Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reformation Restoration: Ordinary 30, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 or Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) or Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52
Restoration 5 by Mike Basinger

The Week's Reflection:
In Job's text this week, Job responds to God's smack-down. Remember last week's text? "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Job is reminded of who is ultimately driving the car. In the passage for this Sunday, we are told that Job's fortunes are restored and that he went on to live a happy, healthy, and wealthy life. The restoration that seems more important, though, is that Job was brought to a place of saying, "Yep, that's right, God. I forgot for a minute, but I'm back on track now. I know that there is nothing that you can't do."

Golden Blind Man by Darren Levant
The Jeremiah text points us toward restoration as well with promises from God about gathering the Israelites together and restoring them to a home where water will flow and the paths will be straight. And, of course, the Psalms go hand in hand with their lectionary counterparts with praises sung to God for caring for God's children and songs of praise about Zion's restoration.

In Hebrews we are pointed toward a restored Christ, a high priest that will have no need of a replacement. And, Mark leads us to the story of Blind Bartamaeus who is literally restored from blindness to sight. Of course, we know that there was much more to this restoration than meets the eye (pun intended). Bartamaeus was told to shut up, to leave Jesus alone. They tried to push him to the sidelines, keep him an outcast on the margins. But, he didn't believe them. He had the audacity to believe something that no one was telling him. He had the audacity to believe that Jesus would listen to him too. He had the audacity to believe that Jesus could restore him. And though everyone around him tried to keep him quiet and along those margins, he called out. Not only did he call out, but Jesus stopped and called to him too. Bartamaeus threw off his cloak - rid himself of all that was old, all that was keeping him in the gutter - and ran to Jesus. Jesus restored his sight. But, Jesus also restored his life, his meaning in society, his value as a member of the community.

Still from Luther a movie directed by Eric Till
Bartamaeus, though the one who was physically blind, was able to see that things must change. Those following Jesus couldn't see it and tried to keep the status quo by telling him to be quiet. But, this blind beggar could see better that a reformation needed to happen in order to have restoration in his life. I haven't listed the texts for Reformation Sunday, but that is upon us once again. Certainly, Martin Luther had visions of restoration as he nailed those 95 theses to the door. Certainly, he saw a community in pain and a Church who was blind and he sought the power of Christ to restore her. Today it may be important to look at ways we need to continue to restore the Church Universal, to seek unity where there is none, so that we will truly be the One Body of Christ on earth. In other words, did we protestants protest too much? Can we restore the Church to unity?

Where do our congregations need to be reformed? Where do we need to be restored. May we call out to Jesus from wherever we find ourselves along the journey. What a glorious moment it will be when he stops and calls to us too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Backseat Drivers: Ordinary 29, Year B

Backseat Driver by Bob Dornburg
This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 38:1-7, (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 104:1-9, 24-35c or Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

This Week's Reflection:
Okay, I'm about to use the word awesome, but I don't want to do so until you understand that I'm not using it in the way that every Christian rock star used it in the early nineties. God is an awesome God. Yep, I said it. God is an awesome God in every sense that the word awe means "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like."

Backseat Driver by John Magnus
This week's lectionary texts practically call out from the page, "God is an awesome God!" The Job passage is that amazing moment when God has had enough of Job's questions and complaints. I imagine myself with my children in a similar situation, let's say, driving down the street. And, these two beautiful angels speak up from the backseat, "This isn't the right way, is it?" or "Are you driving over the speed limit?" or "Why did you go through that yellow light?" A ten and seven year old who just now learned to ride their bikes suddenly become experts on driving! And, I have very mixed emotions about how to respond because on the one hand, I am incredibly frustrated and just want them to leave me alone and let me drive. But on the other hand, I also want them to understand that I am older, wiser, and know more than they do. I want them to understand that they can rest and relax and know that their mother will get them where they need to be as safely as possible. I want them to trust me.

So, Job has been asking all these questions. Everyone around him has told him he may as well just give up on God. Elihu, his friend, has been prattling along for a while and then "out of the storm, the Lord speaks." And, what does God say? Regardless of whether God is addressing Elihu or Job himself, the message is clear. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" In other words, sit back, relax, shut up, and know that you can trust me!

In God We Trust by Kevin Dooley
The Isaiah passage says the same thing with different words. Foreshadowing the torment and killing of the Christ, the prophet encourages us to trust that God is wiser, stronger, and has been driving a lot longer than we have in this world. Even the Christ in the midst of so much suffering will not "open his mouth."

Psalm 104 fits nicely (like a group of people planned it or something) with the Job text as it reminds us that God "stretched out the heavens" driving home that God is awesome and we can only begin to understand a tiny bit of how awesome God really is. And, Psalm 91 echoes the images of the Christ suffering but ultimately knowing that "angels will bear you."

The Hebrews passage points us back to the Christ, Jesus as our High Priest, but a High Priest that does not seek to be God's equal. Once again, the Holy Narrative is reminding us - through the actions of Jesus - that God is the one driving this car and we should trust that we will get where we are supposed to be going. If Jesus didn't seek to be God's equal, how could we ever even think to give God driving advice from the backseat?

Angelic by K. Williams
And that, of course, brings us down to the gospel lesson in which James and John act like two spoiled kids in the back of the car. I can't help but wonder if they had to work up to this. The text makes it seem that they just jump right in with the question. And, this is immediately following Jesus trying to be as clear as possible about his coming death, not to mention all the stories leading up to this one where he seems to be practically beating them over the head to change the preconceived ideas they had of what the Messiah is. "Hey, hey Jesus, dude, we got a question for ya. Yeah, yeah, we know we are tight with ya, see, and we don't ever want to be too far from you. So, could we ride shot-gun for all of eternity, man?"

Backseat Driver by Seth Stoll
You know the rest. I get tired on behalf of Jesus just reading about this idiocy. I know they didn't know any better. I know they were only living out of their own cultural and theological contexts, but man, if that had been me they were asking, it would have been a whole, "I WILL PULL THIS VAN OVER RIGHT HERE!" moments.

God is an awesome God. So awesome, in fact, that God simply reminds us of who is driving, of who has been driving longer than we have been alive, and of who loves us so much that we will get where we are going and we'll get there on time. God is so awesome that God makes us sit in our booster seats with our seat belts fastened even though we think we could do a pretty decent job of driving ourselves.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Be Bold!: Ordinary 28, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 22:1-15 or Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

This Week's Reflection:

When I began to reflect on the lessons for this week, the word that came to mind is "Boldness." It can be found right there in the midst of the Hebrews text - telling us to "approach the throne of grace with boldness." This led me to see boldness in the other texts as well.

Job was certainly bold. I'm always fascinated by the general population's understanding of Job. Where did "the patience of Job" come from anyway? He definitely endured much and remained faithful as he did; however, he wasn't patient and he certainly didn't live into that faithfulness without questions. In this week's text, his anger is clear. He longs for the darkness rather than to continue to live through the nightmare that his life has become. He was bold enough to claim this, to own his feelings, and to ask God the really tough questions.

Mazatlan Cliff Diver by Lisa Andres
The Psalmist does so as well. "How long, O Lord?" and "Why have you forsaken me?" Bold questions from the created to the Creator. Where does that boldness come from? Is there something about our despair that creates in us a bolder faith?

But being bold doesn't necessarily mean we have the faith that God desires for us. The man in the Mark text was quite bold in his willingness to approach Jesus and ask what was required of him in order to have the eternal life he was hearing so much about. He was even bold enough to claim to have been a perfect follower of the commandments. But, when Jesus speaks those words of giving up his possessions, he seems to be unwilling to do so. He walks away sadder than when he came. This, in itself, is bold in my opinion. Without hemming or hawing, he simply walks away from the life that Jesus is promising him. He doesn't try to explain what a good person he is. He doesn't remind Jesus that "some of my best friends are poor," he simply and boldly turns and leaves.

Be Bold Decal
So it would seem that we can have a type of boldness that brings us to the very throne of grace or we can have a type of boldness that leads us away from the Christ. And it seems that Jesus is saying neither of these paths will be very easy. As Peter boldly proclaims, "We have done it, Jesus! We have left everything and followed you. When will we see the benefits?," Jesus reminds him that receiving eternal life is absolutely and completely impossible - when we try to manage it on our own. However, if we will boldly approach God and allow God to manage things for us, Jesus says, "Nothing is impossible for God."

That is a pretty bold statement in and of itself. Thank God for a bold Jesus!