Monday, March 26, 2012

Street Theater: Palm Sunday, Year B

Palm Sunday Procession
This Week's Lectionary Texts
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

This Week's Reflection

I once preached a sermon for Palm Sunday where I used the analogy of street theater to describe what happened as Jesus entered Jerusalem. It makes perfect sense to me with all the shouting and waving of palms. I wondered before stepping into the pulpit if some would view this as sacrilege. While I have a high view of actors, traditionally in the Church they have been lumped in with liars and thieves.

Fringe Festival Street Performer
I was fortunate enough to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as I stage managed a show appearing in that festival one year. For an entire month each year, the city of Edinburgh is home to actors, directors, and performers from all across the world. For the most part, the locals leave town and give it over to the likes of men painted blue and fire wielding witches on stilts. Every space that is large enough for a few chairs becomes a theater. There are hundreds of shows each week and each company wants to be seen by the thousands of people attending the festival. For that to happen, they have to get some attention. In order to get attention, on every corner of the city at any given moment in the day, a tourist can witness all kinds of street theater, little glimpses of what the companies have to offer. They don't perform the entire show, of course. The whole purpose of the street theater is to grab the attention of potential audience members, to get them to come see the real show.

Clandonia 17
Jesus and his band of actors paraded into Jerusalem as the crowds were gathering for the Passover. And, he performed this amazing bit of theater. There was comedy as he rode in on a donkey instead of a stallion, there was suspense as the people cried out, "Save us!," and there was drama when leaders tried to shut down the performance. But, the whole purpose of this performance was to grab their attention and to invite them to come to the real show.

Fringe Festival Street Performer

If your congregation does not hold services during Holy Week, be sure to find ways to allow them to see the real show. There are three acts and you don't want them to miss any of it. Palm Sunday is just the preview. Maundy Thursday is Act I. Good Friday is Act II. And, Easter Sunday is the final Act. And, like any great play, skipping to the end just won't allow us to appreciate the entire story in the same way.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Riddler:Lent 5, Year B

Riddle by Graham
This Week's Lectionary Texts
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

This Week's Reflection
I get frustrated with the Twelve sometimes because they seem like such idiots. I mean from my perspective Jesus tells them over and over again who he is and what must happen and they continue to remain clueless. But, when I read verses like the one in the gospel lesson for this week that says, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life," I think it may be a miracle that anyone ever understood Jesus at all! He is like The Riddler from the old Batman series, speaking in a sort of code language that is hard to decipher.

The Prophet Jeremiah. 1508-1512. Fresco. Sistine Chapel, Vatican
Having over 2000 years of interpretation added on top of the words of the Christ makes us think we understand. I think for most of us, we sit in church (or stand preaching in the pulpit) and think we grasp pretty well what the words mean. But, if we were to tell the truth, we may grasp pretty well what some commentator had to say about the words, but the words themselves would be pretty shocking and confusing to us if we only took them for what they are.

I can't help but wonder if Jeremiah wept a lot because of what God had him preaching in the streets. How would we respond to some guy claiming to be a prophet telling us that all hell is about to break loose and it is all our fault? I'd want to throw him into a well too! But, in this pericope, God is sharing the hope we find in the new covenant. Sins will be remembered no longer, the law is not only available to everyone, but actually written on our hearts, and all will have the opportunity to know God up close and in person. Of course, the prophet doesn't get to say it quite that clearly.
The Riddler

So, to participate in this new covenant, we can't rely on ourselves, we can't depend on the worldly ways of life to carry us through. We must listen to the Rabbi's riddle and give up our life so that we can have life abundantly. We are being prepared during this season of Lent to accept the truth of life as a disciple of Jesus the Christ - we are ignorant and we desperately need a Savior. We are being prepared to fully accept our part of the covenant and follow the Resurrected Lord into eternal life turning our backs on all the sins of this world that keep us separated from God. We are being prepared to follow our high priest who learned obedience through what he suffered.

That is just not something that I can fully understand. My comprehension skills are not that good. The good news for us and for our congregations is that it doesn't matter if we understand it or not. Jesus was obedient to God and because of that, we are awarded eternal life. Riddle me this - what could be better than that?
Monday, March 12, 2012

Saved by Art: Lent 4, Year B

by David and Anita Saunders
This Week's Lectionary Texts
This Week's Reflection
A while back I read the gospel lesson for this week which made me look back at the reference it made to Moses and the serpent. I've been extremely fascinated by this story ever since. There are a couple of specific reasons why. I'm not even going to try to touch the whole issue of God sending serpents to kill the Israelites. I can't make sense of that part of the scripture. I mean I can think of ways to interpret it that make me feel better, but truly making sense of it is beyond my capabilities. 

However, here is what stands out. When the people ask for help. They are given help. In fact, when they ask for help - "Please Moses, get God to do something about our loved ones dying of snake bites!" - Moses is told to create a sculpture of a serpent. 

Creative Common License
If you are a regular reader of this blog, I hope by now you realize that I believe art is a gift from God. I believe to be created in the image of God is, in fact, to be made to be creative people. So, God speaks through art in ways that is not likely in other ways. This is true for all sorts of artwork - music, visual arts, theatre, poetry, etc.

So, back to this snake on a stick - God tells Moses to sculpt a piece of art which is the image of the serpent. Those who have been bitten are to look at it, to view the piece of art, and they will be saved. In other words, art saves lives.

26 Lifted Up by Jo Ann Deasy
There is one other thing that is most fascinating to me about this passage. The work of art which is created in order to save lives is created in the very image of the thing that the people feared the most. This is incredible to me. The snakes are biting the folks, they are terrified, people are dying, and the thing that is going to save them is to face that very thing in the form of a sculpture. 

How often do we use works of art to face our fears? In what way is the Christ at work here? What kinds of art can we introduce to congregations in order to help them see Christ's light more clearly?

Art is a healing tool that God has used from the beginning. May we be in touch with our God-given creative abilities in order to speak a healing word to God's children today.