Heart of Glass

IMG_0321

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to Abba.  Having loved those who were in the world, this love was present to the end.  The devil had already set upon the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him.  And during supper Jesus, knowing that Abba had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:1-17, 31b-35

There was a time in my life in which I was a young and promising church leader. I was connected to many people and conversations about where, what, and how the church would prosper in the future. I was desperately intent on saving the church or at the very least I wanted to preserve a small space for me in it.

While in this role I read many pieces about worship, mission focus, and theological application. I advocated for what I believed to be helpful in nurturing church and holding church leadership and systems accountable. I was right in some but mostly I was passionately misguided. I was part of some really interesting projects that may or may not have led to goodness, healthy, and positive change in the church. I do know that I was really intent upon being a part of something that was righteous, caring, compassionate, and sought to be like Christ in the world. I imagine we could have numerous conversations regarding the effectiveness of these endeavors and we would discover a varying degree of success as often as we could find folks that affirmed or opposed what I did.

I have been out of church leadership for almost six years now. Not being in leadership has been a painful process. Becoming a church leader was a process that utterly transformed me. Not being a church leader was a process that utterly destroyed me. Pain and suffering are no longer strangers nor are they the defining factors of my life. I have found new life.

I still read those articles on worship, church growth, and mission. I have a different lens I read these with these days. I am a social worker. I am a co-occurring therapist that works in community mental health. When I first began this role I placed my ordination certificate and seminary degree on my wall alongside my Master of Social Work degree. I was not ready to let go of the painful past, nor move into that new life that awaited me.

A couple months ago I moved my office. In this move I did not put my ordination certificate or my seminary degree up on my wall. They reside in a file cabinet in my office. There is no malice or anger in this action. I just felt moved to embrace the new life as a Social Worker. It was liberating. It was scary. It was peaceful. It was.

When I was wrestling with new life and holding on to my church leadership identity I hated hearing, “But you will always be a part of the church.” or “You are still a minister, just in a different context.” It wasn’t the sentiment behind these statements that hurt but the actual severing of the identity to which I nestled my mind, body, and spirit to and her absence that hurt. I was not able to see the forest through the trees as I was healing.

I am new life I am blessed to work with folks that embody the “wounded healer” in ways I never experienced as a church leader. In living with the daily hurt and woe of others I am reminded of the healing path that my own life has taken. I am also reminded that positive self-care is important in treating others. I cannot treat others or be present for others if I am not healthy myself. There it is right there…in this text from John that will be read at my churches by many church leaders, “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The root to loving others is to first love yourself.

I am at peace with new life. I have made friends with my role outside of church leadership. I still minister. I have a congregation that consists of those suffering from mental illness, addiction, and that are bound in systemic generational poverty. I have no supporting church body. I do this in the margins of church. I am a secular missionary seeking to be light in a world so full of darkness that despair and woe are torches that illuminate our cave.

Now, I read articles on budget cuts and witness how this will impact my congregation. The limited resources that we have to work with will become even more limited. The hopelessness will become bolder. The despair becomes a brighter light. The cave deepens and the shadows cast upon the walls dim. Eventually, we will no longer be able to see the dirt under our nails having long forgotten the reflection of our own faces; we no longer see the reflection of humanity amongst those around us.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus dinned with the disciples and readied all for his impending death. A meal was shared. People were physically nourished. The mental dimension was readied for a shift as the body was equipped for the journey. Care was administered.

I used to approach today with a solemn demeanor and a steady face, a sort of Ash Wednesday Lite. I never really gave myself the opportunity to do something different. I did not give this day another thought. I packed it away with most other things that reminded me of my life as a church leader. There my posture stood. I supported my wife as she performed and led the faith through this period. Me abiding by the supportive spouse role and showing up for a meal, helping out, and preparing for Easter Day (one of the few times I go to church).

I am not sure what is entirely different this go-around. It might be the thought of becoming a father again and how I want to model faith in community for my children. It might be the exhaustion from witnessing the evisceration of public mental health and substance abuse services in Oklahoma. I felt moved to read this text from John.

I felt a connection to the darkness offered in this text. Amongst the meal, the cleanliness, and the love is hope. A hope that I missed before. Jesus is preparing for us to go it alone. He is saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Where is he going?

When I went to seminary, a loving older, more conservative member of my home church warned me against being ruined by all that academic stuff I would be exposed to and told me to measure my faith against the question of, “Where did Jesus go when he died?” I quickly lost focus of this question amongst the hardship of classes and the fellowship of community at seminary. I am reminded of that question now.

Jesus was preparing us to go it alone. Jesus was preparing himself to go to hell. Jesus literally was entering a space where despair and woe are rampant. Jesus was preparing to empty himself of all he had to check-in at the marginalized motel. Jesus was going to hangout with my congregation.

If you have not been in relationship with someone that suffers with mental illness, addiction, or poverty you are missing out on Jesus. It is a challenging world full of unhealthy actions and broken trust that desperately wants love. “Where I am going, you cannot come.” But y’all must love each other as I have loved you. Jesus is saying, in order to do this you must love yourself as I love you. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a far cry from the way we treat those with mental illness. We are failing in being disciples in the absence of real and equitable treatment for those wrestling with the disease of addiction. We do not practice self-care and love ourselves as parts of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creation waste away in poverty. We are failing to understand the purpose of Jesus feeding our bodies and washing our feet. We get fixated on righteousness as cleanliness and divide up the remnants of Christ’s cloak before it is even of his back.

Today is a reminder that in the midst of the darkness, it the heat of the moment hope is not lost. There is a way out. We have a choice. We are empowered to move towards healthy. We cannot go where Jesus is going because Jesus lives there…Jesus doesn’t leave the despair, the hopelessness, the brokenness. Jesus lives there so that those that encounter the hurt, the pain, and the brokenness of mental illness, addiction, and poverty are not alone. We are called to not live there so that we might be those that Christ calls to enter that space and shepherd of siblings to the Promised Land of health. Our very health depends upon this.

Jesus prepares us for this journey and warns us of the dangers. Nothing is as it seems. Here, Christ puts light to the shadows of our cave and draws us out into community. Fear subsides. Anger relents. Wellness embraced. Wholeness found. Community realized. Today is a day of action. Today is the first day of your new life.

Good Enough

goonies

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:19-23

 

How many of you have a bucket list?

 

I do. I want to walk the Way of Saint James, study at Plum Village, be silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and follow the footsteps of the Buddha. I also want to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. The one on my heart these days is to visit Astoria, Oregon.

 

Lewis and Clark spent a winter here on their journey out west. Clark Gable began his career there at the Astoria Theater. Many films for the 80’s were filmed there, including The Goonies.

 

29 years ago yesterday the world was introduced to a ragtag band of pre-teen heroes. Mikey, Mouth, Data, Brand, Chunk, Andy, and Stef lived in the Goon Docks. Their homes are being foreclosed due to the expansion of the local country club. The kids are upset and gather at Mikey and Brand’s house. There seems little hope for their cherished homes to survive.

 

Mikey and Mouth stumble upon an old map and convince the others to join them in finding the lost treasure. They follow the map and encounter The Fratellis, a fugitive family that had just broke out of jail. They manage to escape The Fratellis but had to go in to an underground tunnel, where they find themselves closer to the treasure than anyone ever before.

 

The rest of the film shows us that The Goonies pursuit of the treasure is only achievable if they all offer their best to each other. If Mouth did not speak Spanish they could not have followed the map. If Data did not tinker with gadgets they could not have avoided the traps set out before them. If Stef had not played the piano then they would not pass an obstacle. The Goonies needed Brand’s strength, Andy’s determination, and Mikey’s leadership. Everyone played a role in this journey towards the treasure.

 

Every one has a role. The parents’ frantically search for the kids. The Fratellis pursue the Goonies. Chunk befriends Sloth and then they pursue and eventually save the Goonies. The Goonies may have been lost in the eyes of some. To others the Goonies were dangerous. The Goonies believed they were on a journey to save their homes.

 

To my 10 year old heart it was magic. Surrounded by life that I was not quite responsible for I yearned for liberty, freedom, and security. Prior to this films release I had not the words or ability to articulate what kind of longing I held in me heart. I was not alone. For many people my age The Goonies gave us hope. It gave us a way forward and dared us to dream. I can ask almost every one of my contemporaries, “What do Goonies say?” And they will know how to answer. The Goonies is a geography in which our adult ethics and morals were hewn and the responsibilities of our parents were revealed.

 

“Goonies never say, die!”, guided them as they moved along their journey. Goonies did not quit because there was great risk involved in stopping. The Goonies did not stop because there was nothing left to do but to keep going. For the Goonies that journey was about getting lost in the hopes that if they made it out alive, life would be better and they would still be together.

 

Pentecost is like that. It is not a place of answers, nor does it hold on too tightly to tradition or pageantry. Pentecost is a place of meandering. A place where we all begin a journey to stay together.

 

Pentecost moves us through a chute of spiritual equipping and out in to a world that IS and IS NOT yet ready for the Gospel message. We are not the owner/operators of the Gospel. We are the meandering sojourners seeking hope amongst a world of hurt.

 

Pentecost is a journey where as you get lost in God you find yourself and as you find yourself you become a light to others trying to get lost. Because in being lost you will find yourself and we will all stay together. Pentecost challenges the notion of dominate culture that the fearfully and wonderfully made creatures of God exist in some sort of hierarchical guild with winners and loser, us and them, and good and bad. With this I am reminded of Paul’s declaration that there is no human division that shall bear witness against God. We are in the same boat. This journey you are on, this journey I am on, this journey they are on is the same journey.

 

Pentecost peels back the niceties of cultural decorum that maintains the status quo and calls us towards a light of exploration with equality and justice as the markers of faithfulness. The treasure we seek is not of gold and silver but of self-sacrifice and abiding in the love of God. The rewards we receive are not retirement plans, comfortable homes, a healthy paycheck, or a glory gilded sanctuary. If these are the trappings of a decent and orderly society than we have missed the Pentecost mark.

 

Along this Pentecost journey if we stay together, meander as one, we will be rewarded with community, we will awaken to a faithfulness that resembles sacrifice, and we shall experience resurrection and peace shall be with us.

Fight The Power

flavor flav chuck d public enemy 1980s - Copy

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, and wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he 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.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-41

 

 

I have always held sympathy for the Pharisee’s. They always seem to be on the short end of the stick. They try really hard to do the right thing and Jesus keeps on fighting their power. They are the Ancient Semitic version of the Bad News Bears.

I don’t think they are all wrong. Jesus did violate the Sabbath by laboring to healing our blind friend. Jesus may have not exercised the greatest restraint in confronting the temple authorities about the Sabbath law he broke. In the eyes of the Pharisee’s, Jesus is asserting authority without having earned it.

Here is this upstart fella from Nazareth, a Podunk guy from a Podunk town. He comes to the big city and starts telling the establishment how things ought to be run. In fact, as he asserts his opinion over authority he attracts disciples of his own.

I would be a little upset too, if the world to which I offered myself in service were not all that was promised. The countless years in the finest schools being finished to be part of societies upper crust. The Pharisee’s were the movers and shakers of their time.

The Pharisee’s got all the headlines, as the ancient world paparazzi would stake out the temple and their homes just to get us breaking news. The citizens of ancient Israel hung on the words and actions of the Pharisee’s. They were the gurus, yogis and proprietors of wisdom that delivered all that self-help goodness. If you were to climb a mountain seeking wisdom from above you may discover a Pharisee a top that peak above the clouds.

The Pharisee’s were what you dreamed of growing up to become. Being a Pharisee meant you were the peoples advocate to God. For a faithful religious devotee, can it get any better than that?

What do we dream for our children? What do we dream for ourselves? Do any of us dream of being a peacenik, carpenter just scrapping by? Do you still dream? Have we chosen the path through the eye of a needle or have we walked the rocky, thorn-laden path towards the open arms of Christ? Taking that path and delighting in our failing in the name of Christ.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This man was born blind neither according to his sin nor the sin of his parents but so that God might be witnessed in his restoration. This is another way of saying it is not about us it is about God.

The Pharisee’s question Jesus’ actions and with or without justification fear rises in the heart of the Pharisee’s. They are concerned with maintaining the status quo. They need their order and structure to exist in a world of ever increasing chaos. If Jesus challenges there place, their power then what is going to happen to them? Things are going to change. If our leaders are forced to change then we will have to change. If we have to change then what are we going to do about the brass plaqued treasures we have stored in our churches?

The early church is in a familiar situation as we are today. The Romans occupy the Holy Lands. The Promised Land in now the rented land. Wickedness visits the chosen people. They await an opportunity to be relevant again. They hunger for that time in the good old days when thousands of folks filled the temple. They remember when they were the rule of the land and they fit in to a way of life that was good for them. There was plenty to eat and everyone pitched in.

Just as fear motivated the Pharisee’s questions, fear can motivate our questions. We can operate in a manner that is more about survival than answering God’s calling for us to prosper through transformation of our minds.

Are we asking the wrong questions? Are we climbing mountains to distract us from the duty of the mundane calling to be justice in the life we lead? Are we in shape to climb the mountain? Are we even called to climb the mountain? If we all climb the mountain, there will be no one left in the valley to offer refreshments.

Where is the Pharisee in us and what are they holding on to? I have no problem relating to and finding the Jesus in me. I could share with you 1,000 ways about the Jesus-like awesome I exhibit day in and day out. I don’t like to admit that there are a 1,000 ways I am a Pharisee as well.

I was watching this film last week called Enlighten Up! It is a film about a guy that is skeptical about yoga and what practitioners’ claim are its benefits. He agrees to practice yoga for a few months and allow a camera crew to follow him around. He goes to a few classes in New York City and is not amused with the perceived hoity toity nature of those involved in the New York City yoga scene.

Then he goes to India to study at the source for a few months. He discovers that yoga is more about being than about doing. He learns that yoga is not just something that one signs up for and attends a couple of times a week to get healthier. Yoga is a way in which one may enter in to a deep conversation with their self and awaken to the real self.

In one of the final scenes on the film the skeptical atheistic American is sitting at the feet of a very famous Guru as the Guru answers his questions.

The American says, “I’m afraid to ask you stupid questions.”

The Guru replies, “Answers are stupid. Questions are never stupid. You came to meet me. You could have come by cycle. You could have come by car. You could have come by train. You could have come by elephant. You could have come by foot. To reach here, there are so many directions. That depends on you, where you are presently. It’s not important what you are doing. It’s important why you are doing.”

The American asks, “What do you mean?”

The Guru answers, “You can prepare food for yourself to consume. You can prepare food for somebody you love. And you can prepare food for your Lord, your god. The action will be the same. Physically, but inside it will be different. Even if you are forced to do some cooking for somebody you don’t like you will do it. But you won’t enjoy it.”

The American questions, “The same can be said for yoga?”

The Guru returns, “Anything…anything under the sun. The same can be said about anything.”

The American replies, “But I’m a godless guy from New York City. It does not make sense to me about bhakti (devotion) or Krishna.”

The Guru says, “Don’t embrace them. I never said to embrace Krishna. No, never embrace. Never do it. If you don’t like, then don’t do it. Go on practicing what you are doing. If you want to believe in God, believe in God. If you don’t want to believe, don’t believe. And still you can be a religious person.”

The American asks, “Then what would make me religious or spiritual?”

The Guru answers, “Being yourself. Being your true self.”

Jesus restores the blind man to his true self. The Pharisees witness this and get nervous and question him three times. They bring in his parents too. The Pharisees press him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

It is not about the questions the Pharisee’s are asking it is about the questions the Pharisee’s are not asking. What condition are their hearts in? Where is fear taking them? Danger is near.

There is danger in hearing the Gospel. When we ask questions of God we hear the Gospel. When we hear the Gospel we are transformed from the inside out. We are born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in us. We are not born blind neither according to our sin nor the sin of our parents but so that God might be witnessed in our restoration! Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

It is good to ask questions of God only if we are prepared to seek answers. Asking questions of God draws us deeper in to relationship with our Divine Creator. This is the root of the child-like faith we are all called to. Parents, does a child not question to understand the world around them? Children ask questions until they understand what is going on and then ask some more questions, testing the parameters of their existence. It is good to ask questions. To question is to discover. To discover is to mature. To mature is completing ones faith. The completion of faith draws us nearer to God. Being nearer unto God is that sweet spot we are all chasing.

Many Rivers To Cross

sermon RKP 011914

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, teacher, “Where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.”

They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Anointed One.  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Peter.”

John 1:29-42

 

 “What are you looking for?”  This is not a casual inquiry.  Jesus is not “wazzup’ng” these two disciples.  Jesus is investigating the seriousness of their interest.  They respond, “Where are you staying?”  They are interested and intrigued.  Perhaps they are even afraid.  Jesus then invites them past the fear and in to an intimate encounter with, “Come and see.”

 

Jesus is inviting them to get lost in each other’s company.  This is a mutual experience with each person offering themselves to the collective proximity of fellowship.  In this fellowship stories are shared, hope is garnished, and joys are celebrated.  Intimacy is fashioned with laughter, familiarity, and companionship.  This is not merely hangeroners sitting at the feet of Jesus, the emerging Christ.  This is a two-way street of intimate encounter.  This is the fully incarnate and realized Christ.

 

Come and see.  Jesus is literally saying, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.”  This is the invitation to peel back the fronts and masks that we use to insulate ourselves from each other.  This is an invitation to see each other through the eyes of God.  To see the divine profanity that lies in the finite, wicked hearts of creation.  When we see each other with the divine eyes of God we begin the physical journey from the here and travel together towards the not yet.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Taste the sweetness of God’s goodness.  It is this goodness that draws us nearer unto God and each other.  The sweetness of creation is the sweetness of the Christ.  Taste the bitterness of death.  The bitterness of death is real.  We are reminded that the bitterness of death is not the last course.  There is an eternal banquet awaiting us all.  Taste the sourness of humanity’s sin.  The acidic annoyance of sin moves us towards that savory supper in the hall of Christ.  Taste the saltiness of faith.  The salt of faith awakens the senses as it prepares us to experience the fullness of God if life and in death.

 

Hear the Word of the Lord.  To hear the Word is to listen to and absorb the transformative nature of the Emmanuel, the God with us.  The great street court hustler, Sidney Deane, of White Men Can’t Jump tells us, “Y’all can listen to Jimi but you can’t hear him…Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.”  The same can be said about God.  You might be listening to the Word of God.  To hear the Word of God is to be transformed by it; to understand, sympathize with, and to live in the context of the People of God.  Listening to the Word of God is not hearing the Word.  You know when you hear the Word of God when you are moved to action, convicted by it, and are transformed by hearing the Word of God.

 

Smell the aroma of Christ, a fragrance that comes from knowing God.  I was working with a client a few weeks ago.  They were down on their luck and wrestling with some heavy things.  Mental illness, substance abuse, the loss of their children to the State, and depression had overcome them.  They let go of personal hygiene.  They came in to my office and smelled something awful.  A sour stench of anguish and apathy filled the air.  I choked back my breath, afraid to breathe them in.  I focused on the foul odor.  I let myself slip.  I did my job and collected information.  I assessed their progress.  Meanwhile I gasped for breath.  Then they shared that their dog had 5 puppies.  Then a smile appeared on their face.  The air was not clear but a light shone through the cloud.  These puppies needed someone to care for them.  They found purpose in this.  We discussed the hygiene issue and they responded with understanding and awareness of the need to care for themselves so that they could care for the puppies.  The aroma of Christ was a foul smelling, sour stench that delivered us both to new realities.

 

Touch the hem of his garment and be made well.  Jesus’ public ministry was one of breaking down power and privilege.  He challenged the status quo and turned the world on its head.  He did this with touch.  He touched the sick, the outcast, and the forgotten.  He embraced them as his family.  He emptied his privilege to dine with sinners.  He used his power to awaken concern for the outcast.  He touched those that no one touched before.  Jesus used touch as a path towards transformation.

 

“What are you looking for?”  What is it that you desire?  What is missing from your life?  And Jesus says, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.”  And we will change this world together.

Nobody But You

IMG_4084

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come.  She will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that Abba God has is mine. For this reason I said that she will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:12-15

When I was a kid I loved field trips.  It honestly did not matter where we were going.  I loved traveling somewhere with others.  The bus ride.  The warm peanut butter sandwich that awaited me for lunch.  The jokes.  The world seemed so big.  I would read all the literature I could get on where we had just been on the bus ride back to school, soaking in the knowledge.  I appreciated the controlled manner in which it was being introduced.

Over the years the field trips have gotten more exotic and filled my mind with great awe.  I still love trips of any kind.  When I fly I pretend that I am a government agent carrying vital information to those that will greet me when I arrive.  When I drive somewhere I am part of an epic road trip searching for deeper meaning in life.  I once took a train and dreamed that I was an explorer being brought to the edge of civilization in order to understand the miracles of where we have been.

I am the person that gets lost in thought rather easily.  I daydream a lot.  I wander around my thoughts, pondering who or what God is, how God communicates to this world, what Jesus really looked like, and if the Holy Spirit wore shoes would she wear running shoes or sandals.  Being a dreamer brings me to today’s text longing for more.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  Jesus might as well said, “I got a secret and I am not tell-el-ing.”  My curiosity is peeked.  Perhaps, that is why Jesus said it.  Ok Jesus, you got something else to tell us.  If you tell me I promise to not tell others.  You can trust me.  What do you mean that what you have to tell us is something that we cannot bear right now?

What is going to happen that will prepare us to bear what you will eventually tell us?

We went to the Science Museum Oklahoma this past Friday.  This is something that I have wanted to do since discovering the blue domed building when I first drove down MLK.  I felt a little strange going to a place packed with children with adults.  We were adults with no children.  After chatting with the guy behind the counter selling tickets about 80’s hair metal bands and John Hughes films we were invited in and given a map.

We wandered around the hands on exhibits teaching us about sound and light.  We explored the science behind crime scene investigation.  Stood inside of a giant mouth and learned about weather.  We wandered around the museum for a few hours challenging every sense the body could offer.  With every passing moment our appreciation for the world around us grew.

With smiles plastered upon our faces we went to the Science Live! Show.  We were surrounded by children hanging on to or sitting in the lap of adults.  It seemed as if we had a neon sign hanging around our necks telling everyone that we were there without any children.  The show started and volunteers were sought.  We prayed that God would make us invisible.

The kindly man in the front row with 3 children was selected to come on stage.  There was a demonstration of elastic and applied force using giant exercise bands.  Friction was taught using a beach ball.  There was a firenado, that is a fire inside a metal cylinder that rotated to demonstrate the natural forces at work in the world.  Sound waves traveled overhead as smoke rings made all of this visible.  Chain lightning, kinetic energy, potential energy, and fart sounds really tied the performance together.  The room was hanging on every world.  Then they launched a rocket in to space using liquid nitrogen.  It was magnificent.

I left there unashamed of not having children and delighted in the close proximity of science.  We explored aviation, space travel, geometry, and optical illusions.  All the while our smiles stayed plastered to our faces.  It reminded me that science is a friend to faith.

Where science seeks to explain, understand, and explore the world, faith comfortably sits where it is at and dwells in the mystery of the unexplained, the unknown, and unexplored parts of this world.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come.”  Has it ever really been about understanding?

Who can understand that which is God?  Julian of Norwich, the medieval Christian mystic, writes, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.  This is revealed in everything, and specially in those words where God says, ‘I am Lord.’ That is to say, I am God, the power and goodness of fatherhood; I am God, the wisdom and lovingness of motherhood; I am God, the light and the grace which is all blessed love; I am God, the Trinity; I am God, the unity; I am God, the great supreme goodness of every kind of thing; I am God who makes you to love; I am God, who makes you to long, I am God, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.”

What if the very thing Jesus is protecting us from is ourselves?  “All that Abba God has is mine. For this reason I said that she will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  The many things Jesus wants to share with us fall upon deaf ears because our mind is made up.  Our faith is settled.  We know where we are going.  We know where we ought to be.

Where do you go when the longings of your heart disappear?  What do you do when you know all there is?  How does it feel when you lose the ability to dream?

Let’s not seek answers today.  Let us enjoy being in the presence of God.

Done Got Old

somebody

Jesus told him, “I myself am the Way – I am Truth, and I am Life.  No one comes to Abba God but through me.  If you really knew me, you would know Abba God also, from this point on, you know Abba God and have seen God.”

“Rabbi,” Phillip said, “Show us Abba God, and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you don’t know me?  Whoever has sent me has seen Abba God.  How can you say, ‘Show us your Abba’?  Don’t you believe that I am in Abba God and God is in me?  The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is Abba God, living in me, who is accomplishing the works of God.  Believe me that I am in God and God is in me, or else believe because of the works I do.  The truth of the matter is, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do – and greater works besides.  Why?  Because I go to Abba God, and whatever you ask in my name I will do, so that God may be glorified in me.  Anything you ask in my name I will do.  If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Paraclete, another helper to be with you always – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept since the world neither sees her nor recognizes her; but you can recognize the Spirit because she remains with you and will be with you.  I won’t leave you orphaned; I will come back to you.  A little while now and the world will see me no more; but you’ll see me; because I live, and you will live as well.”

John 14:6-19

It’s PENTECOST!!!  My favorite church holiday.  Last year we graduated and got diplomas conferring upon us the perplexing and confusing movement of the Spirit.  This year I wanted to do something more elaborate.  I planned a parade, a block party, and I was in the middle of tracking down The Commodores to headline this event and I came upon budgetary constraints.

So, I backed it up a bit and decided to piggyback Pentecost with Pride.  Friday there was a block party celebrating 44 years of Gay Civil rights.  The parade begins today at 4:00 PM.  The Commodores could not make it this year but I hear that there is nothing but big plans for next year.

I have always had big plans clouding the daily details of life.  20 years ago I was running around El Camino Real high school with my best friend, Jon.  We both wore swimming goggles and were pretending to save random peoples lives.  We’d jump in to the middle of a group of folks and pull someone to shore.

We were about to graduate.  We were on cloud 9.  Earlier that morning we both found out that we would indeed graduate.  We had been taking classes at adult school to make up for the missing credits that we acquired during our junior year.  There was real fear that the maximum efforts that we put in to the last few months would not overcome the minimal efforts of the previous 24 months.

Our parents we angry, our friends were concerned, and we were in denial.  All of that did not matter.  We had avoided the inevitable and would walk with our class in a few days.  So we ran.  We imagined.  The world was our oyster.  We imagined the possibilities that were out there waiting for us.

We had both received attention from a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin.  We dreamed of going to college but that horrible junior year prevented us from really doing much of anything.  I was set to attend the local community college.  Jon was moving to Canada to continue his high school education, Canada has a 13th grade for high school.  Our friends were mostly leaving.  Most were heading off to well respected universities with a long history of a quality education.  A couple joined the military.  Dave got Cancer and died before he finished his first year at university.  Pregnancies, accidental overdoses, hate-crimes, and a general sense of uncertainty dislodged the hope and promise that we set out with.

Years went bye.  Friendships dimmed.  New friends were made.  We grew up.  And like the boys from Stand By Me we soon became distant memories of youthful exuberance that reminded our aging bodies that we were once capable of a whole lot more.

This is where we are today.  A mix of promise and hope befuddled by the distant and not-so-distant memories of youth, yesterday, and all in between.  That place where longing for the glory of heaven and the comforts of earth intersect and injustice and disappointment have a better shot at success than justice and gratitude.

If Pentecost is the churches graduation then we must honor it.  There is so much focus on other moments in the churches calendar.  This is the last big hooray before we slip back in to ordinary time and take a break for the summer.  What do you do with the time between Christmas and Easter?

There are no pageants, no family dinners, no candy, and no corporate national holiday to co-opt this day.  We are left alone to honor this day.  We put on big people clothes and gather to be equipped to do what God is calling us to do.

 

Graduation celebrates the hard work and effort put in to arrive at that point.  Once the haze wears off more work and another goal presents itself.  Once you graduate the expectations arrive.

Today’s graduates face a tough job market.  Time happens and brings unfulfilled expectations and unforeseen circumstances.  Fatigue sets in.  We settle.  We lose those youthful dreams.  That prophetic voice dims and we are left with the trappings of life and our soul goes on ill-replenished.

This is where the church comes in.  The church dares to dream dreams that transform the world.  Equipped with the status quo challenging Gospel of Jesus the Christ we enter the fray and light the way towards justice, peace, hope, and renewal.

Pentecost is that moment in the history of the church that connects us to those dark moments in which creation itself was breathed into existence.  That same whispered breath that covered the darkness silently and with zeal moves us in to position to meet the woe of this world with the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the time when everybody becomes somebody.  The moment in time when the Spirit of the Holy God moves across the masses and declares in you that I am somebody!!!

I may be a drug addict, but I am – Somebody!

I may be ashamed, but I am – Somebody!

I may be an alcoholic, but I am – Somebody!

I may be homeless, but I am – Somebody!

I may be Gay, but I am – Somebody!

I may be on welfare, but I am – Somebody!

I may be undocumented, but I am – Somebody!

I may be a convict, but I am – Somebody!

I may be Lesbian, but I am – Somebody!

I may be a prisoner, but I am – Somebody!

I may be in debt, but I am – Somebody!

I may be uneducated, but I am – Somebody!

I may be depressed, but I am – Somebody!

I may be lonely, but I am – Somebody!

I must be somebody, because I’m God’s child.

I must be respected and protected.

I must be free and full of life.

I am black.  I am white.  I am brown.  I am red.  I am yellow.  I am beautiful!

I am – Somebody!

Meet Me in the City

IMG_1878

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called Beth’zatha, which has five porticoes.  In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.  One person was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw them lying there and knew that they had been there a long time, he said to them, “Do you want to be made well?”  The sick person answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  Jesus said to them, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  At once the person was made well, and they took up their mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.

 

John 5:1-9

 

We live in a world hell-bent on destruction, power, and domination.  The competition for resources is heating up.  Well, we are governed by the third law of thermodynamics.  Which says, “It is impossible for any process, no matter how idealized, to reduce the entropy of a system to its zero point value in a finite number of operations.”  What this means is that everything we do expends energy, on an individual & corporate level, heat is a byproduct of these energy exchanges and eventually all energy will be heat.

 

When the heat is on the pressure also increases.  This is the natural state of the world.  This is thermodynamics in play.  I bet y’all had no idea that you were going to get a lecture on thermodynamics this morning.  I am no expert in physics but I did get a good nights rest.

 

You see I know just enough physics to sort of impress a well-educated people.  Perhaps, bore is a more accurate word.  There was a time when I was better versed in science and math; then again this is true for the entirety of America.  We are following the path of entropy and losing energy to heat, heat in the form of public rhetoric.  The louder and more profane the public discourse the truer it must be.

 

Knowledge is being tried as a product of the devil.  Reason is being branded the muse of evil.  Love is for those not strong enough to Lord.

 

Faith, hope, and love are being replaced with guns, sex, and wealth.

 

Aurora.  Newtown.  Oak Creek.  Carson City.  Grand Rapids.  Tucson.  Fort Hood.  Binghamton.  Blacksburg.  All have fallen victim of mass shootings in which high capacity magazines and military style weapons were used to commit these atrocities.

 

For every mass shooting there are 100’s of other violent deaths perpetrated with the barrel of a gun.  Trayvon.  Benji.  Heaven.  Cordell.  Brian.  Carlos.  LaToya.  Ronnie.  Jerome.

 

These pasts few weeks there have been a few cases of very young children killing other young children with guns.  The response has been one of public outrage and condemnation.  The counter to this has been the circling of wagons and the call to arms.  The government is working to undo the 2nd Amendment.

 

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.

 

We are knee deep in another fight for civil rights.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s controversial law banning Same-Sex marriage, Prop 08, were heard in the Supreme Court last month.  DOMA restricts over 1,000 civil rights and liberties to legally recognized married couples.  Then defines legally married couples to be opposite-sex only.  Prop 08 and many other State amendments seek to define marriage as “Traditional” between a man and a woman.

 

63% of the nation disagrees with this.  If you break down the demographics by age more than 80% of those under 40 believe that couples same-sex or opposite-sex should have the right to marry and all of those protected rights that come with it.

 

For years now there has been speculation about gay professional athletes.  The WNBA has quietly led the charge to full inclusion.  A gay athlete in the WNBA is not an anomaly it is part of practice.  The NBA just got its first out athlete.  Jason Collins came out as the first gay male professional athlete saying, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”  The condemnation was swift.  Sides gathered and fingers pointing in the direction of “those fake Christians” began.

 

In an article on CNN John Blake writes, “As proof, Sprigg (a public speaker of opposition to homosexuality) points to the backlash that ESPN commentator Chris Broussard sparked recently. Broussard was called a bigot and a purveyor of hate speech when he said an NBA player who had come out as gay was living in “open rebellion to God.” Broussard said the player, Jason Collins, was “living in unrepentant sin” because the Bible condemns homosexuality.”  Mr. Sprigg then relates that it is easier for people like Jason Collins to come out as gay than it is for people like Mr. Broussard to oppose Mr. Collins for being gay.

 

“What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

 

Last week I read an article in the New York Times that shared with the public that there is a church in NYC that has a 2 billion dollar endowment.  A two billion dollar endowment!  Their pastor makes a $600,000 salary per year.  And they are fighting over the money and how to spend it or not spending it.

 

All of this while the middle class deteriorates.  The rights workers have fought for over the years are being taken away.  Wealth accumulates in the top tiers of society and poverty and hunger grow.

 

Denominations everywhere are experiencing a loss of members.  Megachurch, non-denominations, mainlines, progressive, conservative, black, white, Korean…they all are losing members.  In the wake of these losses resources dwindle.  Fights over money ensue.

 

While fights over money happen, in the background hundreds of clergy are turned out in to a world with the average of $50,000 of debt to serve a church that is fighting over money and might have 3-4 years of livable service in them.  The panic button has been pressed.  The ship is being abandoned.  The church is not sustainable as it is.  We are not broke.  We are not destitute.  We have clinched our fists out of fear.  Look down at our hands, what is it that we are holding on too?

 

It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.

 

I say this with love.  If you are Christian in the US and believe that you are being persecuted for your beliefs, you may want to revisit that thought.  Christians make up over 70% of the nations population.  If you want to go down the line and start weeding out “real” Christians and “fake” Christians that might be the root of the problem.  There is no fake or real Christian.  That is up to God not you.

 

Listen to the parable again, There was an ill person lying there at the well.  They were one amongst many, lying there exposed to the sun, struggling for shade.  Looking for hope.  Countless people walked past them, intentionally not making eye contact, lest they become dirty in the process.  Stepping over and around them.

 

Jesus saw them there and asked one of them, Do you want to be well?  The sick person said yes…Then Jesus’ eyes rolled up and back in to his head.  He waved his hands in a circular fashion as he recited some indiscernible words and POOF!!! A cloud of smoke filled the air.  [cough, cough, choke…] When the smoke cleared the crowd saw that Jesus had turned the ill person in to a well.  Now there were two wells from which people could be healed.

 

This world could use as many wells as it can get.  There is a diversity of faith.  There is not one way to be Christian, nor is there one belief that is Christian.  But your belief had better be one that connects you to the world in real ways.  If your faith does not connect you to the world in real ways you might find yourself in Beth’zatha looking for a cure.

Ain’t No Sunshine

fisher of

Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They said, “We’ll go with you”.

 

They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

 

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.

 

The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught. “Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish.

 

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 

John 21:1-14

I used to have a very romantic vision of fishing. Fishing was a great escape and contrast to the landscape I grew up in. I imagined whistling and skipping along the old road to get to grandpas secret fishin’ spot and chugging Pepsis and Moonpies. I grew up in Los Angeles where going fishing was a grand ordeal. One could not just go out back and drop a pole in the ole creek. Unless, you were Redneck Kevin would stocked his swimming pool with catfish and gave tattoos in his garage.

 

Outside of Kevin, if you wanted to go fishing in Los Angeles you have to hunt for spots to do so. If you were my buddy, Randy, you went to the Sepulveda Dam Recreational area and fish for crappie along the banks with the homeless fishermen. Randy fished for sport. The homeless fishermen fished for food, from a highly polluted “river.”

 

If you were Mark, you gathered your gear in to your decked out El Camino and drove 35 miles to Castaic Lake. A massive man-made lake that hosted scores of urban anglers, race boats, and as much wilderness as one can get along the campfire littered shoreline filled with the left behind families melting chocolate.

Standing there along a pier that stretched out into the lake, along with 20-30 other adventure seekers you had to pull out all kinds of tricks to get your barb to stand out among the rest. Axel grease, cheese puffs, Velveeta, marshmallows, and not so alive crickets working its magic to land that prized catch.

 

If you were Little Dave, you were a burgeoning Pro fisherman, trying to make his way on to the B.A.S.S.masters tour. Driving around a truck that pulled a matching boat with a whisper soft motor and made your own rods in the garage. Posing as conqueror with crying catfish nailed to a 2×4 frame slowly gasping for breath that is not there. Little Dave took fishing seriously. He approached fishing like it was a science.

 

Little Dave wandered the West Coast looking for that magical spot that would deliver what ever it was he was looking for. He wandered the wilderness. He made a good showing at this until one day he stopped. I am not sure if he found what he was looking for or if the wandering got old. But he stopped.

 

If you were uncle Dave, you lived on a bait barge outside of Angels Gate where San Pedro Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. You sold mackerel to local fishermen and traded bait for stories. You spent weeks at a time on the barge and had lobster for breakfast. You shot salt rock buckshot at the harbor seals that tried to get in to the bait nets where schools of fish circled around until they were liberated in to the mouths of bigger fish.

 

Then there was uncle Bob. He lived in the suburbs. Had a great job. A beautiful family and a boat docked in Ventura. He would spend his Saturday’s bobbing on the ocean. Sunscreen on his nose. Captain’s hat on his head. He escaped his perfect world to get connected to the dangerous and uncontrolled wilderness of real life. Uncle Bob was a tender soul looking for God in all the right places. Fishing was a vehicle to the divine.

 

Over time as I have lived in various towns and cities in the US and abroad, I have encountered many fishermen and fisherwomen. All with a different reason for fishing. All hoping and searching for something. Many of the disciples fished before they met Jesus and naturally many of them fished after Jesus had died.

 

I wonder that if the disciples had been sanitation workers would I harbor idealistic hope for trash and cleanliness? What if the disciples had been carnival rousties, would I be obsessed with carnies and sideshows?

 

Fishing makes for a great metaphor. And for those of us that love fishing it makes for a great excuse to go fishing. I am not a fan of sunburns, baiting hooks, sitting in a wobbling boat for hours, or gutting fish. I love the people in my life that do fish and support their pursuits.

 

I just don’t need fishing to encounter Jesus. I’d much rather be a fisher of people, than a fisher of fish…

What is your fishing?

How do you seek God in your life?

Who do you seek God with?

Why do you seek God at all?

We all like breakfast, right? We can start there…

I Left My Wallet In El Segundo

a-tribe-called-quest-i-left-my-wallet-in-el-segundo

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

John 20:19-31

When I was 5 years old I was obsessed with Star Wars, The Muppets, my dad’s jazz albums, my mom’s Motown records, CHiPs, Happy Days, Evel Knievel, comic books, the idea of being a firefighter, and my parents vegetable garden. Of my childhood obsessions I still hold my passion for comic books, Star Wars (with the absence of Jar Jar Binks), jazz, Motown, comic books, and vegetable gardens.

When my family lived in Washington State we were in the twilight of our perfect existence and we had the most beautiful vegetable garden I have ever seen. I would sit on the back poach and watch my parents tend to the leafy greens that populated the rich, dark earthy floors. I admired the tall baskets and cages that held in the amassing bulk of peppers and tomatoes. I gazed at the bright yellow squash that would be on the table for dinner later that day.

I loved that garden. The dogs loved it too. Our two canine aunts would traipse around the garden and eat what ever they could reach. Their faces smeared with fruit stains and breath painted with the sweet scent of onions their tongues hung out of their tired mouths, far to full too move or play.

My parents were tired as well. They erected a tall fence that protected their efforts in the garden. That fence was maybe 4 feet tall. But to my 5 year old self it seemed like it was Mount Kilimanjaro. The fence prevented the dogs for ravaging the garden. The garden prospered in their absence. My parents were pleased.

The gardens zenith it’s little gated ecosystem attracted insects of all sorts. I loved to wander around the garden and examine the bugs. That garden was my little wilderness and as I grew up in the church I related to the naked wanderings of God first creatures in their garden as I wander mine.

One lazy weekend, my father was home watching us as mom was out with the ladies of the church. Some game was one and attention was sparse. I wanted to explore the garden but the gate was closed. I was too short to unlatch the gate. I looked up and began to climb the fence.

I was all the way up the fence when my twin brother came out to find me. He wanted to climb too. We raced up the fence to see who would unlock it first. I was winning. He was sore. He shook the fence and I faltered. My leg slipped and I recovered to hold on but he unlatched the gate.

I was going to show him and raced to climb over the fence and be the first one in the garden. As I straddled the fence to lift my leg over in victory, he shook the fence again. This time I did not recover. I lost my footing and fell off the fence. Only I did not hit the ground.

I was left suspended, upside down in mid air, maybe 2 feet off the ground. I tried to kick my leg over and realized I could not. My right leg was impaled on the top of the fence.

When I say impaled, I am serious. There was an old red post that my parents had set in the ground to make the fence. It had a pointy arm radiating upward to the sky. My leg was, now, part of it. The red fence post had penetrated my leg and I was held upside down. When I realized what had happened I went in to shock.

My twin brother realized the severity of it and ran to awaken my napping father. My father ran out and lifted his impaled son from the post and deposited me on the front poach. He then left my brothers with a neighbor and drove me to the hospital.

I still remember the doctor cleaning the wound and exploring the hole in my leg saying, “You were lucky. You missed any real major damage. You’ll recover from this with no real permanent effects. For the most part the doctor was right.

All I was left with was a tender scar on my leg that won’t grow any hair.

The theologian, reverend, author, and friend, Carol Howard Merritt wrote a beautiful article this past Friday. Where she talked about scars being the visible reminders of the life we have led and how these scars mark our entrance in to the divine story of a “powerless God. A God that bears scars like mine. A God that bears scars like yours. A God that understands that the scars we bear are earned, often in a sea of tears and a cloud of misery. Scars can be enforced upon our bodies, a product of an others will. The powerlessness of God is an interesting idea in a post-Easter world.

Carol writes,

I tremble to put “powerless” and “God” in one sentence, but I suppose I would rather think of God as powerless than cruel, and those feel like my only options. It’s clear to me why Thomas doubted. How could one believe after witnessing such brutality? How could one believe when God’s back had been turned to sight of such rending?

 

Yet, it seems his faith restored when he saw the scars. Somehow, therein lies the power and mystery of Christianity. Because we know that God did not turn God’s back on the cruelty. God bore it. The scars prove it. And the presence of God’s Spirit still blows with peace, standing beside us as we caress our own ruptured skin and trace the roadmap of tragedies that we bear.

 

There is much to that disfigured flesh that teaches us how to be survivors together. Somehow, even the markings our torn incarnation witness to the divine with their thin, sorrowful beauty.”

 

I want you to remember your own scars. Your roadmap of tragedies that delivered you to today. Thomas, put you fingers upon the wounds of tragedy. Believe that, as death no longer holds its sting that the scars that litter your bodies cannot contain the peace that Jesus has to offer.

Scars can remind us of those tender days we creation walked naked and unashamed in the garden with God. No more disbelief. Believe!

How Soon Is Now

IMG_3517

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  There they gave a dinner for him.  Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped his feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,  “Why was this perfume not sold for $45,000 and the money given to the poor?”  (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)  Jesus said, “Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

I vacillate between images of a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, my “alternative” family dinners, and what I imagine this scene to have looked like with the benefit of a few Hollywood movies about Jesus. There we are Jesus is all wise like. Sitting at the table. Mary and Martha are busy lifting pots, stirring dishes, and baking bread. The Disciples are there setting the table as they banter witty lines back and forth, laughing as they work. Jesus smiles as he takes it all in. There is Lazarus. He is back from the dead. In his resurrected self, Lazarus enjoys the festivity in honor of him.

Martha notices something. Something really, really strong. A smell. A strong odor emanates from Lazarus that cannot be contained by open windows of deliciously wafting dishes. It is the smell of death. Lazarus has been retrieved from the sting of death but he smells like he has traipsed through the pits of hell. Lazarus is stained with sulfur and the stench of decaying flesh. So Martha grabs that perfume to help everyone out.

Martha baths Jesus’ feet with it as an attempt to eliminate the odor from the room. She even uses her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet to get an extra bit of help in soothing her weary nostrils. The smell of death overcomes everyone but Jesus.

Jesus is not overcome by the smell of death. He has seemed to make peace with it. Similarly, Jesus has seemed to make peace with what is about to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus is no stranger to death. He moves towards it as others flee. Death does not intimidate Jesus.

Death is an intimate act. Growing up I encountered death early. My grandfather died in the house I lived in, in the room next door to mine. We were ushered out in to the backyard when he died so my uncle Andy could perform a ceremony to liberate his spirit from this world and guide him on to the eternal walk towards God.

There was Miss Barbara, with her Charlie the Tuna watch, who cared for the schoolyard as we had recess. She went to lunch one day at her home across the street and never returned. She died on her lunch break. Then there was the janitor that had a massive heart attack in the school cafeteria and died lying there on the floor. I do not remember his name but I will never forget the funeral and outpouring of emotions my 7-year-old mind could not comprehend.

In all these instances I was comforted with things to occupy my mind and emotions and was essentially taught that death was something to fear. Death is sanitized in the news. Death is not talked about in the church but once a year and we clean it up with bunnies, chocolate, and eggs.

Here is Lazarus, fresh out of death. There were only two resurrections spoken of in the Biblical canon. Lazarus and Jesus. If you have ever had something crawl in your walls or under your house and die in the summer, you know what kind of smell we are talking about. Death is not pretty.

Death is messy. Death is as far from sunshine and rainbows as you can get. Then why did Jesus resurrect Lazarus? What was Lazarus doing at the table dinning with Jesus?

It makes me wonder, what does Jesus know about death that we do not?

I’m stuck on Lazarus at the dinner table & the perfume there masking his smell. Is Jesus assuming that the perfume is there for his death? Why would Martha use this costly item on Jesus? We are talking about something that costs a year’s wage being used on someone that Martha has no idea that he will die.

Then there is the Judas angle. Judas is a bad person, full of evil. He wants the perfume to be sold and then he can skim from the profits. Jesus calms the situation with a reminder that the poor will always be with us. Lazarus continues to eat as the heavy scent of perfume dances in the air, covering the smell of death in the room.

Lazarus is there in the room. A physical reminder of the finitude all of us bear.  We shall not live forever. This mortal coil expires. As we were reminded 4 and a half weeks ago, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  This not so subtle proclamation calling us to remember that from the muddied soil of this earth we were given life and to the same earth we shall return. With enough time in this world we witness the circle of life and death that keep this crazy rock turning.

Yet, death is difficult to bear.  We can run ahead and get to Easter but that is not where we are today.  We are eating a meal with death in that air and there at the table death is shoveling food in to his mouth. Deaths smell permeating the air and Martha doing her best to offer hospitality to her guests, reaches for the best she has and anoints Jesus masking deaths smell.

 

We’ll do anything to keep death at bay.  The fastest growing markets these days deal in combating age, delivering youth and vitality, and prolonging ones life. Everyone promises to bring you to that everlasting life. What are we afraid of? There is no market exclusion to these proclaimed fountains. Christians are lining up just the same as everyone else seeking to mask the smell of death.

If you want to stop a conversation real fast, talk about death. Death is an odd topic in polite conversation. Death is not to be discussed. It is offensive. Death is a constant reminder that we are not in control of this journey.

Jesus seems to be at peace with death. Jesus brought death to dinner. Jesus sits at the table with death. But death is not acting like itself. There is something different about death. Did death get a haircut? Death did her nails? Death is wearing something new?

What does Jesus know about death that we do not?

Jesus knows that death itself is an illusion. An illusion that we are mired in. An illusion that has conquered our life. An illusion that escapes our understanding. A illusion that shall be revealed, but not today. Today, death is still an illusion.