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


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?)


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.