Resurrection Sunday Reflection: Going Back to Galilee!

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Well, I made it.  We made it!  It is now Easter again.  Such a remarkable day, yet an exhausting one for a pastor.  It began around 5am this morning, as Easter’s usually do for me.  The Lord blessed me with a full bladder right around the time I had to get out of bed which I wish would happen every day–He is risen indeed!

And after a day of much glorious celebrating and feasting and festivities here I sit pondering Jesus’ first words post-tomb.  Maybe for the first time in my life, I am reading the Resurrection story in Matthew 28 and realizing how remarkable it is that angels tell the good news but Jesus has something different in mind.  “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matt. 28:10)

Wait, what?  I mean, I like the “don’t be afraid” part.  That’ll always preach.  But the next part isn’t very inspiring.  It isn’t very eye catching.  It isn’t very thrilling.  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee?”  Jesus, shouldn’t we at least first talk about how you are still alive?  Shouldn’t you tell us what it all means?  Shouldn’t we do some theology?  Shouldn’t we at least sing some songs about forgiveness, grace, mercy and the like?  Shouldn’t you tell us what God the Father is doing/thinking/wanting?  In fact, shouldn’t we talk about anything other than Galilee?

We sang around 6 songs about Jesus’ Resurrection this morning.  By the end of the Easter liturgical season we will have exhausted many more.  All of them are more melodic and poetic than, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee!”  Kindergartners write better poetry than that!

But for those of you who do not know, Galilee held a pretty unique spot in the Roman Empire.  Don’t let my word choice of “unique” trick you.  Unique here does not mean special and it certainly does not mean glorious.  Instead it means weird.  Galilee was a weird place for so many reasons.  They were like the Puerto Rico of Rome.  They were totally a part of the country but everybody kind of forgot they existed.  (No offense to the Puerto Ricans.  In fact you have my humble apologies!)

Beyond that, Galilee had its own government, kind of.  In fact, their kings were kind of a drag.  The citizens were too.  They were farmers and fishermen and shepherds.  They didn’t have the temple, or really many great buildings at all.  They were Jewish but not always faithful ones.  They were also Romans but not always loyal ones.  They were simple, slightly uneducated and, as I all ready said, mostly forgotten.

Yet Galilee is where Jesus lived.  Galilee is where he ministered.  Galilee is where he made his namesake and Galilee is where he began the revolution of love against sin and evil.  And Galilee was where he apparently couldn’t wait to get to after defeating death and all that.

That’s right, Galilee.

That might be the most awkward part of any Easter liturgy:

He is risen!

He is risen INDEED!

He is going to Galilee!

He is going to.  .  .wait.  .  .Galilee?   Um, indeed.   .  .Galilee indeed?

Yet where else would he go?  In fact, what better place to go?  He is not just risen.  He is risen and going back to Galilee.  He is risen and going back to the forgotten, poor, rural communities.  He is risen and journeying back to those who are marginalized, weak and foolish.  He is risen and you will find him where you were always able to find him, in Galilee.

So as I sit here after a full and wonderful but exhausting day and wonder where this Easter might take me or might take you, I find myself hoping that the resurrection of the Lord will find us in the Galilee’s!

Happy Easter!  He is risen (and in Galilee) indeed!

At the Casket of a Newborn: A Lenten Reflection

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Yesterday for the second time in my life I stood over a casket that was only a couple feet long.  I had to be there.  The word “had” is such a modest word, designed to be over used and yet I use it here reluctantly and carefully.  I did indeed “have” to stand there.  Nothing external compelled me, only the internal bonds of friendship forged over years of shared experiences with the father of the infant who lay in the casket.  My friendship with Camden was so deep and so suddenly profound that I told many, “I couldn’t NOT be there.”  I had to come.

We arrived to the funeral forty five minutes early and walked into the sanctuary, which happens to be “ground zero” for my spirituality.  It is the sanctuary where I worshiped weekly for nine years during my youth.  It was the sanctuary where my friends and I played ridiculous night games.  It was the sanctuary where I spent hours in prayer and the sanctuary where I was ordained.  That sanctuary holds some profound mysteries.

It’s the season of Lent and so the sanctuary also held the colors and slogans of this time of the liturgical year.  The purple hue was everywhere.  A giant wooden cross, much longer than the casket, hovered over us on the platform.  Decorated cloths held pictures of crowns of thorns and nails with the words of Isaiah woven into them.  “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”

And there right in the middle of it all, was the infant laying in a casket.  And here, right in the middle of my own Lenten journey, was the infant laying in a casket.

Ten short, but tortuously long days earlier her heart had stopped beating during delivery, sending the family and friends into a downward spiral of grief.  I personally read the news in a grocery store parking lot, where I sat in my car for a good ten minutes crying before mustering the strength to go into the store.

Ten days later here I was, standing in Lent, staring at a two foot long casket unable to keep myself even remotely composed.  I wanted to turn around, wipe the tears from my eyes, tell a joke or two and flee back to sunny Utah where I could bury myself back in the drudgery of daily ministry.

Yet as I said at the top of the post, I “had” to be there.  I had to stand there and look at it and cry because this casket is a profound piece of the Easter story that we tell and commemorate every year, even every Sunday.

As I sat there looking at it through tear blurred eyes, I could not escape from the fact that there is something desperately wrong with the world in which we live.  It is as if the casket was calling out, “Houston, we have a problem.  Heaven, we have a problem!”  And as I contemplated the mystery of the infant’s casket, I realized the problem it proclaims goes much deeper than human behavior.

In fact, this Lent I have been thinking a lot about the Galilean Pharisees of Jesus’ time, these people whose job it was to fix people’s behavior.  In the Gospel of Mark we see them partnered with the politicians, known as the Herodians.  They were strange bedfellows for sure, but they had one great thing in common, other than their mistrust of Jesus.  Both of them sought to build religious and political systems and structures to mitigate personal behavior in the hopes of fixing what is wrong with the world.

Then I thought about Jesus who wept at his friend Lazarus’ tomb.  Lazarus didn’t die because of human behavior.  He died because, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “the world has been subjected to futility.”

All of us, from every dot on the spectrum from sinner to saint, carry that futility with us in our bodies and every once in awhile that futility makes itself plainly evident, as it did for my friends on the delivery bed two weeks ago and as it did for my sister five years ago when my niece died of SIDS.  The Pharisees would have chalked the casket up to “secret sin.”  But we know the truth.  This infant did not die because of sin.  This baby died because of a world subjected to futility.

How ridiculously powerless we are in the face of that futility.  In fact, how absurdly powerless all of our pastors, all of our politicians, all of our churches and businesses and universities and clubs and committees and manuals and TV shows and pharmaceutical pills and self help books and rules and laws and systems and structures and so much more are when faced with the casket of an infant!

This Lent, at the casket of an infant, only the almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth and Jesus Christ his son, savior of Heaven and Earth can break the chains of futility and unleash the tide of Resurrection.

Come oh Easter.

Come oh Christ.

Come oh God.

This world desperately needs you and only you.

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Photo courtesy of my friend Robin Wheeler.

Why Feast? Why Easter?

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It is now common knowledge that we live in a country and in a culture where the vast majority of people are entertaining themselves to death.  We binge watch Netflix while binge eating potato chips.  We have 350 channels, (some of which specialize in both golf and fishing), and billions of websites, (half of which are pictures of cats).  As if our living rooms were not personal enough, those channels and websites now fit in our pockets where we can pull them out and stare at them in a moment’s notice.  All of this preoccupies our attention and takes us away from the stuff in life that truly matters.

The end result is that we are turning into a kind of zombie, neither jovial nor morose, not quite lifelike but also not quite dead, not entirely rejoicing and not entirely mourning, just passing the hours staring at super heroes throwing things at each other while we stuff our faces with Doritos.

Churches have not helped much in this regard.  Our funerals last maybe an hour.  We rush by the widows, giving them our quick regards before rushing home to watch half celebrities dance the tango.  And forget doing mournful services for other sorrowful events, like the loss of a job, the loss of an important relationship, or the loss of good health.  We might send a card, if we are one of the faithful few left.  We do not make nearly enough time to sit in the ash heaps with our mourning friends.  And if we do visit, it will be no time at all before we suggest doing something “fun” to “get the mind off” the pain.

We are equally abysmal when it comes to rejoicing.  Our holidays are only slightly longer than funerals, mere 24 hour period breaks before we resume the hectic rush of life.  This unless we work in retail, which means our holy-days are the busiest days of the year and filled with sinful mobs.  The days after both Thanksgiving and Christmas we flood the shopping lines to either buy or return unwanted gifts before going back to work.  When something good happens in a friends’ life we rush to their party and then rush away.  Sometimes we even blame them for the fact that we stink at rejoicing, saying that they should have been more “fun” or that the party should have been better “planned” like the episode of the Bachelor we are going home to watch.

In short, we hurry our mourning and we hurry our rejoicing so that we can go back to being zombies as soon as possible.

To the extent in which the above is accurate, the church has a powerful tool for restoring abundant life to our petrified existences.  Over centuries we have developed a calendar that tells time differently than the rather bleak time of the world.  This calendar has times for fasting and mourning and times for feasting and rejoicing.  By celebrating the calendar, we remember that our God has commanded us to both mourn and to rejoice and not to stare at smartphones.

In fact, for a Kingdom that is here but not yet here, mourning and rejoicing are two sides of the same coin.  In our faith, we cannot fast without feasting and we cannot feast without fasting.  Both are commanded by God and both are means of grace by which we grow in Christ likeness.

This is why I have found that we should never do the 40 days of Lent without the 50 days of Easter.  Feasting is as much a Christian discipline as fasting and it affects our prayer life in equally profound ways.  In fact, over time the church has created way more “feast days” than “fast days.”  A cursory glance at a liturgical calendar might reveal at least 3 a week.  Though we certainly went overboard in that regard, one of the best ways to prevent the zombification of our society is to lead our people in times of both fasting and feasting as acts of prayer.

In such thinking, the 50 days of Easter are incredible for helping people rediscover the joy and celebration that only a Resurrected Messiah can bring.  Easter feasting is a way of reminding ourselves that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father who fully intends us to enjoy them in life giving ways.  After fasting for Lent our Easter feast reminds us that though we are weak, God is strong.  Though we are poor in spirit, God has given the Spirit in great measure.  Though we are broken, we know a great physician!  For this reason anybody who gave up something for the 40 days of Lent should take up something for the 50 days of Easter.

This is by no means to introduce us to periods of gluttony followed by periods of anorexia followed by more gluttony.  Feasting is not calorie indulgence and neither is fasting calorie neglect.  But it is to help us rediscover the practice of mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  While we fast we take a good hard look at ourselves and the world and are shocked again by all the futility, or “vapor” as the author of Ecclesiastes calls it.  But while we feast we remember that God is greater than our futility and his Kingdom is far more profound than anything else this world has to offer, especially those super hero’s who can’t help but throw things at each other.

Easter is easy for me this year.  After suffering without coffee for 40 days of Lent, the last three mornings, I have hovered over my dark, warm cup, breathing in those sweet fumes and thanking God for guaranteeing us an eternity of abundance.  He is Risen Indeed!

On that note, Happy Easter!  I hope the resurrection hope shines the greater as you celebrate our coming King!

Tenebrae Friday Reflection: Who’s On Trial Here

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To Read: Mark 12:38-43

Today is Tenebrae Friday, a day of shadows and darkness where we remember that our God died.  Today we make much of the trials of Jesus before the Chief Priests, the Jewish governor of Galilee and the Roman governor of Judea.  We talk a lot about the accusations against Jesus and how that all led to the horrible moment when Jesus spoke the final words, “it is finished” and breathed his last.  We do this in various ways.  Some of us attend a traditional candlelight service.  Others pray through the stations of the cross.  Others watch various film depictions of the event like the Passion of the Christ or the Jesus film.  Still others read the Passion narratives in the four gospels, taking special note of the 7 last words Jesus spoke while on the cross.  The truly super spiritual do all of the above!

But no matter how we commemorate Good Friday, we are prone to realize again that the real trial at the heart of the crucifixion was not Jesus’ but ours.  All of humanity was put on trial before the throne of God.  After all the God who loves us, who created us, whose very presence sustains our being, pitched his tent and camped out among us and we killed him for it.

My devotional reflections this week have been following Mark 12 where Jesus is repeatedly questioned by various members of the Jewish scholarly elite during the last week of his life.  Jesus successfully parried attacks by the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and one over confident teacher of the law.  These various tests serve as a precursor to his upcoming trial.  Even though they had yet to arrest Jesus under the cover of darkness and serve up a mock trial to reaffirm their own prejudices, they publicly tested Jesus in the hopes that the surrounding crowds would be the jury and judge.

It didn’t work.  In fact, after Jesus successfully answered their questions and avoided the traps they had set, he turned the attack on them.  In chapter 12, verse 38 Jesus says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Right after that he contrasts them with a very poor widow who offered two tiny pennies to the temple system.  Her offering, Jesus says, is worth more than all the others.

This image of the humble widow becomes a forerunner to the image of the crucified God.  The arrogant chief priests and teachers of the law respond to the presence of Christ by trying to trick and trap.  The widow responds by giving all she has.  It is her two mites that become the image of true humanity, a humanity formed and shaped and called to the image of the sacrificial and self giving God.

Days later, Jesus as fully God and fully human magnifies the image of the widow for us as he hangs on the cross.  This image of sacrificial and self giving love is who we are supposed to be.  Such an image shames the know it alls and the proud and the arrogant and the powerful.  The cross is a verdict on our own ability to save ourselves by pretending to be more than we are.  It is a sentence of “guilty” for those who “walk around in fancy clothes and soak up the praises bestowed upon them while sitting in the most important seats in public gatherings but who devour widows’ homes.”

And it is a call to repent from our arrogance and pride and embrace the sacrificial giving of a poor widow.  Only by picking up our own crosses of shame and following Jesus can we arrive at a Resurrected morning.

Heavenly father, restore unto us the joy of our salvation as we gaze upon your self giving cross.

 

Maundy Thursday Reflection: Loving God by Loving Our Neighbor

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To read: Mark 12:28-34John 14:15-21

If you are reading this today my guess is that you know the answer to the question, “what is 2+3?”  You probably didn’t even have to think about it.  In fact, from what I understand about how our crazy subconscious mind works, you saw the formula and didn’t even register the 2 or the 3 but just thought 5.  I am also guessing if you have gone anywhere near a church in the last 20 or so years and I say, “quote John 3:16,” in no time at all the words”For God so loved the world” will fly out of your mouth.

Some questions are too easy to answer.

So it is that Jesus’ time of testing in front the Chief Priests, the Pharisees and Sadducees comes to a close with the dumbest question of all questions, at least to a 1st century Jew.  “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”

They grilled him about his authority.  They tried to capture him on taxes.  Then they brought a ridiculously complex hypothetical about the resurrection.  Now all that is left is something akin to 5 year old theology.  They may as well have asked him to sing the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

The question about the greatest commandment was not an opinion question.  It was not the stuff of political debates or news columns.  It had a right answer and a wrong answer and everybody around Jesus had learned the right answer at the beginning of their lives.  The greatest commandment was that there was one and only one God and we are to love that God with everything we have.  This had been clearly established for thousands of years.

On that note, I have no idea what the teacher of the law hoped to prove by asking the question.  He may have seen the failure of his friends and grasped at desperation.  He may have been something akin to a sophomore theology student who had just heard a convincing but vain argument that “loving God” wasn’t the most important and he seriously wanted Jesus to weigh in.  We have no idea but somehow Jesus is reduced to kindergarten status in the teacher of the law’s eyes and a slow ball is lobbed right across the plate.

Jesus hits the home run.

I imagine Jesus rolled his eyes before blandly reciting Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5 to appease the onlookers.  But then, after quoting everybody’s favorite Bible verse, Jesus didn’t stop talking.  He answered another question that hadn’t been asked, “And the second is like it.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

There is convincing evidence that the second greatest commandment had all ready been agreed upon as well by the theologians of Jesus’ day.  What he said did not surprise them in the least.  There was little to no debate on the importance of loving your neighbor, even though that command is buried in more obscure parts of the Old Testament.

And yet, by including the second commandment, and by saying, “it is like it” Jesus is doing something far more subversive.  That phrase which we translate “is like it” suggests much more equality in Greek than it might in English.  Jesus is saying, “The second commandment is exactly like the first.”  There is no distinguishing mark between them.  The second is the first.  The first is the second.  We love God by loving our neighbor.

Today is Maundy Thursday.  Contrary to popular belief it is not “Monday Thursday” which I assume refers to the first day back at work after a 5 day weekend that began last Saturday.  It is “Maundy” which is Latin for “Mandate.”  We so named this Thursday because at the Last Supper before he was betrayed Jesus told his disciples, “This is my new mandate, that you love one another.” (John 13:38).

That same night Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”  The commands are to love.  We love God by loving our neighbor.  There is no separation between love of God and love of neighbor.  The first greatest commandment is the second.

In Mark 12, I am not sure if the teacher of the law picked up on this nuance but he still seemed pleased.  He recited a common line from the Old Testament prophets that, “These are more important than burnt offerings or sacrifices.”

And Jesus replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Tonight as we gather around the table of the Lord and hear again the new mandate to love one another, may we also not be far from the kingdom of God.

Heavenly father, in love draw us nearer to your presence.  And also with love breathe us out to continue to love one another.

Holy Tuesday Reflection: The Currency of Our Kingdom

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To read: Mark 12:13-17, Romans 12:1-2

I got a new credit card this morning in the mail.  It is white with silver lettering.  The horse and chariot of Wells Fargo gallop across it above an American Express logo.  It certainly looks pretty and somewhat majestic.  It even has one of those space agey computer chips on it to remind me that the world of Star Trek is but a breath away.

But the interesting thing about this credit card, from a historical standpoint, is not what image is on it but what image is not.  For millenia the various governments of the world have proudly stamped their image on our money to remind us of their sovereign authority.  Instead mine now has a corporation’s logo on it.  There is probably a PhD thesis to be written about the fact that corporations’ images now line our currency instead of politicians’.

Be that as it may, after I went to activate my new card online, I realized my old card had a balance.  So in one or two clicks I paid it off and cleared my debts, giving to Visa that which belonged to Visa, giving to Wells Fargo that which belonged to Wells Fargo.

It was a fitting practice to perform right before returning to Mark 12 where a second group takes a stab at trying to trap Jesus in his words.  The Chief Priests, who I wrote about yesterday, were very forward, almost blunt.  The Pharisees, living up to their reputation, are much more conniving.  They try flattery first to get Jesus feeling comfortable before they blindside him with a question.  I enjoy the CEB’s interpretation of the verse:

“Teacher, we know that you’re genuine and you don’t worry about what people think. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?” Mark 12:14

I have no idea what favoritism or teaching God’s way or genuineness has to do with paying taxes and Jesus doesn’t seem to either.  Jesus also seems to know what Minna Antrim would later say, “Between flattery and admiration flows a river of contempt.”

Seeing right through them, Jesus asks for a coin, refers to Caesar’s image on it and blandly says, “So then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  Put more simply, “Pay your bills.  Clear you debts and then give everything else to God.”

I wrote a couple weeks ago that the image of God is written on us.  After all we were created in it.  So when we sacrifice ourselves to God, we give to God that which belongs to God.  We are the currency of God’s kingdom, a kingdom without money but nevertheless with great power.

But Jesus’ reply also looks forward to his own crucifixion, that moment where he became a dead sacrifice, completely sold out to God’s mission and God’s kingdom.  On the cross, a very Roman and very Caesar cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of one who gave to Caesar that which belonged to Caesar and to God that which belonged to God.  Jesus became our currency.

The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus in treason, a feat the Chief Priests later accomplished through the clever use of the word and metaphor of “king” before Pilate.  But the Pharisees’ clever question in the temple only succeeded in foretelling that which was coming, the moment when Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” would give back to God that which belonged to God, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

But we, who also bear God’s image, would do well to remember that the cross doesn’t exactly let us off the hook.  Remember our call is to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, becoming living sacrifices who are no longer conformed to the patterns and images of Caesar or Wells Fargo or Visa or Master Card  and their worlds but are transformed by the renewing of our minds into people who know and do God’s pleasing and perfect will.

Dear heavenly father, we who bear your image give ourselves to you again today that we may know and follow your perfect will for us. 

Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

Why Lent, Why Fast Part 4: Feast Days!

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Very early on in Christianity the new believers began meeting every Saturday night or Sunday morning to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.  They thought the Resurrection was such a world changing event, they celebrated its anniversary every single week.  Contrary to popular belief, they did not believe Jesus created a new Sabbath on Sundays.  They just were so appreciative of the reality of the resurrection, a resurrection that guarantees our own resurrections, that they threw a dinner party for it once a week and invited anybody who wanted to come join them!

For that reason, when they eventually began the season of Lent, they allowed those fasting to break their fasts on Sundays, a practice which continues to today.  The thinking was that if Lent is suffering with Christ, we should not suffer on the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection.

With that said, I have never celebrated the feast days until this year.  I figured the practice was a little trite and some part of me felt guilty for breaking my fast for the Feast days.  I am not sure what changed in me but this year I decided I should celebrate the Feast days just to see what happened.  Spoiler alert: I found the practice quite meaningful.

Not only did the feast days better accentuate Sundays as the miniature celebrate of Easter that they are, but it also made the weekly fasting more meaningful.

The very first Sunday of Lent, I had just finished my very painful detox of caffeine.  I was so miserable at that point, that the very thought of giving my body that which it had been craving, only to take it away again seemed cruel.  And if I hadn’t decided to celebrate the feast days before that moment, I would have gone without coffee that day and probably all 45 days of Lent.

But I always do what I set out do, so that first Sunday I brewed some coffee.  After pouring it into my mug, I took a moment to smell the glorious aroma.  I then sipped, very slowly and very cautiously the bold, black substance on my walk to church.  The very next day I was suffering with Jesus again with headaches, chills, spasms and lethargy.

Now it has been five weeks and the preoccupation with caffeine is almost entirely out of my body, if not yet out of my soul.  I am not lethargic.  I am not shaky.  I feel just as energized as I did with coffee and I certainly don’t get any withdrawal symptoms on Mondays.  But Sundays certainly have a new enthusiasm and energy as the caffeine provides double the energy it formerly did!

But the feast days have not been about the renewed energy.  They have been about that first smell of coffee, that wonderful aroma drifting up into my nose.  Smell, after all, is the least appreciated sense.  I heard once that aromas are locked into our memories long after sounds and tastes and sights are gone.  The very waft of a smell can bring back a flood of nostalgia or hatred.  A smell can alter our mood quicker than any of the other senses can.  And on the weekdays without coffee, I miss the smell the most.  So on Sundays when I first hover over the mug, the smell reminds me that as dour and dark as this world may be, there is a newer, brighter day coming when our bodies shall be raised from the dead.  Those who are dead in Christ shall be made alive!  We are new creations!  Jesus is making all things new!  I long for Easter that much more and for the better world that Jesus’ second return will bring.

This morning I talked to my congregation about the necessity of not losing hope.  I argued that when we lose hope we crucify Jesus all over again.  When we escape our strongholds of hope, we become enslaved again by fear and rage and death.

And sometimes all we need to remain in the safety of hope is the smell of dark coffee on a Sunday morning.

Tune back tomorrow for some Holy Week reflections.

Why Lent? Why Fast? Part 2: Spending Money

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There is a delightful story in the gospels about the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus with a question about taxes.  (See Matth. 22:15-22)  The question sounds deceptively simple, “Should we pay taxes?” but underlying it is a layers of historical and emotional nuance.

Still, Jesus simply tosses them a coin and says, “Whose image is on the coin?”  They say, “Caesar” and Jesus replies, “Then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and then give to God that which belongs to God.”

Jesus’ answer is much more meaningful than a first glance might tell.  After all Caesar’s image was on all the money, not just the taxes and God’s image is written on all our bodies.  By referring to the imago Caesar, Jesus was also referring to the Imago Dei (image of God).  He was making a statement that metal coins (or even paper money) are the currency of the worldly kingdoms and should just be thrown back to the world.  In turn, our bodies are the currency of God’s kingdom.

Caesar’s image isn’t on our money today.  We have our great Presidents for that.  And in fact our money even gives a nice little shout out to God in the phrase, “In God We Trust.”  But I still wonder if money is one of those things the kingdoms of this world use to capture and enslave us to sin.  For this reason I am always incredibly inspired by Christians who truly have sold all they have and given it to the poor and chosen to live a very modest, almost beggar’s life.  I have met a few and I envy them most days.

Now I live in a suburb of a major metropolitan area.  Our suburb is know for having the nicest indoor mall around and I have it on good authority that 1.3 billion dollars in retail sales happen every year here.  Some weeks I think that my family supports at least half that amount!

A year ago I lived in a small rural town with almost no economy and still some temptation to spend money foolishly.  Since moving here that temptation has quadrupled!  A year ago the best grocery store was 20 miles away and grocery shopping could be a 2 hour event.  Now we have one just down the street and it is even home to a Starbucks!  If we forget to thaw some meat for dinner, we can now just order a pizza.  The mall has free indoor playgrounds and toys for my kids so I find myself going in there and window shopping once a week.  There is the Home Depot and Lowe’s which sell the coolest gadgets for home improvement.  We have fancier upscale restaurants as well as fast food.  And the Wal-Marts and Targets sell anything else we might need.  But if I am still too lazy to leave my house, I can always open the Google Play app and buy some movies, TV shows or music.  And all it takes is a couple of clicks.

For this reason I gave up spending money for Lent this year.  The stated goal was to, “Not spend money on myself by myself.”  I hesitated to do it, not for any spiritual reason, but because the words, “on myself, by myself” were incredibly vague and I don’t think vague goals succeed.  However, this fast has actually proven the most enlightening.

The fast means I have to stop and think before every purchase I make.  I ask myself the question, “Why am I really spending this money and who am I spending it on?”  A few times this Lent I have opened up the Google Play store, only to realize, “there is nothing here I can purchase or even need to purchase right now.”  At the beginning of Lent, I went to buy a shirt at Costco only to realize that is definitely spending money on myself.  I have walked into certain stores, only to realize there was no reason for me to be there.  I have driven past many a Starbucks and thought, “I have a moment to buy a Latte” and then realized, “Nuts!  That violates both the coffee fast and the spending money fast.”

I wouldn’t say I long or even desire to spend money.  I do not have a hoarder problem, I don’t think.  But I do desire some of the things of this world that only money can buy.  I desire the convenience of fast food, the enjoyment of movies, and the freedom that comes when you realize, “I totally have the money to pay for this!”  Sometimes I just enjoy the freedom of walking into a hardware or electronics store and looking around feeling like I belong there and that these products on the wall are the true life givers.

Of course they are not.  And of course after a month of not spending money during Lent, I realize that there is very little I even need to be spending money on, at least for myself.  I have done just fine without the shirt, the movie, the game, the convenient fast food and the latte.  No, I take that back.  I miss the Lattes!

But the most profound thing that happened this Lent was at a conference a couple weeks ago.  During the dinner break, I watched my friends and colleagues pair off and leave, only to realize that by the terms of my fast, someone had to invite me out to eat or else I would have to go hungry.  I spent the last half hour of the session praying I would be able to find a dinner partner and coming to grips with the reality that my fast meant I would have to starve.  There was a certain painful loneliness to that but in the end I grew desperate enough to accept the invitation to dinner from someone I would never have otherwise joined.  Wee had a wonderful and delightful conversation over pitas.  It was an inspiring conversation I would have missed if I had just gone out to eat by myself.  And in the end he even paid for the meal!

I would like to think that conversation with an unknown ally and friend was the true currency of God’s kingdom.

Come oh Easter!

 

Why Lent? Why Fast? Part 1: Coffee

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In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul engages us in a fascinating discussion about marriage and celibacy as they relate to our new standing in Christ.  Towards the end of his remarks on this issue he suddenly expands his horizons from marriage to all of our relationships.  He says in verse 31, Those who use the world should be like people who aren’t preoccupied with it, because this world in its present form is passing away.

One of the reasons why we fast, especially during the season of Lent, is because we recognize that the things of this world have a strange way of capturing our preoccupations.  When living in the present world we are seemingly drawn to unhealthy obsessions with otherwise healthy or neutral objects.  This happens with our food consumption, our clothing choices, our television shows, our music and even our sleeping habits.  Lent is that time when we revisit our preoccupations and loosen the ties that bind us to them in order to be more free for the service of God and for the new world that is coming.

Therefore the most powerful moments of Lent always happen right before Ash Wednesday.  In the weeks and months leading up to the imposition of ashes, I find myself revisiting my habits, my routines, my comforts and my choices, praying about what God might have me surrender.  As I do this, I am mindful of the words of a much wiser friend who once told me, “The thing you think you can’t live without is that which you should give up for Lent.”

I didn’t have to pray long to figure out what it was this year.  It came about on Ash Wednesday morning I pulled myself from my bed, dragged myself to my coffee pot and stared longingly at it while I toasted a bagel.  I “freed myself” from my morning cup of joe.  .  .and my second breakfast coffee too.  .  .and my nightly latte.  .  .and my mid afternoon stovetop espresso.  .  .and.  .  .nope that’s about it.

I am joking of course.  I only drink a morning cup every morning, with an afternoon espresso every other day or so.  Still, those cups of coffee and espresso were the highlight of any given day.  My morning routine was centered around eating a bagel, drinking coffee and reading articles and books.  And after a run in the winter cold, coming home to a warm blanket and a cup of espresso was my little slice of heaven, a slice I have sorely missed after some cold runs these last weeks.

You see, we joke around a lot about coffee in Christianity.  I have said before that coffee is a

All my friends are like.  .  .

fruit of the spirit, that there is no virtue outside of coffee, that coffee is God’s way of saying, “I love you” and the like.  Coffee has become a symbol of faith, right up there with the cross
.  In fact, I realized awhile back that pastors used to go to coffee shops to make connections with “non church” people.  Now we go to coffee shops to connect with the pastor down the street.  If you don’t believe me, walk into the nearest coffee shop and yell, “Hey Pastor!”  I bet half the heads will look up expectantly.  And when I told my Christian and pastor friends that I was giving up coffee for Lent, I was greeted with a half hearted skepticism.  As one of my esteemed colleagues noted, “I love my job way too much to give up coffee for Lent.”  He may be right.

However, last January I realized that lying behind my love of everything black, dark and bold, was an unhealthy preoccupation with this present world.  This preoccupation wasn’t just mental.  It manifested itself in physical ways.  It turns out caffeine withdrawal is a real thing, and a painful one at that.  The first three days I had a massive migraine.  The next week my legs were super tight during runs and I experienc
ed low threshold but constant spasms when  I wasn’t running.  My energy level crashed to the point where I took afternoon naps whether I intended to or not.  My diet and hunger were thrown way off.  It turns out that my body was quite preoccupied with the black liquid gold.  As the Apostle might put it, “My whole spirit, mind, body and soul were in love with coffee.”  And when I denied it the caffeine, my whole spirit went crazy.

This got me to thinking about what would happen if I “freed myself” from Jesus.  What would that look like?  Would it have that much an effect on my spirit, on my body, on my mind, on my routine?  Would it throw everything in disarray and cause sleepless evenings of twitching muscles?  Is my faith that important to me and that much a part of me?  I think probably so.  I am getting leg twitches just thinking about it.

Be that as it may, another reason we fast for Lent is so that our fasting can turn into feasting on Easter morning.  And trust me, when I yank myself out of bed at 5:30am on Resurrection Sunday and sip that first sip, the coffee will be a reminder for me that a new world is coming, a world full of health and energy and vitality and devoid of death and destruction.

I can only wait and here is one last meme!