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!"


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.