Psalm 27:3b

"My heart will not fear..." (Psalm 27:3b, NIV)

#LessFearIn2016... Leads to... #FearLessIn2016... Leads to... #Fearless

Oh, the irony...



Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!



There is something incredible about waking up as the sun rises on Easter morning.  If you know me (even a little bit), you know I am not a morning person… at all…  There is, quite literally, nothing I like about the rising of the sun.  I love the sunset.  I love the darkness.  My family and friends just roll their eyes, shake their heads, and smile when it starts to rain, and the sun goes behind the clouds, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief that it is damp and cold and dreary.  If I’m honest, it’s not that hard for me to sit with the sadness of Holy Week, which is probably one of the reasons I do it so well and preach it so nauseatingly.  Yet, as the sun just barely peeked over the horizon, this morning… this morning… this Easter morning… I instinctively, joyfully woke up.  I arose, because Jesus arose!  This is the best morning for waking up! 

Matthew 28:6-7, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly…” (NIV).

Interestingly, this is not a morning for sitting with… anything…

When Mary and Mary arrived at the tomb, they probably needed a minute.  I mean, how confusing must it have been?  Even if they remembered Jesus’ words, none of it would have made sense.  Grief is a horrible, wonderful, terrible process.  What is essentially just hours after the brutal death of Jesus, which they observed, grief must still be clouding everything!  They must be numb.  Incredibly, they are going through all the right motions, adhering to all the right customs.  The vast majority of us rally and do these things when tragedy strikes.  But there is an order to things.  A protocol.  A modus operandi. 

What do you do when the body is missing?

Oh, I just realized I could go more ways than I want to with that one… (note to self, follow up).

As I read the resurrection account again, this morning, I stopped to think about how very familiar it is.  To be candid, we need some things in our life like this… some truths we can recall by rote, in the midst of our most heartrending moments, when we can’t make sense of anything.  And we need the angel, too.

As a force of habit, I woke up with the words, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said…” niggling at the back of my mind.  I’m not sure my eyes had even opened yet.  I surely hadn’t had my morning coffee (still haven’t as of this writing, so forgive me if it isn’t as coherent as I think it is).  It was that foggy instant between being fully asleep and fully awake.  Honestly, I might have still been dreaming.  And even though it’s a passage I have memorized and quoted, I couldn’t for the life of me remember who spoke the words.

Ah… the angel.

Thank goodness the angel was there, speaking truth into the lives of two women who were probably more prepared for another day of death than one of joy.  They had come to rub spices and oils on a rotting corpse.  Thank goodness the angel was able to catch their attention long enough to jog their memories.  And thank goodness the angel had a plan for what happens next!

“Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly…”

And you know… they do it!

The resurrection narrative hangs on these women with red, swollen eyes.  I think they’re able to accomplish the telling, precisely because they know what it is to sit through the pain.  They know we can’t have one without the other.  They’ve lived it (and lived it well). 

Colossians 3:1-3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (NIV).

And so their lives are inextricably tied to Jesus’ life, once again.  To… his… life!  Because he is alive!

May our lives be tied together, as well.

Psalm 118:24, “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (NIV).
 
L.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Holy Tuesday, Year A



I almost feel as if Scripture is throwing punches, this morning.  How ridiculous is that?  But really…

I Corinthians 1:18-20, 25: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world…? For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

I’m a pretty smart person, but I’m not claiming this kind of wisdom or intelligence, just to be clear.  I am frustrated, though.  Even my intelligence is frustrated.  And there are multiple reasons for that (most of which I do not have time to delve into, right now).  Over the past few weeks, for example, I have been completely perplexed regarding resurrection and the number of people whose resurrection accounts are recorded in the gospels.  It’s not as if I haven’t read these accounts over and over again.  It’s just that we don’t really talk about them in the same way we talk about Jesus’ resurrection.  But I digress a little bit, because I’m not going to write about that now, either.  In fact, the only reason I’m mentioning it, at all, is because I don’t want all of my readers to get through this post and assume I have lost my mind.  I’m still thinking about important stuff.  But I’m just going to throw it out there; I can’t stop thinking about the Easter Bunny!

Stay with me… Please… Stay with me…

I really don’t like the Easter Bunny.  Now, before anybody starts to imagine my children having a miserable childhood that lacks imagination, let’s get a few things straight.  We have pictures with Santa Claus.  Unicorns are real.  I still get excited when Tinkerbell flies across The Magic Kingdom at night, and I will challenge any teenager who doesn’t believe in pixie dust.  But the Easter Bunny makes me a little bit sick to my stomach (and it’s not all the Reese’s PB eggs… truly…)

I want to write something eloquent to express the importance of this Holy Tuesday, a day that is sometimes forgotten in the preceding and upcoming ‘big ticket events’ of Holy Week, but I keep seeing the Easter Bunny who was waving at me… wildly… from the corner of a church lawn on Palm Sunday.  Are we, perhaps, distracted?

I get fairly bent out of shape when others jump ahead in the Holy Week narrative, because I need to sit with Holy Saturday when it arrives.  (You know… that day when many churches have their Easter egg hunts, but Jesus is dead, so it doesn’t make sense—as a side note, I legitimately appreciate the many churches that have moved their bunnies and eggs to an earlier time, this season, because Holy Saturday is certainly not the time for celebration!)  And yet here I find myself, jumping ahead.  It’s Tuesday, but Saturday’s coming…

I’m going to give myself just a touch of grace, because Jesus jumps ahead on Tuesday, too.

He says, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going” (John 12:35).

Saturday is dark.  Really, really dark.  Please, get ready to sit with that.  Stop Walking!

What a terrible post for Holy Tuesday.

L.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Holy Monday, Year A



John 12:1-11... There are exactly two ways I would like to go with this passage.

First, there’s Mary.  I want to talk about her gift… her sacrifice… her pain… her love.  I want to talk about how Jesus, in some sense, will follow her lead in the days to come, making the washing of feet (at least) a practice firmly embedded in our Christian DNA, and (at best) a sacrament… a means of grace, itself.

Second, there’s Lazarus.  I want to follow up on this dead man walking.  Honestly, I want to poke a little fun at the chief priests who make plans to kill him, because they lack creativity.  How do they think this might end?  Perhaps with Jesus raising him from the dead… again?

But even though I could get a lot of mileage out of either of these, I found myself drawn to Judas.  Of course.  But not as I usually am.  By the end of Holy Week, I have a tendency to rile a good number of people because of the compassion that grows… for Judas.  But honestly, friends, this morning he just ticks me off.

John 12:5-6, “’Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ [says Judas] He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (NIV).

I don’t do too well with people who exploit the poor. 

If Judas had said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold (for almost any other reason),” and then dipped his hand into the bag; it still would have been wrong.  If Judas’ bent toward theft had left the treasury short of the necessary funds for a new fishing pole, a night at the inn, or new carpet for the tabernacle (oh, come on…  it’s funny); it still would have been problematic.  If Judas had been straightforward and confessed that he felt the need to have more than the others, something not held in common; honesty would have caused a stir.  But Judas takes advantage of the already destitute.  And I just can’t deal… or, maybe I just can’t even…

When did the poor become our ticket to greatness?  When did we start hijacking their narratives to make ourselves look good?  I know I’m beating a dead horse, today (there’s a parallel somewhere, chief priests…), but I can’t wrap my mind around this.  Let’s be real—I would rather have people helping the poor (in legitimate ways) and taking credit for it than not helping at all.  So there’s that.  But there are also a whole lot of people who keep talking… and talking… and talking… and doing nothing.  Like Judas.  Stop talking! 

What a terrible post for Holy Monday!

L.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Crisis Moments Pass, but Sometimes it Stinks



Dry bones are not in crisis, but they probably were at one time or another.  I mean—they’re dead.  They’ve been dead for a long time.  Something happened that sucked the life out of them.  And then time passed.  After the breath ceased, the flesh and tendons melted away.    

By all accounts, a dead Lazarus should have been headed down the road of dry bones.  Bodies start decomposing fairly quickly after death…  OK, immediately.  Bodies start decomposing immediately.  My Google history is actually pretty disturbing, right now, but I needed to wrap my mind around this. 

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.  I think we have to assume that Lazarus’ body was not embalmed (although there were some ancient embalming possibilities).  If that assumption is correct, Lazarus’ internal organs had likely decomposed by the time Jesus arrived.  Blood and foam would have been leaking from his mouth and nose.  Bacteria would have been rampant.  And there were probably maggots.  Martha was definitely not wrong when she verified exactly what Jesus was asking and made sure to give him the information he needed. 

Roll the stone away, Lord?  It’s been four days!  This stinks!  (John 11:39, really, really paraphrased).

But Jesus—you know, Jesus who was four days late—is all like, “You know what, Martha, just trust me.  Just do it.” (I can’t even stretch that for a paraphrase.  I hope nobody gets all over me for taking creative license with Scripture.)

And the thing that blows my mind here is that control freak, clean freak Martha must agree; because the next thing you know, they’re rolling the stone away.  And Lazarus—very dead, partially decomposed Lazarus—walks out.

I wonder what the process looked like.  Perhaps Ezekiel gives us a clue in the passage about the dry bones prophesy.  Like the Israelites, Martha and Mary might have cried out, “Our (his) bones are dried up and our hope is gone” (Ezekiel 37:11, NIV). 

How many times have I said something similar in less dire circumstances?  (But it stinks!  It’s too late!  This cannot be fixed!)

Yet, once the bones have been reconnected with the proper tissue, the Lord says, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live” (Ezekiel 37:14).

Well, OK then…

If there’s life after death—after decomposition—then I have to believe there is also life after frustration… after disappointment… after crisis…
 
L.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Put this Mud in Your Eyes... Rinse... Repeat


I had this sort of humorous, kind of ironic moment, last week, when I wrote the wrong commentary!  However, it was the right commentary for today, so there's that...  John 9...

***

We all struggle with the problem of evil—particularly in light of pain and suffering, perhaps most visibly when the pain and suffering are unmerited.  We want answers.  When we read about “a man blind from birth,”[i] we want to know why.  But we’re not looking for medical explanations.  The question is not how did this happen but, instead, why does the world have to be this way.

Historically, the religious community had it all figured out.  Pain and suffering were the result of sin.  Even today, many religious communities offer the same answer.  Pain and suffering are consequences of the fall.  Humanity somehow deserves this anguish.  Suck it up and realize that this is the way the world works.  Admittedly, sometimes this makes sense.

But in this case?  When we’re presented with a man who was blind before he took his first breath?  What could he have possibly done to deserve such a lot?  Did he sin?  Was it his parents?  The disciples are working from a cut-and-dried, cause-and-effect philosophy.  It certainly affects their theodicy, which in turn affects their theology.  Lucky for them, God incarnate is standing in their midst.  Perhaps Jesus can clear this up, since he’s right there.   

Jesus immediately offers some incredibly upside-down teaching.  The Pharisees, and even the disciples, assume that the blind man is steeped in sin from birth, or at the very least his parents have caused this great calamity, because this is all they’ve ever known.  But Jesus sees this altogether differently.  In fact, as this passage comes to a close, Jesus declares, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”[ii] Well, that surely throws a wrench in things…

Jesus takes a severe deficit and turns it into an asset.  Being born blind is not the problem.  Jesus can work with that: Jesus can even squeeze something good out of it (and he does).  As the disciples seek the rationale behind this tragedy, Jesus redirects their attention to the ways in which, “the works of God might be displayed…”[iii]  

I got a little caught up in verses 3-5… and I didn’t originally write about this in the commentary, but I think it’s something worth talking about.

We have these words, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”[iv]

And then Jesus goes on with the miraculous healing.

I read in another commentary that in verse three, there may be an ellipsis, and I use ellipses ad nauseam in my writing, so this struck a chord.  If that’s the case, instead of, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him,” we might have, “but this happened (dot… dot… dot… ellipsis… appropriate pause, wait for it…) Jesus takes a deep breath and continues, “so… that the works of God might be displayed in him…” and then the rest.

It’s not necessarily a cause and effect statement.  Instead, this may be Jesus giving voice to the fact that genuine evil, suffering, and pain are present in the world, but this is not orchestrated by God.  Instead, these things exist outside of what God actually wants, but God is still somehow able to bring some good out of them.

The man is blind.  OK.  God can heal that.  Here’s some dirt and some spit (perhaps reminiscent of God’s creative work in the beginning).  Go wash yourself (oh, that I had time to consider how this might relate to baptism and initiation into the people of God).  Sight…  Restoration… Redemption…  It’s all there.  But, of course, this is not the end of the story.  The trouble has just begun… 

In truth, on the heels of this beautiful account of renewal, the rest of John 9 is at least a little bit exasperating!

The fact that the Pharisees don’t believe the previously blind man’s story is par for the course, albeit frustrating.  This is the way of the Pharisees, who are often portrayed as attempting to catch people in their words, to manipulate the narrative.  It should come as no great surprise to us when the Pharisees question the man about Jesus and determine this miraculous act must not be ascribed to God.  We should expect the Pharisees to attempt to discredit the man and his story, his very identity.    

But neighbors who have presumably known this blind beggar for his entire life are suddenly unsure whether or not it is him, at all!  It’s somehow easier to believe he might be a completely different person than to accept a miraculous account.  And the previously blind man’s own parents?  We are told that they are afraid.[v]  Undoubtedly, they have already lost much, because the Jewish community has likely blamed their son’s affliction on the sins of the parents.  They can’t risk being kicked out of the Synagogue, altogether.  The people (the blind man’s people!) go silent.    

The man who has been healed, however, takes the chance.  His experience with Jesus speaks to the truth of who Jesus is, which is, ironically, exactly what the Pharisees ask for when they assert that he must, “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” (δὸς δόξαν τῷ Θεῷ).[vi]  In the Greek language used here, the Pharisees are not looking for praise or adoration of God but for a factual account, a truthful testimony.  Later, Jesus will allude to the issue of spiritual blindness, but as I re-read this passage I stopped to wonder whether the problem might be more directly linked to ears than eyes.  The Pharisees refuse to listen to the report for which they asked.  Although it is difficult to argue with first hand encounters, it is not impossible.  They can claim that the man lied.  They can claim that the work of Jesus is outside the scope of what may be acceptably accomplished on the Sabbath.  But they cannot take the man’s newfound sight.  His sight is worth alienation from those who blamed him for his own suffering.  In the end, he is rejected, but having lived his whole life as a blind beggar, this is nothing new.  He can see!  The Pharisaical religious community has nothing to offer him that trumps this new reality.

The man’s final words to the Pharisees speak volumes regarding who now has the upper hand:     
            
            Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he 
            opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to 
            the godly person who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the 
            eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do 
            nothing.[vii]

The Pharisees have lost their power in this man’s life.  Even though they subsequently insult him, judge him, and kick him out; it hardly matters.  When Jesus hears about the man’s rejection, he finds him.  Jesus cares about his story.  Jesus has already made a remarkable difference in the man’s life.  The Pharisees didn’t listen to him, but God did.  Their claims are void.    

So, back to the problem of evil…

We don’t partner with God to alleviate the pain and suffering in the world when we neglect to listen to the other; to attentively discern who is speaking, what he or she has experienced, what great needs exist, and what we might learn from their narratives.  In this passage, Jesus offers us the ultimate example of how to work redemptively in the world.  Perhaps the next time we are tempted to ask, “Why does the world have to be this way,” we should consider an alternative. 

Perhaps we are the answer… not the cause, but the solution—God’s agents of change, working together to realize the inbreaking Kingdom. 

L.


[i] John 9:1 (NIV)
[ii] John 9:41 (emphasis mine)
[iii] John 9:3
[iv] John 9:3-5
[v] See John 9:22
[vi] John 9:24
[vii] John 9:31-33