Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter Means No Separation

This past Sunday was a wonderful day for us Advent-ers. More than 400 of our friends and neighbors joined in the Palm Sunday Procession as we began our “close approach” to the most sacred of mysteries in God’s love of us and all creation. When God raises Jesus from the dead there is a difference made that lasts throughout eternity. Paul writes
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39, RSV.
“In all creation” is not just a spatial designation. Because the list includes "nor things present, nor things to come" Paul is talking about the reach of salvation extending throughout all TIME, too. The past is within the reach of God’s saving, Jesus-born embrace. The future as well. It’s ALL connected. NONE is separated.

So we as the human players in this drama, bound by time and space have to play our parts differently than that one who is eternal. Annually we repeat the steps, tell the story, join the narrative that is the ending of separation.

The Palm Sunday Procession is the best way I can imagine for us to start demonstrating the understanding that the story which is soon to unfold again for us is unfolding for “all creation.” All Presbyterians, all Baptists, all Methodists, etc, etc.

Granted, we are drawn into the story individually as well as corporately. Lent and Holy Week offer ample opportunity to confess our sins and admit our complicity with the darkness, “the powers and principalities.” We cannot say each other’s confessions but can at least kneel beside each other in those moments to act out the “un-separatedness” of God.

Like my hero Carlyle Marney said, “The name for who we are in relationship to God is not Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptist, etc, etc. The name, the noun for who we are in relationship to God is “human” and the pronoun is us!”

In the same ways that we confess individually but together and in so doing act out the particularity AND omnipresence of God we can join all creation specifically AND generally, denominationally AND universally, personally AND corporately.

There is no substitute for worship during Holy Week. Not because we are bean counters or worried about our numbers or are the only ones doing it the way we do it but because we are compelled to repeat and repeat and repeat the drama as a way to remember how to live in a world that has more divisions than unions, that prefers darkness to light, that confuses power for freedom.

In the days toward our Easter celebrations and then beyond let’s live with our friends and neighbors as if they too are not separated from the God whose love we crave. Let’s not confuse our differences with some sort of disqualification, or our denominations with the greater joining of us all within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace. The pronoun is “us.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Palm Sunday Ends on Good Friday

In just a few days we will be joined by most of downtown Madison's Sunday morning crowd as we follow a cross, a piper and a donkey from the Cultural Center down Main St. over to Academy to arrive at our church.  The Procession -- some of our friends call it "the donkey walk" -- is counted on by many to properly stage the varied entrances each of our other denominational kindred will make in their particular Easter celebrations.

Some years the crowd has numbered more than 400. This year we'll return to Advent's churchyard for The Liturgy of the Palms and a recollection of the entry made by Jesus into Jerusalem.  We'll pray together and then send our friends back to their respective houses.  We will turn ourselves toward the next distinctive moment in the drama that is the Sunday of the Passion of our Lord.

A collection of readers will take turns as their parts require and help us to hear the story that moves rather poignantly into the days immediately after Jesus' triumphant "donkey walk."  Mark's gospel relies on a familiar cast of disciple and soldier, priest and governor, bystander and passer-by.  Included in the voices are ours as all those attending worship are expected to repeat the horrible command "Crucify him!"

The crowd is not just a mob remembered from that first century lynching but it is each and everyone of us as we admit our complicity.  We are expected to "play the part" because it's true.  By our lives of "things done and left undone" we are just as much the ones who require a sacrifice.  Our sin cannot be undone by simply observing the drama that unfolded over 2000 years ago.

In every way we can, we must confess and name ourselves as members of the mob who leveraged the collusion between Rome and Jerusalem.  Every time we enjoy a privilege of class or color, every time we scurry under the wings of secular powers, -- heck, the church is not exempt -- every time we act out of selfishness and fear we are joined to that horrific chorus.

But we must go there because Good Friday makes no sense without our confession. And so the narrative continues and we are there mocking Him and finding out too late what we have joined.

You could ask that obvious question, weren't we just outside, singing "Hosanna in the highest"?  Yes, we were.  And that was necessary as well.  The tragedy of His dying is just as much or more caught up in our duplicity, our contradiction, the abject hypocrisy of which we are all guilty.

Palm Sunday ends on GOOD Friday.  And we call it good because we are the broken ones, we are the hypocrites, we are the mob.  And he is good. Good enough to be our king, to lead us triumphantly, to see to the repair of all our broken-ness, the exposure of all our hypocrisy, the undoing of all our sin.

The drama we join and annually enact goes all the way to his breathing his last breath.  Goes all the way to a silence that informs all our prayers uttered with and without words.  Goes all the way to Good Friday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

God’s Real Estate

            I’m still in the Sabbath/Sunday mindset and under that larger heading I want to make a comparison between realty and reality.  That is to say that one of the ways we understand ourselves as a parish or a people gathered is by the spaces we inhabit and within which we practice our Sunday worship, our Sabbath observances, and that silence that is made so special by its being shared. 
            Our lovely worship space -- both its interior and exterior -- give a setting and shape to our use that is unmistakable.  Our processions, our singing, our reading, our prayers and our coming to the altar each take their cues from the walls, the floors, the pews, and how we sit, stand and kneel from within what I have frequently called “a great box for sound.”  Heck, I get to preach in the peripatetic way that I do because it is what the building allows. 
            Even the exterior helps.  Walking to worship along Academy St. is it’s own experience that if not filled with prayer still nearly equal to prayer.  Now that the weather is warming Ginger, Susan and I will probably start sitting out in the churchyard to meditate and share thoughts with each other while the building provides backdrop and focus. 
            So here the reality comes-in that is different from the realty.  Simply, our properties are not enough space for all the ways that we are expected to observe Sabbath or worship on Sundays.  We are joined to our neighbors in Madison’s presentation of itself and it’s history.  Resultantly, we are constrained by standards that protect the character of our block and beyond but clearly we have a vantage point and leverage to move out and create other ways to be inclusive, other “spaces” that are NOT part of our landscape or architecture. 
            Outreach is one of those space makers.  Every time our outreach committee meets we are considering how to grow and reach through the resources this parish shares so that others may find comfort, food, safety, or support in some other place away from our historic properties, outside our hallowed walls and most importantly away from their own pain and struggle.  The best example is to think of the little bit of Sabbath that goes out with every Panda Pack. Not only are those we serve embraced in what our Bishop likes to call a widening circle but those who join the effort to serve also find a place that becomes sanctuary. As my friends in Clarkesville would say “grace-filled.” Outreach extends a reality that is more than equal to the realty of 338 Academy St. Madison, GA 30650. 
            In this reality we are responsible for a long list of extensions and embraces that begin and are nurtured in Sunday worship and Sabbath prayer but simply cannot be allowed to stay there.  On that list with every one of our outreach ministries is every one of our Advent-ures events and participants, every yoga class, piano student, counselee, person in recovery.  Indeed this is true for every ride to the doctor, every foyer, every casual greeting at the supermarket, every Cultural Center event, every Conservancy Ramble, every County Commission meeting. 
            Everywhere “we live and move and have our being” we are part of expanding God’s realty of Sabbath and Sunday.  Everywhere we go we can find places and create spaces for others to become members of Christ’s body.  Everywhere can be a space for what we do on Sunday.  Everywhere can be a place for Sabbath observance.  The reality is that all of it is God’s real estate. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fear Itself

            I wrote last week about the effect of fear.  The fear of the Israelites that triggered a 40 year addition to their wilderness wandering.  I tied fear to how our hope for change is dependent on trusting God and not on our ability to first think outside the box.  Innovation is good but limited because it cannot see the future and can only forecast from one’s current successes in increase or failures in adaptation.  In the end without a hope born of trusting God we are stuck in work that preserves more than it changes.  Some of our best efforts to preserve the church we know and love end up serving those very fears. 
            Part of trusting God is setting aside one’s ego or need for being credited with being wise custodians or insightful planners so that the new thing can emerge to be appreciated and accepted.  Otherwise we’ll just keep perpetuating the systems that have ranked us above others or allowed our banking or fed our self-justifying fears. 
            Maybe if we understood the value of Sabbath-making to our whole world, to everyone around us. rich and poor, back or white, educated or not, then maybe we’d be less prone to be selfish, rigid, and fearful.
            Here’s how my hero Brueggemann says it
“. . .  Ours is a time of scattering in fear. We are so fearful that we want to fence the world in order to keep all the others out:
– Some of the church still wants to fence out women.
– We build fences to keep out immigrants (or Palestinians).
– The church in many places fences out gays.
– The old issue of race is still powerful for fencing.
We have so many requirements that are as old as Moses. But here is only one requirement. It is Sabbath, work stoppage, an ordinance everyone can honor— gay or straight, woman or man, Black or White, “American” or Hispanic— anybody can keep it and be gathered to the meeting of all of God’s people. Sabbath deconstructs the notion of being “qualified” for membership.
Later on, John the Baptist dealt with the professional insiders. They were so proud of being qualified insiders. They bragged about their pedigree, their entitlements, their ancestors, their primacy, children with family trees back to Father Abraham.
And John scolds them and rejects their pedigree: Do not presume to say to yourselves , “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. (Matt. 3: 9)
Brueggemann, Walter (2014-01-31). Sabbath as Resistance: (pp. 55-56). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
            Yes, even in bucolic Morgan County we are afraid.  You can hear it when we justify not helping someone who has a nice car or LCD TV or iPhone.  You can hear it in the questions people ask about some of our outreach efforts.  Yes there are good hearts in each of us but so often that goodness has to work its way out.  You can hear it in the concerns raised about budget and attendance, even when the news is as good as ours is these days.  It’s hard not to sound like I’m advocating a kind of carelessness or recklessness, so I’ll whisper, “It’s OK to share.” 
            That’s really where our fears are often found; in worry and fretting that we will not have enough for ourselves.  Fear is a filter that keeps us from seeing who we are and so without the perspective of the truth we shrink into passivity.  But Sabbath making is NOT a passive accident or hiding place from ridicule.  It is a movement of one’s self into a future where God provides, where God defines, where God inhabits.
            It is the irony of our age that our money – so symbolic of safety, of having our needs met, and of our stations in life -- is stamped with “In God We Trust.” 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wilderness Plus 40 Years

            I hope its OK with you that I am still into my Sabbath/Sunday kick.  The Sabbath the people are called to remember and make holy is established while they are wandering.  Wandering for a while actually.  The commandments are in hand and the Golden Calf consumed.  And this happens.  They send spies into the land to see if it can be inhabited.
           Only the witness of Joshua and Caleb encourages them to make the move.  But Moses and people are not convinced and THEN God sends them into the Great Lent of their wilderness wandering.  The clock starts and they must wait 40 years to enter the promised land.  In that time they become a new people.  Parents and grandparents are all gone by the time Joshua takes those born in the wilderness across the Jordan into the land of promise.

“. . .  the people of Israel [were] in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had numbered the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” There was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” Numbers 26:63-65, RSV.

            It is worth it for us to consider that our plans, even those generated out of established traditions and customs may not be the real work of our lives in Lent or in the larger lent that is our whole lives.  Even with things like the commandments in hand the people and Moses with them are not confident in God’s promise.  Even with our lives contained by homes, family, investments and occupations we are more often than not afraid and not confident in God’s promises either. 
            Brene Brown’s take on this was to marvel that our generation with all that it has is still the most afraid of any generation.  Fear tells us who we are in the morning.  Fear gets us to crave news and somehow especially the news that feeds our fears.  Fear keeps us from seizing the moments in honest and trustful ways and instead gets us to horde and compare stacks with our neighbors.  Fear redefines our neighbors away from us. 
            Like that line that says, “If you want to make God laugh, just show God your plans.”  Our plans are not what will make even our 40 day sojourn effective.  Our organizing principles can only help us stay.  The new people God is calling us to become requires of us a confidence beyond the structures and rules and  . . . plans. 
            Shriving takes time, way more time than a pancake supper.  Growing out of the fear and into a people of promise that is still ahead means that little if any of what we have protected and structured our lives around will accompany us where God calls.   It’s less that we will have to always “think outside the box.”  It’s more that we are learning to trust.  Trust God to be more than the enough we need.  Trust each other as something new is being born in us that is the life we will live into God’s promise.  It takes time for fears to die and for trust to be born and sometimes it feels like a wilderness.