Monday, May 30, 2011

Ascension: Easter 7A

This Week's Lectionary Texts:

This Week's Reflection:
This Sunday is Ascension Sunday for some churches. Others will follow the texts listed here that are from the seventh Sunday of Easter. These texts also point us toward the Ascension of the Christ. Acts does so overtly whilethe other texts take a more subtle approach.

Before moving forward with this reflection, I must draw your attention to Acts 1:7 which has the resurrected Jesus saying “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." It is impossible to read this sentence without thinking about Harold Camping's prediction of "the rapture" which recently passed us all by without incident. What does it mean for the Christian Church when such false prophets take advantage of people, gain so much media attention, and make all prophets look like fools? Where are we preachers when this happens? And, in what ways do we combat this kind of press for Christianity? Should we even be considering such a thing?

I believe we should. I believe we should because of Ascension. These texts this week may point us toward the Ascension of Jesus, but I believe they also point us toward our own ascension. The gospel text reminds us that Jesus himself prayed for us. He knelt down and prayed to God to be with all of his disciples - those of his day and in all the days to come. In that prayer, he lifts us up to God and expects that we will continue to ascend higher and higher toward God in our call to serve others on this earth.
The writer of 1 Peter reminds us that this will not be an easy task. It isn't all light with fluffy white clouds engulfing us. Sometimes it feels like "a fiery ordeal." And yet, the Holy Spirit is right alongside us helping us to continue to be faithful - to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison - and with each moment of faithfulness, we ascend a little bit more to experience the glory that is God.
We prophets, we preachers, we disciples of Christ, must pick up the pieces when someone like Camping causes so much damage. We look to the skyand see that Christ has joined our Creator, but we must not stand there simply staring into the clouds. How wepick up the pieces will be determined by our setting of ministry, but one thing is for certain. In working to defend the helpless, in seeking to know Holy Spirit in a real way, in following the Christ, we will find our ascension is happening a little at a time all along the way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Revelation: Easter 6A

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

This Week's Reflection:
This week's text from 1 Peter begins with "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?" Is this guy serious? I've always been very suspicious of those TV preachers who say things like, "Trust in Jesus and everything will be okay."

We all know that being eager to do good does not mean that we will remain safe and sound. I guess that is why the writer goes on to add that even if we do suffer, it is better than suffering for doing wrong. Hmm, bottom line seems to be that there will be suffering. How we handle it is what makes all the difference in this world.

Jesus promises the disciples that he will not leave them "orphaned." I think it is safe to assume that this also applies to all of us disciples since. The Holy Spirit has come to us through divine revelation making it possible for us to not only experience God in a very personal and real way, but also to withstand the suffering that is inevitable in this world. Paul reminded the Athenians of this very thing.
'For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
The Holy Spirit has come to us and reminded us that we are the very offspring of God. This is revealed to us in scripture, artists, nature, prophets, and poets. Divine Revelation. The thing about that, though, is that because we are living in a harsh world full of suffering and questions, the revelation is not often crystal clear. Too often, we are working with a blurred vision and doing the best we can in community to follow where Jesus leads us. The Advocate helps a lot, but does not do the work for us. That work is our work. And, it may lead to suffering.

Even when suffering happens for doing what is right, the gospel writer emphasizes that we are not alone. In fact, we are promised that the Holy Spirit will never leave us.

Revelation may not be clear. It may lead us into some very difficult places. But, Jesus calls us to do what is right and to just keep on doing what is right no matter what - understanding that Holy Spirit is right there with, in, and around us.

This Week's Art
in order of appearance in the reflection

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Refuge: Easter 5A

This Week's Lectionary Texts

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2: 2-10

John 14:1-14

This Week's Reflection

Refuge is what stands out to me this week in the lectionary texts. Of course, the Psalmist spells that out for us quite clearly.

"In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;deliver me in your righteousness."

I wonder what images the thought of Refuge conjures up in our minds. Today in Memphis, from where I am writing, refuge is likely to mean a lot to the victims of a flood that is the worst to happen here since 1937. I can't help but wonder why it always seems to be the poorest of the poor who are most effected by such things. Only two miles from my house there is an entire neighborhood practically under water - homes filling with mildew and mold which will not be inhabitable again.

The people who live in those homes have had to seek refuge in shelters - most of which are housed in places of worship throughout the city. I can't imagine what having to do such a thing must feel like. I'm sure they are thankful for a place to go while, at the same time, scared, confused, and perhaps even angry, that they have to.

We often speak of God as our "refuge and strength" and I believe with all my heart that God is indeed that. However, I also believe that this idea of God as refuge does not necessarily mean we feel all warm and fuzzy about it. It is difficult to admit that we need help - at the least - and painful, not to mention frightening, at the most.

Jesus tells the disciples in the John text that he is the way - the way to know God, the way to live life at its best, the way to have eternal life that is glorious. But, the lectionary texts this week also remind us of Stephen and how his following the way meant dying by being stoned to death.

Finding refuge in God is not necessarily a comfy and cozy prospect, but finding refuge in God does mean having the power to stand up for the poorest of the poor. Finding refuge in God does mean having the power to stand together as Christians and performing even greater things than Jesus did. Finding refuge in God may not be the easy way, but it is The Way. It means living a life standing up for justice and truth, following a Christ that was willing to die for those very things.

This Week's Art
In order of appearance in the Reflection

Guiding Light by Mary Beth Maisel

Twenty Nine Rooms and a Square by Ged Merino

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sheep: Easter 4A - A Litany of Confession based on Psalm 23

"Girl with Lamb" by Lisa Knoop

One: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Many: Oh God, forgive us! We think we need more and more and more.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

Many: Too often we pick up a rock next to the lake to toss it in just to see the water stirred because it feels more exciting.

he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

Many: How long will we continue to make our own paths rather than following yours? How long will we continue to see your restoration of our souls as “meddling”?

One: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.

Many: Like our stirring of the still waters, we refuse your comfort and care. God, forgive us for the ways in which we have hurt your children. Most merciful God, forgive us for the ways in which we have hurt you.

One: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Many: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sheep: Easter 4A

Link This Week's Lectionary Text

This Week's Reflection
I don't know a lot about sheep. People tell me that they are dumb. But those folks who tell me that don't really know anything about sheep either. I think it is the flock mentality that makes us believe they are dumb. We rugged, autonomous, individualistic Americans can't begin to understand why any living creature would follow the crowd the way that sheep seem to do. Because, of course, we know nothing about such behavior.

I don't know a lot about sheep, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found that "In regions where sheep have no natural predators, none of the native breeds of sheep exhibit strong flocking behavior." Doesn't sound so dumb to me. They stick together to protect one another from anyone or anything that may be attempting to harm even one of the flock. I also read that sheep have the ability to remember faces, not only faces of other sheep, but all faces, for years and years. In other words, they protect each other and they do not forget the shepherd they follow.

This week's lectionary points us toward that well known image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, an image that seems to make so much sense to us, but that most Americans know little about. When is the last time you were called out to the field to get the sheep back in the pasture?Luckily, if we are confused by the image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, we are in good company. It says right in the gospel of John that the first disciples to hear his analogy didn't get it either.

So, he spelled it out for them as clearly as he could. In the NRSV, starting in the midst of verse 7, it reads, "I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Oops, wait a minute, that doesn't say he is The Good Shepherd! What is all this gate business? How are preachers supposed to reconcile Psalm 23 and the words of 1 Peter 2:25, "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls" with Jesus comparing himself to a gate? (This is why literal interpretation of scriptures gets us into trouble!)

Here is what I think. I think that Jesus came to this earth to lead us in The Way. That Way is taking care of each other like sheep do. He calls to us to listen for his voice, to follow his lead, but in the meantime, we better be bunched up together in that big old field so that we can protect each other when times get hard or predators lurk in the night. And, when it all boils down - how many metaphors will fit into one blog entry? - Jesus is not only the leader, but THE WAY.

My brain can't comprehend it. I'm dumb like a sheep, but thank God I remember the face of Jesus and I huddle in the mass known as the Body of Christ - another metaphor, yay! - and that is what protects me and keeps me safe when things get really hard.

He is The Good Shepherd and he is the gate. He is our leader. He is our way.

This Week's Art
In order of appearance in the Reflection:
Monday, May 2, 2011

Year A, Easter 3: Slow Hearts, Same Grace

Photo © Kristi Corbin

This Week's Reflection
Jesus was brutally killed and buried. Now, some folks are spreading a rumor that he is alive and coming to visit his followers. Then, Cleopas, the only named disciple in the gospel text, has this bizarre encounter with the Risen Lord who first exegetes all the scriptures, then breaks bread, then disappears before they can even ask to see those wounds that Thomas was adamant about seeing for himself.

I'm a theme kind of a person. Some weeks, trying to pull a unified theme from the lectionary readings is not easy. If I had to title the theme that stands out to me this week, I would call it "Slow Hearts, Same Grace."

I was astounded that in the encounter with Thomas, Jesus honors his doubts, his questions, his need for better understanding. And, I am astounded that the risen Christ continues to honor these questions, these doubts, by appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus may very well be frustrated by a lack of understanding in his disciples; however, that does not keep him from providing for their needs. "In this broken bread, you are reminded of me." And, in that encounter, the grace bestowed on the first disciples to believe that he was alive is bestowed upon those who are "slow of heart" all the same.

In the Acts reading we see Peter preaching to folks, calling them out for not following Jesus at all, for, in fact, c0ntributing to his death. Instead of writing them off as lost, Peter shares with them the good news and gives them the opportunity to become followers of Christ as well. Slow of heart, they may be, but they receive the very same grace of Jesus anyway.

The patience of God may be what astounds me the most. I often feel slow of heart. I, like Paul, do those things I know I shouldn't and refuse to do what I know I should. And, yet, God continues to bestow upon me the same grace that was provided to Mary right outside the tomb. Slow heart, same grace. Thanks be to God!

This Week's Lectionary Texts

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

2:14a: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
2:36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?"
2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
2:39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."
2:40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
2:41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
116:4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, save my life!"
116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?
116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,
116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.
116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

1 Peter 1:17-23
1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
1:18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,
1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
1:20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
1:21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Luke 24:13-35
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,
24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
24:17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.
24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
24:19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,
24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.
24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."
24:25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.
24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
24:32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"
24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
24:34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"
24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This Week's Art
Some artwork that resonates for me with the texts this week.
Clicking on the artists will take you to their websites.

© 2011 Kathleen Tennant

Misty Stream
© Sharon France

© Kristi Corbin