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Monday, May 21, 2012

Pentecost Year B

This Week’s Lectionary Texts

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.

The Spirit Dwelling on the Inside by Gina Hyatt
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!” 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!

Watch this incredible video from WorkingPreacher.org.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just Out of Reach: Ascension, Year B

Reaching Out by Naunasse
This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53



This Week's Reflection:
I've come to realize that the whole idea of celebrating the Ascension of the Christ has left me wanting. I haven't truly understood why there had to be such a moment for the followers of Jesus or, if he needed to ascend, why he walked around on earth for a while first. Part of me would like to cry out to God, "Couldn't he just stay here to help us?" Yes, yes, I know that we have the Helper for that and I couldn't be more thankful for the Holy Spirit and I truly feel Spirit's presence with me every day. In addition, though, I'm a physical being and would like to have a physical Christ to rely upon in the here and now.

The Ascension by Jesus Mafa
The lectionary texts for the Ascension won't really help answer any of these desires of mine. They simply remind us that Jesus lived, Jesus chose to die on our behalf, Jesus lived again, and then Jesus flew off into the sunset - or something like that anyway.

A friend of mine recently told me a bit about some very serious struggles her 10 year old daughter is going through. I feel deeply connected to this young girl. I baptized her when she was just months old and I promised to teach her the faith. She is suffering a great deal due to bullying and this suffering has led her to ask very difficult questions about God. For instance, she said to her mother, "Jesus should really come back to earth because whatever he did the first time clearly wasn't enough." In her pain, confusion, and anger, she speaks words that most of us have felt at one time or another. Where is God when we most need God?

So, this whole ascension thing has been confusing for me. I could really use a physical Christ with me now, guiding me, showing the world how to be good. That leads me to hearing Spirit remind me why we celebrate Ascension in the Church.

Reach by Garry Knight
I don't know why it all works the way it does, but I've come to believe that what these verses point us toward is a faith that is active, present, and physical in the here and now. Jesus ascended, but not without leaving us instructions to follow, commands to carry out, and help for the journey. We throw around those phrases all the time - "We are Christ's hands and feet" or "We are the body of Christ" - but have these phrases become hollow words to us so that a 10 year old is unable to see the physical presence of the Christ in the faith community around her?

I hate to go from such an important and heavy matter as bullying alongside the Ascension of Jesus to a mostly trivial matter, but such is how my mind works! I'm horrible about equipping my children to clean their own rooms. I mean horrible! Each of them can barely walk from their doors to their beds right now and each has been warned to clean the room before birthday parties happening this weekend or they will not get to go. But, we have been through this before. We will get down to the last second and there will be tears and shouts of how difficult it is to do on their own. There will be begging for help and in the moment it will make perfect sense to me to offer them the help that they feel they so desperately need. And, once again, they will not have learned that picking up one thing at a time eventually leads to a neat living space.

Jesus Ascending
The good news of the Ascension is that we aren't left all alone to clean up the messes of the world. We do have help. But, I've come to believe that the essential message of an ascending Christ is that we have to take those metaphors seriously and do the work of the Christ on this earth, to be Christ for the 10 year olds who are bullied and for the 50 year olds who are living on the streets. I don't know why Christ had to ascend. God's ways are mysterious to me, but I know that he left clear instructions to do his work once he had. I think that is why we have to remember at least once a year that this moment occurred in the life of Jesus and his followers - so that we will remember that we are called to be the answer to everyone asking, "Where is God when we most need God?"
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just Love: Year B, Easter 5

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8


This Week's Reflection:
One of the first things I read this morning was a quote in an email from my sister. A pastor herself, she sends disciple-building quotes every day along with a list of prayer concerns. Today's was from Anthony Robinson from http://www.inwardoutward.org.
"We have imagined that Christianity itself is a religion of virtue. But no, Desmond Tutu reminded us, 'Christianity is not a religion of virtue; it is a religion of grace.' And there's a difference. A religion of virtue says, 'If you are good, then God will love you.' A religion of grace says, 'God loves you.' God loves you despite your foibles and failures, not because you're so good but as a sinner in need of mercy. God loves you; live then as one who is beloved, who has been forgiven."
I have found myself asking over the weeks since Easter what in the world the creators of the lectionary were thinking. I mean we had forty L O N G days of Lent gearing up for the big day to celebrate Resurrection and then almost immediately after Easter, we are back to reading images of the lamb being brought to slaughter. I guess it is true that there aren't many resurrection appearance stories to choose from, so what are you gonna do?

So I read that quote this morning and then I read the lectionary texts with all the craziness of Philip telling the story only to be transported, it would seem, in a manner not unlike being beamed up by Scotty and the gospel throwing a whole new metaphor at us with Jesus providing a Gardening for Dummies lesson. It is that 1 John text that is resonating with me most right now.

Why do we have to continue to go back to an image of Jesus as the lamb laying down his life even as we sing the Hallelujahs on Sunday? Because it is such a powerful image of love. And, God is love. We find ourselves returning to these images again and again because through them we are reminded that our virtue gets us nowhere, but the grace of Jesus Christ frees us for living the resurrected life.