Thursday, October 30, 2008

deeply rooted

This photo from National Geographic caught my imagination today, as I pondered this week's scripture and themes. There's a lot going on:

We celebrate All Saints' Sunday, as we remember and honor those who have gone before us, and who surround us as a cloud of witnesses. We stand on their shoulders, as is they were a part of the root system on which we bear fruit and grow today.

We begin our celebration of a Season of Creation, a time to honor and remember our belonging in a household of God that counts this earth as its home. Belonging in creation requires humility, repentance and attentiveness to God's grace. This week, we honor the land in our observance.

And, we finish this crazy journey we've been on for many weeks, moving with the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, to the promised land. Last week, we read of Moses' death, and this week, Joshua shows that God is continuing to lead the people, now through him. As they step foot into the Jordan River, on their final crossing into the promised land, they know they're a part of something much bigger than themselves.

We're on a journey much bigger than any of us can see, too.

As we remember that first step into the river, as the waters of the Jordan River became dry ground, I'm feeling called to ponder my own steps as I try to walk in God's ways.

Rivers aren't the boundary I feel most called to cross these days, but I have been feeling the pull of God as I ponder how to live more responsibly in this world.

As our world economic systems' collapse reveals that they are not the source of our truest security, I wonder if I'm called to rethink where I most put my trust. And, as we ponder the gift of the land, on this precious sphere we call earth, perhaps we need better ways of sharing its blessing with all God's children.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

images of God

The gospel story this week is yet another reminder of how God's ways are not our ways: met again with an attempt at cornering him into answers that would get him into trouble, Jesus busts the argument wide open.

Asking a question about whether it's "lawful" to pay taxes, some Pharisees want to trap Jesus in a polarized political battle of their time. They know that this is not a campaign rally, where most people present want to hear the same thing, but a debate in which people who were eager to hear opposing answers were all present.

Jesus refuses their answer. Asking whose image is on the coin they'd use to pay taxes, he offers that it's fine to give it to that person. Caesar's image is on the coin, so go ahead and give it to Caesar.

But then it gets crazy: he says to give to God what is God's. And we know that each of us is made in the image of God. Suddenly, argument over some coins seems trivial. We're called to give our whole selves.

I love that this call comes because God's image is all over us. It's a beautiful reminder to remember that all that we are and all that we have is, really, God's. We are blessed, known, named and marked by God's love.

Which, really, is what Moses was worried about in this week's Exodus passage. Negotiating with God for evidence that God would continue to be with the people of Israel, Moses's story reminds us that God is, even when we disobey, still with us. God's image is all over us and deep within us.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

giving up

Lately, I've been occupied with the sense that we ought to spend more time talking about what the church is not. Or, better, what being a Christian means you ought to give up.

In this week's scripture passages, folks have a hard time giving up old ways of being. While Moses is up on Mount Sinai hanging out with God, Aaron and the rest of the folks get restless and anxious and decide to make a god on their own--not God's preferred activity, to say the least. Then, in the New Testament, Jesus tells a story about some folks who go to a wedding party the King is throwing, but don't bother to put on their party clothes; it's clear that they should have.

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me both are stories of people unwilling to give up their old ways of being. In the first, their anxiety prompts them to try to find their own gods. In the second, not even a wedding invitation from the King is enough to make people change their clothes.

In baptism, since the early church, we are asked to take on vows that speak both of what we take on (belonging in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ) and what we give up (our ties to sin, evil, injustice, the powers of this world, and more). Becoming a part of God's people requires both: we let go of who we were to become someone new.

Some things are hard to let go of. Mostly, though, it feels really good.

The fact that the seemingly all-powerful economic systems of our time are collapsing around me certainly makes it a relief to lay down my own false belief that I could secure my future with good financial investments, anyhow.

How good it is to know that our salvation is to be found in something altogether different, better, and more life-giving.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

whose world? whose vineyard?

If you're not wanting church to have political implications, this is not the season for following our lectionary's Gospel texts! Jesus just keeps telling these stories that are loaded with politics and economics.

Again this week, for our third week in a row, Jesus has a story about workers and vineyard. This one's about real estate ownership, though--it features an absent landlord, who leaves slaves in charge of things, and sends back to collect income off his property.

The funny thing about this story, though, is that Jesus is playing with our assumptions about the cast of characters. Like in our own times, the regular people in Jesus' audience were likely resentful of the rich, powerful and greedy folks who seemed to be in charge of things. As the wealthy, absent owner of the vineyard appears, I bet they're already starting to boo and hiss.

But he messes with them--because this vineyard owner also reminds them of God. If God is the vineyard owner, then the people who seem to be in power become the tenants. And suddenly, the playing field they'd imagine shifts: the people who seemed so powerful are really nothing, in comparison to God who is God of everything and everyone. The tenants are punished for their attempts at greed, and the land is to be given into someone else's care.

How quickly perspectives can shift when we remember God! What seemed powerful suddenly looks pretty weak.

This Sunday, we celebrate World Communion Sunday. I pray that our sharing in communion, especially this week, will remind us of the perspective shifts God keeps asking us to make, over and over, as we remember how big God is, and how big God's grace is.

The communion table is one place where we're already working out the arrangement that will come to fullness in God's kingdom: everyone welcome and included as a part of one family and fellowship.

This Sunday afternoon, I'm going to share in communion worship at the US/Mexico border. Along with others in our worldwide Christian family, we'll pass the body of Christ through a fence that keeps our nations separate. And, I suspect, we'll taste a power that cannot be contained or constricted by any kind of border fence.

In invite you to join me--we'll meet in Friendship Park, inside the Border Field State Park at 2:30. All are welcome. (To get there from San Diego, take the 5 south, nearly to the border. Exit at Dairy Mart Road, and go west until you enter Border Field State Park. There is a $5 entrance fee for each car, and you'll need some valid US ID to get out of the park afterwards.)