Thursday, June 30, 2011
An icy, hard-packed snow ball was painful when it hit you in the face. It left a big red mark on impact and usually sent me running into the house for comfort and first aid. To get hit that way was a game-ender for me. There were times when being the youngest of my playmates and the smallest was a distinct disadvantage. The older kids could scoop up snow quickly pack it hard and then chase me down while I was still recovering from a previous attack and then unload on me again. I was everyone’s target until I went inside. Then a new target was identified and the game went on without me.
Bill Cosby tells a story about his attempt at getting revenge on one person (Junior Barnes) who hit him square in the face with a slushball. Of course, Bill had already hit another kid in the face, but not with a slushball. Slushballs were supposedly outlawed by their code of conduct. When the code was broken by Junior Barnes, the only response Bill could come up with was revenge.
He made a slushball to end all slushballs and he stored it in his Mom’s freezer. He waited until July. July 12th to be exact. He invited Junior over to his home to sit out on the porch with him and Bill pretended to be Junior’s friend. Finally he goes to the kitchen and tries to retrieve the frozen slushball only to discover that his Mom had thrown it away. Since he did not have the intended instrument of wrath (Wrath Rock of vengeance), he spit on Junior Barnes.
Cosby’s story, while humorous, reveals a side of human life that is dark and when spread large results in a world of pain, suffering, unforgiveness, and vengeance. Children play games in preparation and training for the world in which they are growing up and will inherit. On Sunday, I will bring the box that you see above. Imagine that each of us has within us a space for the rocks of wrath and vengeance that are hurled at us during our lifetimes.
What do we do with these RoWaVs stored in our ME boxes? We saw what Cosby did when he was hit with the slushball. The pain, embarrassment, and fear of being hit sat inside of him and daily gnawed on him and moved him to resentment and vengeance. He did not have a way to forgive because to forgive was seen as weakness and an invitation to the Junior Barnes of the world to further abuse him.
It is interesting that Cosby himself had already hit another boy with a soft snowball and the code or law of snowball fights left that boy without a legal complaint. Cosby had acted within the law, but the offense against his friend was still hurtful. Will this friend plot against Cosby? We don’t know.
Jesus calls those who have are tired of carrying resentments and plans of vengeance against others to come to him. He calls us people who are burdened and he offers us rest. But, this is not an invitation to opt out of a world that still operates on the rules of wrath and violence, but to pick up Jesus’ yoke of forgiveness , mercy, and grace. While this may seem like a foolish thing to do to some, it is when communities of people begin to take up this yoke of Christ that the world and the world’s rules can be changed.
Jesus’ invitation to come to him follows a very long section of Matthew’s Gospel that talks about discipleship. What is it to be a disciple and an apostle of Jesus? Perhaps you can think of times in your life like the one that Bill Cosby humorously relates when you were totally obsessed with getting even with someone who had broken the rules and hurt you.
Remember that in Bill’s story he had already thrown a snowball at someone else.
How did he respond to the person he had hit?
How did he feel when Junior Barnes hit him?
What community of influence led to these hurtful experiences?
What community of influence dictated your response to being hurt whether it was through resentment and revenge or forgiveness and reconciliation?
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The portrait of Jesus standing at a door in the night with a golden light shining out from the center of his chest hung in my Grandmother’s home. I used to look at that picture as a child and wonder if the person on whose door Jesus had just knocked would open the door and welcome him inside.
I also wondered why there was no door knob on the outside of the door. Didn’t the person who lived inside ever go outside and need a way to open the door from the outside? The door looked solid as the light of Jesus’ lantern illuminated it. I wondered if the little peep hole in the door allowed the light of Jesus’ lantern to shine through to the person on the inside.
As a child I could not understand why anyone who not open their door wide and welcome the Jesus I had been taught was God’s unique and only Son. The painting certainly helped accentuate my understanding and wonder. He looks kindly, benevolent, clean, well groomed, and well, Godly. Of course, my eyes had already been taught to see Jesus with love and acceptance which made the painting even more compelling.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew talks about how welcoming Jesus is the same as welcoming the God who sent him. Look at the picture again. Why is there no door knob on the outside of the door? Perhaps it was the artist’s way of saying that we have a choice about welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him into our lives, into our hearts, into the core, into the way we see, hear, perceive, intuit, and then act on and in our lives in our relationships with others and creation.
The door allows us to see through the peep hole and to take our cues about what is real and true and what we should desire by what we see and hear others valuing and pursuing which means our internal operating system is completely based upon what is outside of ourselves. The door protects us from outside influences taking hold of us completely. Perhaps the door is a gift from God to protect us from being taken over by others.
If this is a gift from God, then the painter of the picture of Jesus at the door captured a scene in the life of every soul—the moment when the door can prevent Jesus and God from coming into our hearts and help us live lives from the inside out rather than from the outside in.
As Jesus says to his disciples, inviting and welcoming him is inviting and welcoming the one who sent him. In short, to welcome Jesus into our lives, not as threat, but as welcomed guest is the same as inviting the community of love and peace we call the Trinity into our lives. It is to experience the Kingdom of Heaven on the inside in such a way as to begin to act in ways that create the Kingdom of Heaven in our world.
What is the reward for welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him into our lives? As Father Norm said it so beautifully last week, friendship with God and the ability to see God in other people and to live from the inside out in God’s love and peace. The door to our souls has a door knob on the inside only, but the light of Christ is shining just outside and there is a knock on our door. How will we know that Jesus is knocking and in need of being welcomed?
Friday, June 10, 2011
Before I offer a reflection on the Gospel text for this Sunday, I would like to invite you to read two passages. The first passage comes at the end of Jesus’ life and the second, our Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday, comes from the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross.
“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’"
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
In our Gospel reading for this week Jesus invites all of those who are thirsty to come to him and receive the gift of living water that once received will bubble up inside of all of those who trust God to satisfy their thirst for being forgiven and living in a forgiving world. This living water is one of the ways that Jesus describes how vital God’s message is to bringing about a world in which forgiveness is the way of being human. It is this way that brings eternal (forgiving) living.
On the cross, Jesus’ solidarity with us is offered in the next to the last thing he says, “I am thirsty.” Thirst is not a desire that maye either be fulfilled or frustrated rather it is a necessity of human life. As Jesus was dying on the cross alone and without human forgiveness, he poured himself into that world of darkness and cruelty where the prophets and countless others had died without a trace of human compassion being offered.
He became one (at-one-ment) with us all, with those who die in anonymity, disgrace, disfavor, curse and unforgiveness, but he also died in solidarity with those who fight to stay out of that category of the blamed and unforgiven by following the rules of what some have called “enlightened selfishness,” which extols unbridled selfishness and condemns altruism as a misguided instinct. I believe that we all have a deep and abiding hope that God forgives and that the very human system that denies God’s forgiveness as weak and counter-productive does not quench our thirst for what we know to be true.
If you have known the sense of having gone beyond the limit of forgiveness, you are a thirsty person. If you have ever held that others who have hurt you were be beyond your ability to be forgiven by you and maybe by God, you are a thirsty person. Forgiveness is not just an act of pardoning someone who has hurt us—it is a way of life.
On the cross, in his last moment of life, Jesus died the death of being without human forgiveness and only having his relationship with God as the source of knowing he was innocent. This was not a substitute death on the behalf of sinners, but God seeking to be one with us in such a way as to know the pain of not being forgiven and to know the heavy burden of a world that is unforgiving.
Jesus described this pain in terms of thirst. He spoke of those who hunger and thirst for right relationships as thirst for forgiveness. The world offers a drink that does not offer God’s life affirming and life giving spirit. Here is how John described this reality:
“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Jesus drank the bitter wine served up by a world without pity, mercy, love, or forgiveness. And once he had received that bitter offering, he said, “It is finished.” What was finished was the work he came to do.
He brought life-giving waters of forgiveness into the world and once his disciples and others tasted this water, it became in them a mighty river flowing out into the world that has changed and will continue to transform our world.
The Holy Spirit was breathed out of Jesus and into the hearts of those who are coming to believe in a world where love and forgiveness become the new creation. May we know the thirst of Jesus for God’s forgiving love. Happy Pentecost!
Thursday, June 02, 2011
“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified (made larger) in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
Making Jesus Larger in Us and in the World
We will be celebrating the confirmation and reception of 7 people this coming Sunday. They are being confirmed because they are sufficiently convinced that God loves them and that they love God as God was shown to the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. My goals for this class were two-fold:
1. I hoped to offer a view of Jesus that showed them the heart and purpose of God in the world. In short, I hoped that they would fall in love with the God of love who became large in our world through Jesus.
2. I hoped that they would begin to ask questions that represented their concerns and hopes and by doing so discover that they were making a space for God in their hearts that would grow and grow.
The process of discernment engages our minds and hearts in seeing how we belong to God and how God becomes larger through the lives of those who love God and give themselves to a life-time commitment to God in love and service. It is an intimate relationship of trust that allows for questions for which we may not find answers, but which in the asking, allows a place within each soul for God to grow larger in the world through a deeper and deeper intimacy with God.
Asking questions is our human way of revealing our deepest concerns and hopes. During the discernment time of confirmation class we followed these questions of concern and hope back to the source of all concern and hope. Questions about God and about ourselves in relationship to God and other people; about the Bible and what it reveals about being human and seeking to know and love and serve God; about the uniqueness of Jesus as the bringer of God into human flesh and blood; about the church and the work of the Holy Spirit in history; and about Christ Church as our spiritual home became our path to connecting to one another and to the God who created us all and brought us together for this time of discernment.
Discernment is a lifelong vocation for Christians. It is part of our life of prayer that keeps us following Jesus as we love God in Jesus and in others and wrestle with things which seem to separate us from God and one another. This is the work of God for each Christian person and for the church and we are given the Holy Spirit to lead us along this path. We must allow our questions to express our heart-felt concern and hope as we deepen our relationship with one another, with those we are called to love and serve, and with God.
Those who will be confirmed this Sunday by Bishop Glasspool will join the ranks of Christian men and women beginning with the earliest disciples and stretching back even further to the earliest humans who formed the first questions about the meaning and purpose of life and of their place in the creation. These are the questions that lead us into a deeper and deeper intimate relationship with God and the people in our lives.
Our questions do not stop when we are baptized, confirmed, or ordained but continue to be the internal and external way of discovery, joy, and love of God in us and in our brothers and sisters in God. IF we ask our questions and allow God to respond to these questions through by being attentive during our times of quiet and prayer, we will discover that God's responses may be a gentle question back to us or a deep calm or a troubled spirit or maybe a person or happening in our lives that gives us a clear message in response to our questions. IF we ask, we will discover God is with us and in us as friend and companion.
May God’s life and love continue to grow larger and larger (glorify) in the lives of Evan, Barbara, Shari, Laura, Brianna, Haley, and Mitchell and in all of us who join with them in renewing our Baptismal vows this Sunday.