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.