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.