Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Merry Christmas! What a joy it is to be able to say those words. After a long season of waiting the joy of the season has arrived. Whether you hear these words on Christmas day or thought the first week of January, they are still true and appropriate. Because, contrary to all of the pre-Christmas sales and pre-Christmas movie count downs, the twelve days of Christmas begin the day after Christmas and run through January 6th, Epiphany.
Traditionally there are twelve days to celebrate the birth of Christ in the Christian year, ending with the celebration of the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child.
But like so many things in our world, the twelve days have been rushed. They have been placed before Christmas so that Christmas feels like an ending, instead of a beginning. Once the packages are open, the feast consumed, the joy seems to end.
This should not be so for us who celebrate the birth of Christ! Our joy should go on throughout the season.
There are many theories and ways to do this. Perhaps doing an act of kindness every one of the twelve days would be a good way to share the continuing joy of Christ with others. Some people use advent calendar type reminders of the twelve days. There are churches who have twelve days of Christmas services or Christmas prayers open to all who wish to extend their joy of the season.
There is a song about the Twelve days of Christmas written down in the late 17 hundreds, although its origin is more than likely older. Most of you are familiar with it. It is about a true love sending gifts that increase in extravagance throughout the season. While it more than likely was just a children’s song for fun and mirth, recently people have begun to ascribe theological meanings to the lyrics.
A common story linked to the song is that it was used as a secret catechism during the 1500’s-1700 while Catholicism was against the law in great Brittan. The lyrics were infused with meanings that only the faithful would understand. Some people, including the authors of snopes.com will tell you that such meanings are false. They state that singing a catechism song only at Christmas would lead to very bad memorization at the very least.
While it is true that the song itself has French roots, I would argue with Snopes.com and other neigh Sayers.
I don’t believe that the original intent of the song was to be a catechism. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used that way.
In the same manner Christians have adopted traditions from all over the world to represent the birth and salvation through Jesus. The evergreen tree was not originally a sign of God’s continual unending mercy. It was a sign of the hope that a new year would come and that life did not end in winter.
A good number of scholars believe Jesus was born in June, not December, but the church picked this time of year to consider with festivals that were already occurring. To give new meaning to old and beloved traditions. To share the good news of Jesus through any means necessary.
So I will now give you the Christian interpretation of the twelve Days of Christmas, Not claiming that this was the intent of the writers, but claiming it as a way we can share God through all things!
On the first Day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.
The “true love” spoken of throughout the song is God. The partridge is Jesus, who willingly gave up his life to protect the children of God.
. . . Two turtle doves                                       the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.
. . . Three French Hens                                   The Christian values of Faith Hope, and love
. . . Four Calling Birds                                      The four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
. . . Five golden rings                                       the first five books of the bible, known as the Pentateuch
. . . Six geese a laying                                      the six days of creation
. . . Seven Swans a swimming                      the sevenfold gifts of the spirit Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy
. . . Eight maids a milking                               The Beatitudes
. . . Nine ladies dancing                                  The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit-----love, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
. . . Ten Lords a Leaping                              The Ten commandments
. . . Eleven Pipers Piping                    the Eleven Faithful Disciples
. . . Twelve Drummers Drumming              The twelve points of belief found in the Apostle’s creed

Remember the season of Christmas does not end on the 25th of December! Keep it with you, at least for the next twelve days, if not year round. Bring the joy of Christ through every door. Let the love of Christ show up in unexpected places, like a 16th century French Carol, or at the local Starbucks, or in the return line at Kohl’s!

May your days be filled with the love of Christ and the joy of his birth! Amen and Amen.

Fear Not - A Christmas Eve Sermon

Gloria Dios! En La Teirra Paz a los hombres!
Glory to God and on Earth Peace to men!
Today’s passage gives us these famous words, echoed in many churches in many languages across the world tonight. Words of comfort, of jo , of peace. These words make their way onto Christmas Cards and into the collective hearts of so many Christians and non-Christians alike.
But this year, I find myself asking why these words are so compleling. What is it about these words that endure? That speak truth to our hearts each year?
Too many time I think they endure because they are the opposite of what we live in day in and day out. Peace, Joy, Hope, Love the four Sunday’s of Advent are celebrated to remind us of what the Christ Child brings into our lives. Peace born amid chaos. Peace born into the war and rubble of our lives.
The headlines of the day are anything but good news. There are continued attacks in Aleppo even after a cease-fire has been declared to allow citizens to leave. There are continued concerns about the terrorist attack in Berlin which has European nations weighing heavily the cost of freedom verses the promise of security. People are trying to unravel the reasons behind the hijacking of a Libyan Airplane.
Fear is a much more common emotion for us than peace. We know what it’s like to be afraid. To be worried about our loved ones. TO be uncertain about our jobs. To be surrounded. Even fears from years ago have a way of returning unexpectedly. Tomorrow morning citizens in a section of Augsburg Germany (more than 54, 000 people) will be asked to leave their homes so that a bomb from WWII can be diffused. They must leave their homes Christmas Day so that a bomb from 1944 can be removed from their neighborhood.
Yes, fear is a common thing today, and it was in Mary’s day as well.
The fears of that day were perhaps not too different from today. There were fears of the government, wondering what might or might not be required of citizens. Fears for safety. No doubt the Shepherds that night were on the lookout for wildlife that might attack their sheep, for bandits who might abscond with a lamb or ewe. For silly sheep who might wonder off a cliff. Of all the things, they feared, none compared to a greeting from the heavenly hosts.
Into their everyday ordinary world, of chaos and fears, the angles appeared and told them to not be afraid. Don’t fear, we bring you glad tidings of great joy!
But its not easy to do. The world as we know it is so full of fears that they threaten to overrun us at a moment’s notice. So we stick to what we know. We say our prayers of protection, like spells cast out against evil spirits. We carry our lucky charms to reassure us when the road is dark. We clasp our security blankets knowing that all is right in the world if we can feel that silky fabric.
Like Linus in Charlie Brown, we need our blue blanket to make us feel safe in a world that seems largely out of our control. It gives us stability and hope when we cannot find it within ourselves. But perhaps, just perhaps this year we can be a little bit more like the Linus we see in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.
You may not have noticed it, it took a blog by Jason Soroski for me to notice. Linus, who is attached to the blanket more than anything begins reciting the words from Luke 2 to tell everyone what Christmas is all about.
He is holding his blanket in his hands as he begins to speak. And when he gets to the words, “Fear not” he does the unthinkable. Linus drops his blanket.
The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.
The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.
The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.
This very night, God breaks again into our world with these same words, these same glad tidings of great joy!
This very night, we hear again the promise of the angles and rush with the shepherds to see the babe lying in a manger.
This very night we are invited to let go of our fears and pick up the peace offered in Christ’s name.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Little Prince

Christ the King Sunday
One of my favorite stories as a child was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exuprey. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick it up. It’s a small book about an aviator whose plane has difficulty in the desert and he is forced to stop to repair. In this strange time, he meets a little boy who is a prince. A prince from outer space.
The book begins with this story:
Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing. In the book, it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."
I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked something like this:

http://theliterarylink.com/hat.jpg
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.
But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of a boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:http://theliterarylink.com/notahat.jpg
The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
When I look at the picture painted for us today in Luke’s Gospel there are times when I get that feeling of reading the Little Prince all over again. When I look at it from one perspective it seems like nothing more than the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted upon an innocent man. It looks like failure. It looks like loss. It looks like the end.
I’m sure that is the view the soldiers had that day. They saw a defeated man, whom they could treat mercilessly. I’m not sure that they really saw a man at all. In order to commit such acts of violence against another you must stop seeing them as human, as equal, as real.
When those who placed Jesus upon that cross, whether by their hands or by their voices and commands, viewed the scene they saw the end. The end of people fighting against them. The end of their fear of losing power. The end of uprisings and rabble rousers. If they could put down the seeds of rebellion fast enough, harshly enough, then it would not rear its ugly head again.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees watched the crucifixion, they saw the end. The end of people questioning the status quo. The end of people daring to speak up. The end of someone threatening their power, their place, their prestige.
And while a sign hung above his head that said “This is the King of the Jews”, they did not see him as king.
When the followers of Jesus watched this crucifixion, with tear filled eyes and grief filled hearts. They too thought it was the end. The end of the life they had begun to finally live. The end of their hoped-for rebellion. The end of their dreams.
But a shift in perspective, from the crowd below to the thief next to Jesus tells a different story. This man sees something that the others cannot see. He has a hope that the others dare not dream. He looks at Jesus, dying the same death as Jesus, only his is deserved per his own words, and what does he see?
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Your kingdom. He sees the King of Glory, Prince of Peace, King of Kings. And with all the strength he can muster, which would not have been much, he asks to be remembered by Jesus.
Jesus, the name means “The Lord Saves” or “He saves.” The crucified thief says Savior, remember me. He sees not the end, but the beginning.
The thief sees this moment as a moment of the ushering in of God’s kingdom. He’s not sure exactly what it will hold, but he knows there will be something, for he asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus tells him something even better than a yes. He says “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is the beginning, not the end that everyone has seen up to this point. It is the beginning, of new life, and that life abundant!
It is the beginning of a new way, one ushered in through the death of an innocent man.
Today, in Luke’s Gospel is used as the moment when God’s salvation breaks through. In Luke 4:21 Jesus says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In Luke 19 Jesus tells Zacchaeus “I am going to your house Today” indicating that he is bringing salvation to Zacchaeus’ house.
Today, the Kingdom of God breaks into our ordinary lives.
Today, Jesus calls to us welcoming us to his kingdom.
Today, Jesus offers us his presence, to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
What so many have seen as the end, is really the beginning
A twist in perspective, a turn of the lens, a change in the way we look at things, looking through new eyes as new creations, we see this unexpected, unequaled King Jesus.
Friends, let us not be content to look at the picture before us and see what the world sees.
When the piolet in The Little Prince shows his work to fellow adults they always say “it is a hat.” Then he knows he cannot talk with them about the things of his imagination. When the little prince first sees it he knows instantly what it is and asks him to draw a sheep. They see things from the same perspective.
When we see the picture painted by this passage in Luke, let us see it not as the end, but as the beginning. We know that this moment ushered in new life. We see, not a defeated man, but a king, the King of Glory.
May we celebrate that fact; may we see salvation where the world sees suffering. May we see hope where the world sees death. May we know that this is not the end, but the beginning of the Reign of Christ the King!




Thursday, November 10, 2016

Testify

Luke 21:5-19
“Joy to the world, the election is over, at least for two more years!”  While that might not be the good news you all were expecting to hear this morning, it is the good news I’ve been clinging to since Tuesday night.
This election process has left me feeling worn down, beat up and stressed out. I think it revealed to us that there is a lot of division in the country and that we need to get better at listening to one another instead of talking at one another.
The thing that I’ve struggled with this week is how we as a community of faith can come together and heal through all of this. Some of us are very excited. The candidate of our choice won and we are happy. We want to celebrate. Others of us are disappointed that our candidate lost. We want to mourn, we are afraid, we are anything but celebratory.
My challenge as your pastor is to try to help us all navigate through our experiences and to recognize that God is active in all that is going on today. With the fear, with the division, with the exuberance, with the joy. How do we find hope together?
And then, the lectionary gives us this reading from Luke about stones crumbling on from another and wars and I just want to toss my hands in the air.
But I won’t. I’ll pull myself together and get down to business. This passage in Luke is a fascinating read. It has been read as apocalyptic literature at its best. Descriptions of wars, natural disasters, persecution, imprisonment are peppered throughout. But, and this is a big but, it’s not about the end of the world.
That’s right, this is not a passage about the end of the world, or even the second coming of Christ. This is a passage about the temple and its upcoming destruction.
Luke wrote this passage around the year 90 in the common era. This tells of some of the collected sayings of Jesus, particularly his words about the temple, which had been destroyed in year 70, some twenty years before this Gospel. This is Jesus giving an amazing empowering message to a people who don’t yet know they need it, and to those of us who have already realized that structures and leadership can and will fail us.
Jesus tells those that are admiring the splendor of the temple that one day, soon, this temple will fall. No stone will be left on top of another. This would mean a shift in the way Israel worships. If there was no Temple, then where will they sacrifice? If there is no temple where can they go to be near the Holy of Holies? If there is no temple their entire way of life must change.
Not only does Jesus tell them there will be no temple, but that before that happens there will be war. There will be earthquakes. There will be famine. There will be signs in the heavens. Things will be more unstable then you’ve seen them before.
And wait, Jesus says, that’s not all!
You will face persecution. You will be hunted down for your faith by the religious leaders and civic leaders. You will be put in chains.
None of this sounds like good gospel news, does it? The world as you know it will fall apart, you will lose your freedoms. Not what any of us would sign up for.
Then we get to verse 13. This will give you an opportunity to testify.
All of this will happen, so that you can tell the good news of Jesus Christ, not when you’ve been pulled through your suffering, but right smack dab in the middle of that suffering.
You will be betrayed, hated by family and friends, but Jesus will be with you, giving you the testimony you need to bear witness to God.
Wow. This is intense. Luke is paving the way for an introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, a chronicle of what the apostles did after Jesus’ death and resurrection. How they were indeed persecuted, chained up, and yet given the chance to speak the word of God in the midst of those trials and sufferings.
Too often when I think of testimony or testifying in a spiritual context I think of it as sharing that good things that have happened. Sharing about a healing. Sharing about a bad thing turned good, and I think those are important things to share. But I think the kind of testifying Jesus is referring to here is that midst of the storm no end in sight testimony. Those words that acknowledge God is God no matter what the world may look like.
These testimonies come from the mouth of a woman who has just lost a child, grieving, but saying that God knows what it is like to lose a son.
They come from the lips of the dying who offer hope to those keeping vigil.
They come from the mouths of children who offer comfort by sharing their meals with the homeless man or woman on the side walk.
They come from people like you and like me, who are living through pain right now and still seeking God’s face.
In a moment, I’m going to ask you all to do something uncomfortable. I’m going to ask you to testify. I want you to be open and honest about what’s going on in your life I want you to share where you see God or where you struggle to see God. I want us to share our testimony with one another so that it will be easier to share it with those on the outside of these walls.
I’ll start. (share)
I now invite you to share in groups or with everyone your own testimony.
(allow time to share)
I’d like to close with one last testimony. The church musician Thomas Dorsey was born in 1889 in Georgia. He became a musician and spent time in the world of church music and in the clubs of the time. He eventually chose to focus on sacred music exclusively.
“In August of 1932, Dorsey left his pregnant wife in Chicago and traveled to a large revival meeting in St. Louis. After the first night of the revival Dorsey was handed a telegram which said “Your wife just died.” Dorsey raced home and learned that his wife had given birth to a son before dying in childbirth. The next day his son died as well. Dorsey buried them in the same casket and withdrew in sorrow and agony from his family and friends.  
While still in the midst of despair, Dorsey said that as he sat in front of a piano, a feeling of peace washed over him. He heard a melody in his head that he had never heard before and began to play it on the piano. That night Dorsey recorded this testimony while in the midst of suffering[i]
Let us together join in his testimony singing, Precious Lord, take my hand.



[i] Story retold by Nancy Lynne Westfield in Feasting on the Word Year C volume 4

Friday, November 4, 2016

One Bride for Seven Brothers

Luke 20:27-40
The first time I went to Steve’s grandmother’s house I was amazed. There was furniture everywhere. Three dressers in the dining room to hold various linens, curio cabinets filled with choochkies, tables of various sizes and uses. The house was pulled together beautifully, but there was a lot of stuff. It was a lot to take in.
The next time I went I looked a little bit more closely at the items around. And I noticed that there were stickers or labels on almost everything. They said Jim, Donny, Kelly, Heather, Steve, Gladys, Shela, and Cheryl. She caught me looking at them quizzically and explained quite quickly. “Those are the names of who gets what. If your name is on it, when I die, it’s yours.” She didn’t want her children arguing over her things, so she decided in advance who got what, and she expected her wishes to be fulfilled.
The first visit I made to Steve’s parents’ house after we were married was filled with very similar conversations. They told me where the important papers were, just in case. They showed me what furniture was Kelly’s and which was Steve’s. They even took me to the storage building to see which tools would go to which child. And every time we visited after that some version of that conversation would occur.
Some of you may be very familiar with these kinds of conversations. I didn’t grow up with them. I haven’t figured out if that’s because my extended family never really had much to argue over property wise, or if it’s because my Dad and his Dad had the same attitude “You aren’t going to get much of an inheritance,” he says, “It is my intention to watch you enjoy the blessings I can share while I’m still alive.”
Perhaps on All Saints Celebration Sunday it seems a bit odd to talk about inheritances. Isn’t it callous to think of the dead in terms of what they have left for us? And what does that have to do with the one bride for seven brothers scripture anyway?
The answer to the first question is, no. It’s not callus to think of the dead in terms of what they have left us, as long as we are not just talking about material things.
The answer to the second question is, it goes along perfectly with the scripture for today.
In our lesson from Luke Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You remember that entry of course, riding an unridden colt, people laying down their cloaks and waving palm branches? After this he goes into the city teaching and listening all the while heading to the cross.
In walk the Sadducees. We have not heard any other conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees in Luke. This is the first time they have spoken. Why might this be? Because the Sadducees believed that the place to worship God was at the temple, and only at the temple. Therefore, Sadducees were found where the temple was.
They have no doubt heard from other religious leaders the tales of this Rabbi. They have heard of his teaching, of his ability to draw a crowd, of his miraculous acts. A group decides to get close enough to test the mantle of this vagabond preacher so they ask a question.
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man[b] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
What an interesting question! It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to unravel, some knowledge of the Old Testament idea of levirate marriage. But Jesus can work this one out in his sleep, right?
Only the Sadducees don’t want an answer to that question, whose wife will she be. They are trying to catch Jesus in an unwinnable argument. How do we know that? Luke tells us right up front, the Sadducees who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. These men don’t even believe in the resurrection. They believe that this life is all you get, so follow the rules, worship in the right place, live well and your eternity will be what you leave behind, what inheritance you can offer as a legacy.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in what our legacy is, what we are leaving behind, that we forget to live now. Sometimes we can be so focused on getting to heaven that we forget to live as resurrection people now.
Jesus knew that the Sadducees had no real belief in the resurrection, he saw their question for what it was, an attempt to put Jesus into a box, to pin him down so that they could openly reject him, so they might have just cause to end his ministry.
But Jesus doesn’t play by their rules. He doesn’t get caught up in their question. Instead he makes perhaps one of the most liberating, most amazing, most radical statement that we never hear.
To understand let’s get a bit of a background on marriage in biblical times. Marriage was a contract entered into by a man and another man. Yes, you heard me right. Marriage was a contract between two men. The bride’s father, and the groom. The bride had no legal say in the matter. Very often she was not consulted on her willingness to be married at all let alone to the person she is sold to.
Yes, I said sold. There was a bride’s price paid by the groom’s family for a bride. This was an economic transaction. You paid for the bride a certain price based on age, social status, virginity and these prices fluctuated with the market.
This question the Sadducees asked was whose wife will she be, and at its heart this is a question not of relationship, but of ownership. Who will be her husband? Who will be the one responsible for her in the afterlife?
Jesus’ response is amazing. Marriage will not be an issue in the resurrection of the dead. People will not enter into such contracts with one another. People will no longer marry or be given in marriage. People will no longer be sold. The contractual nature of marriage as was known in the 1st century will not be needed in the afterlife. Resurrection people will know how to care for each other without looking to profit from that. Resurrection people will understand relationships and mutuality.
Think about that for a moment. Resurrection people will not sell one another. There primary identity will be that of a child of God, not husband or wife, father or mother, but a child of God. The relationship with God will be the primary relationship, all other relationships will stem from that one.
Wow! Can you imagine what that will be like? The first thing you will think when you see someone else will be, family, another child of God. Not, I don’t like his hair, or her teeth, or his politics, or her voice. They are a child of the Living God.
Some scribes reply to Jesus saying “You have answered well.” Note that these scribes are not Sadducees, but rather other teachers of the law. Jesus has not played the Sadducees game and has if fact said that their worry about inheritance is unnecessary.
So, what does this mean for us today in Huntsville, AL? What does this say to us two days from an election that has caused a lot of division and aggravation the past 18 months?
I believe, with all my heart, that we are called to be resurrection people, citizens of the kingdom of God, children of the Almighty, in the present and not yet kingdom. As resurrection people, we should live in the way Jesus describes- not selling people, aware of their inherent value as fellow children of God, fellow image bearers of God.
The legacy we have inherited from those who have gone before us has lead us to this place. We have benefitted from their faith. We have been blessed by their belief. We have been lifted by their prayers. But to remember their legacy is not enough. For God is a God of the living!
I ask, when we think of those matriarchs and patriarchs that have gone before, when we say things like “Those are big shoes to fill” or “We need more people like her or him” what are we saying? Are we standing there looking at the footprints hoping that someone else might step up? Are we looking around expecting another person to become the one that helps?
Let me be frank, if those of us here today are unwilling to step into those shoes, then there will not a be a Christ Church to leave as a legacy to Wyatt and Everett, to Madeline, Genevieve and Aylee.
If we live as resurrection people, acknowledging God’s love for all, then we will reach out to share that love with all. We will give joyfully to our sisters and brothers in need. We will respond with all that we are to God’s call because God is our primary relationship.
In the big things and in the small things, we have the chance to be the people of God. When you vote, if you haven’t already, take time to remember that everyone there, even the people who disagree with you, are God’s image bearers, and treat them as such. Remember that everyone running, yes, even Him, even her, are the image bearers of Christ. Pray for them both accordingly.
When you take these boxes home tonight, remember the children who you will be helping. The boys and girls in Haiti who will receive food and education through these funds, the boys and girls whose hair will grow back once their nutrition issues are addressed. Think of the families that will be reached with God’s love because one of the least of these was shown love.
May we, as resurrection people, carry the legacy of our Father in heaven with us willingly. May we step up and show love in action. Let us not wait to see what people do with what we leave behind. Let us help them enjoy the love of God in the here and now. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thoughts on the New CEB Women's Bible

***I was given an advanced copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review***
****I scheduled this to post originally on October 20th, however, I chose the wrong year so it would have come out in 2017 if someone had not reminded me to double check****

Let me get two things off of my chest right from the start.
1) The thought of a "Women's Bible" makes me a bit queasy. I remember getting several pink bibles over the years geared toward young girls or "young ladies" and while I loved the illustrations in my Precious moments Bible for girls, I always wondered why I needed a different Bible than my brother.

2)I am a NRSV bible reader, preacher, studier. The NRSV is the Bible we used in Seminary and it is by far the one I use most often. Out of the 50 or so Bibles in my office currently most as NRSV, followed by NIV, then a mix of The Message and The New Living Translation.

With those biases out of the way, let me tell you my thoughts and feelings on this CEB Women's Bible.

Pros:

  1. It is NOT pink. To some color choice may not be much of an issue, but for me carring around a pink Bible doesn't work. Perhaps its a Young CLergy Woman thing, but I always feel like I'm seen as more juvenile if I bring in a bright pink or multi colored BIble to lead a BIble Study.
  2. The Summary at the beginning of each chapter. THis may have more to do with being CEB, but I like the introduction to each chapter. There is an element of historical and cultural relevance revealed in many of these that your average reader might not know, or notice.
  3. The Scholarship. Perhaps I should have made this number one because honestly, for me, this is the biggest pro. This Bible is filled with information from wonderful scholars who just happen to be women. I enjoy their input, introductions to the books, and synopsis of women named and unnamed in the scriptures. I would feel safe placing these comments in any church member or attendees hands.
  4. The full Color Maps.  I really like the maps in this BIble. They are detailed, high quiality, and useful. I appreciate that there are some in the text itself and also several in color in the back of the Bible. This allows for ease of finding when you need to know how close Joppa and Jerusalem were. (Not that you really need that info handy, but its there, just in case)
Cons:
  1. It is Mauve. Okay, so I know I said it wasn't pink, and the outside cover is really more of a rose wine than mauve, but the overall color scheme is still in the pinkish family. Hear me, I am not ANTI-pink, I am however anti- use-a-color-to-denote-gender. I didn't dress my babies in only "boy" or "girl" colors. In fact I struggle daily to remind my 4 yr old son that colors don't have a gender. I really would have prefered a more neutral color.
  2. The Women of Scripture. I really appreciate that there is so much time given to the named and unnamed women of scripture and that there are boxes with commentary about them frequently in this version. However, I wish that EVERY named and unnamed woman had her story highlighted. THere are some left out, perhaps because we know so little about them, but even a note of "Hey, we don't know much about her, but she's here and she's worth Jesus' notice, so we should notice her too." would be nice.
  3. The Font. I'm not crazy about the font and had a hard time reading some of it, especially the names of books in the corners of each page written in light grey. 
All in all I think this is a great option for women, and men, to use to study. I am thrilled to add it to my Bible arsonal.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Wee little Man

Luke 19:1-9
Signs, signs everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this don’t do that, can’t you read the signs.
This song by the Five Man Electric Band was a song of protest, but it also is a song about judgement. The first verse says “The sign says Long haired freaky people need not apply. So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why. He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do.” I took off my hat and said imagine that, huh, me working for you!
How often have we let the way someone looks, dresses, styles their hair, affect the way we view them? How often have we let stereotypes about professions, schools, race, gender, religion cloud the way we see someone else?
We all have our own judgements, and some are well deserved.  But when these things get in the way of us hearing the word proclaimed, or witnessing God’s grace they need to be put aside.
Today’s scripture lesson can be difficult to hear when we look at it through cultural stereotypes or even our own stereotypes. The typical interpretation of this story is as follows:
Once upon a time Jesus was going into a city and people were excited to see him. The news traveled to a short man in the crowd who happened to be a tax collector (cue the boos). He couldn’t see the guy everyone was talking about so he chooses to climb a tree.
Jesus was walking past and noticed this strange man up in a tree. He looks up and tells the man to come down and then invites himself to dinner.
People complain that this short guy, probably with a Napoleon complex, isn’t worth Jesus’ time and effort. After all tax collectors are known sinners, bad hombre’s.
Zac hears these complaints and his pride is hurt. Or maybe just maybe he feels a twinge of guilt. He stands up and says to Jesus and the crowds “I will stop sinning right now. I’ll give half of everything to the poor and if I’ve defrauded anyone, (and they can prove it) I’ll pay back 4 times the amount.”
The crowd rejoices, Jesus says mazel tov and now salvation has come to this house. Everyone celebrates and Jesus moves on toward Jerusalem, one more saved soul on his belt.
That is the happy sanitized version, the VBS, Sunday school version. But I’m not sure that really accurate to the scripture we have, and how the Gospel of Luke intends this story to be seen.
Tax collectors traditionally are seen as bad guys. But time and time again in Luke tax collectors are something different. They are with the crowds that are baptized by John the Baptist. When they ask him what they should do he doesn’t say “Leave your profession because you cannot follow God and be a tax collector.” Instead he tells them to take no more than what they are owed. This indicates that tax collectors were not all sinners, there were some good apples in the mix. They just got painted with the same broad brush and so were tainted by association.
Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him. While Matthew does give up his job, he is seen as someone who will be a part of the inner circle. There is no dramatic change of heart, like we see in the Apostle Paul, rather he is called like Peter and responds. Just as he is, good enough for Jesus.
In our text last week Jesus holds up a man praying publicly crying out to God and beating his breast, aware of his sins and seeking relationship and forgiveness. This man is a what? A tax collector. And Jesus calls him justified.
So our first assumption, that all tax collectors are evil by nature doesn’t fit with the way Luke describes this group of people.
Zacchaeus is in the crowd seeking out the master. We are told that because he was short he could not see Jesus. Well, actually, it is intirely possible that he couldn’t see Jesus because Jesus was short. The term could just as easily apply to Jesus’ height as to Zacchaeus’ in the Greek.  SO perhaps that lovely children’s song really should be Jesus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.
In our society however, shortness is a bad thing from a leader especially. The shorter candidate rarely becomes the president, for example. To think of Jesus as short shocks the senses and makes many of us squirm. Well, I don’t know for sure his height, but I do know that those pictures of him with blonde hair and blue eyes are not accurate.
Whatever the reason, Jesus’ hight or his own, Jesus finds Zaccheaus up a tree, unwilling to let any obsticales keep him for seeing the master. In his search to see Jesus, Jesus sees him. Jesus comes forward, calls him out of the tree and invites himself for the evening meal.
Who you ate with was a big deal in that culture, as we’ve discussed before, it was much like the junior high lunch room where who you sit with denotes how well liked or popular you are. Jesus is going to the house of a tax collector, who the common world judges based on his occupation and relationship with the Roman oppressors as sinful.
The crowd murmurs, grumbles, complains as they watch these two walk off together. Finally Zacchaeus can take it no longer. He stops and cries out to Jesus and to the crowd still listening.
Before I go into what he says, I want us to pay attention to his body language. What does he do to speak? Does he throw himself at Jesus feet like the repentant have done throughout Luke? Does he beat his breast like the Tax collector from chapter 18? No, he stands there. He stands in the presence of God, and the crowd. This is not a stance of repentance. This is a stance of defiance.
And what does he say? Well if we read from the NRSV or the NIV we hear him say “ I will give half of what I own. I will pay back 4 times what I’ve taken.” But these translations are honestly just bad.
I am not a Greek scholar, even though I studied Greek in seminary. I do however know some Greek scholars and have read the works of many scholars and as lot of them feel this is the worst translated verse in the scriptures. There has been an entire tense in ancient Greek created to be used in this one verse. It’s not used anywhere else in the whole of scripture.
The Common English BIble does a much better job with it. It reads “ Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”
Not I will, but I am doing, its present tense, not future perfect, present as in ongoing. This is not a new promise. This is a declaration of what he is already doing.
And what he is already doing is way above what the law required. The law said give 10% away, to God to care for others. He give 50%. The law said if you defraud someone, pay them back twice as much. He is paying back four times as much.
Zacchaeus, who has been painted with the brush of sinner, is really going above and beyond God’s call. He is doubling what is required of him.
Jesus proclaims that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house not for Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus already believes in Jesus as lord, remember he wanted to see the master, a term not used by non-believers in Luke. No, these words are for the crowd to hear. This man, the one you ostracized, is a Son of Abraham, a child of God, a member of my flock. In your presence I say he is one I came to find and he is one I love.”
This is not a story about Zacchaeus’ salvation, this is about his restoration to the people of God. This is Jesus once again showing us that God is at work in places and people that we would never expect. This is the kingdom of God breaking out into the corners of the world that human beings thought were too corrupt to see hope, truth, let alone salvation.
Transformation happens in many different ways. Some have a Saul/Paul experience, a radical change that is life altering. Some have lives of faith that are lived quietly, without fanfare and hoopla, but still faithful.
Two questions arise from this view of Zacchaeus’ tale for me. One, Who do I grumble about? Who is it that I see and think, why would God offer them anything? They are too short, too tall, too big, too skinny, too rich, too poor, too famous, too insignificant, too, so many things.
How often do I let someone else’s outside keep me from valuing them inside?
But the second question is this, what am I doing that is causing grumbling?
Jesus welcomed someone who was unpopular and the crowds complained. Am I showing the radical, inclusive love of God in a way that might make the crowds complain? Am I standing up and saying that God’s love is big enough for all of us, even those that some people think are undesirable? Am I offering good news to all humankind, like the angles offered the shepherds?
This question is the most important to me personally. If I’m really extending God’s grace, there are some who won’t like it. But am I letting fear of their dislike or grumbling keep me from proclaiming the truth I hold so dear?
Jesus issues the invitation to discipleship to all, the invitation to a real relationship. The invitation to wholeness. The invitation to salvation. It is open and available to all. It is not something that we deserve; it’s not something we can earn! It is a gift, a precious gift given because of who God is, not because of who we are!

This invitation is open to all persons, in all places, at all times! Praise be to God that there is no LIMIT to the grace of Christ! There is no person who will be passed by. Isn’t that amazing! I ask, no I beg of us this morning that we not be like the crowds that try to keep people from coming because they are too young, too old, to short, too rich, too fill in the blank. But that we would be like Zacchaeus, so desperate to see the Lord that we would literally go out on a limb for the chance of that contact! All praise and Glory be to God, who is and was and is to come. Amen

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Just Keep Praying

Luke 18:1-8
How many of you have seen the show “Big Bang Theory?” Or perhaps watched the movie Finding Nemo? This particular passage reminds me of Sheldon Cooper and Dory. Sheldon is the beyond socially challenged nerd, and dory is the lovable forgetful fish. This passage of Scripture I think could easily be their favorite, if Sheldon believed in God, which is a whole different discussion.
I can see Sheldon, when he finally decides to pray going: knock knock knock, God. Knock knock knock, God. Knock knock knock, God. Or hear Dory singing out the refrain, “Just keep praying, just keep praying, just keep praying.” Too often this is all we glean from this passage of scripture. Keep asking for something and eventually you will get it, even if for no other reason that God will get tired of you.
But my friends, that simplistic view of this passage is completely messed up. That view equates God with the judge in this parable, and as the Judge neither feared God, nor respected people, I don’t think God would take too kindly to such a comparison.
So, where does that leave us? Let’s look again at this passage a bit more closely.
Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God in these passages. He has answered questions about faith and is giving his followers glimpses of the present, not yet kingdom of God all around them.
He tells this story about a widow. Our ears should perk up a bit at this point. There are certain things that we should know about widows in biblical times. They were without the protection of a husband, so they would rely on the next closest male relative to help them. This could be a son, a brother, or a brother in law. Far too often however, the closest male relative did not want to take care of a widow. There are many stories in the old testament that tell us about widows and their brother-in-law’s, take Tamar for instance, in which the brother-in-law is of no help whatsoever.
This attitude was so prevalent that early on thin the history of the chosen people they are admonished to care for widows and orphans, these marginalized people who were the most susceptible to abuse or neglect because they had no one to stand up for them, legally or otherwise.
We hear of this widow and all of the historical cultural background should come to our minds. She is begging for justice. Chances are she is not able to do this in an actual court, as she has no actual legal rights. More than likely she is following the judge out and about to the market place, to the town center, even to his home. She is crying out day in and day out for justice, possibly justice against those who were to be her protectors.   
This is also the book of Luke, and widows in Luke take on an additional role. Early on in Luke we have the widow Anna. You remember her, the woman who sat day in and day out in the temple for 80 years waiting to see the Messiah. She rejoiced to see Jesus as a baby brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph. Luke calls her a prophetess. Luke also mentioned the widow of zaraphath, the one who helped Elijah during the famine. The one whose son was brought back from the dead. And speaking of that, there is the widow of Nain, to whom Jesus returns her only son after her has died.
In Luke widows bear not only the image of poverty and need, but also the prophetic voice that reminds others of their calling to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
It is not a stretch to see her calling out for justice, not only for herself, but for others who likewise need justice.  She cries out to the judge who refuses to listen.
This judge is not like God at all my friends. I honestly think he’s much more like most of us. He has a job to do and it is important. This widow woman is just getting in the way. She won’t leave him alone. She shows up protesting at his office. She post’s memes about him on Facebook. She even blows up his twitter feed with demands to be seen and heard. He’s ignored her for years, but she refuses to go away.
Eventually he is battered and bruised enough to give in, if for no other reason than he is tired of her. He gives her the justice she has been begging for all of this time.
Too often we think of justice as revenge. That is not the case. Justice according to the words and actions of Christ is very different.
Justice is following the greatest commandments, Loving God and loving neighbor. One way we show our love of God is by respecting and loving others. We do this by recognizing the child of God within all of humanity. God asks, and expects us to do this very thing. By treating people with respect, with human dignity we are also reminded that we have a responsibility to ask others to do the same. This isn’t being overly sensitive or “politically correct” it is really living out the greatest two commandments, it is living out justice for our neighbor.
The judge in this story not only has no respect for neighbor, he’s not a respecter of persons or of God. This person could not be farther from the character of God. Yet even he eventually manages to do what is right and offer justice.
When we recognize the humanity of others we can really begin to offer justice, not revenge, not reparations, but justice, the viewing of others as children of God. But how do we do that in a world that seems so vastly separated? How do we do that when vilifying one another is business as usual? Perhaps we take a small que from the people of the middle ages.
About this time of year, well actually on All Hallows eve, people would go souling. We do a much more self-serving version of this in our own country called trick-or-treating. Souling was not about begging strangers for candy. It wasn’t even really about poor people hassling the rich for food.  The poor of a town would go from door to door and offer to pray for the souls of departed family members and in exchange they were given food to eat. It had to do with over turning the social order that persistently kept people hungry/powerless and others well-fed/powerful- even if that over turning lasted only one evening.
It reminded both rich and poor of their relatedness to one another and of the fact that everyone had the potential to be a conduit of God’s grace- whether the gift of grace came in the form of food or in the form of prayers. In a very real sense, the annual practice reminded everyone of their call and ability to be conduits and stewards of God’s gifts of life.[i]
Friends, each of us has the opportunity to be the judge, to hear the complaints of the other and respond with justice, if for no other reason than we want them to be quiet. But we also have the opportunity to go with the widow to seek justice from others. I wonder how long it would have taken if she had not have been by herself? What happens when others rally around and speak out against injustice? What happens when we together tell the world that all of God’s children matter? Might we find the good things God offers; the kingdom, justice and love, even faster?
An African American preacher once summed this passage up in one sentence “Unless you have knocked at a locked door until your knuckles bled you don’t know what prayer is.”
Friends, are we seeking justice with that intensity? Are we seeking God’s intervention in this world so passionately, with such intensity that our knuckles bleed?  Are we standing with our brothers and sisters, fellow children of God and demanding they be seen; that they be heard, that they be loved?
This passage as Luke says is about persistent prayer. And Jesus asks “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on this earth?”
As long as there are those crying out for justice alongside those saying “How long O Lord”, as long as we are willing to add our voices to help those without voices, as long as we are willing to love those we are called to love there is hope. There is hope that faith, even the faith of a mustard seed will be found. There is hope that one day those words we pray “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” will come true.



[i] Radical Gratitude Tanya Barnet & Tom Wilson

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Obedient Thanks

 Obedience. On a week when most preachers are opening up this Gospel reading and preaching gleefully about grace and gratitude, I'm thinking about obedience. So why am I seeing obedience in this passage? Well... it has something to do with the passage that comes right before it, the passage I preached on last week. Remember that here we have a collection of sayings of Jesus. In this last bit Jesus shares a parable about slaves and the duty expected of them, that they will work all day and then attend to the feeding and care of their masters before attending to their own needs, doing all this expecting no thanks in return. He then suggests that this is a model for Christian discipleship, we are to do whatever we have been ordered to do without expectation of reward. No matter how difficult (forgiving), no matter how wearying (forgiving the same person seven times in a day), we are to do it. Why? As was suggested last week, we are to be obedient because we are grateful, grateful for all that has already been done for us in Christ.
Now, I know that our minds are very capable of objecting to this message, this message that so much has already been done for us in Christ. Some of us are thinking, sure, easy for you to say” or “If I've been forgiven, why am I carrying around this lead weight of guilt that just seems to get heavier every day? If I've been healed, why am I in constant pain? If I've been provided for, why am I barely scraping by month to month, why am I in the position of picking and choosing what bills I'll pay and which ones I won't even open, why am I always having to say 'no' to my kids? If I've been protected, why have I been so hurt?" Or perhaps you're thinking “I’ve worked hard for the good things in my life. God doesn’t want us to rely on him too much. We’ve got to pull ourselves up by our boot-straps. God’s got little to do with my life.”
So, if we're not sure that we have much to be grateful for, it's not likely that we'll be terribly inspired to be obedient, especially to the most challenging teachings of our faith. We might be more inclined to pick out the teachings of God in scripture that suit us best and let the others slide. We might not even bother to try to know what God requires or hopes of us... why should we? We'll just do whatever we want in this world; convinced as we are, on some level, that we're more or less left on our own.
Let's consider the 10 lepers in our story today. Here we have 10 people who have been suffering for an unknown length of time, suffering from skin conditions, potentially very serious skin conditions, but also suffering from alienation, exclusion, and estrangement. By law they were cast out of their communities and forced to live only with people like them. They had to scream out that they were unclean anytime they came near anyone; they could not touch nor be touched. We meet them today in a borderland, on the edges of two regions- between Galilee and Samaria. They are on the margins of their societies in every sense of the word.
If ever there were a group of people who would seemingly have a case for giving up on God, for lacking motivation for obedience, for feeling far from grateful- I think we can all agree these folks would qualify. However, they approach Jesus, though respectfully keeping their distance, and how do they name Jesus? They call Jesus, Master. Master... as slaves would call their owners... master. And so it is that we are reminded of the previous parable. But lest we think of them as passive and content with their lot, listen to the passion of their plea "HAVE MERCY ON US!" They were weary of their existence; they wanted change.

Does Jesus come over and touch them? Do they experience dramatic, on the spot, healing and reintegration? Is their plea met with instant satisfaction? They ask for mercy and receive... a command. "Go and show yourselves to the priests." If they had been healed they would need to show themselves to the priests, this was what the law required if they wanted to be reintegrated into society. But they weren't healed. They asked for mercy and received a command.
And how do they respond to this command? Do they yell at Jesus in anger and resentment? Do they slouch away discouraged and dejected? No. They simply obey. The master commands and they obey. They may not see much point in their obedience, suspecting that they'd get to the priests and be sent away, rejected again, but... the master commanded, and they obeyed. Jesus said "Go" and they went.
And somewhere along their journey to the priests, a potentially long journey, a journey on which they surely continued to call out "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!", they are made clean. They obeyed even before they had much to be grateful for and along the way they receive the gift of their hearts' desire, in the midst of their obedience they receive the grace that inspires gratitude.
Surely all 10 lepers were grateful. I can see them doing the gratitude dance all the way to the priests. I can hear them shouting praises to God as they continue on their way. But... by continuing to go to the priests they were continuing to be obedient- both to Jesus' command and to the demands of Jewish law. They were exercising a double obedience if you will.
But one of them, an outsider among outsiders, a Samaritan, saw that he was healed and his gratitude dance sent him twirling right around and heading back from whence he had just come. He had asked for mercy and he received a command, but when he got the mercy, he went back to say thank you. Perhaps because he was a samaritian, an outcast, someone who would not have been welcomed by the priest, he felt a stronger pull of gratitude. His obedience was extravagantly interrupted by gratitude- a gratitude that led him to shout praises to God and kiss the ground at Jesus' feet.
Jesus wants obedience; he made that quite clear in last week's reading. But this week's reading complicates that a bit for us, or deepens it a bit for us. Jesus seems disappointed that only one came back- the other nine were simply following his command and after last week we'd think he'd be grateful for that, but he certainly seems disappointed. "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
It seems to me that while Jesus desires obedient disciples, he does not desire lifeless disciples. While Jesus wants us to follow the path he has traveled, while he wants us to live into his teachings more and more fully as time goes by, he doesn't want this to be a matter of simply going through motions, or of mindless drudgery. He knows that sometimes, even, our obedience might appear to be disobedience when we get spun about by gratitude. He wants our obedience to be infused with gratitude. He wants us to be joyful and lighthearted and able to turn on a dime and give thanks- a thanks that involves our whole selves- our voices, our bodies, our hearts, souls, and minds.
What he wants are disciples so committed to him, so in love with him, that thankfulness and obedience become intertwined. Where they compliment one another day in, day out. What he is offering is more than just cleansed bodies, he offers cleansed beings. Hearts, souls, spirits renewed through the faith in the faithful one! He seeks a relationship with us, as a people, and as individuals. A relationship with a master whose mercy is so great we call out for it even at a distance. A master whose mercy is so true that he gives it before we even begin to kneel at his feet. This is the God we worship! This is the God we know and love. Remember his words of healing and wholeness! Remember his words “Rise, my child, your faith has made you well.”
This thanksgiving, this obedience, this faith. They are all intertwined. Our lives should be full of them all in order to experience the life of a disciple of Christ.
We had a study of Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts last Spring. In it Ann speaks of the eucaristic life, a life lived in thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God in all situations, in all things, at all times. Living a life of thanksgiving leads to a life of faith and obedience that we cannot begin to describe.
These do not guarantee perfection. They do not guarantee a life lived without struggle. Instead they allow us to walk through the struggles of life understanding that we are not the ones in charge. Understanding that the great God we love and serve holds all of us in hands that love and care. It is sometimes hard to see. This week with the horrors of Haiti and the devastation of the South East Coast after Hurricane Matthew it might be hard to picture a provident, caring God. But that does not mean God cares any less for God’s creation. I see God at work in the amazing preparation efforts that saved countless lives with advanced warnings and evacuations. I see God’s mighty hand moving through the recovery efforts already beginning again, even in places like Haiti who feel all they have done for the past decade is recover. I see God in this small denomination called the CP church already beginning efforts to help their fellow children of God in Haiti by planning mission trips and providing funds to aid those in need.
And in seeing God’s actions I am moved. I hope I am moved to gratitude, but perhaps I am first moved to obedience; to follow the call Jesus issued to “love thy neighbor.” May we all be moved to obedience and gratitude, to living lives that are full of both so that we may live lives of the faith that makes us whole.