Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Fifth Sunday in Lent Year B

5th Sunday in Lent—Year B March 22, 2015 One of my favorite movies growing up was The Princess Bride, a cult classic for my generation. Many of us could quote whole portions of dialogue from the movie, and I find, even now, after not having watched it in many years, that certain lines stick with me. This week, I couldn’t help remembering an exchange between Princess Buttercup and the man in black, a mysterious stranger who has stolen her from her captors but whose motives are yet unclear. They are talking about Buttercup’s one true love, Wesley, whom she lost, and the man in black mocks her. Buttercup replies, “You mock my pain!” and the man in black responds sharply “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Another well known writer, M. Scott Peck captures this in the opening lines of his book The Road Less Traveled. He writes, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” Both of these quotes get at the question that I hear in our readings for today. It is the question of suffering. Are these two understandings of life Christian in their understanding of the nature of suffering? Are we just supposed to grin and bear it when it comes to suffering? How do we deal with suffering as people of faith? What do we do with all of this? Our scriptures for today provide as many questions about suffering as they do answers, unfortunately. In the Jeremiah reading, we see the prophet offering words of hope and good news to a people who are experiencing great suffering. “This text is situated in a season of failure in ancient Israel. The city of Jerusalem has been conquered and burned, the temple has been destroyed, the monarchy has been terminated, and the leading citizens deported into exile. This all came about, says the poet, because Israel broke the old covenant of Mt. Sinai. Over a long period of time Israel refused the commandments of Sinai. Israel did not take justice seriously, and did not ground its life in the God of the Exodus. And so, in covenantal perspective, came the judgment of God.”i Now they are suffering greatly. The Hebrews reading talks about Jesus’s suffering, how he had to learn obedience “through what he suffered and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” I’ll just go ahead and tell you that this is theologically problematic for me. Thankfully, I read an essay on this reading that helped me engage it in a more helpful way. The writer gives a different perspective noting that “these are attempts to make sense of what otherwise could be a senseless death, not attempts to ascribe divine necessity to the crucifixion. To say that Jesus learned obedience through suffering is not to say that God willed Jesus’ suffering, nor that suffering was part of the divine plan. It is only to say that the suffering of Jesus is not utterly meaningless. God worked through it for a greater purpose.”ii It reminds me of one of my favorite parts of scripture, when in the Joseph story in the Old Testament, after Joseph is reunited with his brothers who sold him into slavery and they are afraid that he will seek retribution, he tells them basically, “What you meant for evil; God meant for good.” Finally, there is the gospel reading for today. It’s a curious story that takes place in the middle of the Passover in Jerusalem and is preceded by events such as Jesus’s raising of Lazarus, Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet, and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds of people form to hear and see Jesus even as others plot to destroy him. These two Greeks show up in the midst of all this and tell Philip who then tells Andrew that they want to see Jesus. We don’t know if they ever get to actually see Jesus because Jesus answers his disciples by saying that now is the time for him to be glorified, and he goes on to speak about his own suffering. Do we worship a God that would demand suffering in order to save all of humanity? I find that incommensurate with the God whom Jesus reveals time and time again. What I think Jesus is wrestling with here, as all of humanity wrestles, is how to find meaning in suffering. And that is really the crux of the issue. There’s another way of putting these questions, a more positive, perhaps life-giving way that captures a little more of the hope to which we are called. It is the opening line of John O’Donohue’s book Anam Cara. He writes, “It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you.” It hints at the truth that this life which will most definitely offer us a fair portion of pain and suffering also offers us a fair portion of beauty and meaning. Our work as humans is to not get so lost in the pain and suffering that we cannot seek and find the beauty and meaning, and that is where grace comes in. This week, I read a poem that somehow mangages to capture all of this. It is titled So? By Leonard Nathan So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis or even a well-known singer of popular songs and will never read Greek or speak French fluently, will never see something no one else has seen before through a lens or with the naked eye. You’ve been given just the one life in this world that matters and upon which every other life somehow depends as long as you live, and also given the costly gifts of hunger, choice and pain with which to raise a modest shrine to meaning. Along with this poem, the Quaker writer Parker Palmer poses the following question about his own life to reflect upon “Using everything I have—including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’-what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I’d like to create with my life?” Think about it this week and ask it of yourselves from time to time: “Using everything I have—including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’-what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I’d like to create with my life?” In closing, here are some wise words from Brian Andreas in his story Out to Play. “No hurt survives for long without our help, she said and then she kissed me and sent me out to play again for the rest of my life.” i. Walter Bruegemann. ii. Feasting on the Word Commentary Year B Volume 2. Ed. Bartlett and BrownTaylor. Theological perspective by Martha L. Moore-Keish. P 138.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Third Sunday in Lent

Lent 3B March 8, 2015 We have a bit of a change this week, in our gospel readings. Today, our lectionary gives us a reading from the gospel of John (where we have been mostly traveling through Mark this year). Our reading for today from John is striking in its difference from Mark and the other synoptic gospels. Today’s story is what is known as the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. In all the synoptic gospels, (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this story comes at the very end of Jesus’ public ministry, and it is the last straw for the authorities, the impetus for Jesus’s crucifixion. But John’s gospel is different. In John, this story is at the very beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. It sets the stage for it, even. This is interesting because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written. It is written to a community who is living in a world after the temple in Jerusalem has been completely destroyed. Think about it. The heart and center of Jewish worship is no more. Where do they go to worship God? How do they worship without the temple? By placing this story at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, John is offering a commentary on that. “God is no longer available primarily, let alone exclusively, via the Temple. Instead, as John confesses in the opening verses of his account, Jesus invites us to experience God’s grace upon grace (1:17) through our faith in him. Given that John’s account was written well after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans, his insistence – and perhaps reassurance – to his community that they would find God’s mercy in Christ outside rather than inside the Temple makes practical as well as theological sense. And, to tell you the truth, I think it has the same potential today.”i One of my all-time favorite series of books is C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In these books, Lewis tells of a mythical land called Narnia, a group of children who get to visit there from our world and have marvelous adventures and their encounters with the Christ-like lion figure in Narnia named Aslan. The protagonists for the first few books are a set of four siblings, who travel to Narnia together and have these adventures. But as the children grow older, Aslan tells them that they will no longer be able to return to Narnia. At the end of the third book, Aslan has this conversation with the two youngest of the four children—Lucy and Edmond. Lucy is distraught at the prospect of not seeing the beloved lion again, but he reassures her that she will see him in her own world. When she is surprised that Aslan is present in her world, he tells her that the whole reason for bringing her to Narnia for a time was so that, coming to know him well here, she would recognize him more easily there. This is part of why we come to church. It is to recognize God more easily when we encounter God out in the world and in our lives. But there is a flip-side to this as well. This past Wednesday, I did a teaching about spirituality and worship. In this teaching, I listed several practices to help make common worship more prayerful/spiritual. Listen to this first one: To worship God with greater ease, we must practice loving God every day of our lives. To see God in worship we need to see God in the everyday, and if we see God in the everyday then we can see God better on Sunday. Imagine, if you will, that you are in Grand Central Station at rush hour and you are scheduled to meet a friend that you haven’t seen in many years, but you don’t have a specific place to meet. This is what it is like when trying to love God only in and through worship on Sundays. What if, dear ones, the true work of the church is equipping her people to uncover God out in the world in our everyday lives? What in our parish, our worship, would we need to change to live more fully into this mission? Today, we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to pass out index cards to everyone, and when I finish speaking, we are going to sit for a few minutes in silence. Then I want you to take your index card, and I want you to write upon it one place-out in your life in the world-where you will be mindful that you will be actively looking for God this week. It can be as general as your work or your home or more specific to your individual circumstances. (We Lemburgs are going to be doing the stressful work of moving this coming week. So, on my card, I’m going to write, “Looking for God in the chaos and confusion of moving with my family.”) After you complete your card, I want you to hold onto it. And when the ushers come around with the offering plates in a few moments, I want you to put your card in the plate—as an offering of your time and attention to God in the coming week. And then remember and do it. God’s grace is as present for you in your everyday lives as it is here, in this holy place. My prayer for you this week is that you may seek it out and find it. i.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spirituality and Worship teaching

Spirituality and Worship I. Spiritual but not religious. How many of you have heard someone ever say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” What do you think is meant by that? (I usually assume that means that they do not participate in organized religion, nor do they regularly attend worship or church). II. What is worship? How do you define the word “worship”? a. Worship—means to pay someone their due; the response of the creation to the creator b. Dennis Maynard’s chapter on worship—p. 37-38 “Additional definition of worship as it might apply to the Anglican Communion: ‘worship is the attempt to create an atmosphere in which we can know God’s love and make God’s love known.’ In the Episcopal church, ‘worship is the attempt to create an atmosphere in which we can know God’s love, and we can make God’s love known.’” c. How many of you have stories of how your parent’s became engaged or how you became engaged? What are key parts of these stories? That’s what we are doing when we are gathering together to worship God. III. Three characteristics of Episcopal worship A. Worship is a universal instinct. To worship is to be human and to be human is to worship. Worship is the consequence of not taking life and living for granted. It includes a sense of awe, amazement, and thanksgiving. B. In the Episcopal church, worship is not a spectator sport. It is an aerobic activity. The liturgy is what we all do together. (Anybody know what the word liturgy means—from its Greek roots? “the work of the people). The Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy, is a great drama. It’s a pageant. It’s a play in which we are all participants. There’s direction, movement, and purpose. These are all designed to inspire and uplift us. But we are not the audience. God is the audience. C. Through worship we are to lose ourselves in adoration and praise of God. We come to worship to empty ourselves so that God might make us full. If we have to concentrate on the very elements of worship, then we aren’t worshipping. I heard it once described this way: “if you have to count the steps, then you aren’t dancing.” IV. Book of Common Prayer: what binds us together in both prayer and belief. A. If you go to an Episcopal church, anywhere around the world, chances are that our worship will be very recognizable. B. Lex orandi lex credendi—we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. We are not a dogmatic church where you have to believe a certain number of things to be Episcopalian. Our belief is all tied up in how and what we pray (and our prayer is all tied up in how and what we believe). V. Practices to make common worship more prayerful/spiritual. A. To worship God with greater ease, we must practice loving God every day of our lives. To see God in worship we need to see God in the everyday, and if we see God in the everyday then we can see God better on Sunday. B. We have certain responsibilities in worship. One of my pet peeves is when someone comes to me and says, “I’m just not being fed.” It makes me want to say to them, “Well, open your mouth because here comes the choo choo!” C. First responsibility is for those who are leading the worship. We have a responsibility to be well-prepared, and to understand that our purpose is not to entertain but to point away from ourselves and toward God. To lead others in worship, we leaders need to worship ourselves. (Presiding Bishop Frank Giswold used to tell clergy that we needed to be more than “technicians of the sacred.”) D. The people have a responsibility to one another. Worshipers must be tolerant of one another’s preferences. There is a tendency for all of us to value things according to our own subjective experience. If it was meaningful to me then it was a good thing. If it wasn’t meaningful to me, then it’s not a good thing. What is called for is worship tolerance. What is meaningful to one may not be so to another. We also have a responsibility to one another to participate in the worship. Say the responses, sing the hymns. (Talk about change in location of 8:00 service…) E. Finally, we have a responsibility to ourselves. We need to come to worship with a thirst for God. We need to come before God with anticipation and expectancy. When you come to worship, expect God to touch you, change you, be present with you at some point in that worship. And God will.