Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Covenant Series, part 2. Abram and God's future

From Second Sunday in Lent. Based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.  The covenant with Abram and Sarai.
What if Abram said "No?" What if he said, "I'm too old, too tired for this." It’s a long journey.  It’s scary.  I don’t have what I need, I don’t know how to respond. What if Abram chose comfort and stability over leaving and going and trusting and obeying the LORD?  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share this origin story.  Its worth noticing that this is Genesis 17, and that God has been communicating with Abram since Genesis 12.  This is actually the fourth time God has made a covenant promise to Abram, with the hope and expectation that Abram would receive the promise and live his life as if it were true. God had to talk to Abram four times in order to get through to Abram!  Have you ever had to say the same thing, give the same direction four times before the person you’re taking to hears you?  If you’re married or have children, this has happened to you.  How many times do I have to tell you?  Didn’t you hear me?  I’ve told you four times where we’re going.  We listen worse to the people closest to us.  Abram listened badly to God.    

 God promised descendants, land, and a national identity.  A nomadic people will become settled. To live as if it were true would be for Abram to see his life as one filled with meaning, significance, and hope far beyond himself. It’s also worth understanding that Abram is a representative character and not merely an individual as we think of an individual.  Abram saw himself as an insignificant member of a tribe or clan.  Individuality is a modern thought about the person.  Abram was part of a group, perhaps its leader, but still an interdependent tribe or ethnic group.  Later known as Israel or the Hebrews.  Abram represents to us the revelation relationship between this God and this God’s people.  This God is invisible, yet appears to speak.  We can hear God, too. But we have to listen.  And listening for God involves trust.   

 I love this text for so many reasons.  1.  If you are under the age of 99 you are eligible to play on God's creation restoration team. God is inconveniently disrespectful of retirement. You're not too old for this stuff.  This is especially important because our congregation has a number of elder adults in it. God is a lot older than you, so…you’re not done yet, God ain’t done with us.  2.  If you haven’t figured out what God is saying to you, maybe you’re not listening.  Listening to God involves silence, stillness, and Scripture.  3. God intends for covenant faithfulness to be generationally passed down. So, children matter as much as elders do. God is the creator.  If we want more youth and children in our faith community, then we have to be willing to do our part, to be fruitful and multiply.  Create space that is inviting to children and youth.  4.  God is exceedingly generous in the unfolding drama of creation restoration. The covenant is lopsided with God taking the brunt of the responsibility for the unfolding plan. 5.  There is hope for the future.  God invites Abram and us to imagine a future beyond ourselves.  I'm guessing that Abram could have said 'NO', but having said "yes" by falling on his face, he is changed. His life was about himself or a nomadic tribal experience of daily survival, until his life was consumed with the God who spoke and speaks. After that his life was about the descendent, the nations, the people more numerous than the stars who would call him "Father Abraham." It was about the land on which he walked.  The name change signifies that he received his life direction as a gift from God that changed him.  So, to what adventure is God inviting us to say yes? Is there a future child of God depending on our faithfulness today? You know, God doesn't need us to do anything, but our children do. And our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s never too late to be faithful.  I see in the Wittel Farm and the growing community of children who worship and serve here a sign of God’s covenant promise to Abram in this place. Land and descendants!  But what are we willing to sacrifice, to change, to give up, to surrender in order to be faithful, fully committed to this walk with God? The promise cannot be fulfilled if we are stubbornly clinging to ourselves, our time, and our possessions.  This covenant is serious.  Involving flesh and blood.  Both Abram and Sarai are equally part of the covenant promise.  Sarai and Abram will die long before the covenant is fulfilled, though they will experience the joy and laughter of an infant named Isaac, which literally means laughter.  But they will not see a kingdom or a national identity emerge.  In four generations they will become slaves for 400 years.  But the promise is everlasting and continues. The amazing endurance of Jewish and Christian community, despite thousands of years of change, disruption, war, political upheaval, abuse of power, persecutions, holocausts, plagues, is testimony enough to see that God keeps promises alive. We are enduring a time of great challenge and change, in which faithfulness is tested.  What do we stand for?  What do we say as the community of Jesus?  How we love our neighbors matters. 
So what does it look like to live in the Abrahamic covenant? As a community of Jesus, we have been drawn into that family of faith. Our response to God’s activity, God’s voice has a name.  We call it discipleship.  The lifelong pursuit of Jesus, his way of life, and the formation of a community that looks and sounds more and more like him.  Eugene Petersen calls Christian discipleship “A long obedience in the same direction.”  It looks like the cross.  A lifelong pursuit of the life God is giving you.  Its like receiving, unpacking, and putting together a great gift.  Its like building a cathedral, one brick at a time over several lifetimes.  There were faithful Christians right here before us. Will there be faithful ones after us?

Parade Watchers or Protest Marchers

On Palm Sunday, the day after a massive student movement called "March for our Lives", marched on cities across the country to mobilize against gun violence and demand action.
Was it a parade or a protest march?  I guess it depends on your perspective.  Parades celebrate victory and power and cultural pride.  A parade gathers a crowd to celebrate life as it is, the status quo. Every fourth of July parade is the same.   Protest marches, on the other hand, demand change, justice, an end to oppression, often instigated by marginalized or disenfranchised people, those who are struggling with the way things are.  Protests provoke, challenge, and confront the powers that be.  Nobody gets arrested at a parade.  Was it a parade or a protest march?  We know what happens after Palm Sunday’s protest parade.  He’s arrested and put to death for rebellion. 

Pain.   Violence.  Destruction of bodies.  This is what we are confronted with in the story of Jesus.  The state and religious sanctioned killing of an innocent man.  Our vile familiarity with cruelty, our casual acceptance of violent acts perpetrated by those with power against those without, our callous disregard for the fragility and beauty and wonder of life, any life, one person’s life at best leaves us with shame or righteous anger.  We may feel the weight of the injustice and the shame of our cowardice in the face of it.  We may not.  We may accept death and dying as undeniable truth.  We may wonder why Jesus had to die?  For our sins?  Because of our sins?  As a consequence of sin, injustice, violence, prejudice, rage and hate that kills us. Those who benefit from the status quo are not interested in revolutionary change.  Protect what is mine, even if someone else bears the cost.  I am now aware that many black lives, southern black migrant workers, the grandchildren of slaves who worked on our farm-- bore the cost of my childhood and education.  I do not know how to repay that debt.  They bore the cross for me.  I did not ask them to do it.  I was not responsible for it.  But I benefit from it. This is why the message of the cross matters.  It tells us the truth.  We are in that story somewhere.  Politicians.  Religious leaders.  Crowds.  Police.  Executioners. Bystanders.  Fellow prisoners. Mourners.  Family members.  God, this keeps happening.  We keep doing this to ourselves. Yesterday’s march for our lives and that march on Jerusalem 2000 years ago have this in common:  a resilient hope, despite strong opposition, for political change that ends suffering and violence and brings peace to all people.  Call it the coming of the kingdom of God.           

What happened to Jesus of Nazareth on that hill outside of Jerusalem was not and is not a unique, unprecedented, or unexpected event.  We will not turn Jesus’ crucifixion into a special divine act, an act of great courage or holiness.   The cross was not and is not a one-time event that happened to one man many called and call the Christ.  No.  Jesus was not crucified alone for a reason.  It was to show his compatriots that Jesus was not special, that he was no more or better than any other common unnamed prisoner of the empire.  Killed by the empire to protect the status quo, to demonstrate power and control, to assure everyone of their place in the world.  Palestinian Jews, the poor, the sick, the non-citizen, are at the bottom---are nothing, disposable, expendable, less than human.  So they can be treated as such.  Stripped, beaten, mocked, crucified, left for dead.  The empire destroys the body to show that they have the power to control the body.  To take life.  They decide who is free and who is not.  Who is good and who is not. Who benefits and who suffers.   Rome is not the only empire to use violence to control.         From European colonialists and slavers to totalitarian regimes.  Every war.  War is always about power and control.  Someone is trying to take it from someone else.  The crusades.  The holocaust. Hiroshima.  Apartheid.  Slavery and segregation.  Sometimes the Christians are the oppressed, sometimes the oppressors.  Sometimes the oppressed become the oppressors.  The abused become the violent abuser.  There is always innocent suffering, collateral damage.  In Syria. In Vietnam.  From the trail of tears to the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies, this country, this empire has its own way of maintaining power and control.  Segregate by race.  Marginalize, dehumanize, and destroy black and brown bodies.  In ghettos and prisons and impoverished schools and jobless communities.  We don’t crucify anymore.  Its too inefficient.  We have found far more efficient ways to kill.  Unarmed black bodies are targets.  From whippings to lynchings to drug wars and incarcerations and shootings.  If we want to understand Jesus and the cross, we have to look at communities of the oppressed and suffering.  We must look at the refugee, the disabled, the impoverished, and especially the non-white person of color.   

The effect of Palm Sunday is to snap us to awareness. So we can find our place in that story. In the crowd. As bystanders.  Onlookers.  Indifferent.  Or worse, ignorant.  Are we powerless victims?  Are we privileged citizens that can afford to look away?  If we have not grieved for the death of Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento police last week.  If we have not grieved the murder of school children.  If we do not grieve the death of Syrian children.  What have we become? Fragile avoiders of pain? Parade watchers?  But if you find yourself marching with Jesus in the story, then its not too late.  We can become protest marchers, hoping against despair that the world changes, that the gun fight ends, that the war ceases, that nonviolence prevails, that love wins and peace comes to earth. May we march with that King and that Kingdom of peace to come. May we shout Hosannas and march on until it does.  Amen. 

The soil we're planted in

The soil you plant in matters.  My work with the Wittel Farm Growing Project in these last few years has given me much to reflect about in my life.  I grew up in a farming family in Upstate New York.  Started in the 1920s by my great-Grandfather Lenahan, we were a large commercial green bean farm and dairy, until the 1970’s.  Gradually, we transitioned from a commercial cash crop business toward a small market vegetable and fruit business.  We grew hundreds of acres of crops that we sold in a farm market store we built, similar to our Reiff’s or Hoover’s.  I grew up working on the farm, harvesting crops, tilling, planting, and selling.  As a teen, I loved taking my pickup truck load of fresh-picked sweet corn to a weekly outdoor farm market (like Lititz Farmers market) to sell.  I also loved to eat what we grew on the farm.  Summer was a daily diet of fresh fruits and vegetables.  It was hard work and in 1992 I left for College with a strong desire to follow another path.  I heard a call to ordained ministry while I was at Susquehanna University, a call to leave behind the family farm and pursue another work.  I never imagined that this path would bring me to another farm to grow fresh vegetables for hungry neighbors.  Along this journey I have learned many things about God, myself, and other people.  Now I am learning the role racism and white advantage has played in my life.     

I had my only encounters with non-white people on the farm.  We hired migrant Hispanics from Guatemala and Mexico to labor and live on the farm in the summers.  They taught me Spanish, hard work, and how to eat hot peppers.  They didn’t watch TV.  They played guitars and sang together.  They were generous and happy men, who sent their paychecks home. Nobody worked longer or harder than they did.  They rarely took a day off.  Now I know that their charm for me was based on racial inequality and white privilege (dominance).  At the end of the day, I went home to a comfortable place with my family.  These men spent months apart from their homes and families in order to support the children they left behind.  I will never have to do that because their work provided income for my family that helped me to go to College.   

I was always a passive racist, not personally prejudicial toward people of color, but not aware of systemic bias and oppressive inequality either.  Only now am I learning to become an active anti-racist.  Like an emerging seedling, I'm beginning to see the light above the soil in which I was planted.  I recently had a conversation with my parents about race, because I knew that our farm used to employ and house southern blacks migrants on the farm to pick 800 + acres of green beans in the summer time, in the years before mechanical bean pickers.  I learned that over 50 people came up from the south, men, women and children.  In the 50s and 60s, they came up to our farm, lived in crude shacks with no plumbing, and worked hard for very little pay.  They held dances and played music and drank beers on Saturday nights---to feel human and free, and not like a “negro”.  Now I understand that my family’s livelihood, my childhood, and college education were bought by the hard, cheap labor of poor southern black families.  It was understood then that they needed the work and that they were willing to live under those crude conditions. I don’t blame my ancestors, least of all my parents. (They were kids then). This was the way of things. It was a cultural reality, a system, a way of life.  My ancestors' ignorance and prejudices were embedded in the American story. How many of those black migrant workers were the grandsons or granddaughters of former slaves? Though I lived in a racially homogenous, predominantly white rural community, my life was also bound to the black experience in America in ways I am only now beginning to understand. This is hard to share. But it is my truth.  
What is your race story?  What is your experience with people of color?  How have you benefited from being white? I understand how uncomfortable these questions and this conversation can be for us.  I am uncomfortable, too. But I am also enriched by this awareness of race and by a growing passion to actively resist and oppose the systemic racism that effects American life in so many ways.  I cannot live in ignorance or denial of my own story anymore.  And I believe God is calling me again to till this soil and plant seeds of courage and water with hope and ready us for a harvest of love and understanding, justice and reconciliation. 

In peace,

Pastor Matt         

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The rainbow and the cross

God's protection and peace be with you wherever you go this week.  What a week it has been. One that may have provoked questions like these: How can you believe in a Good God when the world is so bad?  The chaos, cruelty, violence, and injustice point away from a benevolent creator.  What sort of a God creates this and then threatens his creatures with the possibility of hell after death? As if this isn’t bad enough.  The best we can say is that the worst hasn’t yet happened to me or to those I love.  But it sometimes feels like I’m waiting for that to happen.  There is a capricious randomness to the whole thing.  After another mass shooting at a public school and the subsequent rage, sorrow, and powerlessness that follows, I wonder how long.  How long until it gets me or how long must we live under the pall of violence and death? Do we hunker down?  Protect our own? Lock the doors, arm the ushers?  Should all of us be trained gunmen? This doubtful cynicism is symptomatic of a culture of death, violence, and powerlessness.  And it is spiritually dangerous, because it perpetuates the dehumanizing effect of violence and makes it acceptable, even necessary.  It leads us to wilderness survival against the threats around us.

In other news, in a scene of gruesome poetic justice, an infamous South African poacher was attacked and eaten by lions.  Which suggests that the whole animal kingdom is hardwired toward violent retribution.  All that remained was his rifle and ammunition.  The world is deadly enough without those manmade killing machines.  We’ve just become more efficient at it.  The most efficient killers the earth has ever seen.  When will there be peace?  How do we make it?

The Noah story with its rainbows and doves, is the most beloved of the bible stories.  You’ll never find a children’s first bible without it.  And yet it is the deadliest.  The flood, the ark, the animals, Noah and his family, the rainbow.  Benign images in a picture book.  We forget that the purpose of the flood was to cleanse the earth of the violence, cruelty, and chaos of humanity.  The creator’s original blessing and intent for creation had been rejected and distorted by the image-bearing creatures, who saw God in themselves and decided to take that literally.  Argument erupts over power, who’s in charge, who’s the most right, the greatest, the highest ranking.  Fighting and killing ensues. Brother against brother, we’re told. A civil war among God’s first children. So, God takes action and puts an end to the violence with one violent, destructive, death-dealing act of power---a mighty flood.  But, God rescues Noah and his family and all the animals.  And then the God of the bible does a radical, unprecedented, and misunderstood thing.  God makes a unilateral covenant with Noah.  Now a covenant is a binding legal agreement, a partnership relationship, a quid pro quo.  In the ancient near east covenants ended violence between warring tribes or bound two families together in mutual agreement over land or women.  Typically, a covenant is conditional and requires both sides to agree to some compromise arrangement.  Give and take.  But this covenant is different.

The almighty, powerful creator binds Himself to his creation with an unconditional promise.  Never again will I destroy the earth with a flood.  God will not be responsible for the destruction of the earth and its creatures.  God binds himself to them as protector and savior, not violent dictator or destructive overlord.  The rainbow is a reminder, not to us, but to God. This covenant is unconditional and eternal.  God will not use violence as a means to achieve peace. Ever.  God will use patient forebearance and forgiveness as that means.  In fact, at the right time God will descend and walk the earth, literally entering the wilderness, the chaos, cruelty, and violence of human civilization in order to rescue us from it.  In Jesus Christ, God continues to live out the Noah covenant—coming not as a military messiah or powerful destroyer of evil, but as a teacher and healer and forgiver of sins.  In Jesus, God floods the earth with life and love.  And the wood that built the ark will also build a cross.  Just as the ark once saved Noah, so the cross saves us. Jesus’ death is life for us. It is symbol of God’s devotion to our lives, God’s protection, God’s promise not to abandon or forsake us.  I believe that Jesus Christ was present in that school, is present in every school and nightclub and concert venue and city street and abusive home and refugee camp and prison.  Jesus joins our journey through the violent wilderness that is civilization as we’ve made it, in order to remake it “on earth as it is in heaven.” The God of the bible has not given up on this project to make a peaceful home with us.  And the good news is that God continues to act.       

I believe that the rain, the snowfall is not God’s destructive power any more.  I believe they are God’s tears.  And that God’s hope is that we will be moved by those tears to stand against the violence and the suffering and the chaos.  God has given us what we need to bring peace.  God has bought us time, taught us a way to walk in love and compassion with neighbors and enemies.  Commanded us not to be afraid.  Sent the Spirit to give us power and wisdom and courage to act for justice, to do what is right, to cry out against this culture of violence and death.  This culture that idolizes guns and protects the rights of those who want to use them to commit murder, so that the best justice the culture can offer is the death penalty or life in prison or death by cop or suicide for the perpetrator of the crime.  Death is what we have to offer.  We can stand against this culture of violence and death.  We must be rainbow people—promising never again to act with violence and anger toward one another.  We must seek to understand trauma and anger and disconnection and alienation---the sin that tears the human family apart.  We must enter more deeply into the suffering of others, into their stories, their grief, their shame, their fears, their despair.  And we must affirm the covenant relationship—that God in God’s mercy and love has chosen to become vulnerable and human, in order to draw near to us, to show us love, to heal us, and to lead us toward the rainbow of non-violence.  Lent begins with the Noah covenant of protection and non-violent peace-making, with the God who enters the wilderness with us. The rainbow and the cross.  May they be for us talisman of hope and the promise of a new creation that is yet to be born, one for which we long with all our hearts and work towards with all the tenacity and courage we can muster as the covenant people of God.  Amen.                 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Last Christmas Eve

Welcome, friends, guests, neighbors, family, people of peace and goodwill.  You have come here tonight to worship Jesus, to hear the story again, to sing the carols, to join in fellowship around the one table, to pray for peace during a time of war, violence, and suffering; you have come here to participate in this annual pilgrimage from your home and streets and neighborhood to the manger, to the little town of Bethlehem, to the site of a holy birth, to the surrounding hills and valleys where sheep graze and shepherds watch and angels sing.  You have come to be transported to another place and time.  And though we cannot physically go there tonight, the words we hear and sing move us there in our minds and hearts.   Perhaps because you are in need of some nostalgia or an escape from the real world.  Perhaps your soul hungers and your heart grieves. Perhaps you are weighed by the heaviness of recent world events, elections, attacks, overt public acts of discrimination and hate.  You are concerned about places like Aleppo, Syria or Afghanistan or Cairo, or Chicago or Berlin.  Places where people live and suffer unjustly, live with perpetual war or fear of violence.  Perhaps you are work weary or fighting illness or grieving a loss. Maybe you are eager to feel the presence of God or taste the goodness of the Lord.  Maybe you just love this night. The anticipation of the children.  The beauty and majesty of candlelight and silent night.  Maybe you are here by invitation or obligation.  Someone else wanted you or needed you here.  So here you are.    We welcome you here.  There is a place for you, wherever you are in your life circumstances.  We only ask that you be present with us in the activity, the work of worship.  Your presence is appreciated.  Thank you for coming.  There is always room here for you. 

There was no room for them in the inn, Luke said.  Internally displaced by the occupying governments of imperial Rome, because emperors like to register religious groups as a form of intimidation and social control, they traveled 100 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem---a hard journey.   A system of oppression was in place that forced the young couple to travel far from their village and family.  Forced to deliver her baby in a distant town, they will be forced to flee to another country to avoid violent persecution by their own governing rulers.  This new family will become refugees, until a change in government allows them to return to their home town of Nazareth.  These people experience rejection, homelessness, and internal displacement.  As do an unprecedented number of people in the world today.  Some 60 million people are displaced.  1 in 100 people on the planet.  60 % of all Syrians have been forced from their homes.  They experience what Mary and Joseph and Jesus did; no room in the inn.  It is to an inhospitable world that he comes.  According to Luke, there was no room in the kataluma, or guest room.  Many homes had a guest room, prepared for travelers to rest.  Customary hospitality would have prohibited the residents, likely Joseph’s extended family, from turning them away, especially because she was in labor, even if the guest room was already occupied.  Instead, they would’ve made space for them with the animals on the side of the house.  Sort of like the garage, connected to the main quarters of the home.   Family members, villagers, animals, and shepherds would have surrounded the very public birth.  It was not a private, silent night in a solitary cattle shed in a field.  It was downtown Bethlehem, during a time of forced migration.  Jesus is born under these circumstances, received by strangers and extended family. When we welcome the displaced, the refugee, the single mother and child, those experiencing poverty and systemic injustice, we welcome Jesus.        

We have heard so much bad news, so much fake news, so little good news that we find it hard to believe.  Don’t we?  This year has left many of us feeling anxious, afraid, and disturbed by what we have seen and heard on the news.  So, listen to the angels and sing what they sang. For to you has been born on this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.  So many of us see the need for a savior, a rescuing helper, a divine intervention in the world’s crises.  We have seen refugees drown and children die in war.  We have seen shooting violence and racism; heard of islamophobia and the denigration of immigrants.  Dehumanizing.  Cruel.  Sad.  We may feel powerless, defeated by forces of injustice and evil.  We see the widening gulf between the rich and the poor.  This ugliness on the news leaves us jaded and cynical.  Can anything get better?  Can anyone help?  Angels says, to you is born a savior.  While emperors threaten and power is displayed through violence, peace maintained through war---a prince of peace is born to peasants in an ancient Palestinian village.   He comes to save us from our sins, from our worst selves.  More than ever the world needs angels, messengers of good news to announce a savior’s birth and a promise of peace and goodwill toward all humankind.  We are invited to join the angels and the shepherds, and tell others the good news of what God has done.  If we don’t the world will not know it.  Perhaps nothing gets better, as long as we remain silent.  As you go home tonight, ponder these things in your heart.  His birth says that God comes to us.  God abides with us.  God seeks us.  God comes near.  God is present.  In space and time.  Present to us.   

Far from home, he comes to dwell among people and animals.  This is the good news.  Received, but not welcomed.  He comes to this world beset by violence, forced migration and displacement.  According to the story, Jesus is God with us, God in the flesh dwelling among us.  No doubt you are making room for guests this weekend as extended family gather to celebrate.  If you must travel and become a guest, remember the story. If you receive guests, may your hospitality be received with gratitude.  And may you be blessed by your guests, as if the holy family were present. May the presence of the savior be made known to you in the breaking of the bread.  Bethlehem literally means house of flesh or house of bread and reminds us that wherever the bread is broken and eaten, Jesus is present to save.  May you experience his loving presence in this place and in all the places you find yourselves this holy season. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Mark 14. The last Days

Mark 14

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus* by stealth and kill him; for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’
 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,* and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

Reflection Questions:

Why did they want to arrest and kill Jesus?
Anointing oil was used for healing, for burial of the dead, and for crowning a King.
When have you seen or experienced extravagance, generosity, and/or real physical care?
What does the woman's action teach about the body?
What does Jesus mean by: "You will always have the poor with you...?"

MARK 14, continued

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread* into the bowl* with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’

Reflection Questions:

In your own life, what would betrayal look like?  How have you experienced betrayal?  To whom are you most loyal? What does loyalty require?

What does it mean that Jesus' betrayer is one of the twelve, sitting at table with him?
What does it mean that the others at table question their own loyalty by asking, "Surely not I?"

MARK 14, continued
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

Reflection Questions:
To whom have you given your life?  Your body?  Your blood?  Your tears?  Your sweat?  Your allegiance?  Your entire being?
Who has given the same to you?
Why does Jesus give them a physical expression of his gift, in the form of a simple meal?  Why Bread and wine?  

A prayer against the violence

Another violent act in which your children fall.
Another invisible man with more guns---automatic killing machines-- and enough ammunition to kill or wound hundreds of bodies.
Another crippling sense of national grief, anger, and intransigence.
Another argument about rights, privileges, responsibility, and guilt.
Another search for heroes, sacrificial lambs, compassionate helpers, protectors, and survivors.
Another prayer into the grief and horror.
Another day of work and grocery shopping, and television watching, and homework, and vacation planning, and commuting, and ordinary routines.
Another moment in which fear, mistrust, and insecurity threaten to tear us apart.
Another, in the liturgy of perpetual violence against human bodies that we witness, experience, receive, and mourn.
Bodies bleeding on the ground.  From wounds inflicted.  By self or other.
A war rages on here.  Unending.  Eternal.
Generating fear and hate and more violence.  And more fear.  

And You, declaring, "Fear not."
You, warning us against greed, idolatries, and apathy toward life.
You, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
You, life-giver.  You, death destroyer.  You, raiser of the dead.
You, willing victim of violence.  Crucified.  Shot.  Bleeding.  Dying. On the streets.  In the crowd.
You, among us, your falling children.
Promising to lift us up.
You, peacemaker. Forgiver of sins. Deliverer of justice.  Promiser of salvation.
Dare we to believe this?  In the face of so much constant violence?
Dare we to trust you?
We, who dare, need your help to stand and walk forward.
We grieve.  We struggle. We wait.  With hope and cynicism.
Come in peace.  Come in love.  Come in mercy. Come in power that effects change and brings down systems and leaders that protect the violent and permit harm.
Come and heal us.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mark 13 and Stay Woke

Keep awake, Jesus said.  Keep awake. Pay attention to the times and the seasons.  Movements require that its leaders pay attention, because there is a rhythm to the work of building a just and peaceful world.  Some describe it as a step forward and a step back, or the ebb and flow of a rising tide. Compassionate justice has eluded the world.  Is the world safer, cleaner, fairer than it was in the past?  Are we making progress?
My wife is helping to teach the UN Millennium Development Goals as part of her school's LA curriculum. Check them out at  Are the goals attainable?  Are they progressive?  Are they inclusive?   Who are the winners and the losers?

StayWoke is a paraphrase that has found its way into urban vernacular and the resistance work of current anti-racism organizing groups, like Black Lives Matter. It suggests that resisters must be vigilant in our efforts to advocate for just policies and safe communities. Check out  Stay Woke is about policing the police in black communities where racial bias and profiling endangers young black kids daily.  Stay Woke is about becoming aware of internalized oppression and the ways in which black and brown communities continue to struggle because of the trauma of history.

For Christians, it means that we are paying attention for the cross--the places in which power is abused, the weak are oppressed, and the poor are trampled upon.  We must watch out for those who are vulnerable, risking vulnerability ourselves to do so. We are paying attention to the ways that the powerful assess threats to their power and use their wealth and influence to mitigate those threats, by further disadvantaging poor communities.

It is also a call to wake up from our own complacency with, comfort in, and conformity to the status quo dominant culture.  In what ways do we benefit from a system that favors white, educated, males and puts women and people of color at a disadvantage?

Stay Woke might mean to take a stand, to protest, to march, to oppose hatred and prejudice.  It might mean to take action in your community for your neighbor.

Jesus expects us to be vigilant, to pay attention to the news and politics of the day.  Because we will see the cross there.  In mass incarceration, in cuts to health care and food for the hungry, in anti-immigration policies, and in policies that benefit the wealthiest few.

Maybe this gospel is a Kairos moment for you---you've been unaware of the bigger implications of Jesus' mission.  Its not just about "saving souls" one person at a time.  It's not even about random acts of kindness and "being a good person."  It's about massive change, moving history in a direction, building a world around God's intentions--and not ours.  Jesus came to confront and destroy evil, hatred, bigotry, religious extremism, and political hegemony.  He came to rule as a King who dies for his people.

 Keep Watch.  In the midst of the darkness, the shitstorm, the ugliness and suffering, God is demonstrating love--on the cross.        

Mark 13. Wake Up!

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news* must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!”* or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs* and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.
 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he* is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert;* for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Reflection questions:
What do you think about those who predict "the end of the world"?
The Bible says that there is a beginning and an end.  What do you think about that?
As we come to the end of the gospel story, of what are you more aware as a result of this journey with Jesus?  To what or to whom are you paying more attention?
What is the hope you see in this chapter?
How are we supposed to respond to the course of human events?