Friday, November 04, 2016

Mni Wiconi - Water is Life!

Oct. 27th is my wedding anniversary.  My wife and I had been trying to make plans to do some things together, but we just couldn't get anything to work.  So we planned on going out the next day to celebrate.  However, on Oct. 27th of this year, two events converged.  #1: 7 men who had engaged in an armed occupation of the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge in Oregon had been acquitted of conspiracy to impede federal officers and possession of firearms in a federal facility.  #2: Protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline tear gassed, pepper sprayed, shot with "less-than-lethal" ammunition, and arrested while they took direct action that was mostly peaceful until law enforcement officers were ordered to clear an advanced protest camp just north of the the main camp called "Oceti Sakowin."

This news angered and disgusted me, but then on that next morning, I got a text from my good friend Ben Morris (read his story here)asking if there was anyone who would like to go or support going to the Standing Rock Reservation.  I felt as if my only answer to that question could be, "Yes, I can go.  I can help make this happen."  I spent the next two days preparing to head to Standing Rock trying to make sure that this guy who hardly ever sleeps on ground let alone outside would have everything he needed to go to North Dakota and stand with Standing Rock and the Water Protectors.  But here I want to stop you from thinking that this post is all about me.  Rather this post is about the struggle that roused me from my comfortable life and about the people, the story, the prayer, and the land that I witnessed.

Much can be said about what is going on at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest, but it is first and foremost an event that is mainly about Native American sovereignty and their and all indigenous people struggles with colonialism that have occurred throughout the past 500 years.  For too long Native voices have gone unheard and unheeded.  For too long have they been the victims of colonialism, oppression, and genocide.  For too long have they been lied to.  For too long have promises been broken again and again.

This past summer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed a statement as a churchwide body repudiating the idea contained in the Doctrine of Discovery that Native peoples are heathens and consequently have no rights to the land that they inhabit.  This doctrine also goes so far as to say that it is the duty of Europeans to subjugate and bring salvation (in the form of European culture and religion) to these peoples.  As a church, we have basically stated that Native Indigenous peoples are to be respected and have full rights under human law.  The vestiges of this doctrine can even be seen in the planning of the DAPL.  The pipeline was first proposed to cross the Missouri river north of Bismarck, ND, the capital of North Dakota.  The plan changed as the concerns of white people in Bismarck were heard, and the pipeline was re-routed to the south but just north of the Standing Rock Reservation.  (A map of this can be seen here.)  If we feel like Native Indigenous rights are to be protected as a church, this cannot be only a feeling we have about events that have occurred in the past.  Native American rights must be held with the highest regard.  Native voices must be heard and respected.  


From the news reports that I had seen and read, I half expected the main protest camp, Oceti Sakowin much more a buzz with activity.  I half expected there to be people chanting and screaming at all times.  Instead, what I heard was the regular beating of the drum and the singing of prayers.  I heard people chopping firewood.  I saw tents struggle against the North Dakota wind, and tipis stand still and firm as people from all across the Sioux Nation and from Native tribes from all across America worked to make this their home even as winter on the North Dakota prairie is surely on its way.  The camp was peaceful and quiet, even as planes, helicopters, and drones flew low overhead every 10-15 minutes.  The camp was peaceful even as Dakota Access shone bright stadium style lights throughout the night towards the camp.  The camp was peaceful even as law enforcement officers kept a constant watchful eye us from the ridge just outside of camp.

The people I met during my time there also amazed me.  I am a big white guy, and I consistently feel the weight of my heritage whenever I have the privilege of walking among Native Americans.  I know that they know that people who look like me have been the people who have hurt them for hundreds of years. I know that the Christian Church has been a source of much of that hurt for many Native peoples.  So to be welcomed and embraced so warmly by people of Standing Rock and people of other tribes while I was wearing my clergy collar was a testament to what this protest is about.  It is about life, rights, and the water that gives life.  It is meant to be a protest of peace and life.

Whatever else may have been said about the DAPL protest, what I experienced was a people who want to stand strong for their rights and for the water that gives them life.  Yet, standing strong to these people does not mean committing act of violence.  In fact, people who come to Oceti Sakowin are asked to undergo non-violent direct action training.  In participating in this training, we were even told that any kind of assault against law enforcement would be contrary to their goals.  One of the signs even reads, "Destruction of property does not lead us to the completion of our goals."

In the end, I feel like I did so little, but I experienced so much.  My hope is that there is much good that can come from this protest even if the pipeline isn't stopped.  Native voices must be heard, regarded, and respected.  No longer can they be the people who we force to deal with our messes.  Their backyard is just as important as our backyard.

May the God who hovered over the waters of creation that sprang forth life call us to protect the waters of us all that give us all life in the here and now.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Truth is...

John 18:33-17

            I honestly find it a little funny how we always drop the Pilate's questioning retort to what Jesus has just said about the truth that he is bringing into the world.  It's not as if the lectionary is pairing down a longer scene that could be broken in half. Pilate's question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) is how the author chooses to end that scene! My guess is that we as a society often have trouble with ending a story with questions.  We want resolution.  We want to be able to say, "This is what has happened and all my questions have been answered."  Yet that might be the precise reason that we end with a question rather than an answer.
            So much of life is filled with doubts and unanswerable questions.  Questions like, "Why did my son have to die?" and "How can some people act so cruelly firing guns at children in an elementary school or abducting a school full of girls to be sold as slaves?"  When are encountered with these kinds of situations in our life, we cannot help but to begin to search for some kind of meaning, some kind of truth that will help us to understand.  So, by cutting off Pilate's question from this scene, we, in some way, are cutting off the question that plagues us all throughout the years of our lives.  And in doing so, we just might be diminishing what Jesus is about to accomplish in his death on the cross.  The Gospel of John wants us to see and know the truth which is depth and breadth of his love for us.

            One of the things that gives me life throughout my week is a group of people that I have come to know over the years through my hobby of online gaming every now and then.  This group of people hail from all over.  This group of people come from Toronto, Calgary, Baltimore, Seattle, Houston, Alabama, New Jersey, things seems to be a common characteristic: We always want to know more about the world that surrounds us.  We link articles covering politics and economics.  We'll discuss theoretical physics.  A lot of them are computer programmers and will get into discussions about how to solve what I can only describe as "computer issues." We'll talk about TV shows, movies, and games that are coming out.  And yes, we'll even get into conversations about faith.

            One of the other things you probably should know about this bunch is that they're not all Christian.  Some of them may be out and out atheists.  Others are true agnostics, not want or being able to say one way or another.  I know some have been hurt by the church in the past. Others are hurt by the way that they see some Christians act in hateful ways and by the way that some in the Christian communion willfully throw knowledge and reason to the way side.  But no matter where any of them might fall on the theological continuum, they all value the quest (maybe the QUESTion?) for truth.

            This is a quest that people, especially the younger generations thrive upon in their lives.  People are searching for truth, and they don't necessarily want it handed to them without regard for their own questions. That is probably why I want so desperately to tack on verse 38 to our reading for today.  It leaves in the air this question of truth that dominates our lives.  So what is the truth that dominates our lives?  It is none other than the plain and simple truth that we all can and will experience suffering and death in our lives.  That is a truth that none of us can escape, but that is the truth that Jesus came into the world to do something about.
            We all have doubts and fears, and God knows we all have experienced some amount of suffering in this world that we live in.  Even if we have not a personal experience of suffering, we cannot escape the stories of suffering that is plastered on news on a weekly basis.  In this story, in this life-giving narrative, Jesus see all of this, and he has one reaction: compassion for us and the whole of creation.  So Jesus comes, this man who our faith informs us is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God," to bring a new reality into the reality of our death and suffering.  In his death that he will not stop from happening, he comes to share with us in our suffering and death so that we know, see, and trust that God is not an uncaring all powerful deity who sits above wondering if any of us are ever going to be good enough to make our own way into heaven.

            That's what this day, "Christ the King," is all about.  This is a day where we celebrate not how Jesus is a better king than Pilate and Caesar could ever be, but rather how he comes to bring this new reality where our suffering and death are met love and compassion. I know that's a sweeping claim to truth, but when I reflect on my faith and how I feel something that can only be described as the Holy Spirit inspiring me, I trust that it is true.  And here's the wonderful thing: when I think about my friends who may not agree with me to that claim of truth, I still believe that that word of promise goes forth to embrace them in their lives as well.  The truth that Jesus brings is a truth that is for the whole of creation, even and maybe especially those who might consistently ask, "What is truth?" (John 18:38)  For me, even if it doesn't answer all the questions that I might have, it does give me hope even in that which befalls us all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I must decrease so that Christ may increase...

Matthew 5.38-48

            The confirmation class asked me just this past Wednesday "So what are you supposed to do if someone comes up to you in school and punches you in the face?"  I answered,  "Come to church this Sunday.  You just might hear what Jesus has to say about that very question."  At least, that's how I remember it.  I apologize to our students if I misquoted them.  You see, we got into a discussion about the "Golden Rule."  You all have probably heard it before.  It's the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" rule.  That's a great rule, don't you think?  Those of us who have children have probably taught it to them in one form or another as they grow up.  It makes a lot of sense too.  It helps to teach our children to be nice to other people and respect those who are in authority over them, but it probably does one thing above all else.  It helps develop empathy as they grow and become people in their own rights with their own personalities.  When I say empathy, I mean that they are gaining the ability to consider what it's like to be another person.  This is an essential skill to develop in our children as they grow.

            Now let's face it.  Our children when they are first born are little monsters.  I love kids, but it's true.  Our children, from when they are first born to the time they begin to be able to consider the "other" around him or her, have a worldview so small that in many ways they believe that they are the only thing in the universe that matters, and that if they cry long enough and loud enough, they will get what they want or need.  This really isn't an opinion that I have.  Kids brains truly haven't developed to the point of being able to consider the world beyond themselves.  You can see it in the way that babies even learn to count.  They don't begin life being able to count one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.  They literally begin counting by observing what's around them.  And what do they see?  They see one hand, then another hand, and then everything else.  So they count one, two, everything else.  Again, they see the world as revolving around themselves.  But that's where teaching the Golden Rule to our children helps them to develop an understanding of the world around themselves.

            When you begin to think about the statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." not only do you have to consider what you would like to happen to yourself, but also have to take the crucial step of considering how words or an action might be received by another person - a person whose mind you cannot access.  You have to begin to imagine what it's like to be that person, and that right there is where we begin to see what exactly empathy is: considering what it's like to be another person.  And this is where the words that Jesus is speaking to the disciples and to us come into play for us this morning.  He is asking  to not only consider the other person, but he is also asking us to confront the humanity of the person before us AND take action to make them consider our humanity as well.  So, for the confirmation students, this just might be where you might hear an answer to the question you asked on Wednesday.  The only problem is that it might not be the answer that you or any of us would really want to hear come from the one that we call "Lord and Savior."

            "You have heard that it was said. 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..."  For the past few weeks, Jesus has been confronting the disciples and others gathered around him about their preconceived notions of what it means to live a righteous life by the laws that seem to help make the world make sense and protect what we have and what we have gathered.  In every instance, Jesus took those laws, those sayings and made them cut even deeper into to show us exactly how unrighteous we can be.  This week, is no different.  Jesus brings up a saying that gives people a sense of comfort that justice can be had in their lives.  He brings up the notion of retribution as justice, and Jesus will not let this one be.  He states clearly that retribution like "an eye for an eye" is not and will not be his way in the world. O, how we act as if this would not be true.  We want desperately to be able to hurt the ones that have hurt us.  We don't want Jesus' command here to be true, because that it completely unfair when we hurt and the other doesn't.  We want them to feel what we are feeling.  We want to pervert the Golden Rule to mean that actions that have already happened to us can and should happen to others.  But that is not what that rule states.  Even when we've been hurt, it still calls to treat others as we want to be treated.  But Jesus' reason for subverting "eye for an eye" is for no less reason than to create a new reality within the world where we confront our attacker with our humanity as we confront his or her humanity.

            That's what the whole business of turn the other cheek, give your cloak, and go the extra mile are all about in our reading for today.  Their about taking an action that confronts the person who would subjugate us and removes the power that they would try to wield over us.  We turn the other cheek not as a way to passively accept and not escalate the situation, but instead as a way to make our attacker see that we are human beings with the same rights as anyone else, that if they want to keep on attacking they'll have to confront their actions.  We go the extra mile, not as a weird way to pay attention to every little detail like we so often think it must mean, but instead it's original concept was to embarrass the Roman soldier who could conscript anyone they pass by to carry all his gear by making him confront the humanity of the person he has conscripted.

            Perhaps more than anything, Jesus calls us to love not just those that are easy to love, but also those that we hate and pray for those who persecute us.  We can hold onto hate so intensely in our lives.  We can make it something controls our every actions and dominate how we live our lives.  And how does Jesus end all of this?  By calling us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.  Oh!  Is that all I have to do Jesus?  I guess I'll just pack my bags and go home...

            But I don't think that this is Jesus' only point.  I do think that a part of what Jesus is doing is confronting us with the delusion that we can make it on our own, but I think we would be remiss to not notice how these commands become apart of how Jesus lives his life - a life that ultimately leads to his death.  Jesus confronts evil in the world by exposing it for what it is.  Jesus confronts violence in the world by showing us that it cannot and will not have power over him.  Jesus confronts hate in the world by showing us that his love for us and the whole of creation extends beyond our ability to fathom as he comes bringing a love that seeks to bring and give life even to those who would be called enemies.

            In Jesus' life, teachings, and death, he shows us a way of living where the self decreases and the other increases.  He leads a life where he is deeply concerned for how others want to be treated, and he also shows us a beloved beautiful thing.  Jesus' life becomes the perfection that is finally, ultimately demanded.  Simply put, God will not abandon us to the dump heap of history.  Our part, then, becomes not about how we can live out our life perfectly enough for God, but in finding our own ways that we can decrease our demands for ourselves and increase the life for those all around us.  So what are we to do if someone comes up to us in school and punches us in the face?  Maybe just maybe, we don't give violence for violence, but rather confront the situation that life can not only increase for us who have been hit, but even for the one who has attacked us so that he or she might also live a life free from violence and hatred.  Maybe.  What do you think?

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What we get wrong about sin

Matthew 3:1-12

            I think one of the things that people get wrong about sin the most often is that they reduce it down to being a moral judgment against a single person.  In my mind this oversimplifies something that is much more complex  and, perhaps, even more insidious.  It's so easy to think of sin as something that happens when somebody does something wrong to somebody else.  This is why can erupt in such outrage when something truly horrible happens.  Somebody steals from another person, and we know that they have done something wrong.  Surely that is a sin, and lo and behold it is indeed a sin.  Somebody cheats on his or her spouse and we know that they have done something wrong.  They have hurt another person emotionally through their actions.  Indeed that is a sin.  Somebody takes the life of another human being over argument.  Indeed, that is a sin.  I don't think anyone would object to those actions being called sinful, because in each instance another person is hurt and relationships are destroyed.  Perhaps that's where we see another layer to sin as that which destroys our relationships with each other and with God, but sin can still be even more complicated.

            Sin isn't just the events we can point to where a bad and wrong thing has been committed by one person against another person.  Sin can even be those systems which oppress and hurt people on a daily basis.  We can sometimes point to single people responsible (Hitler, Bin Laden).  We can sometimes point to organizations or governments who hurt people and destroy relationships (The South and its participation in the horrors of slavery).  But there are sometimes in which we cannot point at any one single person or even one single action as being the event of sin.  The biggest example of this in the world is how there are people in the world who die from hunger when we throw away tons of food per day from our fast food restaurants.  This world has the resources to stop people from dying of starvation or access to clean water, yet people still die.  In other words, people are hurt and relationships are broken.  If sin is simply a moral pronouncement against a single person, who do you judge?  The truth is there are many people to bring to task over issues like hunger - local warlords, corporations and profit driven policies, governments abroad AND here who could handle this issue better, and even the American consumer like me and you.  In some ways, no single person is at fault AND everyone is at fault.  Do you really think that God has nothing to say to these situations as much as when we personally take the Lord's name in vain or would rather not keep the Sabbath day a day of rest?  Like I said, sin is more complex than that, and we are all too often drawn up into sin that we are explicitly committing and complicit in its existence.

            That's why when John the Baptist begins proclaiming a baptism of repentance, he makes the proclamation that all who have come are indeed in need of repentance in their lives.  Not even the Pharisees and Sadducees can escape his bold proclamation that they too are in desperate need of help as well.  This brood of vipers as he calls them are perhaps the people who could have been the most boastful about their lives.  They were the ones who devoted their lives to the study of God's Law.  They were the ones who devoted their lives to trying to be able to live out God laws to their fullest.  They were the ones who could call themselves priests and caretakers of God's house.  But John singles them out and tells them that they should even be wary of the wrath that is to come.  They too have sinned as we have sinned.  For John, repentance is the way to turn around, change your mind, and possibly even reorient your whole life into a new direction.  He tells the people gathered there repentance leads to a life that bears fruit.  To start this new life, they are then invited to a ritual cleansing to be purified as they would start their new life.  Too bad for John that he did not know exactly what Jesus was coming on earth to accomplish.

            John knew that Jesus was coming.  He was trying to prepare the way for him, to make his paths straight.  The only thing he wasn't prepared for was how Jesus would come to him and identify with all the people  who needed to repent of their sins.  John at the close of our reading refers to the one who is coming who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  He knows that the way of purification for the Israelites is for things that can stand fire to be passed through fire and things that cannot stand the fire to be passed through water.  By this process they will be made clean.  John knows that the people cannot stand the coming fire, so he passes them through water.  This coming fire could be considered to be God's wrath, but it is important to remember that the fire of this other baptism is not meant to destroy, but to purify.  This is important to hold onto to because God does not and will come to destroy us or the creation that God has made.  God's wrath indeed says "No!" to the sin that pervades our life, but it also still says "Yes!" to us.  Before God, the devil and sin cannot stand and will be burned away, and we will be left standing because of what Jesus has come to earth to do.

            He has come to be for us even in our sins, and he comes to be WITH us where we are even in our sins.  And this is precisely what surprises John the Baptist when Jesus does come.  Jesus comes and he identifies with us.  He enters into the same waters of purification that all the sinners have waded into.  He comes as one of us to be one of us.  In him, we see that God will indeed not throw us into the fire to be destroyed.  Rather, we see a God who would give up everything, even the rightful condemnation of us because of the sin that we steep ourselves in.  What then becomes of repentance?  Rather than being that which purifies us and gets us right with God, it becomes the new life that is lived out in "the new world of God's Rule." (Duane Priebe, Lutheran Study Bible; Matthew 3:2 note)  This is not something that can be brought about by us.  It is brought about by the God who loves us, who comes to us.

            What then of all this sin?  Is it something that we simply do not need to worry about? No we do not need to worry about it in terms of banishing it to get right with God before the end.  But sin more than anything does this:  It calls a thing what it is.  That may sound simple, but it is indeed something that calls into the complexity of seeing and discerning what is going on in the world and joining in with God in declaring what is harming ourselves, each other, and our relationships.  For even as Jesus comes to earth to bring us life and salvation, he also invites us into new life of God's rule of love and compassion.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Being Known and Unkown

"Lord, you have searched me out; O Lord, you have known me."
(Psalm 139:1)

This past month, I had undertaken the endeavor to visit as many people of the parish as I possibly could.  I must say, I enjoyed every minute of it.  It was a pleasure to get to know you all better.  It was a pleasure hear your stories again.  It was a pleasure to hear the stories I hadn't heard before.  If there is one thing that I have learned from this endeavor, then it is that there is so much that I don't know about you, this place we find ourselves in, and even myself.

It is said that Socrates' whole method of instruction hinged upon this one single thought: the quest for knowledge and wisdom is only ever truly found in searching the edges of what you do know so that you can find out what you don't know.  Let me tell you, this past month has been encounter and encounter with what I don't know about you all and this place.  I didn't know that some of you were sisters.  I didn't know some of the things that you have struggled with in your life.  I didn't know some of those things that have truly brought you joy.  As I come to the end of this one round of intentional visitation to get to know you all better, I feel so very honored and privileged to be trusted with your hopes, dreams, fears, and sorrows.  I also get the feeling that I could try and try and try some more and never get at the complete bottom of who you are, and there is a beauty in that.  There is a beauty in how we are so wonderfully complex creatures that cannot be reduced down into our simplest parts and be completely know by each other with no more surprises to be had as we interact with one another.  For you all are truly wonderfully made.

There is also something I know that is truly wonderful as well.  As much as I or any other human being would not be able to know you fully, you are fully known by God.  Trust me that is a wonderful thing, even though I am sure it makes many of nervous to know just how much God knows about us.  God knowing you fully means that God does have this special relationship with you, but it also means that God knows about all those dark and scary parts that we may not want to show anybody else.  But know this: As much as God may have searched you out and as much as God knows all about you, God still calls out to the corners of creation, "You are wonderfully made!"  Not only that, but God has seen the things we have done to other people and ourselves, God has seen the things we have not for other people and ourselves, but God the Father has still sent the Son into the world "not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him."

Perhaps as we continue to encounter each other in our daily lives, we should do well to remember how God has forgiven us, even as we have been fully known.  Perhaps that should cause us to encounter each other with the same Grace that God has encountered us with.  Maybe when we do that, we will be able to see each other more clearly as wonderful, complete, if yet complex, creatures who should be encountered with a wondrous curiosity that seeks the other out as they are and not as we think that they should be.


Pastor Ben

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Remember Him

Luke 24.13-35

            I remember where I was.  I remember that I had just finished a test in my German Language class in college.  I remember walking through the halls of the fine arts building at Missouri Western State College and seeing all of my friends and the staff and faculty of the music department standing around in an almost complete daze.  I remember professors trying to still teach their classes even with everyone's minds someplace else.  I remember the rumors.  I remember the conjecture that it had to be this or it had to be that.  I remember the marching band field that afternoon completely devoid of air traffic in the skies.  I remember my friends lashing out in anger, vowing revenge.  I remember sitting in my best friend's dorm room watching the New York City skyline smoke and smolder with a headache from staring at the screen in the dark.  I remember that day, and I'm sure that most of you here today remember that day very clearly as well.

            All throughout our history, our lives get punctuated by single, large events that forever shape how we live out our lives into the future.  For some people, it was that day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  For other people, it was the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas while riding in his motorcade.  For yet still others, it was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN.  Yet the common thread throughout those days is terribly tragic nature of those days.  The common thread is how we remember how we and other people hurt upon hearing that terrible news.  We remember things like how violent it was.  We remember things like how much destruction there was.  We remember how many lives were lost.  In short, we remember how those days live on "in infamy."

            Now consider these two disciples as they were walking down a road to the town where they were staying.  They too were trying to come to grips with these days that they just experienced - these days that will live on forever in their minds "in infamy."  I don't even have to conjecture much as to what was on their minds on that journey.  They are "talking with each other about all these things that had happened."  In case you haven't been paying attention the past two weeks, they have been discussing and talking about the betrayal, execution, and disappearance of their master, teacher, and friend Jesus.  These things are weighing heavily on their minds, and the events of those few days will mark a change in how they will live their life from that point on forward.  The only thing is, they just might be living those days out in different ways than they were expecting.

            They are in the midst of remembrance though.  They are in the midst of remembering the tragedy and mystery that had entered into their life.  Yet, little do they know that they are also in an act of forgetting.  They remember the things they have experienced.  They have forgotten the promise that had been proclaimed to them.  And while they are busy remembering, yet forgetting, they are also too bust to see that that very same master, teacher, and friend had joined them on their journey.  They can't see or won't see what is right before them.  So Jesus explains to them yet again what he has come on earth to do.  He explains that the Messiah was meant to "suffer these things and enter into his glory."  He tells them again about God's love and forgiveness that given to the whole of creation as he gave up his life so that we might see upon that cross how he gave up his life so that we may the rise with him into new life.  He tells them about how the life he brings bursts forth from the grave, that death has indeed lost its sting.  Yet in all of this, these two disciples still don't recognize who is before them.  They still don't recognize who is setting their hearts on fire.

            Yet that's when Jesus reminds them of a great gift that had been given to them.  They sit down for a meal, and Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.  And in the breaking of that bread, their eyes are opened, and they see and remember who this Jesus is.  They remember the goodness he brought them in their lives.  They remember the love that he had shown them.  They remember how, even in the midst of all the tragedy of the past few days, that the Gospel message (literally the Good News!) had been fulfilled.  They are forgiven.  They are freed from fear of sin and death.  They can go forth living their life with boldness!  Jesus is alive, and life has begun anew amidst all that tragedy and confusion.

            My guess is that we too forget the great and wonderful grace that God has given us, especially in times of loss, grief, and fear.  My guess is that we sometimes forget that Jesus is indeed already present with us.  My guess is that we at times dwell on the bad news so heavily that we sometimes forget the Good News that has been accomplished in our midst.  We too are a people that need to come to the table and to have our eyes opened in the breaking of the bread.  We too are a people who need to touch, smell, and even taste that Christ is indeed with us, that we have not been abandoned, and that God's tremendous has ultimately won the day.

            The Christian life is not one that is lived out in perfect obedience to God's commands.  The Christian life is lived coming again and again back to God's good grace and hearing that we are indeed forgiven and freed to finally stop worrying about ourselves and finally start loving and caring for others as they too are a people that God loves dearly.  Come and receive that grace yet again.  Have faith at the foot of the cross that God's love has indeed won the day.  Taste and see and remember that God is indeed good.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Loving Service

John 13.1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday 2013

            When Mara and I were married this past October, we received a gift from one of my friends and colleagues.  It is a beautiful porcelain washing basin and pitcher with a note attached to it reminding us that the relationship that we share is one that is based upon the service that we give to one another – that the life that we share is one based upon the many different ways that Mara and I will wash each other's feet in the coming years.  Of course, I don't mean that the whole reason that we are married and stay married is because how we scrub between each other's toes on a weekly basis.  But it is based upon the ways in which we give of ourselves in service to one another.  It is based upon how we listen to one another as we communicate our concerns and struggles.  It is based upon the things we do for each other when we are sick to help the healing process.  It is even based upon things like how I like to make sure that I've picked up the living room before Mara gets home from school after living the bachelor lifestyle for a few days.  Our relationship is based upon love, but it is love lived out giving of the self for the sake of the other.  Mara and I aren't perfect at making sure that our relationship is lived out in this way of every single day, but my guess is that none of our relationships are lived out in perfect service to one another every single hour of every single day.

            This night that we contemplate right her and now is the very night in which Jesus puts on display the kind of loving service that marks good relationships.  Yet, it is also the night in which we see just how hard it can be for people like us to carry out this kind of loving service, especially when things start to go wrong.  Those people like us are the owners of the feet that Jesus is kneeling down to wash on this night.  These disciples, they vow that will never leave Jesus' side.  They vow that they will follow Jesus' example.  They even vow that they would never betray him.  But soon, the disciples will scatter.  Soon, the disciples will say that they don't even know him.  Soon, one of the disciples in particular will hand Jesus over to be falsely accused, beaten, and executed.

            Yet Jesus still calls them friends.  Jesus still wants to be in relationship with these people.  And that perhaps is why Jesus continues forward to accomplish what has been set before him.  Jesus is seeking a relationship with us as well.

            That kind of relationship that Jesus seeking with us all demands to be more than a simple exchange where we are concerned with what we are getting out of him.  The relationship that we have in Christ is not one based upon how many wonderful and great things we are getting from God.  This relationship is based upon loving service where you're as concerned with how you are caring for another as much as how someone else is giving you something you need.  And this is a reality that is even born out in our human relationships.  If we are only concerned with what we can get from our friend or lover, whether it be how much fun that other person can give us or how that person can give us the sex that we want, then we have turned that other person into a vending machine that dispenses what we want when we want it.

            But Jesus wants a different, life-giving kind of relationship.  Jesus wants us to give of ourselves as we have been given great and tremendous gifts.  Jesus gives of himself for our sake.  He wants us to give of ourselves too so that love may actually then be found in abundance, rather than have it be a scarce resource that doled out carefully only when the correct price has been paid.  Yet there is something still greater that Jesus gives us as we try to live out that relationship: forgiveness when the disciples fail to follow Jesus and his example of loving service, forgiveness when we fail to follow Jesus and his example of loving service.  How do we know that that forgiveness is there?  Because Jesus still turns to these disciples, the ones who betray him, deny him, and abandon him and he still calls them his friends – all on the night in which that betrayal, denial, and abandonment is going to take place.  He still gives them the great gift of his presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  That forgiveness becomes essential in our relationship with God, just as much as that forgiveness is essential in our relationship with each other.

            The plain and simple truth is that God has a deep, abiding, unsearchable love for us and the whole of creation.  There's not much of a rational reason as to why God loves us so much.  God just simply does.  And in that love, God gives of God's self to us.  God gives to us that very same loving service which Jesus beckons the disciples to on this evening.  God loves you.  God the Father gives up his very own Son for us.  God goes to the very depths of hell for us.  And there is nothing you can do about it.  Except perhaps, by loving each other in service and forgiveness to each other, as Jesus loves us in service and forgiveness.