Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freedom: Proper 9, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 or Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 45: 10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

This Week's Reflection

This Sunday is the day before the 4th of July, the celebration of Independence for we Americans. As a preacher, I never know how to connect our worship of God to our patriotism as citizens of the U.S.A.

One of my all-time favorite bands is Five Iron Frenzy and they have an incredible song of worship called "Every New Day." The song has absolutely nothing to do with the 4th of July; however, there is this one line that always comes to my mind when commentators start reflecting on freedom at this time of year.
"Freedom is love without condition, without a beginning or an end."
I don't have words to explain why I think of this every 4th of July, but I know that the freedom I feel in God's love is more spectacular than any fireworks display I've ever seen.

That freedom somehow means that Paul could have moments when his pride fell away and he had to admit that sin often got the better of him regardless of how much he hated it and didn't want to fall into those same traps again and again. As upsetting as this state of being seems to be for Paul, the fact of the matter is that God loves us so much that we have freedom - freedom to completely screw up over and over again and God still loves us without condition. And, as Paul reminds us, our love for God may not lead to perfection, but it certainly leads to some heartache for the ways in which we let God down.

Isn't it completely awesome that even though we find ourselves doing this again and again that God makes every single day brand new again? What could be a greater freedom than that?

This Week's Artwork
in order of appearance in the reflection
Eusthenopteron by Kaori Watanabe
Ukulele Lesson by Paige Wallis

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cup of Sacrifice: Proper 8, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 22:1-14 or Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 13 or Psalm 89:1-4
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

This Week's Reflection

I sometimes imagine the passages for the week to be in conversation with one another. In the same way that I seek out a theme to tie the lectionary texts together, this can be difficult at times. I'm not suggesting it to be an academic endeavor either. It is just that when I read the four (or more) texts listed in the lectionary, I wonder what they can be saying to one another in addition to the reader. This is a difficult week for many reasons, not the least of which is the Genesis story of Abraham dragging his son up a mountain and almost using him as a human sacrifice.

What does a text that has Jesus empowering and uplifting disciples to offer a cup of cold water to God's children as the very representatives of Christ himself have to say to a text that has a father almost killing his own son before a ram is found to be stuck in a thicket? To be completely honest, I'd prefer to just skip the Genesis text this week, pretend it doesn't exist, chalk it up to some mistake made along the way in thousands of years of storytelling and translation. I've never been able to stomach it very well.

Oh, I could write about sacrifices that we must make in our lives, how we must be willing to give up the very thing that means the most to us, in order to give our whole selves to God. I could write about how God will always provide what is needed for us even in a moment that seems to be so completely desperate and painful. We've all heard those sermons many times. Good sermons. Good lessons to learn. It just doesn't deal with the issue of God asking for this sacrifice or that an innocent child almost died because of it. So, can't we just pretend it doesn't exist at all?

The Jeremiah text is a little easier to swallow. It isn't full of any surprises. It isn't even one of the many times that Jeremiah is weeping while prophesying to the people. What he does say, though, is that when a prophet finally comes along and says that peace is coming, then we will only know that this prophet was true when we experience the peace that was promised. In other words, you can't know it was right until you look back and see it from the other side.

Maybe Abraham just thought he heard the voice of God. There is nothing in the text to support my saying this, but it sure would make it easier for me to think that a human got it wrong instead of thinking that a loving God had asked for such a horrifying thing to be done. If you are reading this and hope that I come to some great, clear, uplifting answer for the trouble in this Genesis passage, I'll save you the trouble of reading any further. I don't understand it and that is what I am saying. Often we don't understand. We think we should take path A only to find ourselves a few intersections down the way to learn that it really should have been path B.

If Jesus is in conversation with Abraham from the Matthew text to the Genesis text, all I can see that he may be saying is reminding all of us that we won't always know the way. Sometimes we will even mistake our way for his way. And, even so, he provides what we need, allows us to represent him on this earth to all the parents who feel like they are sacrificing their own children on all kinds of altars.

I prefer to just not think about this story of Abraham and Isaac, but the lectionary does not allow that. So, maybe what we really need to ask in relation to these texts is about the ways in which the Church is representing the Christ to a world that feels desperate, confused, in pain, and willing to sink into violence in search for answers. I think it is time to find our way out of the thicket and offer them a drink of water.

This Week's Art

in order of appearance in the reflection

Sacrifice or Save by Denise Cromie
Tall Drink of Water by TABauknight
Sacrifice by Auras
Refresh Your Spirit by Jeanne Winters

Other Resources

Monday, June 13, 2011

Three in Order: Trinity Sunday, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

This Week's Reflection
Okay, here is what strikes me this week. Isn't it curious that the folks who created the Church calendar and those who created the Lectionary have us celebrate Trinity Sunday immediately following Pentecost Sunday? I find this curious because when I read through Sunday's texts, I am drawn to the fact that order is a subject of interest. We are reminded of the orderly way of God's Creation in both Genesis and Psalm. The 2 Corinthians text actually says, "Put things in order," and the Risen Christ gives the disciples the order for teaching and baptizing folks in the text from Matthew.

What is really fascinating to me is that when I read the Pentecost story, order is the last thing that comes to mind! There was crazy noise, people speaking "out of turn," folks showing up at the door from down the street. I don't imagine it was very orderly at all.

So, if the Holy Spirit has a way of shaking up the order of the day, what are we to make of the lectionary texts alluding to the Trinity keeping things nice and neat? I'm reminded of the controversial book, The Shack, in which the Holy Spirit is described in such a way as to be difficult to even look at, much less keep up with on a walk and God, the Father, is described as a large African-American woman whose down to earth style brings about the sense of comfort and home.

Could the lesson for us about the Trinity on this Sunday be that God has the capacity to be all these things at the same time? Pentecost reminds us that God's power sometimes works in the midst of chaos - heck, sometimes God's power is the very thing that causes the chaos! And, Trinity Sunday reminds us that even in the midst of that chaos, God has some kind of order happening whether we can see it or not.

We can try to think up all kinds of ways to explain the Trinity during our Children's Sermons, but ultimately, what we must admit is that we can't possibly begin to understand it and how it fits in with "tongues of fire" or a crucified carpenter.

Perhaps the early mothers and fathers of our faith chose to create this special observance of a doctrine (most feast days observe events or persons) in order to stop for one day of the year and say, "We just don't know." We don't know how God works. We don't know how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist as three, but one. We don't know what to do when our ordered life gets turned upside down. We just don't know.

Perhaps on this Trinity Sunday, that is the gift we can give to our congregations. The gift of mystery and lack of understanding. The gift of relying on the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds. The gift of a math problem that will never be solved. The gift of belief in a doctrine that can not be explained. So, go. Teach. Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, know that God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit is with you always, even to the end of the age. That is really all we know.

This Week's Artwork

in order of appearance in the reflection
The Trinity by Agastya
Dante’s Heaven by Laura Tucker
one hundred seventeen by Melissa Bridgman
161 by Melissa Bridgman
Trinity by Miranda Mangiapelo
Three Dancers by Esther Garcia Eder
Trinity by Derrick Y
Monday, June 6, 2011

Tongues: Day of Pentecost, Year A

This Week’s Lectionary Texts

Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

This Week’s Reflection

There is something happening this week that has to do with our tongues. As I read through all of the lectionary texts, something jumps out at me. Should I say “shimmers at me”? Most of us know very well the image used for the day of Pentecost found in the Acts text – tongues of flame resting on each person gathered in that place. A quick reading of the other texts will point us toward the use of tongues in other ways as well. In this, I am not talking about the gift of speaking in tongues, of which I know nothing about. I am suggesting that God is trying to tell us something about the ways in which we use our language, our ability to speak, and our physical tongues in this world.

First, a word about the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot, which was the event being observed, the reason those disciples were gathered together in the first place. Whether the disciples were celebrating in ancient ways - giving thanks to God for creation, harvests, and land - or observing a more contemporary version of the feast and thanking God for the law, we know that the observance of the feast was happening and had brought many people together from all over the place.

Is it any wonder that God chose this day of all days to allow those disciples to experience this? As they gathered in thanksgiving to God for all that God has provided and, most especially, for the Law of Moses, God bursts onto the scene in a way that cannot be denied and gives them a renewed sense of their calling to follow Christ and preach the gospel. It is as if God says, “Open your mouths! Folks are listening. Don’t stand here lifting up the law and ignoring the people. Tell the story! Use your tongues!”

In the Numbers passage, Moses' friends got angry because a couple of guys who didn’t go along with the crowd ended up receiving the same gift anyway. “Do something Moses! They shouldn’t be allowed to prophesy like the rest of us.” And, Moses assures them all that God is the one who decides such things, that God has provided this gift, and that if these two men are using their tongues to bring glory to God, why would anyone want to stop them?

The writer of 1 Corinthians reminds us that no one can even begin to proclaim the good news without the gift of the Holy Spirit in the first place. And, last but not least, Jesus himself tells the disciples in John 20, after using his very mouth to breathe upon them, that if they forgive sins, then the sins are forgiven. Our tongues are very powerful things!

One other thought I had about these tongues of flame resting on a head is that, should it literally happen, it would be quite uncomfortable! I have a very funny image of one of our TV evangelist sisters with lots of hairspray experiencing this. I don’t think it would be a comforting moment at all.

So, if receiving the Holy Spirit isn’t always a comfortable experience, then it would seem that the ways in which we use our tongues will not always be comfortable either. There may be times when God calls us to say things to our brothers and sisters that aren’t easy. There may even be times when we really want to say something to them, but God tells us to shut our mouths and keep quiet. This is no new idea, of course, but it is interesting to me to think about Pentecost as a day to remember, not only the gift of the Holy Spirit and tongues of flame dancing on my head, but also the ways in which Holy Spirit guides my own tongue and its use. May it be so, God. May it be so!

For more on these texts, check out the sermon at The Lectionary Lab by Dr. Delmer Chilton.

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

Holy Spirit Fire by Yivviepants

The Spirit of Fire/Palais de Tokyo by Vincent Haverlant

Empryean by Yogendra Sethi

The Spirit Dwelling on the Inside by Gina Hyatt

Pentecost by Harold Sikkema

Tongues of Fire by Becky Soto

Watch this incredible video from WorkingPreacher.org.