Thursday, February 23, 2012
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
These words were written over the men’s lockers at Mira Costa High School when I was a student there.
There was another one that read:
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
As I walked into that locker room my freshman year, I embraced these two slogans and sought to never be accused of acting contrary to those high standards of toughness and persistence in the face of adversity.
Surrender or giving up was not an option.
Mental and physical toughness are important to me. To be accused of not being tough enough, of not being persistent against all odds was for me, the ultimate insult and temptation to show my accusers just how tough and persistent I could be. I wanted to be the very definition and incarnation of these values.
These were not the only values that are important to me. Honesty, caring for and being of service to others, loving God and my neighbors, being faithful to my God, family, and nation are also important to me.
Perhaps you have experienced someone accusing you of acting in a way that contradicts your values and your personal sense of identity. How did you respond when others pointed fingers at you? Did you get angry? Did you get sad? Did you beat yourself up for not living up to your ideal? Or, did you beat up on your accuser or look for similar flaws in their character and behavior?
This Sunday we will hear a reading from the Gospel of Mark that describes very briefly Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan, his being driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted, and his return to civilization to begin his mission after the arrest of John.
Mark does not tell us any of the details of Jesus’ time of temptation by Satan, but I think there is enough information to get an idea of what it might have been. We hear that Jesus was tempted as we are, but he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). We often think that temptation is about being enticed to do something wrong like stealing, but I would like to suggest that since the nature of temptation is contained in very name of the one doing the tempting, we might want to look at the tempter’s name for a clue.
Mark says that Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Satan means Accuser. So, tempting is about accusing Jesus of something or other. At Jesus’ baptism, we read that “ a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’"
To be declared God’s Son and beloved and pleasing to God certainly creates a pretty large target for someone seeking to prove you are not God’s Son, not beloved, and not well pleasing. Jesus’ identity and relationship with God is the target for temptation. If you read the fuller accounts of the temptations of Christ in the other Gospels, you will see how the tempter took aim and fired at Jesus.
So, back to my original question about how you and I react when we are accused of violating our values and our identities? Why do we feel we need to defend ourselves when such accusations come our way? Do we, perhaps, respond negatively because we believe what our accusers say about us? The values I embrace and the identity I claim as my own are easy targets for those who wish to attack me. They are easy because they are not truly my values nor do they define my identity.
If I respond with hostility or self-doubt when I am accused of not living up to who I see myself to be, it is time to allow God to rescue me from my need to defend that which is not defensible. Our true identity is that we are a fallible, imperfect, limited creation of God. Our relationship with God is that we are loved by God. Notice that who we are is not dependent upon anything we have done or failed to do, but simply by virtue of our creation by God.
Our limited and fallible human nature and the ways we behave to avoid blame and crippling shame combine in temptation to lead us into behavior which is called sin. Sin is about breaking relationship with God, with others, and within ourselves to avoid being accused. Sometimes we will accuse others to avoid the finger of accusation being pointed at us and such blaming always seems to lead to a very bad outcome for those we accuse and for us.
During the season of Lent we are invited to repent. To turn around and embrace our true identity as children of God who are not perfect, but limited in time and space and knowledge. We can affirm our identities as children of God through confessing that we are children of God who are capable of making mistakes and accepting responsibility for what we do. This is the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of accusation, the great temptation to sin.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
THE COLLECT FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
This Sunday we will dedicate and bless the Alleluia Corner in loving memory of John Simpson who led the 10 AM service in a joyful, "Alleluia , Alleluia, Alleluia!!!" week after week with only a respectful pause during Advent and Lent.
John was a man with many questions about life and about death; about grace and judgment; about right and wrong; about forgiveness and unforgiveness. Despite his many questions, he showed up week after week and offered his powerful voice to praise God in what we have come to call the "Triple Alleluias."
As you read the assigned text for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the verse that follows this text is one that should be read, pondered, and reflected upon: "10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean."
John did alot of "questioning what this rising fromt he dead" meant and he would come to me with his questions and we would spend meals together wrestling with his questions together. I am not sure I ever really answered John's questions, but I think John was okay with that and his joyful outbursts on Sunday were a constant source of humor, but also called us all to the deep and faithful (good Marine that he was, Semper Fi) intention he brought with him to worship this God of light and darkness who troubled him.
I offer this reflection in thanksgiving for the life of my dear questioning friend, John Simpson.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Our Gospel reading for this last Sunday in Epiphany describes a final act in a play when the drama of the moment is highlighted by the visual of bright light quickly turned off. The lights of God’s presence are dazzling as the three heroes of the play glow brightly in the intensity of white light. Suddenly, the lights go out and two of the heroes are gone, they simply disappear from sight, leaving the lone hero standing rather quietly and unspectacularly in the dim light of a 60 watt bulb.
But this is not the end of the play, but perhaps the midpoint. This Sunday is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. During Epiphany we have seen more and more evidence offered in the life of Jesus that he was bringing something new into the world. Indeed, he was the very new thing that was in the world. John’s Gospel calls Jesus “the light of the world.” Mark tells this story of light shining brightly with the same truth in mind.
Now Mark invites us, who have seen this great light in Jesus’ life and heard the witnesses (John, Peter, and James) tell this story of light on the mountain top, to the journey Jesus will make to Jerusalem and to the cross. Jesus tells his disciples not to speak about their experience on the mountain top until after he is raised from the dead and so, we now enter the story of Lent having seen the light, but allowing the dark times ahead to be without the aid of this memory. Perhaps the bad times ahead will cause us to forget about this mountain top experience, doubt it in some way, or explain it away as wishful and hopeful imagining.
We enter the Lenten season with the memory of Jesus’ ministry, his loving touch of the leper,the healing of those who were blind and crippled, the casting out of community demons rather than those individuals to whom these demons were assigned, receding like the sun setting as the darkness of night comes over us. This is a time of testing, not to fool us or to cause us to fail, but to nurture us and to help us see in the darkness.
St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross offer us some valuable insights into darkness. John was a Spanish mystic who did not consider all darkness to be evil. He wrote about “la noche oscura,” the dark night, not as evil, but simply as the difficulty of seeing in the dark. Both Teresa and John use another word to describe what we would call evil. That word is “tinieblas.” In oscuras things are hidden, in tinieblas, one is blind.
Lent is a time to pray in oscuras, in the darkness and to be healed of the blindness of tinieblas. May your Lenten disciplines open your eyes to see through the darkness the one who stood on the mountain top alone as he makes his way into the tinieblas, the blindness of the world. Begin your Lent rightly by coming to Ash Wednesday services next week.
God’s Peace in the Darkness,
Thursday, February 09, 2012
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Imagination is a powerful spiritual palette that allows us to see deeper into the ways God works in our world and in our lives. This Sunday we will hear a story about a leper who is also a beggar. His disease was considered contagious, not only physically, but spiritually as well and could result in being ostracized from the community. The meeting between Jesus and this unnamed leper is dramatic. The leper begs Jesus for mercy and says "If you choose, you can make me clean."
Before we see how Jesus responds to this leper’s request, let’s give this leper a past using one of the characters from the First Testament. There was a man named Job who was righteous in every way. In other words, he did what was considered right in the eyes of God and his community. He was admired, looked up to, and perhaps even envied by many of the people in his community. People came to Job when they were going through tough times and Job counseled them, perhaps telling them how they had come to suffer this or that disaster, illness, or personal loss of relationships.
While Job comes out of a different time and place, let’s let him be the leper who comes to Jesus begging for purification. Imagine the happy ending that the original story offered about Job was just a cover up, a Hollywood ending to make everyone feel like God takes care of his own even though he allows his own to be set up for attack and testing by God’s accuser, named Satan.
Job’s final affliction after the death of his children, the loss of his property, respect in the community and even the love and fidelity of his wife (she tells him to just go ahead and die), Job is afflicted with a skin disorder that is unsightly and festering. He is a man lost, abandoned, cast adrift in the world. When he challenges God to a one on one conversation, he is overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God and shouted into silence by the questioning of God.
So, let’s let Job be this leper that comes to Jesus. After all that has happened to him, he still is relationship with God. He believes that if God wants to heal him God will. Ages upon ages have rolled by and Job has borne the marks of his leprosy and lived on the outside of the community as a beggar. Those who knew him when he was considered a righteous man have all long since died and Job is simply that guy no one wants to be who lives on the outskirts of town.
He comes to Jesus on bended knees and asks for the healing of his leprosy. Jesus seems to be filled with emotion and the words used to describe his feeling could be either pity, or compassion or anger. It is a deep, guttural, aching, anguished shout, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
After years of abject suffering and rejection, Job is given a hearing and his prayer is answered. Talk about the patience of Job! Of course, this is my imaginary choice to make the leper of our story the character Job from the First Testament, but I think Job without a happy ending and searching for redemption works and gives the story more color and meaning.
Who was this leper whose faith left his healing up to the will of God and believed that Jesus somehow had the authority to say yes to him on God’s behalf? I don’t know, but I do know that this leper failed to follow the strict and plain command that Jesus gave him about going to the priests and not telling anyone about what Jesus had done for him.
Perhaps we have all been healed by God in many, many ways and yet have not been as enthusiastic in spreading the word as this leper. I wonder if Job would have followed Jesus’ instructions. I wonder how anyone who has been living on the margins of community would make their way back into the very communities from which they had been excluded.
The leper who disobeyed Jesus spread the word about Jesus healing him rather than going to the authorities to be officially welcomed back into the community as Jesus had directed him to do. The result of the leper’s decision to spread the word about Jesus was that Jesus could not go to the very cities and villages to which he had hoped to go.
His ministry was conducted in the outskirts of cities, in the wilderness, in the margins. Perhaps the same thing has happened in our world today. Perhaps Jesus is still operating in the outskirts of culture and even religion. Those who tout Jesus in a triumphant way may make Jesus less and less available and accessible to the people who need God’s flesh and blood presence and love.
Job, what do you think?
Thursday, February 02, 2012
Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
Jesus found a home with Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. The home was open and welcoming, not just to Jesus, but to James and John the other fishermen, now called to be disciples. This sort of hospitality was not a new thing in Judaism. Such hospitality stretches back to Abraham who welcomed strangers into his tent with food and honor.
So Simon and Andrew were simply following what every faithful Jew would do in a similar circumstance. Abraham had welcomed strangers who turned out to be angels of Yahweh. Simon and Andrew welcomed Jesus who turned out to be the presence of Yahweh in human flesh and blood.
Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
Simon’s mother-in-law was part of his household. She must have been the mother superior of the home. It was this unnamed woman who, like the Holy Spirit, opened her home to strangers and friends alike. She had a fever which meant that she was not able to provide the leadership of welcoming for which she was, no doubt, know. Every home and community of faith needs a head welcoming person who organizes the family and community into action that results in the home expanding to include all who come through the door.
Simon’s mother-in-law was such a person. Is it any wonder that the disciples came to Jesus “at once” hoping that he would restore this very important person to health and service?
He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Healing does not come to everyone of us who is ill. Sometimes we are sick unto death. What is happening in this Gospel reading is about restoring to health the welcoming one to not only this family, but to the whole people of the world. Simon’s mother-in-law becomes the sign of the Holy Spirit as the welcoming and healing presence of God being restored to health and vigor and service within the community. Watch what happens once she is healed.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.
The home of Simon and Andrew is thereby opened to the entire city. It becomes the place where hospitality and healing meet those in need. As we begin another year together at Christ Church, consider this miracle—the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law.
What healing has gone on at Christ Church that has set free the Holy Spirit to make our community of faith a place of welcome and healing?
What have you observed of this healing and how have you noticed that word is spreading of this being a place and community of welcome and healing?
What part have you played in this healing?
Have we invited Jesus to come and stay with us?
And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
This final passage is focused on Jesus ministry of exorcism—the casting out of demons. This talk of demons sound archaic in our day and age, but I would like to offer a different way of looking at it. Those in Jesus’ day and in our day know what a community torn apart by strife, division, anger, and violence look like.
What is the spirit of such a community that encourages such deadly consequences?
Jesus came and cast out this spirit of death and exclusion and disease of heart and soul. What was true then is true today.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
I would suggest that Jesus is a good model for praying. More importantly his prayer life, his daily communion with God that brought together heaven and earth is the very way God creates communities of welcome and healing. May we pray for the healing of the spirit of welcome and healing to continue to call us together and bring us through the door that leads to the presence of God.