Monday, July 29, 2013

Our Daily Bread

How many times have I prayed it, that chewable petition of the Lord's Prayer:
"Give us this day, our daily bread."

I've normally been thankful for having received my daily bread whenever I want it.  Appreciative of the fact that I've never known what' real hunger feels like (weight-cutting hunger for wrestling doesn't count). Cognizant of the fact that there are people out there who are hungry and desiring that they would have enough.

But this week, I thought of what this prayer means for me in a new way.  When Jesus teaches me to pray to God for my daily bread, he is teaching me how to pray for less. Jesus is teaching me how to become faithful to God's will that I feed myself daily, and not try to store up bread, wealth, and things for years to come. For myself, who's actually always known what it means to have way more than enough, Jesus is teaching me to recognize that God's will be done by wilderness people gathering manna for a day, trusting in God that there will be more tomorrow.

So today, still surrounded by more than enough, I will pray for my daily bread.  Not just as a means for giving thanks for all God has given to me.  Rather, I will pray this prayer calling on God to transform me a little more each day, to lead me to trust in the will of God to live with less, rather than my own will, which says I need more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Deadly Distraction...

in the Mary and Martha story?

This Sunday, the story of Jesus' visit to Mary and Martha, from Luke 10, will be proclaimed in many faith communities across the world.  It's short and you can read it below.

38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Now, as far as stories go, even Bible stories, this tale seems to be pretty tame.  Yes, it has sibling rivalry, but it has no stealing of a birthright, or even brotherly murder.  So, in this light, the life-giving message of Jesus may not seem so urgent, maybe disciplinary, or corrective; but perhaps not as memorable as "I was hungry and you gave me no food". The reality is, that most of us would categorize this text and story under the heading "quaint".

But there's nothing quaint about distraction when it comes to things like driving, operating heavy equipment, watching children, etc.  Unfortunately, I would guess that distraction is a much larger player in the various accidents that occur everyday, than mere chance is.  In my own life, I know I'm "lucky" that distractions haven't led to anything major.

Most of us understand, even if we don't always heed, the danger distractions pose to us in certain situations, where life can change in a moment.  But there is a spiritual deadliness to distractions as well, and the affect individuals and communities alike, and these things go far beyond technology. For instance, our work, or attempts to achieve and have it all, distract us from loving the lives around us, that can give us all the love we need.  Or we distract ourselves with addictions, obsessions, and escapes that all have the same end result of cutting us off from life.  There is a reason that an addict is always in "recovery" versus being "recovered", and that is because living a life free of addiction takes focus, and taking one's eyes off the path of recovery, of life, can easily cause one to veer back on to the path of death.

In our faith communities, "distractions" suck the life out of us.  We are distracted by attendance, never having enough people, "active people", whether it is to hold the pews down, pay the bills, or sing in the choir.  We are distracted by buildings, considering them, maintaining them, praising them, and securing them...though often not as much about using them.  We're distracted by cash, worried that we don't have enough so that we don't have to worry about having enough money anymore.

It is to all of these distractions, whether they be physical or mental, communal or individual that Jesus says "there is need of only one thing."  This word is not about supplying a one size fits all answer for every possible question or problem.  It's about staying focused on what we are doing here on this earth, and that is living.  This word is about focusing on the things that help to create and renew that life, the things of God, the things that Jesus embodies; love, peace, and merciful justice for all of creation.

Jesus' presence at the house of Martha and Mary may seem like a secondary part of the story.  It's not.  Jesus is there, calling Martha and all of us away from our distractions to give us life.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon, George, and Jesus

As news broke last night of George Zimmerman being acquitted, I wasn't prepared to say much during worship this morning.  I did though, look back at a sermon I gave in March of 2012, and think it says enough, both then, today, and all days.  If interested, read below.  The sermon is based on John 12:22-30.

John 12:22-30

22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

In various fields, like sociology, biology, & psychology, there is an age old debate about how a person is formed, the debate of nature vs. nurture.
            Is a person formed more by their genetic code, given at birth, or, does the environment that they were raised in account for how they behave. 

Today, as we live in a nation that has been shaken by a recent tragedy, we are given insight as, we see the effects of both nature and nurture on the characters in it.  This tragedy is the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while walking home from the store, armed only with a bag of skittles, and it is because of Trayvon’s nature, the biology that went into making his largest bodily organ, his skin, darker in complexion than most other human beings, that he is dead today. 

Yet it is the nurturing of Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, not necessarily from his closest family members, but from the greater forces of the society we live in, that played a role in the killing.  The nurturing that Mr. Zimmerman received, the nurturing that caused him to pull the trigger on Trayvon was not a formation that was based on hate, which is a blatantly negative word that just about everyone in any given society will be against.  Rather, the formation of Mr. Zimmerman was a formation that was based on the concept of fear. 

Fear is the stimulant that causes the greatest reactions in us as humans, and really all of God’s creatures.  Fear is what causes us to act without ration, and simply react defensively to the environment around us, whether it’s as people that take to fighting or that run in flight.  And fear is something that can lead even the most normal people to do horrible things. 

It was fear that led Mr. Zimmerman to act as he did and Mr. Zimmerman’s fear was a generalized fear.
It was a fear that was incubated and nurtured by a society that fantasizes about how dangerous the world around them is,
And in this fantasy that society also has delusions about how toughly and forcefully they can potentially fight back when faced with a dangerous situation, rather than partake in the only other option available when great fear sets in, which is to run away.
 It is this type of dangerous society, guided by the stoking of fearful flames, that would create a law like the one in Florida, and 23 other states that gives consent for folks to “stand their ground”, even when other options are possible.  It is this type of cowardly society that must have certain, “identified”, suspicious people that immediately cause one’s adrenaline to spike when we see them in both real and fake portrayals, and it is this society that causes us to feel threatened when we are simply “in the presence” of whatever caricature we’ve been trained to fear.
            And despite our society’s denials and its claims that these caricatures have nothing to do with race and ethnicity, I am sure, that if it was my son, walking home from the store, with a bag of skittles, this killing would not have happened, and even if it had, the response to it would be much different. 

And today, it is the killing of Trayvon Martin that gives us a tragic exemplification of the truth behind John 12:25, which we hear today, a verse that states in our translation, “The one who loves his life, will lose it.” But is more accurately and forcefully heard as, “the one who loves his life, destroys it.”  On that night in Florida in February, lives were certainly destroyed. 

It was Jesus, in John’s Gospel who said these words, that “the one who loves his life, destroys it” and it is Jesus who also went on to say that “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, and in the way that Trayvon Martin’s death shows us the tragedy of life being destroyed, Jesus in his triumphal death, shows us the power of life being eternally created, like a kernel of wheat that grows by dying to what it is.  It is Jesus who shows us what true courage is, it is Jesus who takes a phrase that implores us to “stand our ground” and turns it on its head. 

The premise of stand your ground, means that when threatened, you stand your ground and fight, rather than retreat.
 And in our reading from today, Jesus is certainly threatened, his life is in imminent danger, yet Jesus, doesn’t “stand his ground” instead, he continues the mission, he continues to go forward, he continues to journey to the place of his certain death, because he loves all those who would play a part in killing him too much to do anything but continue on the mission that will bring salvation to them all. 
Jesus does have options, instead of going to the cross, Jesus could give into sin and temptation, he could run and hide, or he could fight back with his immense, godly power, but Jesus came to defeat the power of sin in this world, not succumb to it.  So Jesus, troubling as it is, faces his death with certainty, because that is the only way that a righteous person knows, it is the way of love, it is the way of God. 

And, as Jesus faces the certainty of his death, he doesn’t give a break to those who would serve him, people like each of us, who have been called to be his disciples.  Jesus declares without qualification that there is no detour from the path to the cross, that whoever would serve him must follow him, that where Jesus will go, there too will be his servants. 

Jesus gives us this command not so that we make ourselves miserable with sacrifice, but so that we are joined with him in his mission of showing just how greatly God values and loves the lives of each and every person on this planet.  We are called to follow Jesus to the cross because it is there that God’s love is shown and it is at the cross that ultimate value is given to the people that sin would cause us to eliminate first; the different, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and even those who would kill one of our children.  And it is to the cross that we return when we are called together to dine at the Lord’s Table, when we are called to eat of Christ’s Body and Blood broken and poured out for us, not for our own enrichment, but so that we may be Christ for the world, so that we may be broken and poured out for others, all others. 

It is a great gift that we have been called as disciples, it is a gift that we know of God’s love and that we can share it with others.  But this love that God has given us is a love that can cause us great discomfort, that cause us to join with Jesus as he declares, “now my soul is troubled”. 

But, because of sin, unlike Jesus, we don’t see that the time for God’s love has come, we instead hide from this hour, we hide, or we outright rebel from the mission God calls us too.  Yet, Jesus in his abundant love continues to call us back to this mission.  Jesus continues to give us strength in the community of faith we are surrounded in, a strength that comes as we learn to love each other in our little communities so well, that we may enter into a dark world as one body, gathered by the Holy Spirit and following our head, Jesus Christ, led not by fear, but by the eternal love of God.

You see, here in the society of the church, the nature versus nurture debate, is irrelevant, as we live in the fullness of both our nature and nurture.  We live in the fullness of sharing the same life of Jesus Christ, given to us at our baptismal rebirth; where there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer male or female, but all are one, and we are nurtured only to live ever more greatly into the fullness of this new DNA, so that through our lives together, societies of love may spawn, societies that value all people as Jesus does. 

As the hour has come, may God continue to draw us out of our comfort zones, to the cross, and may God give us the strength to stick close to Jesus Christ, the life given on that cross, so that through him, we may love, nurture, and pray for all of the tragic victims of sin and violence, both the victims and the perpetrators. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,