Monthly Archives: March 2016

Saturday – Not Dead Yet

In a well-known movie scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, two corpse collectors are gathering the dead. One of them brings out a man who loudly claims “I’m not dead yet” despite the argument of the collector that he is indeed dead. A little off-color for Easter weekend but perhaps not.

On Saturday morning I am wondering about Jesus’ call to die I referenced in Friday’s post. There is no doubt that Jesus is dead when the sun sets on Friday. But am I?

I use the language… but am I really dead? It is easy to speak glibly of dying to self while holding onto my prerogatives. It sounds holy to say I am dying to myself while arguing at the same time “I’m not dead yet.”

If the full power of Jesus’ resurrection that I celebrate tomorrow seems muted or constrained it might be because the patient – me – is not quite dead. The power that raised Jesus from the dead can only occur in the places where death is real and complete. There is no partial death, no half-surrender. The places where I want Jesus’ power must be, ironically, as empty as his tomb. Empty of self-will. Empty of self-importance. Empty of self-loathing, too. As empty as death.

I am all-too-aware today where I am not dead and therefore not fully alive May the Christ of the Cross help me to that death that the Christ of the Tomb may also help me to a deeper experience of his life.

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Good Friday – An Uneasy Death

Dying today is a much different thing than I remember from childhood or even the early years of ministry. The hospice movement has made dying a peaceful, even beautiful time as life’s end approaches. Not all deaths are easy nor are they all painless. But contemporary angels of mercy do all they can to make our passing as easy as circumstances allow. What a marvelous thing it is.

But today, Good Friday, cannot be about an easy death. Jesus’ death is a death of agony – of body and spirit. It is a death preceded by physical torture and spiritual humiliation. A death made more painful by mockery.

It is this kind of death that Jesus invites us to share. I hope my passing from this life to eternal life is peaceful, even joyous. Not so coming to the cross in this life. Perhaps Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most well-known quote comes from this reflection on the death of the old man (by which he meant humans):

“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 99)

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Maundy Thursday – Loved Until The End

This is day late but I wanted to post it anyway as part of my chain of reflection
this 2016 Holy Week.

John gives the most complete – and discordant – picture of the final hours in the Upper Room. John 13 , a part of which formed the basis for Wednesday’s words, includes this:

“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” (13:1-2a)

Loved them to the end. Can you imagine? The betrayal and abandonment that Jesus mentions in yesterday’s reading is on his mind. Doubtless his heart was nearly broken before the agony to come by the agony of denial and defection.

Yet we learn “he loved them to the end.” These ones who gathered to remember and re-experience Israel’s great deliverance and God’s covenant faithfulness proved faithless themselves. But he loved them.

On the eve of Good Friday it is well to remember that this Jesus loves to the end. When our faith ends, his love is still there. When our love turns cold it remains. When our own lives draw to a close and the shadows encroach? He loves us still. When we reach our end – Jesus’ love endures.

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Wednesday of Holy Week – The Uncertainty Principle

Every year as I ponder the final hours of Jesus’ life something new grabs my attention. Wednesday’s suggested reading from John 13:22 is it today:

“The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.”

Jesus has announced someone at the table will betray him. But he does not name him. How could they not know? How could you be uncertain about this???

Because I am, too. Each day I arise, determined to follow Jesus. Some days that following seems natural and freeing. Others it pains me. It overwhelms me. It defeats me. The burden of following. I feel it. The uncertainty that plagued their minds haunts mine, too.

If I can’t imagine myself betraying Jesus as Judas did…  if I cannot conceive of the kind of insistent denial that Peter did… I am lying to myself and to God and to the Christ who calls me to follow him.

My uncertainty however is mine. Like the twelve – perhaps all of whom wondered if the things they had thought, the actions they contemplated, were what Jesus had seen coming – I am uncertain of my response to the coming challenge of following.

What I am certain, however, is of the One whom I follow. He is as certain as I am uncertain. His faithfulness if as sure as mine is not. And perhaps that is the point.

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Tuesday of Holy Week – No Answers But Jesus

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry is the way that he answers questions. His final days and hours are no exception to this pattern. In John 12:20-36, some Greek worshipers ask to see Jesus. When given their request, Jesus seems to ignore it completely. His response? “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The crowd then challenges Jesus’ about who the “Son of Man” is.

I don’t pretend to understand every word of the gospel accounts. But here I think Jesus is saying to Andrew and Phillip and then to the crowd as well: ‘I have work to do. The work that God is doing in me. And those who want to see me? They will see me in what I am about to do.”

All of these words foreshadow Jesus’ answers later in the week when he is indicted and tried before the religious and then civil authorities. He does not answer now – he will not answer then.

Except he gives anew the invitation to follow him. To seek as he did to glorify the Father. To become children of the light as he is the light. It is not in answering our questions but in showing the way that Jesus gives what we need.

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Monday of Holy Week – Living Dangerously

In John 12 we read this intriguing but often overlooked (at least by me) comment:

“So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,
since it was on account of him that many of the Jews
were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (vss. 10-11)

It is so easy to forget the tension and excitement and the machinations in Jesus’ final week. His entry into Jerusalem had galvanized people. Some were excited by the hope his entrance raised. Others were likely perplexed that his great entry didn’t result in some equally dramatic gesture to proclaim his Messianic mission. Those who opposed him – the religious leadership and their allies – reacted as strongly and as negatively as the crowds had positively.

It is easy to forget the cloud hanging over his followers. That Peter’s denial is more easily understood in a context where Lazarus would be threatened with death because Jesus had raised him from the dead. Even Judas appears differently in the boiling tensions and plots of these days.

Most of us in the western world who follow Jesus don’t face any real danger. No one plots my death because I identify with Christ. As a religious professional I am, in truth, accorded a certain respect and even admiration at times. No one wants me dead because of what I preach or what I do in Jesus’ name. Probably none of you either.

What I wonder on this Monday of Holy Week is this: am I truly following Jesus if there is not real risk to me? Am I genuinely following in the footsteps of the crucified one if I do not face death (real or even metaphorical) by doing so? Have I made the kinds of commitments to Christ that engender danger? Or only the ones that promise me comfort and blessing?

Something to ponder today as I wonder what life following Christ is like when we live more as Lazarus did.

 

 

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Palm Equinox

Today is an interesting confluence – the beginning of spring and the spring equinox falls on Palm Sunday. Spring starts as our Christian period of Holy Week begins anew. On this day day and night, light and dark are balanced. On this day we stand at the edge of the final resolution of Jesus’ drama. It is hard to recapture the tension, the promise, the sense of things hanging in the balance that day contained long ago.

Following the equinox the days will lengthen again and the night contract. The light slowly displaces the darkness but not obviously. Spring has arrived but the warmth has not. Life still waits to emerge again completely. But it will.

Palm Sunday represents the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life and ministry. The end, too, of the beginning. The long drama of God’s redemption was about to climax. We know that triumph was inevitable but then it was not so. Much was uncertain. Even doubtful.

God’s drama continues in us in our present. Things may not seem certain now. Events may confuse and even discourage. But they are moving toward resolution. They are moving toward God’s purposes in us too.

 

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Lessons from St. Patrick

Yesterday was the annual observance of St. Patrick’s Day. As you likely know, very little of what we (culturally) do on this day has anything to do with him. Except the connection to Ireland.

We have no control over our legacy. I doubt that Patrick thought that he would be remembered on a day full of leprechauns, shamrocks, and green beer. Many of us – especially as we enter middle-age and beyond – think about our legacy. Even if we don’t lead nations or multinational corporations. But none of us, despite our dreams, can control what future people will think of us or remember. There is great value in considering the legacy we leave our families, churches, communities and the world. There is also great value and perhaps relief in remembering how little we can control it!

There is more than one way for something to happen.  As a Protestant Christian I do not understand fully the canonization process of the Roman Catholic Church. However I find it interesting that Saint Patrick is such out of tradition and practice rather than a formal canonization process (for example, the one that will recognize Mother Teresa as one). Most of us know the processes we know. We have learned to do things a certain way. We have experienced processes and forces that, by our participation in them, reinforce our notion of THE way to do things. Or THE way things work. But they may not be THE way after all.

Bigger dreams always trump smaller ones.   When was the last time anyone celebrated Palladius’ Day? Exactly. Palladius was the first bishop of Ireland who focused on the existing Christian community in Ireland and combating the influence of the indigenous religion upon it. Even people who do not share in these two men’s Christian faith can appreciate the vast difference between Palladius and Patrick. Rather than seeing himself as caretaker and protector, Patrick set out to spread his faith to the entire land of Ireland. Not only did he evangelize Ireland but he established systems that would nurture and grow what he had done. Palladius is all but forgotten – Patrick is not.

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Getting to the “Yes” of Lent

I gave up Facebook for Lent. What a challenge it has been! I had no idea how often I looked at Facebook during the day. Checked my feed. Clicked on articles, pictures, conversations. It has been humbling to recognize how much it intrudes into my life and day.

But Lent is not about “no” – at least not for its own sake. Nor is it about self-improvement (like giving up meat and finding you are better without it). The long traditions of “no” during Lent are a path to the deeper, longer “yes” to the things God has for us that these other things crowd out or replace.

Jesus’ life is not marked by “no” but by “yes.” Confronted constantly with temptation, challenge, and even violence Jesus nevertheless says “yes” to God, to the divine will, to the heavenly mission upon which he was sent. Be careful, though. Such a life of “yes” leads without fail to the cross – his and ours.

God cannot build upon our “no.” God is crowded out, blocked, when we say “no thank you” to the divine invitation.

Where, today, is God inviting you to say “yes?” Do it.

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Merchandising God

This week’s Lenten reading and reflection included something from Meister Eckhart (http://www.soundshoremedia.com/merchandising-truth-by-meister-eckhart/) –

“The merchants are those who only guard against mortal sins. They strive to be good people who do their good deeds to the glory of God, such as fasting, watching, praying and the like – all of which are good – and yet do these things so that God will give them something in exchange.”

Ouch! Reflecting on much of my so-called piety leads me to this spiritual marketplace where I expect God to reward me for what I do. Even in my work as a pastor there is an underlying assumption (and an explicit one given that I earn a salary from this work!) that God will return to me benefits because I serve Christ.

Benefits are what I want. Like my AAA or fraternal memberships, I “give” to God in expectation of some return. The return I expect may not always be physical but it is nevertheless a real expectation of return. We – I – have not helped at all in our promising God’s response to certain behaviors.

We are not on contract with God. We are in covenant. God blesses rather than benefits. All that I have? It came from God. Not one thing that is “mine” is mine except by God’s good grace. I no more earned God’s goodness than I did blonde hair (well, used to be) or blue eyes. They came to me.

Meister Eckhart continues and I end with these powerful words about the free gift of God to me and to you on this good day:

God gives us nothing and does nothing except out of his own free will. What we are we are because of God, and whatever we have we receive from God and not by our own contriving. Therefore God is not in the least obligated to us – neither for our deeds nor for our gifts. He gives to us freely. Besides, Christ himself says, “Without me, you can do nothing.”

Silver gift box with blue ribbon on hand. This file contains clipping path.

Silver gift box with blue ribbon on hand. This file contains clipping path.

 

 

 

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