by firstname.lastname@example.org | Apr 28, 2022 | Articles
Wendell Berry’s poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front, ends with this delightful exhortation: Practice Resurrection.” In Berry’s poem, he contrasts the death-dealing social expectations we are each handed by our culture, and he invites us to do things everyday that ‘doesn’t compute,’ that does not make sense in the system and social order we find ourselves in. By practicing resurrection, we are trying on a new way of being in the world.
What does mean for us to practice resurrection? Sometimes we practice the things we are trying to learn or get better at. Sometimes, we practice the things that are our calling, the way a lawyer practices law, or a doctor practices medicine. Practicing resurrection is both about relearning and living into our calling as beneficiaries of abundant life in Christ.
We have spent two years worrying about a virus. We were vaccinated and did our part to slow the spread of the virus. We also felt manipulated, and cajoled by the system, impinged upon by guidelines and mandates, and restrictive regulations. We have watched children suffer socially and academically. We ourselves have felt anxious and isolated. None of this has felt particularly life giving.
The wisdom of the church calendar is that we need more than one day to practice resurrection. It takes time for us to get it! We celebrated Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday (April 17th this year), but Easter is not over yet! There is more resurrection for us to practice together! The Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and stretches over seven Sundays, culminating on Ascension Sunday (May 29th). This is the longest named season in the church calendar, dedicated to exploring what it means to live in light of Christ’s resurrection
I encourage you to take time to press into this season of resurrection. What are the things that are giving you life right now? How is Jesus empowering you to live a new way? What ways is Jesus calling us to live a life that is different from our culture? We may not be able to answer these questions, but as we practice resurrection, we are free to imagine new possibilities and try them on. And as Romans 8:11 tells us, Christ’s resurrection power is in us, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
So, Practice Resurrection!
by email@example.com | Mar 31, 2022 | Articles
Spring has sprung and we have already seen the signs of the world’s reawakening: wildflowers in the grass, buds on the trees, and bird song in the crisp cold of the morning. The grey-brown hillsides suddenly are full of verdant greens and wisps of color. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God!” The earth is the Lord’s and the Fullness thereof!
Spring always catches me off guard, especially this year, after what has been a fairly mild winter. The lack of snow on the mountains, and our low water table means the possibility of another dry, hot summer. But before that we have the gift of Spring, with its promise of new life.
The Christian church in the northern hemisphere celebrates Easter in the Spring, when these metaphors of resurrection are close at hand. The crocus, the tulip, and daffodil rise up from the earth, the Flora and Fauna reappear, and bare branches of the plum trees come alive, and teem with blossoms. We watch the world wake up, and we are reminded yet again of the Creator’s handiwork.
It was two years ago in March 2020 when everything shut down because of COVID-19. We were then in the season of Lent and the church was already exploring the rhythms of fasting, deprivation, and doing without. Nobody then knew what these past two years would cost us (we didn’t know it would be two years!). We didn’t know the things we would miss out on, the loneliness and hard times. But here we are, it is Spring of the Year of the Lord, 2022. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the world around you is full of new life, and the old life that our seasons forgot. The world again is alive!
Make sure you take time to enjoy the sights and smells and all the splashes of color that Spring has brought in her wake! This is the season of resurrection, and it is worth enjoying and celebrating! Yes, there will still be hard days ahead and there are issues we are still facing as a culture (e.g. a reeling economy, the peril of war, the menace of summer wildfires, etc.) and personally. The faith that carried us through some difficult days this past two years, will still be a reservoir we will need to draw on. But let’s not rush ahead of ourselves. There is life all around us ready to fill our hearts with wonder. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
by firstname.lastname@example.org | Mar 17, 2022 | Articles
“Are you giving up anything for Lent?”
Traditionally, the season of Lent has been a time fasting as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. But why give something up? Why fast at all? Does God like you better if you fast from something? Are you more holy? Is God more likely to listen to your prayers if you do not eat chocolate for six weeks?
Fasting is a spiritual discipline which Christians have practiced for the past 2,000 years; however, often people practiced fasting in ways which were unhealthy, both physically and spiritually. No, giving up food does not make God like you more, you are already good enough. God is not impressed by our heroic self-discipline, and it does not move God to be more attentive to us.
New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says, “Fasting is a person’s whole body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.”1 We fast as a response to the things God is doing or has done in our lives. It is a way of bringing our whole self to God. During Lent, we fast so we can attend more fully to the reality of the cross and the glory of resurrection as we prepare for Easter. So, if we give up something, such as food or beverage, social media, or another habit, the purpose is not so much to change that part of our life, as it is to cultivate our awareness of God in this season. We choose for a time to not do something so that we may give our attention to what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection instead.
Fasting, done right is a type of self-care. If you have medical issues, you should not give up anything, or fast in anyway which would compromise your health. But I would encourage us to explore if there is something we can give up which will help us mark this time as sacred. Is there a food or practice we use habitually as a life-coping mechanism? Perhaps consider giving that one thing up (you can cheat on Sundays) and when you feel a craving towards it, let God’s Spirit call you to prayer. In past Lenten seasons, I have given up meat and used the season to think about our food systems and injustice. This year I plan to give up snacking.
Or consider doing the Wesley Fast.2 Through Lent. John Wesley would fast weekly, from Thursday after dinner until Friday dinner. Instead of breakfast and lunch on Fridays, Wesley would take the time to devote himself to prayer.
Whatever you choose to give up, or however you chose to mark this season, remember the purpose is to help us pay closer attention. Fasting reveals our hungers and the things we rely on, and it helps us pay attention to Christ’s presence. The God who poured out his life for us in Jesus is with us in this time as always.
1 Scot Mcknight, Fasting, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Press, 2009), xiv.
2The Wesley Fast — Methodist Prayer – https://www.methodistprayer.org/wesleyfast
by email@example.com | Feb 3, 2022 | Articles
The season after Epiphany, like the Season after Pentecost is named Ordinary Time, so called, because each of our Sundays are numbered (i.e., ordinals) not because these days are dull. And yet there is something to the ordinariness of it. We are no longer living the joy of Christmas lights or the happy surprise of Epiphany. We are not yet journeying with Jesus on the road to the cross. These days, all the days in February this year, just are.
And our ordinary time is full of an unsettling new normal. We are two years into a pandemic, and we are still having to contend with masks, social distancing, staff shortages at schools and local businesses, and overfull hospitals. We have yet another mild winter with not enough snow on the mountains to keep our water table healthy. The political divisions deepen as Republicans and Democrats both peddle their own versions of reality. Everybody speaks their truth. No one is listening. The anxiety of the age has become our everyday life—our Ordinary Time.
One of the hazards of these anxious times is that we find it so easy to find things to worry about. With nostalgia tinted glasses, we remember the way things were and we bemoan the state of things. We complain about having to contend with ongoing restrictions. The numbered Sundays of Ordinary Time are an invitation for us to see Christ, not just in the special seasons and the Church’s high-holy-days, but amid our everyday life. It is a summons away from anxiety to awe, as we grow in grace as disciples of Christ.
My prayer for us in our anxious Ordinary Times is that we would lean into Jesus and, in the words of 1 Peter 5:7, we would ‘cast our cares on him, for he cares for us.’ And that we would awaken to wonder as we sense Christ’s abiding presence with us, our ordinary transformed into something extraordinary!
by firstname.lastname@example.org | Dec 30, 2021 | Articles
As we say goodbye to 2021 and welcome in 2022, hopeful for what it may bring, our thoughts often turn to what changes we need to make. Some of us make New Year’s resolutions, resolving to eat better, exercise more, lose weight, or we attempt to quit some destructive habit. Have you made a resolution?
Unfortunately, something like 80% of our resolutions fail. Many of us will have fallen off the wagon and back into old habits by Valentine’s Day. Our resolutions fail for a variety of reasons. Often resolutions are too broad, with an ill-defined plan of action. Most often, we fail because we try to make changes to our lives on our own, without community to support us, or hold us accountable to our commitments.
But there is something good about New Year’s resolutions. It is our attempt to press into a healthier lifestyle and better habits. In Christian Spirituality, this is like repentance. Repentance is more than just remorse for our bad behavior, but it is the resolve to make changes. It is making an about-face, from the direction we are headed, and it is a determination to live differently. John the Baptizer baptized the people into a baptism of repentance. Jesus himself began his early ministry calling his would-be-followers to repentance, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).
Jesus came to transform the way we live and act. We will not get very far in the way of Jesus before we ourselves are called to repentance. But I wonder, does 80% of our attempts to repent fail, the way New Years’ resolutions often fail? Perhaps. Like with New Year’s resolutions, we often repent in general without a clear plan. What sort of changes should we make to our daily routines? What wrongs need to be made right by us? What reparations are required of us? How ought we to live instead? How can we support one another?
The Christian story tells us that real life change is possible because we don’t do it alone. The Spirit of Christ is at work in each of us, convicting us of sin and calling us to repentance (John 16:8). And that our daily devotional practices, gives us a deeper sense of the life God is calling us to. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NRSV) And the community we call church is a resource for us as we each seek to follow Christ’s call together.
My hope for us as a church in 2022 is that we support one another in our quest to live out the spirituality of Jesus: loving God with all our heart, soul and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This may require some self-examination on our part, and it will require us to lean on one another as we make specific changes to our lives which will allow us to love God and others more fully. But together we can press into the sort of lifestyle-transformation Jesus is calling us toward. Happy New Year!
by email@example.com | Dec 28, 2021 | Articles
Krister Stendahl writes that “wherever, whenever, however ever the kingdom manifests itself, it is welcome.”
If you were with us in worship through Advent, you know that we have been talking about the idea of welcome and welcoming Christ into our hearts and lives as we prepare for Christmas. Our theme has been “The Inn” and we have riffed off our traditional Christmas story that tells us every year that the Christ child would be found, swaddled, and lying in a manger because there was ‘no room in the inn.’ We have sung in worship words that exhorted us to ‘make of my heart at stable, an Inn for the holy’ and we have talked about what it means for us to prepare for this day, the day that Christ comes to us, our Immanuel—our God with us—a babe lying in a manger.
Twenty years ago, in my own spiritual journey with Jesus, I became enthralled by the idea of welcome and hospitality as a picture of the gospel. My own call to ministry is wrapped up in understanding our Christian story as being about welcome. We have passages in both Testaments, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, which exhort us to care for the vulnerable strangers. The poor, the widow and the orphan, and the resident aliens dwelling in our land. We are told in one of Jesus parables that when we give food to the hungry, drink to thirsty, when we give clothes to the naked, welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner, it is as though we are doing these things for Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46). We read in Hebrews that when we show hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13:2) we are ‘entertaining angels unaware.” And the biblical narrative also tells stories, that reveal the scandal of when God’s people failed to care for the vulnerable and strangers in their midst.
And so here we are at the Christmas story. It happened just like you think it did, but not in the way that you imagine it. Several years ago, Everett Patterson, a Portland-based comic and graphic artist made this picture of a modern nativity entitled Jose y Maria. Maybe you encountered this image on Facebook. http://www.everettpatterson.com/?p=1835 It is where I first saw it. Here is a depiction of the holy family. Jose, and very pregnant Maria at a phone booth outside a convenience store. Mary is sitting on a grocery store pony while Jose is frantically searching a phone book to find a place where they can spend the night. In the window of the story is a sign that exhorts us to smoke Weisman cigarettes, and sign for Star beer. In the background is a roadside hotel with the No vacancy sign alit and the g missing from the New Manager sign so that reads ‘New Manger.”
Most recently I saw a friend share this image and a Facebook post, with the words, “accurate.” And certainly, if Christ came in the flesh today, this is believable, except I don’t know where Jose would find a phonebook or a phonebooth except by some divine miracle. But our imagination about how the story unfolded, is clouded by centuries of pageantry and religious art and we read back into Luke’s telling of the story.
We are told that there was no room at the Inn and while the Inn has been our theme, I need to tell you. There was no inn. Certainly, the passage never mentions an Inn keeper, but what we imagine an inn to be, did not exist in first century Palestine. This was not a roadside Motel 6, more likely, it was a spare room constructed on the flat roof of a traditional house in Bethlehem, made to accommodate out-of-town guests. Unfortunately, Mary and Joseph could not stay in this spare bedroom, because it was already occupied in the place that they were staying.
We also imagine the stable as something very different from what it was. I picture in my mind a thatched roof of grasses and hay, supported by wooden columns, no walls to protect the animals from the elements, just a roof. This is a Thirteenth century creation which may go back to St. Francis, the Christmas Creche. In our imagination, everybody turned a very pregnant Mary and Joseph away and so they found a makeshift barn to bed for the night and there had the baby Jesus.
But that is wrong. Mary and Joseph found a place to stay, and the stable was inside a house. The typical home in first century Judea had a stable at their entry, usually a few steps lowers than the rest of the house. It was fully enclosed within the walls and the animals would be brought inside to keep them safe through the night. Basically, the stable would be what we’d call mud room today.
This was a culture and a people that prized hospitality and welcome as cultural and religious virtue. No one left the holy family in the cold. Instead, some loved one and relative made space for their out-of-town guests, the way we would make space for loved ones, with couches and camp mats and air mattresses if we didn’t have enough beds and space for each to have own room. The story that Luke tells us is not of the city of Bethlehem’s inhospitality to Mother Mary but of somebody making room for them. Cleaning out a manger to use as a makeshift cradle for a newborn and making sure that this pregnant, betrothed couple was cared for through the night. They were welcomed an
How about us? What have we done to welcome Christ into our world? You heard in scripture and song today how Christ was God come in the flesh, and how in this child there would be God’s shalom on the earth and peace for all people. This Christ child would one day grow into a Galilean Rabbi, who would proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim a Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor. One day, the newborn child would die on a Roman cross as the Savior of the world and rise again with the promise of Life and Salvation to all who trust in Him—a welcome of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and freed person alike. We have talking about how to welcome Christ, but in Christ we all find our welcome.
As we welcome Christ, we experience the welcome of God. And this sets us free to welcome those who are different from us and the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the vulnerable stranger. We welcome Christ and are welcomed, and we become God’s welcome for a world in need. This is a season where many of us, give generously to those who are in need, knowing it is more blessed to give than receive. I would like to challenge us to prayerfully consider who in our lives we need to extend God’s welcome toward. Who is a stranger to us, who is vulnerable? Who needs our help? And when we welcome them, it is as though we are welcoming Christ, and we inhabit together the welcome of God
“Wherever, whenever, however ever the kingdom manifests itself, it is welcome.” Merry Christmas.