Wednesday, December 26, 2007

incarnation, creation, destruction


I always dread this week's scripture passage, from Matthew. Reading past the joyous bits of the Christmas story, it takes us rather quickly to reminders of the harsh realities of life.


So, our joy at celebrating the divine being incarnate--human--in Jesus the Christ, hits up against the reality that humans can be brutal. Especially humans who are afraid of losing their power. In this week's scripture, it's King Herod, but he's not so special: he enacts the same ugly, dispicable violence that others chose before and since. He murders innocent people in an attempt to prevent one who might question his authority.


Joseph, who plays the part of father to Jesus, gets a message from an angel in a dream, and flees to Egypt so that Jesus might avoid being murdered.


Ah, that this was a unique story!


We immediately recall the ugliness of Pharaoh's order to kill children in Egypt, back when Moses was a small boy. And, we think of so many others. Victims of genocide, "collateral damage" in war, refugees around the world.


Of course, we also know more of the story that will come: every week, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we remember Jesus broken body in our broken bread. We know that, though he avoids Herod's murderous order here, he will yet find his own death.


And, we know that he will show us a way to be connected to God that frees us from fear of death. Not because we imagine that the world is all sweetness and light, but because we know God's presence with us and with all creation here and now, and way, way beyond.


So maybe it is a joyous Christmas story, even with all its violence. We've noticed that there's ugly, unjust, brutal violence in the world. Here, we're given a chance to know and give thanks for God's presence with us in the midst of that reality, and we're invited to a new reality, in which even such violence cannot have ultimate power over us. We're invited to know God's love deeply, and we're invited to dare to respond to the world with the same grace that Jesus the Christ lived.

My hope is that it will also inspire us to be more attentive to those who suffer from unjust violence in our world--that our retelling of this story will help direct our living in such a way that we will claim the reality of the dignity and holiness of all creation, and that it will mean we fearlessly care for one another.

Monday, December 17, 2007

christmas solidarity


As I pondered themes in this week's scripture passages from Matthew and from Isaiah, I initially thought that "faithfulness" was the idea I'd preach on. Mary and Joseph both choose faithfulness to one another, to this unlikely pregnancy, and (above all) to God. God chooses faithfulness to us all--becoming Emmanuel, "God with us."

The more I pondered this (taking my cue from Mary, who we all know pondered these things in her heart...), the more it seemed like "faithfulness" doesn't quite capture it all. And, besides, when I think of faithfulness, in our time and culture, I often think of it as being passive or restrained. (As in, remaining "faithful" to one's partner--usually defined by what one refrains from more than what practices it requires.)

Don't get me wrong: I think there's a whole lot more to being faithful (to God or to one's partner, among others) that not cheating or doubting. I just think we've weakened our understanding of the word.

So this year, I think we ought to talk about solidarity.

As in, God chooses solidarity with the world in becoming Emmanuel. And people like Mary and Joseph choose solidarity with one another and with God as they make choices and take actions that allow Christ to be born into the world.

My first real encounter with the idea of "solidarity" came from my dad's visit to Poland, back in the late 80's, when I was in Middle School. He brought me a souvenir shirt, emblazoned with the logo of Solidarity, the nonviolent, anti-communist labor movement led by Lech Walesa, who was then yet to be elected president in the Polish amazing elections of 1989. Solidarity was a political movement, asserting that workers deserved decent pay, access to basic resources, and freedom. The route it chose to persue these was through solidarity--honoring our belonging together.

It turns out that at least some of these ideas likely came through Christianity. Maybe it was the visit of Pope John Paul II to his Polish homeland. Maybe it was the theology of the many who believed in Christ, who taught that our acts of love and mercy to the "least of these" in our midst were acts of love and mercy toward God.

All I know is that Christianity seems to be all about solidarity--about standing together and seeing that each of our needs is all wrapped up with the needs of others. I think that's the whole point of God as Emmanuel--God is with us, standing beside and within each of us, giving us the courage and love and strength to live into God's kin-dom. To believe we can live in the world as God intends for us to live it in, now.

Let's gather in worship this week to celebrate God's solidarity with us, and to imagine how we might share it with a world in need.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Desert Blooms



The prophet Isaiah is painting more images for us this week, telling of dry lands that will blossom abundantly.

The imagery is rich in transformation: deserts bloom, the suffering heal, the fearful find courage. And all of this change comes in abundance. It's not just that the lame walk -- they leap like a deer. It's not just that the speechless talk -- they sing for joy. At the end of the passage, Isaiah promises that "sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

As we continue our Advent journey of contemplation and anticipation, where are the deserts in our lives? Where do we thirst? Where do we most hurt? What do we most fear? How would we like to experience this transformation in our own lives. What would it look like for the dry lands in our lives to bloom abundantly? What would need to happen in our hearts for us to sing with joy?

In our Gospel reading this week, the mother of Jesus sings for joy. This is Mary's song at the news that she is filled with God. Mary allowed herself to be filled with God and that fullness filled her with joy. Mary knew joy in abundance. We know, too, that she knew heartache and sorrow as we all do, but she knew the joy of fullness of faith. This is her song of celebration.

How can we open ourselves more to be filled with God's Spirit?

What is our song of joy?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

fullness

"The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea," says Isaiah this week.  Which means, as he explains it, that the poor and meek find justice, and that everyone (even the wild animals) figure out how to live together in peace.

I'm a bit caught on this idea of being "full of the knowledge of the Lord," and that meaning justice and peace, especially for the most vulnerable.  This isn't, I think, what we Christians most communicate in our culture today.  That is, we aren't always known for our love.  

Knowing God, at least as Isaiah describes it, seems to make us humble.  Or at least demand that we figure out how to live in harmony with others, so they're not afraid.  Our being full of Christmas joy requires sharing it with the fullness of all others.  (We might can't have a good Christmas party if it's not also, somehow good for the people not in the room.)

So, once again, as Christmas draws near, I hear the words of u2's 'Peace on Earth' echoing in my head: "We hear it every Christmastime, but hope and history won't rhyme, so what's it worth?  This 'Peace on Earth.'"

This year, as we walk through Advent, I'm challenging myself to look further than the 25th, to see what Christmas preparations I can make that will help build the kind of fullness of "knowledge of the Lord" that is justice and peace.

Ideas?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

like God's house



“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob," sings Isaiah this week.

At the beginning of this Advent season, I wonder what it would be like to get ourselves ready for that trip--to God's house, where the world is transformed. People learn to live in beautiful ways, together, old disputes get settled, and weapons become farming tools.

This week, I've been asking people: what makes a place feel like "home" to you?

What do you think God's home would look like?

If Isaiah's image is true, I notice a couple of strange things: this home isn't a refuge for me, but a place for "all nations" to be together, and to build peace together. Also, God's home isn't a place where I stop working. I just trade in whatever self-interested tools I was using for garden tools--presumably, to grow the food that will set the feast on the big table we'll share.

As we're drawn closer to Christmas, I feel the pull of expectations and busy-ness in our world--so many things we ought to do and buy. I want to resist making my celebration of Christ's birth into something that commodified. My current obsession is figuring out how to make things for people, instead of buy them--something about putting my labor into creating things feels really good. Also, I can recycle materials in my creating. (I also have this hopeful idea that it may also prepare me for the creative work I'm called to in God's house--perhaps Isaiah might have continued, after "swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks" by saying "knives into knitting needles and chains into sewing thread" or "firearms into stoves.")

What I mean to say is that I suggest we take up a new set of spiritual and physical practices this Christmas season. Instead of letting ourselves get caught up in our culture's "usual" ways of celebrating Christmas, let's use these weeks as a time to do things that will help make this place look a little more like God's home.

I'd be thrilled if you'd share your ideas!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cosmos Sunday



Our Season of Creation concludes with Cosmos Sunday. We've traveled through the oceans and flora and fauna and even through storms. This week we consider Creation in its entirety. Creation in its infinity.

As our scriptural guide, we have the voice of Wisdom from Proverbs 8 and a Psalm of praise for all God's Creation. These are beautiful attempts to describe the wonders of Creation, the wonders of our awesome God.



Of course, I am of an age that whenever I hear the word Cosmos, I think first of Carl Sagan, who helped open the scientific wonders of the Cosmos to many common folk -- all inhabitants of the Cosmos -- through the 1980 PBS series "Cosmos". Sagan helped us understand the vastnessness of the Cosmos, and he did so with a sense of wonder. He, like the psalmist, attempted to describe the wonders of Creation and our Creator.

Whether we look at the Cosmos from our finite place within it or consider the infinite nature of the Cosmos beyond us, it is a marvel, a wonder a miracle.

How do you describe this wonder?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

through the storms


This Sunday, we celebrate Thanksgiving.  And, we celebrate the culmination of our annual stewardship campaign, which invites us to "Thank God."  And, we celebrate week 3 in our Season of Creation: Storm Sunday.  AND, we get to celebrate the baptism of a baby.

This is a lot, but I think it will all work beautifully.  (I know my life seems to happen that way--things bunch all up on top of each other.)  I believe all this things amplify each other.

See, this week, we celebrate Jesus as one who could still storms.  And we give voice to naming God as one who has tremendous power over the world, in Psalm 29.   

We'll gather this week to give thanks to God, who has come with us through some storms this year.  And, who blesses us all the while (even when things look really lousy).  

Whether your storms have been metaphorical or literal--in yourself, in your relationships, in the world--you're invited to get together this week and celebrate that God is with you still.  As a community, we celebrate coming through the firestorms of last month, even as we lament all that was lost.  And we celebrate that God's spirit is always giving us new life.

It's always exciting to me when the Water's Edge gets to share in offering the holy waters of baptism.  I hope you'll come be a part of the celebration.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

creatures



It's gonna be "Fauna Sunday" this week, as we continue our celebration of the Season of Creation, which means we get to celebrate God's creatures here on earth. (And, I admit and warn you now, some of God's "flora" are likely to crop up, too, as I can't really imagine the "fauna" without them...)

I've been pondering the creatures of the world. When I think of animals and God, my mind nearly always jumps to Isaiah's vision of a "peaceable kingdom" (as in the one painted by Edward Hicks, above). I like creatures in an idealized, perfect world, where lambs and lions can abide in harmony.

I have more trouble with creatures in my everyday life: I'm not a pet person. (I do try to feed the fish at our house regularly, but that's about as good as it gets for me. I like that they stay in their tank and don't infringe on my space...) I think I like my plants more.

I am, however, amazed at the beauty and variety of creatures in this world--the intricate ways they fit together in ecosystems and the diverse adaptations that work for their survival and the survival of others.

All of which I think Jesus was talking about when he preached to the crowds and told them not to worry. It's too easy for all of us to get caught up in worry about what will come next. Or, even, fretting about figuring out how and why things happen. (Particularly, I think, we get seduced by this dangerous way of thinking about God when disaster strikes. We try to console ourselves with the assurance that "everything happens for a reason," as if God intended for tragedies and suffering to happen. As a means to something else. I can't buy that way of thinking.)

I DO, however, affirm that God is present in everything. And that God works with every bit of reality, inviting us to a new possibility. We can use both the tragedies and the triumphs of the world as occasions for doing things that build God's kingdom.

Strive first for the kingdom of God, Jesus says. The rest will work out.

And the crazy part is that when we strive first for the kingdom of God, we find it working out beautifully--not just as a promise for the future, but even in the "now." Loving God and loving neighbor infuses our living with things that are eternal.

Striving first for the Kingdom also means that we use our lives to be stewards of things far beyond ourselves--in an era when we can have dramatic impact on creatures far and near, we are invited to live in ways that ensure the survival and flourishing of other life, too.

So, like last week, we gather again on Sunday to give thanks for God's presence in all creation. (The Psalm will help, again.) And, we challenge ourselves to be changed by that presence.

(Maybe I'll become an animal person, yet.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

deep like the ocean

This year, we're celebrating a *new* season in the church year. (I know, I know--it feels weird to be both turning to ancient habits of following church year seasons AND revising them...) The movement to add a new season into the mix started in Australia. We're calling it the Season of Creation.

For us, it will fit into this month--here at the end of the church year, before we start things anew with Advent, in December.

All this month, we'll celebrate the presence of God in creation. This world is an amazing, wondrous home.

This week, we celebrate Ocean Sunday.

In Psalm 104, we read an ancient song of praise for creation. This world is an amazing place, and gives us ways to know God.

In the Gospel lesson, we hear of how Jesus calls those first disciples while they're out fishing on the sea. He invites them to cast their nets into the deep, and they find more fish than they could have imagined catching.

I'm caught on this image, of casting out "into the deep." Maybe it's because I know more scuba divers than I ever have... Maybe it's because things get rich when you dare to "dive" deeper into the realities of the world and the presence of God.

In any case, I hope you'll come dive deep with us on Sunday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

a prayer as the fire rages

I meant to post this week's blog about our scriptures for Sunday, but got distracted with by the fires that rage around San Diego.

I pray this night for all those affected--for peace, for hope, for safety. As evacuated families, seniors, individuals and animals seek refuge with friends and family, in hotels, high schools and stadiums, I pray that they will know God's presence in their midst.

God, who goes with us through evacuation and exile, I pray that you would calm the spirits of all who live in uncertainty about whether they will have a home tomorrow. And, I pray that your Spirit would come to sustain all who face loss these days.

----

If you're looking for a way to help, here's one for Tuesday, October 23:
Come to Qualcomm Stadium, Gate A at 9 a.m. to gather with other United Methodists in the area in volunteering to support all those who have sought refuge at the stadium.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

healthy communities, even in Babylon

We've been reading through Jeremiah for the last several weeks--following this prophet through his warnings and into exile for the people. This week, Jeremiah sends a letter to his community, in exile.

He tells them something that seems unlikely and beautiful: to seek the welfare of the city where they are in exile.

(Last week, perhaps you remember the depth of grief that exile brought to the Psalmist? Weeping, refusing to sing songs, even dreaming of ugly violence against the captors.)

Jeremiah asks the people to work for the well-being of their captors.

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

Jeremiah refuses to let the people get caught in anger, or in fear, or in isolation.

What an incredible vision for what we're called to: even as we are distant from the world that God intends for us, we are invited to invest in things that are good. (For Jeremiah, that list includes building homes, planting gardens, committing to partners and families, and seeking the welfare of others.)

This is a dream that enlivens me. It's part of what makes me so energized to have moved to Mid-City--as my husband and I are building our home (and planting our garden) and building our relationship, we are also hopeful that we can be a part of seeking the welfare of the community. Now, Mid-City isn't exactly Babylon, but it is home to a lot of people from a lot of places and cultures. And I believe God is calling our church to seek its welfare--the wellbeing of diverse and often poor people. Imagine what might be possible if we were not only to figure out how to live in proximity, but how to form community?

In seeking that, I believe we will find the welfare of ourselves. And our church.

I'm inspired also by people who've been doing this in other ways, elsewhere around the country. Many folks are part of a movement often called "new monasticism." You can see a website here and an interview from public radio's "Speaking of Faith" here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

thinking globally

This Sunday, we celebrate "World Communion Sunday," and remember that our communion table spreads all around the world. And, I've been feeling especially called to remember that our faith makes us claim citizenship in God, rather than any nation, lately.

This week, our scripture includes a famous passage from the Psalms, captured often in song. It sings about stopping by the River of Babylon, and weeping.

There, the song mournfully sings, we remembered Zion. Divided off from the promise we'd hoped to live into, we sing a lament to God.

Now, in my mind, "Zion" can mean a lot of things--certainly, it has meant the land of the people of Israel. Wikipedia can tell you more about that.

The meaning that has my heart this week is to understand "Zion" as a way of naming the promise of a world that reflects God's intentions and dreams. Like the bold hymn that comes out of the African-American church, "Marching to Zion." Beautiful, beautiful Zion.

If Zion means, for us, the world as God intends it, and, if (especially this week) we remember that the world is big and diverse and full of people (young and old, rich and poor, women and men) who all belong in those dreams and intentions of God...then, I think, we get drawn toward something truly incredible.

Most days, this means I'm going to have to change a lot--to refocus my own hopes and work to reflect God's hope that all people might be well. And, I suspect it's going to mean change for all of us in the US, as we claim belonging in God even more fully, and dare to put that above the interests of our isolated group, state or nation.

Perhaps that's why we sing a sad song--Zion feels so far, far off.

All this is starting to sound big, and difficult.

Which makes me grateful for this week's Gospel story: even though it seems crazy (that's my addition, not Jesus' words), just a little bit of faith--say, faith that, if you could hold it in your hand, would look as little as a mustard seed--can do dramatic things.


May it be so.

(And, to help encourage us all, I'm told there's to be a bit of banjo in the band this weekend. So come ready for toe-tapping. Or more.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

hope in real estate?

I'm stuck on the resilient hopefulness of Jeremiah's words in this week's scripture passage. Barricaded in the the palace during a siege by the Babylonians, he gets a word from God that he should buy a piece of land.

Purchasing real estate when your nation is being conquered is more foolish that buying into SoCal real estate at the top of its "bubble."

For Jeremiah, though, the deed of sale (which he tucks away in an earthenware vessel) represents his faith and hope that the people of Israel will again inhabit the land, establishing houses and fields and vineyards.

There are at least two things that have caught my imagination this morning:

-God's promise may seem far off, but it endures. In the face of simplistic theologies that would say something like "be good and you'll get your reward," Jeremiah is in the midst of hard times, but still holds on to a promise that somehow, sometime, things will get better. (He's certainly not going to avoid some seriously hard times.)

-Jeremiah chooses a relatively simple act that stakes out his confidence in a hopeful future. He marks out what is of value to him (and, here, it seems to be having safe land to work and to give a harvest to sustain life). It is a powerful testimony to those who read this passage.

I wonder what simple acts we might be a part of that would mark out our belief in a different reality than the one that seems to surround us now. I would describe that "different reality" as the world that God intends for us--a place where everyone is safe and well, and has enough and enjoys things of great beauty, together.

On Sunday, we'll share some stories of hope. But we'll also invite you to commit to simple acts that might show this faith to those around us...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

tricky parables

Our reading this week gives us another of Jesus' parables. Another tricky one.

In this week's passage from Luke, Jesus tells a story about a conniving businessman. Not the evil CEO, but perhaps someone in upper management... Know he's going to get fired, he fixes up meetings with folks who owe money to the big guy. And forgives their debts. Now, though he's still about to be fired, he'll have some friends.

The question is, why is Jesus telling this story about shady business dealings?

He doesn't end it with a tale of this corrupt man wailing and gnashing his teeth.

Instead, he seems to be suggesting that if clever, selfish people can figure out how to live with a longer view than their present circumstances, and do things that secure their future, why can't we? (Not that we should swindle, but that we should be able to look to a bigger picture and a longer view of what matters.)

Luke puts some instructions at the conclusion of this story: that we cannot serve God and money. The old-school word used for "money" in some English translation is "mammon," as in the name of the street Mr. Burns resides on in the Simpsons world.
This week, I'm caught on the idea that this story isn't primarily about those really-awful greedy people (like Mr. Burns). The parable was about middle management. Or, perhaps even more accessibly, a "servant." It's about us, and how we use what we have to create the world we want to live in.

And, ideally, it's also the world God wants us to live in.

To get there, I think we need each other. As companions who matter, not just as potential assets when we're in need.

A friend in seminary reminded me that "companion" is derived from words that mean "together with bread." (That's pane, and in fancy shops that sell bread like "Con Pane" or "Panera.")

This is exactly what we do when we gather in worship: we seek to be people who see themselves together and share bread.

(Of course, we think it's much more than bread--it's also the body of Christ.)

Know that you're welcome to share bread and life with us.

See you Sunday...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

letting things happen

I'm pondering the contrasts among our readings this week--they emphasize both the importance of our own choices and actions AND the power God has in the world.

Jeremiah speaks in the metaphor of a potter's work: God is the potter and we, God's people, are the clay. We are reworked in God's hands. God is doing the shaping. (Although, of course, it's still clear in Jeremiah that we have personal choice, too--we are invited to turn to God, to prevent our destruction.)

Jesus, in Luke, offers difficult and extreme words that challenge us to give up the things we are attached to. Our families, all our possessions. If we are to follow Jesus, it means we must be willing to undertake big changes.

It strikes me as a bit more than ironic that these are the lectionary passages given for this Sunday at the beginning of the fall, which our congregation has designated as "open house" Sunday. When we're to talk about the importance of inviting others to join us, and welcoming them in. These lessons aren't exactly, well, easy.

Maybe it's good truth in advertising. Sometimes, we seek to be so welcoming that we dilute the radical messages that come through Christ. There IS something wild and crazy that happens when you welcome God into your life. (I don't want to sound like a fundamentalist here, but there's gotta be room for some good radicalism...)

Perhaps it's a good thing to remember that being a part of "church" does mean something--and not just that you don't sleep in as long on Sunday mornings, or that you know some swell people who you get to check in with regularly. Maybe being a part of church invites us to choose letting ourselves be reshaped. In incredible ways.

I've never been fabulous at pottery, though I have always enjoyed the feeling of damp clay in my hands; it speaks of abounding possibilities. At least, it speaks of possibilities as long as it's wet enough. When it dries, it starts cracking and slowly becomes hopeless.

Maybe that's what "church" is about for me--helping me stay Spirit-filled enough to be full of possibilities. Helping me bear just enough water that I can be molded into fabulous things.

I hope you'll come join us this week, as we ponder these things. And, as we pray and sing and share communion. I trust they'll give us enough of the Spirit to fill our community with possibility.

Monday, August 27, 2007

when diy doesn't go so well

The prophet Jeremiah (like most prophets, really) has harsh words for the people. That is, harsh words from God for the people who God has tried to love and care for so well. (Not to mention that whole "brought them out of slavery in Egypt" bit...)

But God names two "evils" they've chosen, in this week's passage: forsaking God's "life-giving water," and trying to make cisterns for themselves.

Maybe it's my independent, do-it-myself streak, but this hits home. In choose to make our own way without God, we end up stumbling twice. First, by turning away from God, and then, because our own attempts to do God-stuff on our own come out pretty faulty. Cracked cisterns, Jeremiah said.

I've been thinking about this. I have a vision for an ad campaign that would target cars parked in the Ikea lot (if only I didn't hate the idea of leaflets on windshields so much): church is for all those times with do-it-yourself gets lonely. Or for all the things in life that can't be flat-packaged.

(Of course, I'm also infatuated with Ikea's pictographs that illustrate many things, from assembly instructions to warnings on flammable objects. If only we had more pictographs in church. But, again, I digress...)

So much in our world tells us that we can have the perfect life if we just buy the right things, or achieve the right status.

Jeremiah reminds us that our attempts at making the stuff that really matters are going to look pretty half-baked. (They won't hold water, to run with his metaphors.)

And then, this Sunday's gospel lesson continues to make this point: if we think we can be cool by inviting the right people, or positioning ourselves in just the right spot, we're sadly misguided. In Jesus' kingdom, the winners are those who humble themselves, and the thing to do is to invite the people who are least cool.

Actually, Jesus says to invite "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind," which, in his time, would all have been people unable to participate fully in community, and about whom people made all sorts of assumptions about their being sinful people. I wonder who most fits this bill in the culture of our community, and our church. Perhaps we should invite folks with prison records, addicted to drugs, or who lack legal documentation and immigrated here illegally? Or perhaps we should invite people whose politics are contrary to our own? Or who suffer from mental illness?

When we do a good job of welcoming all God's children--of inviting them to the best party we can throw--then maybe we'll find ourselves in the midst of God's kindgom.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

stand up

This week's scripture is a story of a healing. And standing back up, tall.

This image, of Jesus urgently attending to a woman who has been bent over for 18 long years, strikes me as a lot like how I feel.

It's like this: I'll let something weigh me down or keep me captive for a good long time and then, as if all of a sudden, I'll be ready to change. I remember that it doesn't have to be this way. And then the healing is urgent.

I wonder if that's what was going on in this woman, and if Jesus could see that. (This might help explain why he felt it important to break Sabbath law in order to heal. I mean, what's one more day when it's already been eighteen years?)

All of which means I have two songs running through my head, which I cast out there. Maybe one is your kind of music:
Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up"
and Sugarland's "Stand Back Up"

Bob got the piece about Jesus' grace being meant for this world. When you realize Jesus wants us to know the kingdom on earth as in heaven, you're suddenly ready to make it happen now.

We sick an tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin n goin to heaven in-a jesus name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty God is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you cant fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do? ),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah!)

Sugarland gets the personal courage it takes to say: it doesn't have to be like this, and I want to do what I can to make a change for the better. Then, healing can happen.

I've been beaten up and bruised,
I've been kicked right off my shoes,
Been down on my knees more times than youd believe,
When the darkness tries to get me,
Theres a light that just wont let me,
It might take my pride, and my tears may fill my eyes,
But I'll stand back up...

What are you ready to be set free from, so YOU can stand up, tall?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

vineyard

A confession: I'm a little bit afraid that my obsession with gardening is making my sermons too agricultural.

But, then, there are those scripture passages. This week, I'm caught on the poetry of Isaiah, who writes a heartbroken love song about a vineyard. This piece of Isaiah brings us another image of God, a bit reminiscent of last week's. Then, God was worn out by our hypocrisy, and sick to the stomach for the ways we make elaborate show of our religion but fail to care for people in need in our midst.

This week, Isaiah continues, using the metaphor of God as a vineyard-owner who lovingly planted and prepared his vines, only to discover that they bore bitter grapes. Wild grapes.

And, even with my fears (see above), I can't resist this agricultural image. I give thanks for God having tended to us and our world. And I, too, have tasted those bitter grapes.

If you were interpreting this passage (follow the link and check it out yourself), what would you say these metaphors describe in our own time? How has God "tended" to us? What are our "wild grapes"? And, what would be good grapes?

Sinead O'Connor sings this passage on her new album, "Theology." The track is "If You Had a Vineyard." Check it out. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

commonwealth

I know I'm a bit of an idealist, but I'm always energized by scripture like this week's passage from Luke. Especially the bits about how we can live in community. Sharing in a commonwealth, if you will. Not just because it's good now, but because it connects us to God. Because it makes us ready for God's kingdom, which is coming at any moment.

(I also like the part about making "purses that don't wear out," because I've been imagining up some handbags I could craft out of recycled cloth. But I think that's missing the point. I digress...)


Certainly, remembering that "where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also" is good self-analysis.

I wonder what you'd learn about my faith by looking at my bank statement. Or credit card bill. Or what a careful analysis of how I spend the hours of my day would tell you about how Jesus has my heart.

I don't mean to get too pushy or uncomfortably confrontational. We're not supposed to talk about money, I know.

But I have this sense--this dream--that thinking and talking about these things more clearly might free us from a lot of heartache. Might remind us that there's a better, more life-giving way to live than can be purchased with the right level of income.

I read a story in the New York Times this week about millionaries in Silicon Valley who feel like they need to keep working 80-hour weeks because they're not rich enough. Makes you wonder.

Perhaps remembering the things that make our lives rich, the things we share together, might release us from a whole lot of drudgery that is making us miserable.

What makes your life rich?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

in prayer

This week, our scripture is all about prayer. Which makes this as good a time as any to spend some time together thinking about--and doing--prayer.

Often in worship, we speak the "Lord's Prayer;" it is a prayer Jesus taught to the disciples when they asked to be taught a prayer.

I look forward to being together, to spend some time with these ancient words of prayer. We usually say them quickly, but they are deep and rich.

But, of course, we'll also want to think about new ways to pray--that connect our own time and place to God.

So, be thinking about your favorite ways and places to pray. We'll enter into conversation with God, together.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why do we make things so hard?

I've been enjoying the contrast between this week's lectionary selections and last week's. Last week, the message seemed to be that living into our Christian discipleship can require some difficult steps.

This week, we get the story of Naaman from 2 Kings. Naaman was a successful general for an army that was victorious in battles over Israel, but he suffered from a skin disease akin to leprosy. He heard of a prophet of the Israelites who could heal and he set out to meet him. Naaman was offended when Elisha would not come out to meet him and instead sent word for Naaman to wash in the river Jordan seven times. He was angry and not willing, at first, to follow the prophet's direction. But a servant said to him: "if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"

How many times in our lives, how many ways do we make things harder than they need to be?

Just last week were in Paul's letter to the Galatians that the law -- those things we are to follow -- can be summed up in a single commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." We talked last week about how even that seems difficult at times.

And then there's grace, freely given, ours to have and ours to share through our life in the world, but sometimes we even make grace hard.

The lesson from Naaman seems to be to try the easy ways first, especially the easy ways offered by God.

What are ways we can make our lives easier?

Let's talk about it Sunday.

Monday, June 25, 2007

this "being a christian" stuff is pretty hardcore

Jesus wasn't messing around. He was committed. Convicted. Hand-to-the-plow (with no looking back).

In Luke's Gospel, he leads the disciples, correcting them and showing them what he means when he says "follow me."

(That's what this "being a Christian" adventure is all about, right?)

First, he shows us how to be intentional about the direction we're taking. He "sets his face" to Jerusalem. And, there's some trouble along the way--some Samaritans who won't welcome him in.

Having noticed that Jesus seems to be connected to a God who's pretty powerful, they suggest a little vengeance--some fire from heaven to destroy those un-hospitable Samaritans.

But that's not what Jesus wants. He's got other plans.

As he goes on, more folks want to follow him, as soon as they take care of some things. Things that sound reasonable. Jesus has time for none of that.

Following him means giving up everything: security, family, home.

I wonder what holds us back from really following Jesus today?

And, speaking of security, family and home (a list that sounds a lot like "mom and apple pie" to me), our celebration of July 4 is approaching. A good time to think about freedom.

Paul had some good things to say about freedom in his letter to the Galatians. (You can skip all those verses about circumcision and worse.) For Paul, we are called to a freedom that makes us slaves. This is peculiar.

This is not "go to the desert for the weekend" freedom like we have here in San Diego, full of things that make us (alone) happy and get us out of the sight of any law-enforcing authorities. This is a strange freedom that lures us to choose our own bondage.

A preacher I heard this past week (Phil Lawson, to be particular) suggested that the opposite of slavery isn't freedom, but community. This is big. Slavery is oppression. It's sinful relationship in which one has power over another. Community, in contrast, demands dignity for all who are a part of it. This feels more like the kind of freedom Paul must have meant--not freedom to do whatever they heck we want, but the freedom to choose to belong in a community that values others.

I think that's the kind of freedom I'm excited about celebrating and working for this year.

Monday, June 18, 2007

jumping in

This week, we get a good story from the Gospel of Matthew.

(OK, so mostly I think we get good stories. But this week is ESPECIALLY good.)

And, we get some good story tellers!

I'll be away at Annual Conference, our annual (but you'd guessed that), regional meeting of United Methodists, both clergy and lay. Karen will be there, too. Hopefully, making good connections and sharing dreams and vision with other church folks from around So-Cal, Hawaii (plus Guam and Saipan...).

Randy's going to host worship. And some of y'all are leading prayers. The music team will be there, as always. And, we're using a clip from a cool video called Nooma, by a pastor and writer named Rob Bell. I think you're gonna like it.

Among other insightful things, he's going to take you out with Peter and the disciples in a boat, when Jesus comes walking across the water. And, like Peter, perhaps you'll dare to think you can do the things Jesus does. May it always be so.

I'm not sure who reads this blog regularly, but if you're someone who comes to worship with us occasionally, I hope you'll choose this week. I am really excited by the folks who are stepping in to make worship special this week. When I'm around, it's too easy for me to just do everything (and, hey, I like doing things...). So, I'm particularly excited about a variety of ways our worship will be community worship this weekend. "Liturgy," which is the fancy name for church worship patterns, literally means the "work of the people." That's what it's gonna be.

Of course, the even BIGGER task is to make the whole Gospel the "work of the people." ;)

Speaking of which...I hope you're having fun with your "portable church" postcards and tasks--if you missed worship you can find them thru the link on the right-hand side of the page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

lavish forgiveness

In this week's scripture lesson from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus demonstrates lavish forgiveness, even in the face of disapproval from other presumably faithful folks.

I bask in how good this story feels, when I read it imagining myself in the place of the woman forgiven. Jesus seems to have no boundaries to the grace he wants to share. It is inspiring and empowering. In response, the woman is moved to come up with whatever generous outpouring of love she can offer.

How beautiful to know such a gracious God.

When I read it as one of the presumably faithful folks who disapproved of this action--who depended on defining people as "sinners" or as righteous and worthy of Jesus' company, it challenges me. It demands that I see things in new ways. That I open myself to new possibilities.

Which also, I suppose, is good and beautiful (if, more often than not, uncomfortable.)

I give thanks that, even when I sit in this place of those whose actions are exposed as less faithful, the worst case is that I end up recipient of Jesus' actions toward "sinners."

That is, I find myself bathed in grace.

May it be so.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Testimony


Our first "portable church" postcard is ready. We gave 'em out on Sunday. You can play along by reading it, and doing it. Follow the link on the right-hand side of the page for more info.

Monday, June 04, 2007

story

This summer, we're going to spend some time thinking about how we do "church." Thinking, of course, that it might have to do with things we can find ourselves doing all through the week, wherever we are, and not just for an hour on Sunday, in the Cove.

For our first Sunday of this adventure, we start with the sharing of story.

For many Christians, this is called "testimony." Or "witness," as in "Can I get a witness??!" But that's just loaded with church-y expectations and predispositions. (Some of which, I admit, predispose me to not want to listen to folks who come 'round to my door in the interest of "witnessing.")

I'm interested in how we ARE called to share our stories--our lives of faith. I suspect that we are, somehow.

Of course, I also love how St. Francis said it: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." It saves us from hyprocrisy--by letting our actions "preach" more loudly than our words.

But still...

Words can be good, too. (I love words. And dictionaries, and am fond of books and crossword puzzles.)

I've been shaped in faith by the words of many who shared their own experiences in faith in ways that opened me to God's possibilities in this world.

This week, as always, we have some words from scripture to share. In Galatians, we get a quick summary of Paul's testimony. And I'm caught on the way that his story matters in his telling of the Gospel.

He has to talk first about his own tranformation. Then, the Gospel can make sense.

It seems like this is significant: we have to locate ourselves in the story, first, and then God's story can make sense.

What piece of the story (God's story) would you tell, and how does your story put you in a place to do that?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

spirit

This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost. Which is a pretty exciting thing--and gives me hope as I think about the challenges we live with as we seek to be the church in San Diego in 2007.

It's sometimes called the "Birthday of the Church." But, I don't want us to get to thinking we should celebrate it with cake, candles and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. (Wait: that's old fashioned. It's a bounce house these days, right?)

Actually, maybe the candles would be good.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit--GOD--descends on this wild and diverse gathering of people. Maybe "gathering" is overstated; they weren't really hanging out together, on purpose. They just happened to all be together in the city that day. They were from all different places, and spoke all different languages. Mostly, they just happened to be occupying the same physical space.

The Spirit comes to the disciples, and is visible to them, and tangible. Like a burst of strong wind. Like tongues of fire, that rest on each of them.

And the Spirit enables them to speak in languages they do not know. Which means the crowd gathered is enabled to hear--to comprehend and know--the Gospel message. All of them. In their own languages.

The Spirit connects them together in this powerful experience of God. It looks like a mess. So much so that others suggest they must be drunk.

It's understandable to want to try to explain away a powerful spiritual experience. But I give thanks that many of those there didn't let this experience get dismissed and explained.

Instead, it became a powerful beginning of the Church.

By empowering those disciples, that day, God's Spirit demonstrated its presence in and with us--enabling us to do the incredible work of sharing God's Gospel--the good news of life and love with God.

This Sunday, we also get to welcome the class of Confirmands who will join our church. They've been studying and discussion together this year, and are ready to commit themselves to the work of the church.

It's always cool to get to receive new folks into the church community. It's especially cool to receive young people.

Will you join me in praying that their spirits will help bring the Holy Spirit to our church and, even more, to our community and world?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

not what you expect

This week's scripture from Acts is a rollicking take of the adventures of those first folks who were figuring out how to be "church."

Paul and Silas are living the adventure of a life of faith, with intensity.

Do the stuff of "church": healing people and being living testimony to the power of the Gospel. And, as they do these things, they end up doing things that are not what the world expects.

Sometimes it gets them into trouble, and sometimes it makes them friends. It's definitely not what people expect. It's casting out spirits, getting thrown into jail, being freed by earthquakes and not running. And, about finding yourself breaking bread with the person who'd been charged with keeping you in chains.

This week, as you may know, we had a fire at our church building, in a room below our sanctuary. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the damage was fairly contained. I've been inspired by a spirit amongst our church leaders to not only persevere, but to be strengthened by this.

There have been overwhelmingly gracious offers of help from people--individuals and other churches and communities of faith. That people want to help us recover this beautiful church building is a blessing.

And, while I am glad for all this, I also wondering if it's not an occasion to remember what "church" really is: the gathering of those of us who are trying to be Christ's body in the world. Maybe now's as good of a time as any to remember that "church" happens most wondrously when we're out in the world.

I love the freshness and boldness of the faith Paul and Silas lived. Their faith (with the help of that earthquake) was rocking the world.

What do you think that would look like in San Diego, today?

A friend sent me the link to an article about a virtual church in the online world of Second Life. And, recognizing that I'm posting this on a little blog we call "virtual cove," I have to wonder at the distance between this kind of "church" and Paul and Silas's church. Both were a bit unconventional: one in a jail cell, and one in thousands of homes in front of computer screens (and with people, presumably, still in their pajamas. I am as I write this, after all...)

What I love about Paul and Silas and those other early Christians is that their faith lacked tenuousness, and certainly didn't have any of the buffers and safety barriers online life does. They weren't playing at being new people in Christ, trying on a different persona with the option of turning the computer off and becoming their old selves again. They were doing it, with the help of others.

I'm not saying that what we do in our church buildings on Sunday morning is a good recreation of Paul and Silas's lives of faith, either. (God knows that pantyhose and neckties were not part of their dress when they preached in that jail cell...)

I guess I'm just hungry for interaction, as the community of faith, that pushes us toward that vitality, joy and bold invitation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

rivers

We continue to read the end of the story this week, with another passage from This the end of Revelation. And it's got a river in it.

The river of life, it says, which comes through the middle of the city.

Since our church buildings are right in Mission Valley, in the very midst of the San Diego River floodplain, it seems like we're in a good place to be thinking about rivers coming in the midst of things. Too often, in spring rains, especially, the river reminds us that we are in its territory, as it floods streets we count on.

I, however, am caught enjoying the way this river of life, in this beautiful vision of God's incredible and fulfilling end to things, comes right in the city. And it nourishes a tree, which bears fruit in every season, and which has leaves that heal the nations.

I wonder what it would take for us to see ourselves as that tree--planted as we are in the midst of Mission Valley, at the edge of the San Diego River.

How might we be healing for our community, and for the nations? What "fruit" will we bear?

Monday, May 07, 2007

happy endings

When things seem stressful around the office, I like to remind people not to worry: I read to the end of the book, and it turns out well. (I stole this line from someone else, but can't remember who.) This week, we read part of that fabulous ending.

I love the last chapters of Revelation. This week, we read from Chapter 21. It's beautiful: one day, all our tears will be wiped dry. Our thirsts will be met with the abounding refreshment of the water of life.

The rest of the book of Revelation is a wild ride through sometimes horrifying, dramatic descriptions of an end-time; it's horror would look familiar to many who suffer the oppression, deprivation, violence and injustice of our world. But, then, at the end, this beautiful new reality emerges from the midst. Incredible.

So good, even, a band called Bad Religion can get it right: There will be sorrow no more.

I love imagining a better world. I love Micah's vision of vines and fig trees for everyone to sit under and, I suppose, feast on. (So much so that I planted kiwifruit and a fig tree in my own backyard this week...) I love how Isaiah told it, what with wolves and lambs hanging out together, and all being well.

This week, I was talking with some people about that vision of Isaiah's, about the wolves and lambs. It only works if everyone learns new ways of behaving. Otherwise, they can't hang out together. It won't end well. The harmony will be short-lived--maybe only 'til the photo op passes.

I wanna believe that this vision can last. Not just for a moment, for eternity.

I suppose that's why the makers of our lectionary, the three-year cycle of Bible readings we use on Sundays, paired Revelation with a story from Acts, in which we learn that Peter has learned a new way of behaving.

He's confronted by other religious people--folks who were concerned (to say the least) about his having totally blown the rules about eating "clean" things, with appropriate people. Peter, we learn, had not only eating off the holy diet, but he did it in the home of Gentiles. This is bad. When the people of Israel have disregarded holy rules like this before, they've ended up in exile for years.

Peter has a good answer: the Holy Spirit led me to do it. And it led that Gentile to invite me in, and to hear the Gospel preached, and to receive and be changed by that message. Then, he gets the best line in: If God did for them what God did for us, "like I'm going to stop God?!?" (That's my translation. Not official anything translation.)

The Spirit is at work in our world, making real this wild vision of God's future. Of a time when our tears are wiped away, and when we all have plenty of water of life to drink.

And, sometimes, it moves in such amazing ways that the best we can do is stay out of the way...

Monday, April 30, 2007

stories to tell

At the heart of our church life is a story. Story about God. It's incredible story: about God who becomes human. About God who is love, and who makes a new kind of abundant life possible...

Every week, we gather in worship to remind ourselves of the stories of our faith, and how they fit into the bigger story that's unfolding through us.

This week, we get some help in the storytelling. Or, if you prefer, storySINGING.
Our Chapel Choir is going to share some of Jesus' story with us through the music of Godspell. One of the things I love about this musical is the way its characters come to know the story of Jesus' life as they figure out how to tell it. It becomes their story.

So, we'll hear the Gospel with that 70's groove. And, we'll remember how John ends his Gospel. His testimony is just one piece of the story: there's so much more.

As we seek to worship this week, we're also aware that there's so much more to tell--of God's continuing presence in our lives. And, in our worship together at the Water's Edge. I give thanks that I can share this worship space with you. See you there...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Psalm for this Sunday is a familiar one--the one that starts "The Lord is my shepherd..." The one that reminds us of God leading us beside still waters.

Like many things I know by heart, this Psalm is one I can say without really thinking about the words. But when I do...oh, it's excellent. It seems like, everytime I do, I hear something new.

Mostly, I speak it at memorial services; it's comfort, both in what it says and in the familiarity of the words. It makes me feel better.

BUT, it doesn't promise that things will be easy. I like how it acknowledges that there's difficulty. It includes the "valley of the shadow of death." This Psalmist knows what's up--that life isn't always easy. This Psalmist knows I have enemies, but reminds me that God makes me a feast where I get to sit down in their presence.

Our other scripture passage, from John's Revelation, makes it even clearer: God wipes away every tear from our eyes.

(This is a nice change from the scariness of much of the rest of the book. Revelation is a wild ride.)

But I'll leave that fun for Sunday. Rev. Elbert is going to preach, and it will be good to welcome him to our gathering. I'll be away, so I trust you'll fill me in on what you figure out when I get back...

Monday, April 16, 2007

This week, we get to share in one of my favorite Jesus stories: the one where Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples. After he's been resurrected, and after they return to fishing, he appears on the lakeshore and cooks some fish for them.

I love it for a lot of reasons--delighting in good meals, sharing good food with good people, is just one of them.

I also like the gracious hospitality it shows--a risen Christ who sets a feast for us. (And not just the ritual of holy communion, when it happens inside our nice churches--but real, stick-to-your-ribs hearty breakfasts on the lakeshore...)

He had to be disappointed in the disciples. After all they'd seen, they went back to fishing. Not that fishing is, in and of itself, a dishonorable thing: it just meant that they weren't using their lives to follow Jesus.

(Incidentally, I can't think of any time Jesus actually went fishing, for fish. He certainly found disciples when THEY were fishing. And he certainly went onto boats...)

Instead of being mad, instead of showing his frustration at their slowness to let the Spirit's power really infuse their lives and change their futures, Jesus cooks for them.

There's a lesson here, somewhere...

-

And, as is there isn't enough to think about there, we also get to share in the story of Saul's conversion (in which he becomes Paul). Set next to the story of Jesus's breakfast, though, I suspect it might be as much about Ananias's hospitality as it is about Saul's being changed. CHeck it out.

AND, of course, Sunday is Earth Day.
That's gotta fit in there somewhere. Of course, a little better hospitality (like shown by Jesus and Ananias) might not hurt our planet...

Monday, April 09, 2007

witness protection program?

The day after Easter, in this pastor's life, is a day of letting-down; all the details and expectation of Holy Week is over. I get to rest back in Resurrection, which I celebrate as grace and hope. And, I get a little punchy...

So, as I ponder this week's scripture, I'm wondering which is worse: folks who just come to church on Easter (and Christmas, of course), or the disciples, in that they hear and know something of the incredible story and power of resurrection, but then keep it protected, behind locked doors.

I'm thinking of two ways we (me certainly included) tend to do this:
One is that we discover how cool life in God is, so we join church. We fill up on the Holy Spirit every week, we find meaning for our lives, and we find it good. But then we just keep that to ourselves. Lacking good models for how we might share our faith (that is, in a way that is not judgmental or pushy or, well, really annoying), we just keep quiet about it.

Our organist at the church, Bob, has talked about how people who find a great new restaurant will eagerly mention it to others, but how relatively reticent we are to talk about something that feels our souls...

The other way this can happen is when we get afraid. John's gospel says the disciples hid behind locked doors because they were afraid. Could be a lot of things that bring us fear, but the one I feel most crippled by these days is the fear that we'll lose what we have. We, in the church, treasure what brought us here, and therefore fear change--the kind of change that might, actually, allow us a more-full experience of the divine.

So, we frown at people who don't dress right, or who belong to the wrong associations, or who seem like they might make us listen to music we hate. (Or, they might do something CRAZY like play a kazoo solo on Easter Sunday. But I digress...)

I'm still haunted/enchanted by a story Doug Pagitt
told at an Emergent Church gathering a couple of years ago, in which he talked about adopting children into his family. They didn't invite the kids in, show them a list of activities the family was planning to participate, and tell them they'd be welcome anywhere. (That would be absurd.) They made them a part of the family, and let everything they'd do be shaped by their presence.

If we, the church, are the family of God, shouldn't we do the same?

And I think we (the water's edge people) need to remember this as much as anyone. We're getting good at being family together, but I'm feeling the Spirit pushing us to share this good stuff we have with others. People who might not find any church to call home, except that they feel at home here. Because we're seeking after being authentic to the Spirit's witness in this place.

As we ponder how we're being (re)defined by resurrection this year, maybe it's a good time to ask how our witness to the outside world looks.

What do you think?

Monday, April 02, 2007

before sunday...

there are lots of chances to worship together this week:

On Wednesday, there's a Family-Friendly Vespers worship, at 5:30 in the sanctuary. There'll be an organ duet featuring 10-year-old Justin (on a familiar tune called "Jesus Loves Me") and, best of all, a chance to share in communion with folks of all ages. Afterwards, there's a simple dinner and activities for families of all ages, shapes and sizes.

On Thursday, there's Maundy Thursday worship, at 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. It's the day we remember Jesus' Last Supper, and so we gather again at that communion table, this time with a special drama.

On Friday, there's noontime worship for Good Friday. It technically starts at 12:15, but there'll be music to be had starting before then. Worship with our community as we mark Jesus' death.

And, the piece I'm most excited about: a new kind of Easter Vigil.
With experiential ways to interact with the Holy Week stories, this is a rich new way to begin the Easter Season. And, new though it may be to us, it builds on way-ancient traditions of the Easter Vigil. (The Vigil just happens to be one of the most ancient Christian traditions we know of!) Plus, we will be baptizing adults--welcoming new sisters and brothers in the family of God. So, you'll want to be there. Start in the Chapel, anytime between 7:30 and 9 p.m.

this sunday: resurrection



We get to celebrate Easter this week. Everything made new. God's eternal life triumphs over the ugliest of human violence. And, even over death. There's nothing to fear. We belong in God, who is everything.

When Mary encounters Jesus in that garden about what had seemed to be his tomb, she's not ready to recognize him. She, along with the other disciples, is STILL not prepared for what's going on in God. It's not until he calls her name that she realizes it's him--that she's speaking with the one who she mourns. (And, it's not just magical thinking.)

He tells her not to hold onto him.

I think Resurrection is like that: you just can't hold onto it BUT it changes everything.

I've been trying to figure out how to imagine that--an image for this.

There are many good ones that've been thought of before: the freedom and lightness of a butterfly (transformed from it's previous life as a caterpillar, after a time in that tomb-like cocoon), the grace of Easter lilies. The precious and stunning display of sunsets--light transformed in an instant to reveal colors previously imperceptible.

You cannot own, control, or hold too tightly to these.

But, this morning, I'm thinking even more of sandhill cranes.

It's crane season back home in Nebraska--those incredible days when millions of cranes gather in a narrow stretch of the Platte River. There, they gather strength by gleaning grain from the cornfields. They sleep in the river to stay safe. And, best of all, they dance.

Each night, just before sunset, they return to the river en masse, singing and dancing (and hoping to attract mates). For that brief period of time, these days in late March and early April, the beauty of the cranes (usually distributed halfway around the world) is visible in overwhelming glory, in one place. Fragile-looking and wonderful. Resilient and full of life.

What images would you give to resurrection life?

Monday, March 26, 2007

No-Palms Sunday

Periodically, I ask myself what our worship might look and sound like to someone who hadn't been going to church all their life.

I know, I know: I ought to ask this all the time. We're meant to offer this Gospel message and the liberating grace of God to those outside the church, and it'll never work if we just use our clever codes that take years of getting-used-to. I'm working it on.

This week, though, as we head into Holy Week, the big celebration of Christ's death and resurrection, we're confronted with a particular challenge:

Our scripture for Palm Sunday has NO PALMS in it. It's the same story: Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. But in Luke, people spread "garments" on the ground, not palms, as Jesus enters in bizarre theatrics that look royal, but with several key differences. (He's on a donkey rather than a horse, for one...)

Maybe it's time to think about this story with a bit of freshness. The gospel (what with its omission of mention of the very objects our Sunday is named for) demands that we look a little more closely.


James Ensor painted this reimagining of Christ's triumphant entry--making him ride into 19th Century Brussels instead of 1st Century Jerusalem. (You can go see it at the Getty Museum. It looks much more incredible in real life. It's big.) And, he invites us to ask: what would it look like for Christ to ride into our lives/culture/nation/world?

That donkey ride began a week of intensified confrontation between Jesus and Rome. It made clear that Jesus' life-giving, transforming, grace-filled, resurrection power wouldn't work with Roman attempts to powerfully keep control in the world.

SO: come to worship this Sunday. We'll see if we can't make it "just another" Palm Sunday. Jesus' entry demands more. And, after all, even if we fail, the rocks themselves will speak for us. (It's in Luke. I don't make these things up.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

more extravagance

In case the prodigal love Jesus talked about last week wasn't enough...

This week, we get another extravagant act of love. In John's gospel, this story of Mary (here the Mary of "Martha's sister" fame) tells of how she used a whole bottle of expensive perfume to pour out on Jesus' feet.

And, in case that doesn't seem extravagant enough, she then used her hair to wipe those feet.

This is big stuff. Bold, improvisational, daring, extravagant stuff. As if Mary were trying to find a way, within the limitations of our bodies and the stuff of the world, to demonstrate the depth of the love she had for Jesus.

In Isaiah, the lavishness of praise for God gets even wilder (in a literal way). Here, jackals and ostriches get in on the action. (Now, what's more fun than imagining how an ostrich would praise God?!?)

Because of the gracious, life-giving things that God is doing in the world, and through Jesus, people want to pour out praise. And love. And perfume. God, whose love, as it turns out, cannot be contained by the limitations of bodies and worldly stuff. (That is, Jesus is about to die, but that's not gonna be the end...)

I guess that invites us to ask how we will use our limited bodies to praise God.

I have the sense that doing so might just connect us to something truly extravagant.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

get our your banjo and rosin up your bow...

It's time for another foot-stompin bluegrass Sunday.

(the picture doesn't quite capture the joy our band will spin into music, as we celebrate the return of a lost son and the bigness of God's love.)

Karen's preachin'. The band's a playin'. It'll be a good time!

So, invite your friends and come on down to the waterin' hole. (Specifically, the Cove at FUMCSD on Sunday at 9:30.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

a risky re-translation?

I love the passage from Isaiah 55 that we'll read this Sunday. It's all about God's abundant goodness--and how God intends us all to be well and to enjoy the rich simplicities of life.

But I always cringe at the first word.

In the Bible we use, the NRSV, this grace-infused passage begins: "Ho!"

Ho?!?

Whether I associate it with Santa, gardening, or something more promiscuous, this word hardy prepares me for what's to come.

So I looked up the Hebrew. You can, too. And I propose a new translation. (At least, for So-Cal readers, turle-lovers who've watched "Finding Nemo" or for people who watch Lost and love Hurley.)

We need a quick interjection that catches our attention and prepares us to hear the word-encrusted gems of God's abundance.

I propose "Dude."

Now, at the risk of sounding irreverant or trivializing, I think it's a good choice.

To say, "Dude!" is to call attention--to say "No, really! Check this out!"

I also like that it is unpretentious, and disarming. This isn't the message of sophisticated folks who have it figured out, pinned down and diagrammed. This is a poem that asks us to realize the grace that's all around us, that comes when we share the good stuff of life.

Beautiful, dude.

Our passage ends with verse 9, which reminds us, with gratitude, that we don't do or understand things like God.

Which, in my humble opinion, prepares us to hear the harsh words Jesus speaks in Luke's gospel this week: we have to repent.

Not because we are unworthy, or wretched beyond hope, but because none of us is God. And, all of us (individually, and together) are a whole lot better of when we remember, daily and in every moment, to turn towards God.

Repentance is about big things. (Last week, as we lamented together, we thought of big stuff like hunger, war, child poverty...) But all of these "big" things also begin with little, individual, daily movements toward God's grace.

So, oddly, we find ways to celebrate the joy to be found in life, as we remember to repent. It's good stuff.

Monday, February 26, 2007

crosses and other difficult things

Lent is never an "easy" season; I feel it working on me, trying to refine me and get rid of my imperfections. That burns.

So, even while I see so many themes that I agree with, I find plenty in our texts for this week that makes me pause. And think about what it means for me, now.

In Philippians, Paul contrasts the people who are like him (Paul) to those who are "enemies of the cross of Christ."

Today, this caught me.

Enemies of Christ are one thing. Enemies of the CROSS of Christ...well...that's a whole 'nother thing. It seems to me that Paul is reminding us that faithful living is a difficult thing. It requires suffering--even crosses.

Ironically, incredibly, those who are "enemies of the cross of Christ" are the ones who end in destruction. Logic would seem to say that the way to avoid destruction would be to avoid crosses.

Clearly, this is a different kind of "cross"--a different kind of suffering--that we're being invited into.

It makes me think of a powerful song by Bernice Johnson Reagon, which she sang with Sweet Honey in the Rock. She starts with an old Afro-American spiritual, "Ain't that Good News", and then preaches a sermon in the middle. She says it's good news, but hard times we're called to. We're called to "lay down this world, shoulder up the cross," and that's the good news.

If I didn't know how rich life feels when I'm doing what I believe God to be calling me to, I'd say she was crazy.

Somehow, though, this cross-work IS good news. And, even better, it leads to our belonging. "Citizenship" in heaven, as Paul names it. Jesus uses the image of a mother hen gathering her chicks in safety to tell about how we belong in God's good news, in Luke's gospel.

When I look at the world, it seems like there's plenty of suffering already--we don't need to be taking up new crosses. But, I wonder, what might happen if we did a better job of sharing in carrying the suffering of the world?

If we are, after all, like Paul suggests, citizens of heaven, perhaps we share together in bearing the world, with all its hopes and all its pain.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

known by heart

Today, as I post this, is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday happens to be just about my favorite day in the Christian year. I suspect my love of this day has something to do with its simple, honest grace.

During Lent, we are invited to turn our hearts to God. To do so, we turn our hearts away from everything that has been distracting us from God...

This can be tough, but it's so good--because we know that God's response is loving and gracious. We don't have to wonder, because we know God is loving and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (I didn't think that up. I just stole it from the Hebrew scriptures.)

So, today, we're invited to turn toward God, and ask for repentance.

The best part, though, are the words we say as we mark each other with ashes: "Remember that you a dust, and to dust you shall return."

Somehow, this is just the grace I need. Right now and every year. I am a connected part of God's good creation. I am dust, just as everyone and everything else is. The world is not on my shoulders. I can savor each day.

Usually, it makes me more able to savor the goodness of the natural world, too: after all, it's dust just like me.

But I digress:
This was supposed to be about this coming Sunday.

During Lent, we're going to think about what it means to "know by heart" and to be "known by heart." Our suspicion is that this "heart" stuff is critical: it helps us remember what it means to belong to God.

You may have heard that Rev. Earl Kernahan, who has been a part of our community for the past two years, died early this Monday morning. In his 93 years of life, and lifetime's worth of ministry, he has shown many of us--near and far--a beautiful witness of what it means to live your faith "by heart." Working for racial reconciliation, for social justice, for the strengthening of communities, against gambling, he lived his deep faith.

When I talked to him recently about the Bible, he had one clear favorite sentence memorized: "God is love."

So, this Sunday in our 9:30 worship, we get to think about how, this Lent, we might get better at living that love.

I also want you to know that you're very welcome to come share in celebration of Rev. Earl's life--we'll gather for a memory service at 12:30 on Sunday, in the Cove.

Monday, February 12, 2007

mountaintops


The Water's Edge is moving to the mountains this week! So, if you're joining us in worship, don't go to the usual place in San Diego; go to Camp Cedar Glen in Julian, at 10:30 in the Chapel.

Although it seems a bit sketchy that the "water's edge" should be in the mountains (perhaps it's the mountain spring, the source of the water?), there's certainly precedent for going to the mountains to be a part of something holy.

And, as if by God's grace, this week's scripture passages are about just such events.

In the midst of his earthly ministry, Jesus took three disciples with him, and went up a mountain, where he was "transfigured." That is, he got his glow on. He "shone like the sun." And God reminded those disciples that Jesus was special, and that they should listen to him.

Sometimes, I wish for clarity like that--glowing lights that help me see what is holy, and what I need to pay attention to. But it turns out neon signs are not necessarily God-indicators, and, ironically, I find the dark night of the mountains--far away from the city lights--to give greater clarity.

It's not just Jesus who has a glowing, mountain-top experience, though: our other scripture lesson tells of a time Moses shone brightly , even AFTER coming down from the mountaintop where he received God's law.

So, I'm hopeful that this weekend's time on the mountain will help us glow. Or, at least, remind ourselves how good it is to be together in God's presence. And, perhaps, it will be apparent to the world...

Monday, February 05, 2007

on the level

It may not be as hip as Gwen Stefani this week, but I'm still fixating on words and phrases.

This week, it's about Jesus "leveling" with us.

See, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus gives this famous set of teachings that we often call his "Sermon on the Mount."

In Luke's gospel, we get a set of teachings that start in remarkably similar ways, but this time, we're told, he "came down with them and stood on a level place." A level place. (Not a mountain.)

Perhaps he used riffs of the same sermon twice. (Some of the greatest preachers today also have a set of stories they use over and over...) Or, perhaps the gospel writers used artistic license in telling the stories. Or maybe one gospel-writers "level place" is another gospel writers "mount." Who am I to say.

I'm just enjoying the idea of Jesus going to a "level" place, and leveling with the folks there: telling them some true things about God's reality. Like that the poor are blessed. And so are the broken-hearted, the down-trodden, the outcast and those who suffer hate.

And then, unlike Matthew, he goes straight into more, flip-side, true things about God's reality: "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." Woe to the full-up, the comfortable, the popular.

Here again the wisdom of the scripture tells us things are flipping over, getting up-turned, and all changed around.

(Didn't we just get this in Advent, when Mary was singing her Magnificant, and when the tenor in the choir sang Isaiah's words from Handel's Messiah about those valleys being exalted and rough places plain?)

OR...perhaps...

Jesus is preaching to us about how he's flattening out the distinctions we've been using to compare ourselves to others, to remind us how we might be different/better?

On a plain, Jesus plainly speaks the good news that God is making our heaped-up differences and divisions, well, flat like a plain.

Makes me think of how much fun it is to play broomball. You take a group of people, preferably ones who have already decided which of their group is talented at athletics, and which folks are cool, and you throw them into an ice rink. With shoes on. Suddenly, the playing field is leveled. (!) Everyone's lousy at hockey when they slide around on the ice in their silly shoes. Everyone looks silly. And, usually, everyone has a good time. (It helps that youth groups can usually only afford ice time in the middle of the night.)

In the Nebraska plains, we play in our socks on the basketball court. That works, too.

My question is: how can we, as the church, model this making-level that Jesus preaches? In a world filled with divisions, what will bring us to a level spot?

-

And, this week in worship, we'll keep thinking a bit more about resurrection. Not that we'll figure it all out. Paul will have some more words.