Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Lord’s Other Prayer

        I’m currently reading through a book about editing fiction, 

and there is a whole chapter on “beats” 
the various ways editors break up dialogue to create white space on the page and give our eyes time to process the information we’re reading… 
and when you read John’s Gospel from chapter 14-17, 
it feels like someone should have added a few beats.

         It’s one long discourse, 
Jesus’ Long Goodbye after the Last Supper, 
three chapters of him talking… 
and then here, him praying.

         If John had an Editor I imagine she’d tell him to break up the prayer by showing the tension in the air as this prayer marks a great transition point from 
Meal to Passion, 
ministry to resurrection, 
Incarnation to Ascension!

         Perhaps describe the disciples hanging on every word, there at table with him.

         Describe their dawning realization that Jesus is speaking into existence a community 
—a community filled with the Spirit, 
led by the message of Easter…

         Describing, in short, Our Lord’s Other Prayer.

 

Prayer

         There is this moment for acrobats on the trapeze, 
the First Catcher has let go of the Flyer, 
but the Second Catcher hasn’t grasped them yet…

         A moment that hangs there, shimmering
(literally hanging in the air), 
a moment for the audience to hold their breath,

And then the Flyer is caught, 

We can catch our breathe, 
the Flyer is held safely again.

 

         That moment, 
that’s where they are,
where the earliest of Church is…

Jesus let’s go, with this prayer, 
the Spirit’s arms are ready to catch them… 
but there is still Cross and Tomb and Easter Joy.

This is the moment where you hold your breath.

He is praying for them, for us, in this moment…

 

This moment of tension and transition, 
a new world coming into existence
—the resurrection of the whole Church.

 

         In Ecology, transition points in nature
—where white shore gives way to blue ocean waves, 
green forests to amber plains
—they are rich spaces, filled with crosspollination and an opulent diversity… 

         And so too here, as Jesus prays:
what will come of the Spirit’s guiding, 
the Church’s mission
—will be magnificent…
 
-Once Jesus was here among us;
-Now Jesus is everywhere among us!

 

         Or, think of growing pains in children
—it’s the reason they’re often so fidgety, 
their bodies are changing, 
they are becoming, 
they live life between shore and ocean, 
they live in that moment where we all hold our breath and look up in the big top!  

 

         And Jesus is praying for these disciples, 
and if you read the whole of Chapter 17 (please do!) 
he’s praying for us too
all who have heard the Gospel,
All who have come to faith, 
Are in his Prayer!

 

         As we all at Spruce Run enter into our own points of transition

-Returning to in-person worship

-Re-engaging with our community

-All of us figuring out how to be faithful here on the other side of this year,
Growing pains, 
spaces of crosspollination, 
hanging in the air 
aware that the Spirit will catch us….

 

         In all this, don’t forget that Our Lord did not just teach us to pray, but also prayed for us, in the Lord’s Other Prayer:

         “Heavenly Father! 
I have completed my work in the world
—the work you gave me to do is fulfilled.” He prays.

         “In me all may know you as Father, 
and know that my messiah-ship continues that first act of creation, 
it is the re-creation of the world.”

         He pauses, ensuring that his Disciples are listening in
“They belong to you, Sacred Parent, 
because you gave them to me and I am returning to you. 
They belong to you, 
because they know me through my words and as the Word made Flesh.”

         “They are part of my story now,” he prays, 
“they belong to the Word, 
even as they are in the world. 
My Story and the World’s story,” 
he sighs, 
“clash. 
Sometimes viciously, 
protect them, 

I pray.”

         “Protect them, Loving Father,” he prays, 
“for my Way is not an escape from the world, 
but its resurrection and transformation."

         He reaches out his hands to them.

The Disciple’s hands are shaking, 
but they all join hands, 
one with another,

“I pray that my disciples might be one, as we are one.  
And not they alone, 
but all who will be moved by the testimonies of their lips and their lives. 
I pray for all who are moved by my story, 
may they all be one 
together.” 

         He concludes, “May they all experience your total love, Father, 
the love that was there at the moment of creation. 
May the love with which you loved me 
be in them.”

And they all said Amen.

Friday, May 07, 2021

A Rose By Any Other Name: Lutheran

 

So, an Australian Lutheran Seminarian decide to be an Internet Troll, and recently attacked a facebook group connected with my denomination, asking the question: “Why does the ELCA have Luther in their name when he was a racist and sexist bigot?” From what I can gather from his responses to people’s earnest answers to his question, he mainly wanted to tell folk that his version of Lutheranism follows Luther warts and all, unlike those sissies in the ELCA who ordain women and apologized for Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.

Now, his question got me thinking about names. Of course, Luther wanted Lutherans to be called “Evangelicals” but like so many other groups (for example Methodists, Mormons, and Quakers), Lutherans didn’t get to name ourselves. Instead, people hurled the term “Lutheran” at us as an insult, and it stuck.

And I wonder how that name Lutheran, has shaped who we are as a church?

A few counter-factuals:

What if we’d managed to have the name we wanted, Evangelical. Evangelical comes from the Greek word for Good News. Would we have been more diligent in telling people about God’s grace if we’d been known as Evangelicals? Would more people have heard that God loved them even before they loved themselves, if we’d had that name?

For that matter, what if we’d named ourselves after the documents that best describe what we believe, the Confession of Augsburg or the Book of Concord? What if we were Concordians or Augsburgers? Would this decenter the personality of Luther and a corporate identity focused on protesting and “Here I Stand” moments and re-center on celebrating moments of unity?

Or, what would have happened if Luther’s Roman Catholic Order became the descriptor of our faith, what if we identified as “Austere Augustinians”? Would that point us back to the first four centuries of Christianity more than our current identity? Would scripture AND tradition be a watch word for us instead of “Scripture Alone”?

Finally, what if we’d called ourselves Catechismers? That is, what if the commonality we clung to was Luther’s Small Catechism? How might that empower lay folk to explore their many Christian callings? After all, if you are identified with Luther, you probably need to be familiar with his whole history and the giant corpus of his works. If you identify with the confessions, it is fraught with background and a great deal of study is required. But, if that little book, read by parents to children, is the center of it all, wouldn’t more people think “Eh, sure, I can do that!”


Monday, May 03, 2021

Sermon: Abide in Love

         I often wonder what exactly what was going on in the Christian community from which the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation sprung

—all these descriptions of the Christian faith are so circular

-The Gospel of John has the constant refrain of I AM, and descriptions of Abiding and Loving.

-The Letters of John fixate on one or two words and coming back to them continually, to the point that they grow familiar and worn from use.

-The Book of Revelation does much the same, but using different bizarre images and animals to drive home several central points.

         This circular way of describing the Gospel draws us into mystery, 
not explaining so much as experiencing the Love of God found in Christ.

 

         And today, I want us to sit a bit with the Gospel of John’s circular, 
repetitive, 
reflection on Love
Abiding
and Command.

Let us pray

 

         “If you all keep my commandments, you all will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

         We are commanded with a new commandment
love one another… 
         We are commanded to bear fruit… 

         We are to bear the fruit of love… 
and the fruit of love… 
is love!

         We love because we are friends of Christ, 

         We are friends of Christ because God loves his Son

         God loves his Son because he came into the world with love to show forth the love of His Father to us 
and through us!...

         I told you this was going to be circular!

         

         Yet, imagine such a command… 
command the plant to bear fruit
As a frustrated gardener, let me say, it doesn’t work that way, 
the plant bears fruit because that’s what the plant does…

         Or imagine the command… 
command the lover to love the beloved… 
command a couple, madly in love, to love each other… they’re already doing it… it’s what lover and beloved do!

         So too this command… it points to what already is—you’ve already been chosen by God… 
God has already befriended you! 
Isn’t there great joy in that friendship! 
Great joy that God is gracious, God has already acted on your behalf!

 

         “Abide in my love”

--I love the word abide “Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…”

—it just rolls off the tongue… 
I love the word abide almost as much as John’s Gospel does… 

but, it’s become sort of an old word
—like a favorite pillow so well loved that the stuffing is spent.

         Inside this word, Abide, is the Greek word “Meno” which I’ve seen translated 18 different ways, everything from “Sustained conscious communion” to “Invest” to “stay” to “cuddle.” 
All trying to get at a sense of mutuality
a sense of physical closeness
and a sense of continuation
 I still think Abide works best… 
but let’s hear what’s being said.

         There is a mutuality in the love between Father and Son and Son and his chosen
—this is not an unrequited love, 
not a one sided friendship
—there is a mutuality to it, we grow close.

         There is a physical closeness to this love
—Jesus’ love draws him so close to us that he becomes human in the flesh… 
and Father and Son love each other in such a way that Jesus lays against the bosom of the Father 
(think of holding a newborn! Wow!)… 
Jesus abides with us and with the Father! 

         There is a continuation, this kind of love is a spark that catches and burns on always! 
This isn’t bedding the cattle down for the night, this is a barn for always… 

 

         The Father abides in the Son, 
the Son in his friends, 
his friends abide in the mutual love between Father and Son, which is the Holy Spirit!

         They are vine grower and vine and branch bearing fruit because it abides in the vine and vine grower. 
The fruit too is the love of the vine grower
—his command completed because it was completed in him
—the entire vineyard is joy!

 

         “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you all, abide in my love.”

         This love is the love we see knelt down close on Maundy Thursday
foot washing… 
the kind of love that is physical, 
intimate, 
and humble.

         The kind of love that is sacrificial and incarnational too
—there is a reason so many Christians memorize John 3:16
—it describes the kind of love God has for the world through Jesus Christ: 
Jesus dwell, abided, in this world, not to condemn us, but to love us, 
to save us, 
to bring us everlasting life!

         This love is the kind of love that makes the invisible God visible for us!

         God loves the world by dwelling in it physically, drawing the world to him in friendship and joy, 
fulfilling the command of love in us.

 

Love
Abiding

Command.

A+A

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Lord is my Shepherd

          The LORD is my shepherd…

         Two words in the Hebrew, yet due to their poetic and metaphorical power, they hold multitudes, they take truth’s ray and, like a prism, split it up into a disco ball--rainbow of light… 

rough common images and 
sustaining devotion and 
ecstatic delight and 
divine promise! 

Let us pray

 

         The Lord is my shepherd. 
A common sight.

         When I was in Jericho on a tour, we were all loading our suitcases into the lower storage section of the bus, and there, 
between us and the Mount of Temptation, 
in an abandoned parking lot, 
was a herd of animals, 
dry dyed an orange-red by the dust. 
If you looked carefully some of the rugged animal were sheep, 
some goats, 
and even a few rough sheep dogs. 

         A common sight, we were told
—the flock belonging to Bedouin shepherds.

         Just something to see after breakfast
—as common as a car or Starbucks or gas station.

         Shepherds and sheep dogs protecting the sheep 
from the wolves and wild dogs… protecting the flock from pack hunters that would pick off the weakest and scatter the rest. Bedouin shepherds standing between danger and the most vulnerable.

         Shepherds restoring their flock with rest, 
comforting with protective presence, 
bringing the flock home.

 

         The LORD is my shepherd
—the whole psalm pointing to pilgrimage
—the journey that the faithful take from their home to the Temple in Jerusalem. 
-Through the ups and downs, hills and highways, 
-darkest valleys packed with robbers ready for ambush 
-and eventually the cleansing welcome of anointing 
-and feasting 
-and the holy fellowship, 
-worshipping at the LORD’s house, returning 
festival after festival, 
sustained by both the journey and the destination. 
         Perhaps something in the practice of pilgrimage 
transforms the pilgrim from someone who simply hears about the LORD 
transforms the pilgrim into someone who can say to God, “You are with me!”

         “Surely,” the poet says, seeing the pilgrim throng, crowded together along the way
“surely the LORD is their shepherd, the shepherd of these sheep traveling to the temple.”

 

         The LORD is my shepherd
“surely too,” the poet quickly adds, “such a journey is something more
—is not our whole life a pilgrimage?”

Filled with joy and Holy presence, 
pasture rest 
and paths that surely are gifts from God.

         And dangers too!

         There are shadowy spaces, 
where the worst of it lurks, 
yet take comfort, even there… God is there! 
There too in jubilation and good meals together 
and isn’t God pursuing us with grace all of our days, 
to the end and even beyond the end!

 

The LORD is my shepherd
—something confirmed by many lives
—but especially the life of a Blind man whom Jesus healed.

         You see—John’s Gospel has this rhythm to it, 
miracle and explanation, 
miracle and explanation, 
often times pointing to Jesus’ actions and person 
echoing and shaped by God’s actions in Hebrew Scripture…

         “I Am the Good Shepherd” most certainly echoes “The LORD is my shepherd.” 
It is an explanation of Jesus’ healing of a man blind from birth (go back to chapter 9); 
A man unaided by the religious authorities, 
declared a sinner on account of his blindness, 
then later persecuted by them, hounded
even his parents, hounded 
hounded for an explanation of his life transformed.

 

         “I Am the Good Shepherd” Jesus explains, giving his own poetic interpretation of Psalm 23.

         Many find themselves on the outs
—kept out even
—from the flock… 
yes, some could give it all away and become Essenes, 
ascetics off in the Dead Sea waiting for an angelic apocalypse.
yes, some could become Sadducees, 
provided they had the proper lineage and close connections to the temple establishment.

Yes, some could become Pharisees, 
managing their dining room table as an altar to God, with a keen eye on purity…

But for the majority
for so many people
—they just didn’t fit… 
worse still… 
often they were pushed out…

Blind or lame, 
leper or of the wrong race or ethnicity, 
impure for one reason or another, 
impoverished, 
a sinner, 
a collaborator, 
a person just trying to get by, but not doing it right… 
pushed out of the flock…

         The vulnerable, and those made vulnerable by their exclusion…

 

But he is a good shepherd…

Society may have left them to death’s valley.

Society might have said “its survival of the fittest” 
and pushed the most vulnerable to the wolves to save themselves…

 

But Jesus

He’s a good shepherd
—he echoes the 23rd Psalm.

Just as he heals the blind man 
and finds him after he’s been driven out 
and bestows upon him goodness and mercy…

         So too the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for these vulnerable ones
—these tossed away ones, 
these excluded ones

these driven out ones

         “You are with me! You comfort me!” 
He enters the valley of the shadow of death with them, 
with us, 
calling still, 
knowing them even when they don’t know themselves, 
refusing to let go even after he’s let go of his final breath.

         He holds us fast, 
nothing can rip us away from his gentle and strong hands. 
Hands that hang from a cross 
and are shown to his friends on the other side of the grave.

         We shall not be ripped away from him!

 

The LORD is my shepherd. A simple enough symbol, common and plain.

The LORD is my shepherd. Along the way with every pilgrim, drawn to God’s home again and again.

The LORD is my shepherd. From valley to temple mount, our whole life long.

The LORD is my shepherd. The Good Shepherd Jesus, who lays down his life for the vulnerable.

The LORD is my shepherd. A+A

A Year of Loving our Neighbors

 perhaps a re-framing can redeem this Covid year, 

or at least help us be resilient enough to keep on until we reach the healthier time we all hope for.

 

         Right off the bat, let’s admit the entire last year, our extended Covid year that started back in 2020 and has yet to end—has been awful, right!

         It’s been hard on everyone.

         While all have felt it, the pain and suffering has fallen unevenly.

         Yes, there have been bad actors: toilet paper hoarders, price gougers, people spreading false information… all that.

         We’ve seen a lot of people at their worst
—in fact we’ve experienced a whole societies where everyone is simultaneously anxious
—simultaneously stuck in a Judger frame
—collectively should-ing as well… 
think about it, 
has a day went by when you’ve not thought so and so should do this or that?
Or, alternatively, has a day passed when you’ve not turned that same impulse in upon yourself and fixated on what you should have done, but didn’t…

         People have acted in ways that their 2019-selves would not have believed possible.

         

         And so, in the face of such a year, let’s try this on for size, 
a reframing of the entire year:

--this last year has been a year of loving our neighbor.

         

-We’ve been hand washing, physical distancing, and mask wearing… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Senior Hours at the Supermarket was created… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Teachers, students, and parents flipped to virtual learning without warning and then were left in limbo, but kept on anyhow… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Doctors and nurses confronted a new disease, figured out how to keep people alive on the fly, improvised protective gear for themselves and their patients, and generally were asked to do the impossible and carry all us civilians through hell… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-We’ve endured empty parking lot funerals… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Essential workers have sacrificed more than any society should ask of them…
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-We all changed all our routines, closed stores, and made significant modifications to all our vocations for the sake of safety… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Food pantries met the challenge of double and even quadrupling of clients, and so many were generous and so many needs were met… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-When households got exposed and quarantined, neighbors—even neighbors that didn’t like the quarantined person, pitched in to keep them fed and afloat for their 14 days… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-We deferred travel, even significant trips… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-So many of us have stayed away from parents and grandparents and friends and significant others and miss them so much, and they missed us back… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Museums and other tourist destinations opened themselves up online in unprecedented fashion and artists of all sorts have offered so much to the general public for free, to make lock downs bearable… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Various national science agencies shared information with their foreign counterparts as never before, the virus knew no border so the work for a cure didn’t either… 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

-Countless people stayed up at all hours of the night online to secure vaccine appointments for the elderly and endangered…. 
because this is a year of loving our neighbor.

 

         This year… 
I can’t fix this year… 
I can’t redeem this year… 
but maybe Christ’s command, “Love one another” Can re-center our experience of it so we can see the best of it, 
reframe it in a way that we can see where, sometimes unknowingly, Christ’s command was heeded, 
experiencing, even in the shadow of this year, the Humility, Love, Service, and Friendship Christ embodies and offers to us all.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Lent 5: A New Covenant

         And here we are, the fifth Sunday in Lent, the end of this sermon series on Covenants, the point at which, if you’ve been following along with your bingo card, you can shout Bingo!

         We’ve seen:
-how Noah and all the Earth came to terms with a God who has put down the bow, --how Abraham was met by a God who entered into the messiness of particularity and his peculiar family, 
-how Moses and the people escaped from slavery into freedom because the God of Liberty and Commandment heard their cry.
-how then those same people who cried out to God for freedom then cry out against God because freedom is hard.

         And now, today, we read Jeremiah’s promise of a New Covenant.

Let us pray

 

         Now for the long jump forward
—after entering the Promised Land, the people conquer and assimilate in equal measure
—twelve tribes then unify under Saul, then David
—a coalition of chieftains becomes a Kingdom
—God promises King David a continual seat of power, with this comes the Palace under David and a Temple under David’s son Solomon
—then soon enough the fragile peace of two generations shatters and 10 Tribes separate to become the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the remaining two tribes in the south are called Judah, their Capital is Jerusalem.

         Later the Assyrians swoop in, conquer, and then disperse the Northern tribes… 
then 130 some years later the Babylonians break the walls of Jerusalem and raze the city—including the Temple and the Palace. 
They carry off the royal household and priests, and anyone with much influence, and take them off into Exile in Babylon.

 

         And that’s the historical situation in which we find Jeremiah
—faced with a people in Exile.

Exile—the defining moment for All those who look back to Moses and Abraham and Noah
—all those who take seriously holy writ.

Exile—an experience painted as a songless space in the Psalms: 
How can we sing a song of Zion 
by the rivers of Babylon? 
In a foreign land, 
our mouths go dry as cotton;
our only song is destruction.

Exile—which Jeremiah paints as incurable pain, wailing of women who have lost their children, horror!

         Exilefrom which both the Prophet Jeremiah and Isaiah extract hope.

         Isaiah responds to this horror: “Comfort o’ Comfort my people” and Jeremiah writes chapters 30-31, which will be called, “The Comfort Scroll.”

         They promise that the yoke of captivity will be broken, 
that the devour shall be devoured, 
the plunderer shall be plundered
—that a restoration is at hand!

         The Exile in Babylon, these Prophets maintain, is like the Exile in Egypt
—God heard the people’s cry and brought them through the peril of the Red Sea
—so too God will bring them through the dangerous desert by way of a safe highway.

         God will do a new saving act… 
and more yet!

 

         The problem with the Exodus, after all, was the Tablet that was broken, and the people’s urge to complain—like we read about in the Snake incident… The exodus covenant was breakable, conditional, transactional, and external.

         This new salvation and the relationship that will follow—Jeremiah promises—will be internal, relational, absolute, and resilient…unbreakable. 

         This new thing God will do—it will re-member (put together again) the relationship.
In the Exodus God remembered the people’s sins and the people forgot God’s promises.

In this New Covenant—God will Forget the people’s sins and the people will Remembertheir God!

 

         And in time, the people do return to the Promised Land
—yet the new temple is so uninspiring that the old folk weep, 
they are a vassal state and have no King, let alone a Davidic one.
The people are divided, sin has not ceased…

         Many wonder: “are we still in Exile, even when we are home?
—can we sing songs of Zion atop Mt. Zion, or is that still singing destruction?

 

         And now, one last time, let’s go through the six features of a Covenant that we find: Strangeness, Problem, Character, Sign, Blessing, and Re-ordering.

 

Strangeness:     Simply put, we’ve vaulted passed the bulk of Hebrew History. Reading Jeremiah’s promises without a sense of what has happened before can confuse our understanding of this New Covenant God is promising.

Problem:  Jeremiah is sensitive and sensible enough to realize his people needed more than simply a New Moses—the re-membering of God’s people—putting it all back together after the trauma of Babylon
—would take more than breakable tablets and complaining people.

Facet of God’s Character:  God describes Himself as a spurned spouse who now yearns for a right relationship.

Sign: This New Covenant replaces stone tablets with heart etchings—an unforgettable covenant.

Blessing:   The people will be brought out of Exile, yes, but more vitally, they shall know the Lord, and God shall know their sins no more.

Re-ordering:     What a relationship! Reconciled spouses! A New Covenant. An internal, relational, absolute, and unbreakable relationship! Praise God!

         And finally—what does that mean for usThe So What? Question…

         Well… for us, for us Christians—this promise anticipates the signs of Water and Bread and Wine—Baptism and Communion instituted by our Lord along with the command to Love One Another—all that is packed into Maundy Thursday.

         These things, for us, re-member, the Body of Christ—God enfleshed and risen, God with and for us. They all point to God’s humanity
—God etched in flesh and blood
—the Word in the Heart, the body, among the People.

         Jesus Christ is for us, the answer to the question: “How shall we know the Lord? How shall God know our sins no more?”

         Jesus is the invisible God made visible
—we can know the Lord!

         In Jesus we find forgiveness and mercy
—God looks upon his son and forgets all our failings and faults.

Amen.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Lent 4: The Snake

         There’s that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones reaches the Well of Souls, and he and his companions throw a torch down into the well and then peer inside

—only to see that the well is filled with snakes upon snakes upon snakes, to which Indiana Jones
—no fan of snakes, wonders aloud: “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?”

 

         And that’s where I’m at with today’s reading as well: “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?”

         It feels like there is a logical next step in the lectionary—the weekly readings
—God’s covenant with Noah, then Abraham, then Moses
then King David
that would round it out, 
that would give us four solid Covenants, each with a few generations in between. David would point us onward to next week’s promise of a New Covenant made by Jeremiah… It would just fit the bingo cards so much better!

         But no… instead of fast-forwarding centuries from Moses to David, we instead only move 40 years and 450 miles to these snakes…

Prayer

         Freedom came quickly… then slowly… 

just as Gilligan’s 3-hour tour took considerably longer, 
what should have been a 19 day walk, has taken the Israelites four decades.

         In that time Moses, his brother Aaron, and even God, have been challenged for leadership. 
The people have wailed for food, and received manna (a substance somewhere between snow, bread, and dandruff) 
then wailed for meat and God gave them quail…

         And then, after their first major military victory, they come to God again and wail, “We have no food, no water—and let me tell you, the food is horrible…”

         They’re Gaslighting God! “There is no food—and it tastes horrible!” 
That’s enough to give God an anxiety attack! 
“You claim I didn’t provide anything for you, and what I provided wasn’t up to snuff!”

         And God’s had enough
—these venomous snakes slither out and start killing people. 
Then the people repent, and God provides a strange solution, a bronze snake that they might look upon and live. In the midst of pain and suffering, 
they look up and they live!

         Many generations later, this snake will be destroyed by the righteous King Hezekiah, because the people had begun to worship it as a god
(as I said last week, we humans are predisposed to make small gods.)

 

         So that’s the story
—but let’s break it down into our 6 categories on the Bingo card
—let’s see if it is even a covenant…

Strangeness:      
         The freedom and responsibility of 40 years ago doesn’t seem to be turning out well for anyone
—the people find freedom to be a burden
and God finds the people to be a burden
and poor Moses is caught in the middle keeping the peace. 

 

Problem:    
         We’ll there’s certainly a mountain of problems, the chief among them: “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?”

  

Facet of God’s Character:
         This was a struggle for me
—on one hand, God is shown to be a God who can be hurt by the people’s gaslighting… 
and God is also shown to be a God who keeps on keeping on with the people, right, God of the long slog through the desert
—but also, 
as John chapter 3 makes plain
God is a God of Faith
—a God worth believing in, 
a God who will save
Look up! 
Look up and live!

 

Sign:
         This is fairly straightforward at least
the bronze snake.

 

Blessing:
         The blessing is life, 
not absence of strife or suffering, 
but to look up and live! 
The snake almost functions as a vaccine in that way. 
A snake vaccine…
No really!

Look, here is a blueprint of the thing that threatens your life. It will make sure the effects of the venom is not deadly, it won’t stop the pain, won’t stop the terror surrounding you, but you won’t die!

Re-ordering of Relationship:         On one hand, there is the repentance of the people—that’s a change in relationship… but this story feels much more like a moment in an ongoing story than a wholly new relationship

         In fact, the whole thing feels like a paltry promise
a trifling covenant… if it can even be called that…
more an illustration of last week’s covenant being broken, than the establishment of a new one…

         But, perhaps, to those saying “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?” it is no small thing
—if you’re dealing with deadly snakes, survival is everything!

 

         And that swings us well into the final question, “So What?” What does this all mean for us?

         I’m drawn to a quote by Professor and Author Phyllis Tickle:

And what the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it.”

         As strange, and frankly convoluted as this story is, there is that brass tacks reality of suffering and response
looking up is an act of faith, being drawn to divine promises of life, 
even as life draws out agony…

 

         For that matter, just as the Israelites are at their wits end at 40 years, many of us are in a similar space at the 1 year mark of the virus… 
some of us might even be tempted to gaslight God
you’ve not provided for us, and those things you’ve provided for us aren’t very good! 

I know whenever I get too down about it all, I think about what the influenza epidemic of 1919 must have been like
—I mean, we have so many means of keeping in touch, 
many stores deliver, or at least have curbside pick-up. 
Our scientific knowledge and abilities to respond to the virus are truly amazing! 

And yet, much like that pandemic, we’re always re-learning that we’re not in control… 
we can do everything right and things can still go wrong
—we can do things wrong and everything can spin out of control. 
All of us are going to be bitten in this life…

Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes? 

Look up! 
Don’t look down that well that will suck you in, but look up! 
God so loved the world, 
Look up!    Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The four freedoms of the Reformation!

Freedom


          Faced with the great Depression and hostile axis powers, President FDR gave his famed speech outlining Four freedoms:

Freedom of speech, Freedom to worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear.

          And as we celebrate Martin Luther’s Reformation… we would do well to consider the four Freedoms of the Reformation
—a sort of restatement of the central points of our faith:
Freed by the Son,
Freed through faith,
freed for our neighbor,
and freed to follow Jesus!

The four freedoms of the Reformation.

Prayer

Freed by the Son, Freed through faith, freed for your neighbor, and freed to follow Jesus!

The four freedoms of the Reformation!

You are freed by the Son!
          We are saved by grace…
freed from the powers of Sin, Death, and the Devil
by God’s beloved Son Jesus and his actions on our behalf…

He is Emmanuel
—God with us,
he came down that we might have life
and have it with abundance.

He is the Crucified Christ
—with us to the end,
with us in even the worst experiences of our life!

He is Our Resurrected Lord
—bringing us with him
to the place where no mortal
may trod,
the very dwelling and very face
of God.

          All of this is a free gift for us
—making us right with God.
          You’ve been made right with God.

          When God looks at you,
God does not see any enmity,
see any division,
see any separation
—does not see where we’ve fallen short,
where our lives get cut short,
where we’ve been sorely tempted
—no!
God sees a Beloved Child
—sees Jesus when God looks at us!

The Son has made you free, you are free indeed!

 

You are Freed through Faith!
The Truth will make you free!

          “It’s unbelievable though!” you might say.
          “There has to be strings attached,” you may mumble.
          “That’s not how I’ve experienced the world to work,” you might rightly answer.

 

          And we do live in an If/then kind of world
—if you do X, then you’ll get Y.
A transactional world,
a world weighed down by sin, death, and the devil…

          And that’s why we continually need the reminder
in word and sacrament,
in confession and forgiveness,
in the community of the church
—whatever form She takes.

          The reminder that we find our rest in a because/therefor God.
Because God has acted for you in Jesus Christ,
 therefore you are free indeed!

          The continual creation of faith
—the proclamation that
The Truth will make you free!”

          That’s it! Truth!

          Grace is true.
God who has promised you new life in his son,
is trustworthy.
You can believe, with your whole self,
this salvation already given to you by the one who gave his whole self for you!
Have confidence that Christ is for you.

          A fellow seminarian, once a Pentecostal, now an ELCA Bishop, named her moment of being freed through faith this way:
Simply being looked in the eye and told:
“When you understand that God chose for you to be saved and that you did not choose your own salvation, then you’ll understand God’s amazing grace.”

          We’re saved through faith
—a confident trust in the trustworthiness of God.

 

You are Freed for your Neighbor
          You’ve already been made right, now what?
          God doesn’t need your works, but your neighbors do!

          The vertical relationship between God and humanity is already addressed,
now we can focus on the horizontal relationships with each other!

          We’re freed from a divided, zero-sum, way of living,
we can now multiply God’s blessings for all the earth!

          It’s all the cherry on top!
Every moment of our lives is a simple response to God’s unfailing love.

          Freed from all heaven storming ambition,
you can love your neighbor as yourself!

          To quote Luther:
“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

 

          You are Freed to Follow Jesus!
          Everything about how God acted in Jesus was rather astonishing
—the Christ on a cross,
the Son of God executed
by religious people and the political powers that be
—the conquering savior entering Jerusalem on a donkey,
not a warhorse
(Because the donkey… makes all the difference)
          God in the last place you would think to look!

          What an adventure, being his disciple,
being someone who gets to follow after Jesus!
Finding him
and following him,
wherever he may go
—the ever gracious surprise
and strange joy
that comes from following your savor!
Continuing in his word and in his truth
—truly you are his disciple!

 

The four freedoms of the Reformation!

Freed by the Son, Freed through faith, freed for your neighbor, and freed to follow Jesus!

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