Thursday, March 13, 2008
The things we discover, as we leave our childhood and enter adulthood, challenge the assumptions of our youth. When exposed to a wider, more complicated world, we are forced to re-orient our thinking and re-construct our view of the world. This is a considerable work. It sometimes involves setting aside the things associated with childhood and our family of origin.
Tomorrow is the beginning of spring break for us on the Clemson campus. Many if not most of you will be heading home, at least for a few days. Since spring break co-insides with Easter, you will likely find yourself in the church where you spent your childhood. You will likely find yourself comparing that church to your experience here, in this college town. You might think that the two places are completely different. I want to suggest to you that they are not - it is you who is different.
If you had been a young adult, as opposed to a child, that church would have spoken to you differently about God. Had you the cognitive skills you currently possess, their manner of instruction would have been different. It isn't that the campus ministries have a different look on things, it is our meeting you were you are, now.
This break falls at a busy time for your pastor. There are Holy Week serves to prepare and lead. But I want to encourage you to brighten their week by asking for an hour to sit and talk. You don't need to have a "problem" and you certainly don't need to expect some earth-shattering discovery. It would be a gift, to your pastor, to sit over a cup of coffee (or glass of coke) and just talk about what is happening in your life and where you are in your attempts to live into the lessons of your childhood. "I just want to let you see me for the adult I am becoming and the child of God I understand myself to be," could be your opening comment.
I will pray for you over Break, and ask that you pray for me. Have a relaxing time. Be careful. Celebrate the Resurrection. And come back ready to close out the year and move on to other adventures.
Note - I will be away for two weeks - leading a group of students and UniLu members on a trip to Germany. I will return to regular writings on April 1.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Well, the first thought through my mind was "You don't see me for most of my day, otherwise you wouldn't think me so calm." But as I allowed the comment to settle in, I realized that while I do get stressed about short term projects and issues I do manage to remain rather calm about life in general. There is a confidence that things will work out fine.
What ensued was a discussion of my morning route and how this routine starts my day and defines my day. I rise early, when the house is quiet. I make coffee, check the news headlines as it brews, then settle in for my devotional time, which culminates with these off-the-top-of-my-head offerings. It is a wonderful routine, which begins my day with God and makes prayer the first place I turn. It is a wonderful pattern for one's day. During the day, I receive random responses to what I wrote in the morning. These responses, whether they be affirmations or challenges to what I wrote, remind me that these 45 minutes are the anchor of my day and my life. They remind me that everything else which happens in the day can been seen as a response to those first minutes in the morning. Every thought, every action, every step I take is launched by my time with scripture and God.
What a gift, to be able to reflect on this. What a gift, to have fallen into a pattern of interacting with God which affirms and deepens my appreciation for the calming presence of that which is eternal.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
answer me in your righteousness.
Maybe you have had opportunity to worship in one of those congregations where the chant gets going between congregation and worship leader:
It is God's righteousness which saves us. More important than our own, it is His righteousness which matters.
I will add my voice to that of the Psalmist. I will cry out to God, that in his righteousness he might hear me. Like the Psalmist (verse 8) I ask, "Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust."
Monday, March 10, 2008
First, is the story in I Kings 17:17-24. Elijah has been staying with the the widow of Zarephath. Elijah had encountered her as she was using up the last of her food to fix a meal for her herself and her son. Elijah told her to fix him a meal first, and that the food supply would never be exhausted. This proves to be true. But after he has been with her for a while, the son dies. The woman cries out against Elijah and his God. Elijah goes in to the boy, stretches his body over the body of the boy, and the boy's life returns.
Second is the story in Acts 20:7-12. Paul is about to leave Troas. Wanting as much time as possible to hear his teachings, they are gathered in a room on the top floor. It is late at night. One young man is sitting in the window. He falls asleep, and falls out the window. They are three stories high. They go out to him, and he is dead. Paul comes to the boy and takes him in his arms. The boy comes back to life.
The conclusion of each of the Gospels is my third story. In each, Jesus is dead, but then he lives. He was in the tomb, but he rises.
My teacher at the Seminary insisted that only this last story be referred to as a "Resurrection." That using that term for the earlier stories suggests that they are on the same plan as the latter. Only when Jesus dies and rises is there a change, a permanent change, in the one who was dead but now lives.
We do not participate in what happen to the widow's son nor in the returning to life of the dozing Bible study participant. Nothing about their story transfers to you and me. Only Jesus' death/life experience touches us. Only Jesus' resurrection affects the way we see our future.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
We would eat our dinner and clean the dishes before it got dark. You can't build a campfire (the heat from a fire melts the snow and your "fire" is soon 3 feet deep in the snow drifts.) We lay in our bags and talk, but the exertion of the day brings sleep sooner than you would like. It was around 3 am that we would wake, and start to look for the morning. Those hours are also the coldest. You long for the sun to rise in order to experience its warmth; you know that you will be more comfortable when you are back in your full gear and moving and generating heat. But the morning is still a long way off. You lie there and you wait.
This morning, I was reading from Psalm 130. Verses 5 & 6 read:
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.
The person who penned these words and those who read them (at least for the first 2300 years) had a different experience. Nights were long and dark and often cold. The morning sun was a wonderful thing to see breaking the horizon.
Maybe this reflects a larger disadvantage in our spiritual quest. We, who have most everything we need in abundance, begin to feel self-sufficient. We experience no want; we are lacking in nothing. (I know that there are emotional wants and needs, and these cannot be overlooked. However, left with only emotional needs unmet, no wonder our experience of God has become relegated to matters of the psyche and seldom of the totality of our existence.)
The season of Lent is a time to reflect on our needs. It is a time to wait for the Lord. If you are having less than optimal success at this, try turning off the lights when the sun goes down and not turning them back on until the sun rises the next morning. Perhaps then we might understand what it is like to long for the arrival of the Light, into the world.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
God fills us with the wisdom and understanding necessary for us to become this new person. Verse 12 says it is God who has "enabled" us. We enter onto this journey as a result of God's invitation and we persevere as a result of God's having filled us.
These gifts are ours. We are encouraged/invited to make the best possible use of them. It is God's hope that we would lead lives worthy of His calling. That we would bear fruit in every good work. And that we would grow in our knowledge of God.
How appropriate that this passage would come to us, in this 4th week of Lent. These verses remind us again of the Lenten discipline. The hope that God has for us is the mission which occupies these 40 days.
Take a few moments this morning to celebrate the gifts of God. Receive them, into the very core of your being. Know that they are yours, freely given by the same God who would not withhold his own beloved son. After becoming fully confident that God is with you, consider where His presence might lead you. How can you live a life worthy of His grace? Where is the opportunity for you to bear fruit? How will you grow in your knowledge?
Monday, March 3, 2008
This morning's reading from Isaiah 59 (verses 9-19) motivated me to comment on this.
Verse 14b reads: "truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter."
Isaiah is describing the situation, as revealed to him, as one in need of change. God will not tolerate such a stumble. The prophet tells the people that as a result of their inability to do something about this (as a result of their unwillingness to do something about this) God will take drastic measures. The prophet speaks the words of God, in hopes that the people will act.
Verse 14a reads: "Justice is turned back and righteousness stands at a distance."
This is one more place in scripture where justice is lifted up as the precursor to righteousness. It is God who brings righteousness to us; we prepare the way for it by seeking justice.
There are competing claims as to which candidate will be the best to assume the office of President of the United States. The primary process will select two persons whose names will appear on the ballot in the fall. I want to say that, more importantly, it is a time to define the issues which must be discussed. Justice needs to be lifted up, above self-interest. Justice must be sought, trumping any desire for power.
May it be our prayer that the prophets of our day will find Isaiah's words distasteful in their mouth. Words inappropriate for us and our nation. May our nation be that place where God's justice rolls down like a mighty water.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Fourth Sunday in Lent - Year A
March 2, 2008
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ARabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?@
I realized that with the length of the gospel lesson, I ought to remind you how it began. This whole story unfolds as a result of Jesus= encounter with the man born blind. It all happens as a result of the disciples questioning Jesus as to whose sin caused this thing to occur. The opening encounter reminds us that this is not a miracle story - it is a lesson on the nature of sin.
To further illustrate this, Jesus himself sins a few times. He commits three sins. If you are uncomfortable with the suggestion that Jesus sinned, I could rephrase it to say that he committed what would be considered a sin by those who were watching him most closely. Whatever spin you want to put on it, what he does do is transgress the laws of Moses in three ways.
Sin #1 - the clay. Jesus did not simply reach down and scoop up some mud from the river bank - he made it himself. The laws of Moses forbid any work on Sunday. The Rabbinic code lists thirty-nine categories of work explicitly forbidden. Kneading is one of them. Jesus is guilty of transgressing the law. He commits a Asin.@ Exodus 35:2 says anyone who works on the Sabbath is to be put to death.
Sin #2 - the products from which he made the clay. The liquid with which he combined the dirt was his own spit. Leviticus, chapter: 15, verse: 8 (CEV) reads AIf you are spit on by the man, you must wash your clothes and take a bath, but you still remain unclean until evening.@ These two transgressions were committed, in order to bring about a healing. The healing itself qualifies as Sin #3.
Jesus= third sin is to heal on the Sabbath. The law does allow one to heal on the Sabbath - but only if a life was in danger. This man was inconvenienced - but his life was not being threatened by his blindness. Jesus commits his third transgression by healing one who’s live was not in danger.
Three sins; three transgressions against the book of commandments. This is not a miracle story - it is a lesson on the nature of sin.
In this story, the disciples speak our part. They set the whole thing in motion by trying to figure out what evil action lead to the suffering which they now see. Like too many of us, they believe that bad things happen as a result of some evil deed. AWhat have I done to deserve this?@ is a common cry offered by those who suffer. Other expressions of the same sentiment are found in AWhat goes around comes around.@ or AYou shall reap what you sow.@ Then there is the ever popular AShe got what she had coming.@
When bad things happen, we try to find some preceding cause, some action which lead to the reaction. We believe that bad things don=t just happen, they happen as a result of some other action.
Now, the case of a man who is born blind presents a particularly troublesome case. What can be said to have lead to this suffering? Is it possible that he committed some sin while still in his mother=s womb? Or did some sin on the part of his parents lead to their having to watch their child grow up without sight? The case of a man who is born blind presents a particularly troublesome case. Who do you blame? Who is responsible? What sin had been committed?
I know that I have told many of you this story before, but allow me to recount one of the most horrifying experiences of my professional life. It came while I was serving as the AChaplain for the day@ at the hospital in Salisbury, NC. A thirteen month-old child had been admitted to the pediatrics floor. I was summoned and informed that death would come within a matter of hours. The child had been sick from her birth. She had a liver disorder that was poisoning her whole system. As horrible as it was to see this child suffer, the horror was associated with a story that I slowly coxed out of the mother. She was herself only a child - an unwed teenage mother. Some of her high school classmates had cornered her one day and told her that the child was ill as a result of her promiscuity. They insisted that God=s punishment for her sin would be having to watch as her baby died.
AWho sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?@ I can understand why Jesus broke a few laws. When asked such questions the first commandments I break usually have to do with un-godly utterances. I have cursed at more than one idiot in my lifetime. It is no surprise to me that Jesus found some way to position himself with those who are looked upon as being on the wrong side of the morality code. His verbal restraint is superb. All he says to them, ANeither this man nor his parents sinned.@ He tries to tell his disciples that they should stop thinking in terms of >tit for tat=. God doesn’t interact way. And just to prove it, Jesus goes on and commits a few sins of his own. He whips up a batch of clay; making use of his unclean spit; and heals this man of a non life threatening disorder. AIf sin results in suffering,@ Jesus seems to be saying, Athen where is my punishment?@
There were those around who wanted to see him punished. The Pharisees and the keepers of the book of laws interrogate everyone they can find, trying to assign guilt. First, they try to say that a switch has occurred. That the one who sees is not the same as the one who had been born blind. When that doesn’t work, they try to get the man to find fault with Jesus. They condemn Jesus saying, AThis man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.@ Next, they move to the parents, asking them whether this child of theirs had indeed been born blind. Finally, they bring the man back in and insist that he join them in their condemnation of Jesus.
AHe is a sinner!@ they say. AHow can he be of God?@ It was too much for them to accept. They could not understand how someone could be of God, and yet act in clear violation of the Law of Moses. It is troublesome question, is it not?
Running throughout the story, there is a delightful play on sight and what sight means. Sight - with the eyes - is juxtaposed with spiritual seeing. The man who is born blind cannot see, but in the middle verses, he is the one who does see Jesus for who he really is. In this man=s second encounter with the Pharisees, he becomes the teacher. He says to them, AHere is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he (Jesus) comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.@
The man without sight is the one who sees. The blind man sees what they cannot.
This is not a miracle story - it is a lesson on the nature of sin.
As the story is coming to a close, the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him, ASurely we are not blind, are we? Jesus said to them, AIf you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, >We see,= your sin remains.@
The first character in the story is born blind. But, his inability to see did not prevent him from recognizing Christ. The other characters in the story have full vision, but their blindness of heart prevents them from accepting God=s Messiah. The man who was born blind is healed; those who refuse to see remain in their sin.
It sometimes seems as if there is an endless barrage of questions regarding this action or that. Folks want to know whether this is a sin or whether that is a transgression. It is easier to follow a religious tradition which asks little of us beyond living up to a moral code. Even when that moral code is extremely rigid and demanding - at least we know exactly what is expected of us. Jesus understood that no code of ethics was ever going to set us free. We can only be the children God hopes we will become when as we set aside the moral codes and enter into a faith-filled relationship with God.
For many, sin consists of breaking the rules or transgressing the law. For Jesus, sin is linked with an unwillingness to accept him and an inability to emulate God=s compassion.
AWho sinned?@ ... Jesus answered, ANeither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God=s works might be revealed in him.@ In him, and through his story, we are encouraged to see that God=s commandment is for us to be made whole; God=s law demands that eyes be opened and that hearts be softened.