Saturday, March 21, 2009

Helping us Get It

How do you explain your faith to others?

What helps you "get it" yourself?

I marvel at the many ways Jesus tries to help Nicodemus understand faith. In the third chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus tries in many differing ways to help Nicodemus understand faith. (The part we'll consider this week is here.

Most confusing for Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came go Jesus under cover of night, was the concept of grace.

God didn't send the Son into the world to condemn the world.

This is not about judgment. This is about new life.

The Vernal Equinox -- Spring -- seems a wonderful time to celebrate faith as new life, transformed life, new birth.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!

This week's gospel sound-bite catches another shockingly confrontational moment in Jesus life: in his first moments of public ministry (according to John), Jesus makes as scene at the temple where he's come to celebrate Passover.

Finding the courtyard full of people selling animals to offer to God, and moneychangers to help folks from lots of different places make those offerings, Jesus fashions a whip and chases them all out.  

"Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
The other Gospels give him another line, about turning the temple into a "den of thieves."  But John leaves his complaint with having made God's house a "marketplace."  Which makes me wonder what the difference is between a marketplace and a den of thieves...

It leaves me to imagine that what set Jesus off wasn't that the booths are charging outrageous tourist prices for the sheep, doves and cattle folks would have been purchasing to fulfill their obligations to make offerings to God on this holy day.  It was something about them selling sheep, doves and cattle at all.

I'm wondering if maybe he was overcome by a shocking realization that people were giving way more energy to buying the right sheep, doves and cattle for worship than they were to worshipping God?  

I confess: I sometimes spend way too much time thinking (obsessing?) about things that aren't what really matters.  And I wonder how clearly my life--what people see me spending my time on and giving myself to--communicates about God's role in my life. 

What if we're not supposed to ask "Am I putting the cart before the horse," but "Am I putting the sheep, doves and cattle before real worship?"

Monday, March 02, 2009

Get behind me, Satan!

We are continuing our "Gospel Sound Bites" with this quick quip from Jesus to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan!"

I'm sort-of kicking myself this Monday, wondering what I was thinking in picking this phrase out of this week's rich text from Mark. (I could have easily gone for "Take up your cross and follow me," for example...)

I confess: articulating a theological understand of Satan's power is not the pastoral task that puts me most at-ease.

(You can see a clever cartoon of the dilemma here, from ASBO Jesus in England.)

Last week, we focused on repentance. This week Satan. Dangerous ground--these ideas are laden with the baggage of a legacy of self-righteous, judgmental use. And yet, I admit my own curious inability to resist giving them a go.

(As if I can be the one to wrest new, true, life-giving, liberating meaning out of the stuff of fear-mongering fire-and-brimstone preaching, and hand-painted signs waved by end-predicting fanatics.)

I suppose this would be a good place for a little Lenten humility. I can't claim to understand exactly why Jesus chose this angry rebuke, renaming Peter (who, incidentally, was given the name "Peter" by Jesus, too, because, apparently, because of his rock-like foundational leadership) as Satan.

Satan, in Mark's gospel, is the one who was testing Jesus in the wilderness. And the one who steals the Word of God before it can bear fruit, in the language of the Parable of the Sower. An adversary, at the least, and, somehow, the incarnation of temptation to the opposite of God's intentions for the world.

What did Peter do to earn this name? He spoke up in opposition to Jesus' description of the suffering and rejection he was to experience from the folks in power at the time.

It looks as though Peter had a different vision of what the Messiah should experience--something other than suffering in the hands of those in power. I imagine Peter thought Jesus would become the hands in power.

(Which, come to think of it, is one of the temptations Satan offered to Jesus in the wilderness, according to Matthew and Luke's gospels.)

In Lent, we're tempted to talk a lot about suffering. Many take on Lenten practices that are uncomfortable--fasting, for example. (Or, perhaps, giving up chocolate. Or Facebook.) I suspect, though, that this is not the kind of suffering that Jesus was taking about. Not fasting, or self-flagellation, or ever self-imposed guilt.

Jesus was to suffer rejection by the powerful leaders of his time, because he presented a different way of living in the world. His message and his ministry were a threat to the established power and priorities of his time. (And, come to think of it, in a whole bunch of ways, ours...)

So, when Jesus called Peter out, he was clarifying that this ministry is not about accumulating power. It's about being fully-committed to a new way of living.

I'm not thinking that I'd much like being called Satan, but I do admit to my need for help in staying on track toward God's kingdom values.

In the midst of a world filled with far too much suffering, we are called to honor a God who calls us out when we put our own power above the needs of the suffering of the world.