Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lent is for Turning: Straightaway

I've always wondered about the effect or amount of time that passed during Jesus' ministry.  There is no definitive statement in the gospels.  Biblical scholars have to "read between the lines" to estimate.  The synoptic gospels mention only one Passover observance.  

Still, it's safe to say that what we have recorded would have needed more than a year to occur.  With a nod toward John's symbolism many believe that three years or so of activity and travel -- mostly on foot -- filled the time between his baptism and the cross.  

The effect is what matters to me more than any precise chronology.  It comes to bear in the way that Mark writes his gospel.  You can see it in his use of the term, euyuv/euthys, a word the NRSV translates most often as "immediately." Older translations use "straightaway." 

The first time it shows up is at the end of chapter 1, verse 3:  "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

In most cases I have understood that use, "making a path straight" to mean being efficient or easy to use.  To make it so people can move without impediment or strain.  Like an interstate highway instead of a winding mountain trail.  

But we are not the ones for whom the way is meant.  It's the "way of the Lord."  The paths are his.  

No wonder Mark makes it feel like Jesus is in an urgent, almost rush from moment to moment.  He is.  He is because we need him to be.  His focus is not frantic but more like a laser.  Deliberate, intentional, committed.

The effect of Jesus' ministry doesn't need John's symbolic three years to make its point.  From his baptism to the cross Mark shows Jesus' focus to be relentless and consistent, that is . . . straightaway.  

We say "Lent is for turning," because we keep straying off the path, leaning away from his gaze, and hiding from the light.  

TBTG! His way is towards us.  His focus is towards us. 

And so on the Second Sunday in Lent we could pray, "O Lord, be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them straight back. Amen." (BCP, p. 218)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lent is for Turning

The Hebrew word we translate to “repent” comes from the root word bwv/shuv which means to turn. To repent is change direction back toward God.  We are going to use this season of Lent to redirect our efforts back toward God, to focus on his presence and not our prominence, to trust his power and less so our privilege, to respect each person instead of a position.

So we have chosen a name for our practice during these 40 days: Lent is for Turning. With packets and brackets and pamphlets and booklets and lots of prayers we will do some of that turning by reading about who has walked the path before us and how that path can turn us into witnesses to the whole world and especially how our Savior walks along with us.     

You should consider joining our Wednesday night study: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John.  You can register and purchase your workbook online at http://meetingjesusinjohn.org/.  The season will be enriched again by our sharing in reading Stations of the Cross on Fridays at noon. 

            Another part of our turning will be right here on Sunday morning.  Both 8 and 10:30 services will include our praying mostly penitential prayers before we do anything else.  We'll use a different entrance rite each week.

Lent 1 -- The Great Litany (chanted)
Lent 2 -- The Supplications, Exhortation with confession
Lent 3 -- Penitential Order with Decalogue
Lent 4 -- Suffrages B, Exhortation with confession
Lent 5 -- The Great Litany from Enriching Our Worship.

Perhaps the most noticeable “turn” will be our changing to a smaller simpler bulletin. It can be used for both 8:00 and 10:30 service and will require all those leading worship beginning with the celebrant, to offer more verbal directions, to help especially those who are less familiar than others with the Book of Common Prayer.  Your own turning will include doing so to help those who are learning to which page to turn for themselves.

Let’s give each other the love and support to do this hard work of turning around toward God, maybe in a new way, maybe in a way long forgotten.  We have much to do that can’t be just more of what we’ve done.  We need to turn, return to God.  Lent is for Turning

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Global Manifestation #5: Savior of the World

I'm remembering the citation from John's gospel in last week's installment.  The one where Jesus claims those sheep that are not in the fold of his audience.  The audience looks to be the Pharisees who are pushing back against the authority he exhibits mostly through healing some whom they wouldn't deem worthy for such.  In this case it is the man born blind.

I'm thinking the disciples were likely within earshot if not also part of the group to whom he is speaking.  so much of the context indicates the difference between physical blindness and spiritual blindness.  I can't help but imagine their looking at each other when he pronounces, "I'll bring them in also" and wondering in the own way about whom he is talking.

It's safe to say there was some confusion but being "a good Jew" was still important for some of the twelve.  Some more than others.  More than one of them believed Jesus to be the one promised to come and save Israel from its latest accumulative crisis of colonialism and unrighteousness.  It's not until Jesus is raised that some of the twelve finally start to understand the teachings about the Messiah as having been misinterpreted.

So for at least two sets of listeners the questions persist, who are these other sheep and how is he going to do this claiming.

The question persists today, still.

At least the questions about who is right and who is wrong; who is in and who is out.  Some have asked the question this way: Is there salvation outside the Church?  Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is the historic teaching first articulated by Cyprian of Carthage late in the 3rd century.  His phrasing was a little different: "Salus extra ecclesiam non est."  

TBTG there has long been a recognition that what matters more is who is doing the saving.  In other words, those of us who count ourselves "in" or "saved" had better be careful not to think we have accomplished that reality/status without Jesus first having a claim over us.

No coercion here just Jesus' claim resulting in our submitting in humility and gratitude.  

So let's not be blinded by our fear or our pride and instead like the man born that way, accept the gift of sight, which is the gift of really understanding whose we are.

The Transfiguration of this Sunday's lesson is full of things to see.  But more than anything we are being invited to see Jesus as God's beloved Son, as the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life, Our Savior, and because of who he is we get to be his sheep.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Global Manifestation #4: One apostle at a time.

And I'm thinking about that guy throwing starfish back into the ocean.  Here's the short version: guy on the beach tossing starfish back into the water.  Friend asks, "why are you doing that?"  Guy says, "helping them stay alive." Friend says "there's too many for you to throw them all back."  Guy says as he tosses another into the water, "helped that one."

Pretty soon we'll enjoy the presence of Assisting Bishop Don Wimberly.  On the Second Sunday in Lent February 18, he will visit us to lead worship and to confirm, receive, reaffirm our candidates for such.

In our polity, Bishops “R” us  They are present when we bring in new and returning adult baptized persons because that entrance is not just to the parish of Advent-Madison but to the whole denomination and to the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" and for the sake of the whole world.

We still account for "members" without a bishop's "laying on of hands."  That's because at the parish level "baptised members" matter.  We still account using attendance for prayer and communion as well because at both parish and church-wide levels "communicants" matter, too!  We invite everyone to pledge and you know why that matters.

Confirmation/Reception/Reaffirmation matter in a way reflective of a "bishop centered context."  When visiting, a bishop lays hands on and prays for each candidate and the prayer always mentions the role of the Holy Spirit and each member's new relationship to the Church.  Each candidate is addressed one at a time.  This gesturing is an extension of the act that makes each bishop another minister in "apostolic succession."  A chain of "hands on heads" all the way back to Peter.

Our polity is "episcopal" -- Bishops “R” Us -- because the rest of christendom AND the whole world matter, too.  When a bishop confirms or receives or reaffirms it is because of how God is manifesting God's self -- Christ Jesus -- into the world; one candidate at a time so that in return we each can pledge to join that larger apostolic movement of the Church into the world. I once heard a story about a bishop in Africa stopping for tea because there were so many candidates.  Another story recalls deacons holding up the arms of the bishop because he was so fatigued.  Whether hundreds or just one or two, each person is welcomed and empowered.

If you're still reading please take a minute to consider how you are accounted.  Maybe it's time for you to be presented to the Bishop.  It's not too late.  Certainly you can throw starfish back without being listed under ANY title in the official parish register.  Even Jesus said "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16) 

But we're not just lost sheep or starfish.  Our polity and accounting mean something about how we intend to turn to the world.   Once we are "in," once the bishop's hand are no longer blessing our heads it is our turn to see to it that ours is still a "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Global Manifestation #3: Thoughts and Actions

Remember this bumper sticker? I recall that when I first saw one it made immediate sense.  (H/T E. F. Schumacher.) It did especially as an expression of ecological concern.  This was way before "global warming" or "climate change" became topics.  This was back when we were just learning to reduce our use of styrofoam and "plastic" was clearly on it's slide into a dirty word.

The sentiment is a good one because of how it encourages efforts that would otherwise be stalled by their enormity.  The news about pollution, endangered species, and other dark ecological forecasts is too big for anyone of us to stop.  So we've learned to credit even the smallest actions to reduce damage to the globe.

The most recent is the new campaign to refuse disposable straws in restaurants.  For those of us with moustaches this effort has to be balanced with a likely increase in napkin use.

This global/local concept matters here because of who Jesus was and is as the incarnation of God.  Back when people came to realize that God was up to something big . . . again AND up to something unique, one of the earliest understandings was that the whole world was "implicated."  January 6 has it's place in the Christian calendar to say exactly that.

Stargazers -- think global watchers -- came to Bethlehem to visit and recognize the one of a kind -- think local phenom -- God incarnate.  For Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior the trip was to confirm that a paradigm had shifted.  Why else did that star appear so unusually?  That they were able to recognize HIM meant that their departure wouldn't be by any familiar path.  They were already bound to "another way" home without Herod's idiosyncratic threats.

But sometimes we are the idiosyncrats, afraid like Herod and consumed or at least distracted with local troubles which too easily prevent our global thinking and our participation in God's local actions. 

In Christ, God was thinking globally and acting locally because the world was already "polluted" enough.  God is still acting locally and can through each one of us.  There are still global implications to which we respond, "thanks be to God!"

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Global Manifestation #2: Ordinary Means Patterned

Last week I wrote about how we are called to make room in our resting just as God made room for us in his "sabbathing."  Creation -- our lives -- will not be accomplished best by our driving towards greatness 24/7 like an Egyptian Pharoah.  More than any other time before now, the whole world cries for us to make sabbath not progress so the rest of creation can take its turn in unfolding, becoming.

In the ordering of creation God establishes a pattern that leads to Sabbath.  This is the implication of "ordinary time" after our Epiphany feast: our becoming or manifesting God's presence as we hear the stories of our Lord moving from cradle to mountain top transfiguration is built on that pattern.

Most of what we will read in these days-growing-out-of-darkness are stories of becoming disciples, becoming known, becoming confident, and ultimately becoming focused on the end that needs it's own season to move in its own approach and final confrontation without any trust in a God who rests.  Look ahead to the rapacious collusion of temple and Roman authorities and you'll not see much sabbath.

For Jesus the pattern of becoming includes progressive doses of exemplary obedience, trust, and courage.  How else does one move from infancy to sonship in solidarity with God's covenant to sonship as covenant renewed on a cross to sharing in God's authority from heaven?

In the Jordan God's voice affirms Christ's calling, "you are my Son."  Jesus follows that calling.  Following requires trust.  Not necessarily a trust that the one who leads knows the way but more like trust that the one who leads will never betray his love of us.  That's how obedience works.

After obedience gets us into the habit then trust becomes reciprocal.  God counts on us to act out of the freedom in more and more expansive ways.  And after trust courage helps in those moments when we have grown into being agents and not just children.  Like we say in our prayers, "to do work you have given us to do."

Were we without failing the whole world would be "on board."  Because we will fail we should try doubly to follow God's lead and get out of the way.  That's what Sabbath is for.  Sometimes it takes courage to let go, lay down, apologize and let creation takes it's turn.

The pattern of Christ's manifestation is meant for the whole world not just us Gentiles. It yearns to be ordinary. We may just need to let it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Global Manifestation

Three years ago when I was writing about the need for and the effect of sabbath especially as we distinguish it from Sunday I said this:
Before you think I'm screaming conspiracy theories or fashioning tin foil hats know this:  I believe it was and is meant for the whole planet when God commands those words that help to form a nation: "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy."  I believe that was and is for the whole planet that on the seventh day God rested -- read slept -- and as a creator was silent. 
There is a holiness intended by God in our Sundays, our sabbaths, our silence, and our sleep.  It is a holiness meant for the whole world.
My focus is on the phrase "meant for the whole world."  I'm pretty sure that what we do as a worshipping community, in a county seat town in "Georgia's Lake Country" has greater implications.  But somehow when we seem too easily to slip into busying ourselves with accounting and carrying around bits and pieces of offence and disappointment our world shrinks.

Whenever we get too insular, too self-pitying, too dependent on "the way things always have been" more than anything we are preventing that expansive, creative, spirit-freeing turn God expects us to take.

Whenever we constrict our hearts, the ego-impulse to defend and enlarge our impact has to overcompensate and drives us to pile on the bits and pieces to build what is really a substitute for faith and trust and grace.

Remember Pharoah's "high control needs" and his ordering the Israelites to work 7 days a week making bricks thus preventing their sabbath observance?  They wouldn't stand for it and with God's help made their way first to sabbath in a wilderness until they came home to the land God had promised.  

Sadly on the way even they succumbed to the beast of control and melted their "bits and pieces" of gold -- much of which was handed to them by the Egyptians -- into a idol, a false god of self glorification.

If we remember that our creator God slept -- gave up control -- and in so doing made way for the world he had made to become something more in freedom and trust and rest, then even we might better live together in this historic middle Georgia refuge and not just for ourselves.  

We each have our part but each of us has just a part.  It will not do for us just to pile up the bits and pieces, or endlessly to pull our boot straps, there's no sabbath there.