Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1a – Prophets, New Beginnings

From,Cassi Alexandra 
Be vigilant. You have no idea when the Human One is going to show up. Matthew 24:44

Happy New Year!

What? You didn’t know this was the new year? Well, it isn’t on the calendar, of course, but as far as the Church is concerned, today is the first day of the year.

I’ve long been one to celebrate new beginnings – the New Year, the beginning of the school year in September, and this, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the Christian calendar.

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember, and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that's gone. [1]

Yes, I like new beginnings. (I regularly make enough mistakes that the idea of fresh starts – each day, even – appeals to me.) I also really like Advent. I not really drawn to the Second Coming of Christ focus that the Church has traditionally used in early Advent. For me, reading and talking about the words of the Hebrew prophets is always a plus, something we need and don’t get enough of today.

Now just to clarify, Hebrew prophets weren’t seers or oracles. Their job wasn’t to foretell anything, although we Christians have worked hard to co-opt as much as we could from their prophecies. I don’t mean these prophetic words have no place in our Christian understanding. It's just that when we spend so much effort pointing them at Jesus, we can miss the point of what the prophet was initially conveying. And we need to hear that, today as much as at anytime in history.

Hebrew prophets spoke God’s hard word to a people who weren’t interested in hearing it. I say “hard word” because so much of what they conveyed was, "You people need to shape up – or else!" Who wants to hear that, especially if the current system works for you? (This is why the prophet's life was/is so tough.)

And while
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6 NKJV
seems like it was written for an event 700 years later, we might wonder what the original meaning was.

If we had an old-time prophet here in Appleton, or in the place where you live, what would they have to say about the ways people are living today? (And yes, I’m using “they” on purpose. I’ve long had issue with the overuse of male pronouns. Now that some people are identifying as “they” we finally have a non-gendered way to speak of unknown individuals, or – dare I say it? – God.) But, back to my question, what “hard word” might an early-21st century prophet have to say to us?

Wait, we do! Some of them are individuals, maybe Bono, maybe Jean Vanier. Some of them are groups, maybe Futures Without Violence, maybe the folks at Standing Rock.

Are we listening?

[1] Brian Wren, “This Is a Day of New Beginnings”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

rock or sand?

Built on the Drina River, Serbia in 1968. 

The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house.
It fell and was completely destroyed.” Matthew 7:27 CEB

This fall, I had my gutters cleaned and gutter guards installed. With all the rain this summer, I've had plenty of opportunity to notice that they were clogged. I'm hoping the basement will be drier after this. It's an old house, and this's only a hope, but it'd be nice.

I've known that verse (above) most of my life. And I've worked to "build my life" on God and God's precepts. But today I was struck, maybe for the first time, by an earlier phrase: "Everybody who hears my words and puts them into practice..."

This parable about builders –  one who built their house on solid rock, the other on sand – concludes what we commonly call The Sermon on the Mount, a whole string of Jesus' teachings that begin with "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." then go on to include:
  • Being salt & light
  • "You've heard it said" sayings
    • You've heard "Don't murder," but I say, "Don't even think, 'You, fool!'"
    • You've heard "An eye for an eye," but I say, "Give to whoever begs"
    • You've heard "Hate your enemy," but I say, ""Love everyone"
  • Don't be a hypocrite
  • No one can serve two masters
  • Don't worry ... Don't judge ... Don't give what's precious to those who can't appreciate it
  • Trees are known by their fruit
  • Build on solid foundations
  • and more...
Gee, talk about a winding sermon! In truth, this's probably a compilation of wise saying and teachings that the person we call Matthew put together from what he'd learned about Jesus. After all, he was writing decades after Jesus' execution and there were no recording devices back then. (So much for our Red-Letter bibles.) Not that I mean to devalue the ideas. It's all good stuff; it's just that it didn't happen while everyone was sitting on a hill having a picnic. And that part about building on a solid foundation ... maybe Jesus didn't say it at the end of a long speech, but whenever he said it, we can trust it was because we need to hear it. 

I've noticed though that sometimes when people sing or preach this story, seldom is any attention given to the "act on them" phrase. Granted, some of us – many, actually – do practice living out parts of scripture, but we often do so without considering the meta-story.

What was the over-arching message Jesus worked to communicate? Maybe you respond, Love, without even having to think about it. And, while that's a good answer, I suggest that maybe it's more than that. 

I'm still working on this, but I'm pretty sure that in addition to communicating God's love for all of creation and God's eagerness to connect with us, Jesus was trying to get through to us that God intends for us to turn the world (or maybe the "world" as we understand it) upside-down. This is something very few of us are really interested in. (In fact, it's what got Jesus killed.) And, yet, so much of what Jesus conveys is presented over-against what the folks back then understood as religion, as community, as leadership, as, faith, as life. Or what we understand to be those things.

That's the message I find. That's the message we're supposed to be practicing ... in our conversations, in our politics, in our jobs... well, you get the idea. 

May God bless you as you ponder the ways you live out your faith.

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock..." Matthew 7:24 CEB

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Safely Pinned

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 1 John 4:7, 21

Emotions are close to the surface this weekend. Yesterday, I was reading Anne Lamott’s little book Help Thanks Wow. I burst out laughing when I read her story of talking to her 3-year-old grandson about their cat’s impending death, telling him “that the angels were going to take her from us. I tried to make it sound like rather happy news—after all, vultures aren’t coming for her, or snakes…” I don’t know if I’d usually laugh about that – I have cats – but I laughed uproariously for a few seconds, then began to sob like I haven’t cried in a long time.

Today I was reading poems on hope. Halfway through Abeyance, a river of tears came again. In the years since leaving my marriage barely a hint of moisture has touched my eyes, yet this week I’ve shed hot tears. I grieve.

Before I go on though, I want to spell out that this is NOT about an election. It’s about justice and it’s about looking out for each other. I will support leaders who support justice, our president-elect included, but I hope not to support any movement toward injustice. Now to continue.

So many people – particularly sister and brothers of color – are living in fear. I grieve over “hatred being applauded... and violence and abuse becoming mainstream through the endorsement and election of a man who justifies and dismisses all of these things.” (from my post to Facebook this week)

I’ve been thinking about our visit to Salisbury Methodist Church during the Wesley Pilgrimage last summer. David Hookins talked to us about a newer piece to his daily attire – a safety pin. He said that since Brexit, hatred against immigrants and Muslims had gone public. So people – mostly white, I’m guessing – started wearing safety pins in solidarity. They announce without a word being spoken, “I’m a safe person” – safe to approach, safe to talk to if someone feels nervous…

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34 (CEB)

Brexit may eventually be overturned, but unless the electoral college does the heretofore unheard of and 10% of the Republican electors vote outside their party, many, many people face unconscionable hardship. (And again, our president-elect did not create the problem, he merely brought it to the light such that we can no longer ignore its presence.) I’m not even talking about this week’s escalation of violent words and actions. They may pass as tempers cool. No, my concern – already voiced by others – is that more would-be political-minded people will use the newly-mainstream practices of our president-elect in their own bids for power. My fear is that this is only the beginning.’

I’d wanted to promote the Safety Pin idea as soon as I came home from England in July (I’d been wearing one there) but there seemed to be no immediate need. Life pressed on me and the idea was shelved. Today I take it down again.

Please join me and others in publicizing, sharing, tweeting, and generally encouraging this act of solidarity. Dig into the back of a drawer, find a safety pin and put it on. And keep it on.

What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works? James 2:14-17