiguration and the transfiguration of the world. In humility and hope, we follow Christ from ashes to glory. We ask for the light of God to shine in our hearts that we might be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Jesus, as the apostle Paul so beautifully put it (2 Cor 4:6). The whole journey is about our transfiguration and the transfiguration of the world. It is about our re-creation in the image and likeness of Christ, the beloved of God. In the company of Jesus, we begin to recognize ourselves as God’s beloved, and that love is the light of God shining in our hearts. The light of love opens our eyes to see what is really there, in the face of every man, woman, and child: the beloved of God.

 

[1] See Mark 8:27-30

[2] See Mark 8:34-35

[3] Thomas G. Long, “Reality show,” The Christian Century 123, no. 5 (March 7, 2006), 16.

[4] See Long, Reality show.

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