Thursday, March 07, 2019

Ash Wednesday: We are to take up our Lenten Disciplines in such a way that we remain disciples of Christ.

Ash Wednesday

          So here we are… another Lent, so late this year that we were lulled into a false sense of security and it managed to sneak up on us.
          Here we are—on the precipice, ready to follow Jesus down the mountain and head to Jerusalem.
          Here we are—shaping our lives into a unique holy time through a 40 day focus on Alms, Fasting and Prayer.
          Using ELCA World hunger resources for Self-examination and Repentance, Prayer and Fasting, Works of Love and Sacrificial Giving.
          Gathering together on Wednesday to work out the actual nuts and bolts process of forgiving someone and some of us helping each other along the way as prayer partners.
          Many of us searching our own souls and finding particular areas in our life that need 40 days to clear out and re-create so that it more closely clings to the Gospel and to Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the face of all these doings, let me say this as plainly as I can: these efforts are to be taken seriously, seriously enough to fail at them, but they are not to be taken seriously enough to cause other people to fail. Jesus says our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and the Scribes, but that is not a call to self-righteousness or self-satisfaction.
          We are to take up our Lenten Disciplines in such a way that we remain disciples of Christ.
          We are to take up our Lenten Disciplines in such a way that we remain disciples of Christ.
          Beloved in Christ, give alms, for doing so will connect you to the real and ongoing needs of the world. Give of your time and your possessions, in so doing you will find that, despite the stories of our society and the voices in our heads, there will be enough—in God’s good creation there is enough!
          Beloved in Christ, do not give of your time and your talent in such a way that you may brag of your busyness or lord your generosity over another person, being their patron. Doing so will breed resentment and you will not be listened to.

          Beloved in Christ, fast, for in so doing you will remember what sustains you—that everything nourishing for the body is a gift from God. You will become aware of the body which God has given you. You will also be reminded that many go to bed hungry, and you will hunger for their fullness.
          Beloved in Christ, do not fast for show or to become proud of your control over your body, for it is not your own.

          Beloved in Christ, pray regularly. Pray for our future and for our greatest needs—they need to be named and known, or we will go quietly and unthinkingly into a future that is not only frightening, but uncaring. For that matter, there is a lot of you inside of you, its good to get it out in the open, express it to God, God’s shoulders are big enough to bear it.
          Beloved in Christ, do not pray in order to manipulate or to gossip, do not pray breathless prayers in the hopes that they take your neighbor’s breath away. Doing so mocks God and dishonors your neighbor.

          Beloved in Christ, Seek repentance and forgiveness, your actions and your inner being are worth taking seriously. So is your neighbors.
          Beloved in Christ, do not seek repentance and forgiveness for show, or to stir up controversy, only do so because the image of God is found in the mirror and right next to you.

          Dearest Christian friends, recognize the weight of taking on a Lenten discipline. It is as heavy as Joel’s religious response to a plague of locusts and the famine that followed, it is as Paul writes becoming reconciled to God.
          Recognize too the goal of such a discipline, you are being shaped into the Image of Christ, not into a hypocrite.
          We are to take up our Lenten Disciplines in such a way that we remain disciples of Christ.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration

            One of my favorite movies, a guilty pleasure I suppose, is Shrek. There is this scene where Shrek is trying to explain to Donkey that Ogres are more than violent brutes, and he comes up with this analogy: “Ogres are like onions.”
            Donkey, being donkey, replies, “They stink? They make you cry? If you leave them out in the sun they get all brown and start sprouting little white hairs?”
            “No,” Shrek shouts, “Layers! Onions have layers! Ogres have layers! Onions have layers! You get it, we both have layers.”
            So too the Transfiguration, there are layersto it, to get to the center of its meaning we have to peel back many layers, each one important in its own right, and yet not complete.
            The transfiguration has layers.


            The Transfiguration has layers.
            The first one is the experience itself, dazzling and glorious, the Apostles are weighed down by sleep, yet able to keep awake, and in keeping awake able to see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah—these ancient heroes of renowned.
The Apostles are overshadowed by God’s holiness and
able to hear the very voice of God.
Able to know, not simply by faith, but by sight, that Jesus is God’s Son.
            Yes, these mountaintop experiences—maybe you’ve even had one… Those moments of clarity, those moments of closeness to God, perhaps while…
singing a favorite hymn,
on retreat,
at baptism,
at confirmation class or Sunday School,
during communion,
literally on a mountaintop able to see a wide swath of God’s good creation.
Perhaps you’ve had a particular spiritual experience, been moved by a piece of Scripture, felt the Spirit upon you in a unique way.

            That’s all part of the Transfiguration, but that’s not allof it, after all, The transfiguration has layers.
            Part of having a mountain top experience is coming down the mountain, right? There is a crowd, no more mountain retreat for Peter, John, and James
—then they are confronted with the failure of their fellow disciples, those disciples can’t heal a boy who has seizures. The disciples have to go from this place of comfort, where Peter would just as soon have set up permanent residence, they have to go down
and interact with the world as it is,
heal, share that special something that they wished to bottle up, up there.
            I guess Donkey was right, Onions, left out in the sun, don’t hold up well, and so too the faith… Though forged and found in a particular place and time, it needs to be translated, transitioned, shared, brought down the mountain…
Gospel is for spreading, communion for becoming a people,
hymns for singingtogether.

            And yet, perhaps I’m overstating our likelihood of having a mountaintop experience at all,
a religious experience at all…  
after all, even the Evangelist Billy Graham wrote a book wresting with the fact that a majority of Christians, 60 some percent according to his calculations, never have a religious experience their whole lives.
So, for most of us being told to go down the mountain makes no sense, because you were never up with Shiny Jesus in the first place…
But fear not, the Transfiguration is for you too,
after all, The transfiguration has layers.
            For a lot of folk, faith isn’t either of those extremes, overawed direct experience of God, or going down in the muck and healing… In fact there is so much grey space in between the two you could make an elephant out of it…
no, we’re often like Peter, aren’t we? “not knowing what he said.”
Things are unclear, maybe they’ll only make sense in hindsight, yet we’re in the moment and puzzled!
We’re kinda confused about the whole thing, yeah, we’ve had things happen to us, strange experiences, close encounters with death and life and some stuff in between…
but it isn’t a clear booming voice, it makes you catch your breath
or bug out your eyes
or just stay silent about the whole thing,
stuck with more questions than answers… 
Have I got news for you! That’s a part of the faith too
—the 2000 year history of Christian theology is best summed up by Amsalem, “Faith seeking understanding.”
We have yearnings and hunches and baptism and history and piles of scriptures we hold dear, and among all of that we seek… faith seeking understanding.
We don’t have cut and dry answers that stretch the whole of the sky, we have a faith seeking expression.
            But sometimes we seek with a greater urgency, it is more than just curiosity or an ordering of the mind or even a search for origins…
sometimes it is true desperation!That too is packed up in the Transfiguration…The transfiguration has layers.
            So desperate
—disciples who are awake with Jesus now, but will fall asleep in his final hours… falling asleep before the Son of God’s execution
—that’s desperate…
but perhaps more desperate still, this father we read about today, desperate for healing for his son (often desperate parents will stop at nothing), these disciples are his last hope…
this Jesus is his last hope…
When he is about to lose his only son, there he finds the Only Son, and that’s where we so often find the greatness of God, in our desperate hour, when our souls are being scoured…

            From the vantage of desperation we finally reach the onion’s center, we reach the final layer, for The transfiguration has layers.
            We reach, you guessed it, Grace… 
Peter continually wants to act,
to catch lightening in a bottle,
from a frantic frenetic pacehe tries to find peace
—but all that the Transfiguration requires of us is this,
“This is my Son. Listen to him.”
You can almost imagine the cloud shouting, “quit it Peter! just sit down for a second and use your ears!”
There is nothing you can do in the face of God’s unveiling, just be present!
All the Transfiguration requires of us is to hears—hear him announced “Son of God” and hear what the Son of God has to say! Hear him!

            Like onions and ogres, The transfiguration has layers.Mountain top experiences and leavings,
confusion and desperation,
and always grace,
simply being present as God acts on you through Word and through Witness.