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A Prayer – of sorts – of Lament in Search of Hope for the World

Creator? Redeemer? Sustainer?

I do not know what name to lift up to you God. Not in this moment of prayer. Not to get your attention at this time. Will a pleasant name give my plea a greater hearing?

God who is – I AM. God who claims naught but existence… and hearing – for you heard the cries of your people. God who claims naught but existence and hearing and yet also responds through broken vessels like Moses and Paul, in prophets like Elijah and Jesus, in poets and priests and prostitutes and peons and… and whatever you can lay eye on. God who is, hear our prayers – our cries – our lamentations – our bafflement and our despair, and respond. Because we need you.

“In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1)

Our world knows much of formlessness, void, and darkness. Our world – your world I might remind you – is swirling out of control. (Are there controls on this thing?) Madness seems to have taken over. We are killing each other at obsessive rates. Killing over land, over long held hatred, out of neglect, self-interest… or for no reason at all. God… we are killing. We are killing ourselves.

“Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

So much hate. I do not know what to do in the face of hate. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I do not know how to look into the eyes of one who sees another human being as unworthy of life. I do not know how to stare deeply into those eyes… with love. I do not know how to love the hate-filled other. To love them in such a way that the only death is the hate and not the other.

“Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34)

We lack the strength Lord to be a gracious people. We are consumed by a need for personal safety. We are consumed by a need to protect our own. We are consumed by our self. We are literally consuming ourselves in the name of our own glory. And the victims of our hunger are legion.

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8)

Our hearts are empty. We care not. Certainly not enough to deprive ourselves. Besides, we cannot get beyond our own hurts, for they are real and true and hardship abounds. We cannot be moved to care for another when we cannot care for ourselves. Where do we go when everyone is a patient and no doctor will come to work? Is there balm for the wounded soul?

“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)

But our children are scattered and dying. Hungry and homeless and… what future does this world hold when schools are warzones and warzones are shielded in their bodies?
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Our leaders are as scared as we are – perhaps even more because they can see farther than we can, for all their short-sightedness, from their elevated lofts of luxury. What does a disciple do when then master is aimless, absent, apathetic or amorally removed from the plight?

“I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10)

Them too – but maybe you are not hearing me, where are you, O God…. How long O Lord… if we die in this wilderness of hate and indifference who shall be left to you of your creations? My God… my GOD… why have you forgotten us… forsaken us…. Whither shall we go – shall we look to the hills? Shall we find you in the shadow of death? The demons have overturned the furniture and made a mess of the homes in our heads… the bleeding will not be stopped… the death-throws of the Beast – if death throws they are – are far too much for our little lives to stand. If you are Alpha and Omega.. we need you in the middle too – where are you, O Lord… my God?

“Be still… know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I find myself almost out of breath… that is – out of God, out of you. Molded and breathed into and given life, it is death now that I see, that I breathe, that I live. Justice isn’t rolling down, Habakkuk is no more pleased today, does he still stand his watch tower? Do I stand in his place? Do I have it in me? I am out of breath, and our world feels out of time. Oh Ancient of Days – it’s time to appear on scene. At least a little late I might say. Where do we go from here – when just to stand seem more than I am able?

“At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.” (Daniel 9:23)

That’s nice.
I was looking for a little more Revelation.
I am stirred to anger and I am ready for an angry God. We are past the point of words… we need action. Oh God – DON’T YOU SEE IT?!?!

“Hear, O Israel-” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

YOU DON’T GET IT – I’M DONE LISTENING. I NEED YOU TO FIX THIS!

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21)

I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Is that an answer? Why won’t you answer me – don’t you know I have your life in my hands…..

“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35)

I didn’t mean it, God I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated. More than a little lost. More than a little heart-sick for all those whose lives have been thrown to the wind. More than little despairing that we just can’t get this love thing. I’m tired… God knows, you must be too.

“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)

God may our hearts be broken… broken open to one another. Broken up by you and for you and with you. May our hearts be kindled and may our anger be healthy. Angry at killing, not killing angry. Angry at systems of homelessness, violence, power and dominance, ignoring the widow and orphan, at imagining there is no room in the inn… But not angry at the homeless, the violated, the least and the lost. May our hearts be kindled. May our compassion grow warm, yes, and tender. May seedlings of hope be scattered in the wilderness and the rocks and roads and the urban slums and the rooftops of palace and stable and may the sprout up. May we protect them for them are a hard won and precious gift. May we honor them for their roots go deep into the marrow of the earth connecting pole to pole – person to person, and their leaves are absorbing the starlight of different worlds and in their veins lies the life blood of heaven and hell.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Just help me see the hope… for all the rest is all too easy to be consumed by.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

Make it so. So be it. Amen

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Working Together for Peace?

This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith.  Today’s installment:

“To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace”

Doesn’t that sound so nice?  It’s almost like the combination of a group project in school with the wishes of the stereotypical Miss USA, “I wish for world peace.”

But when the rubber meets the road we struggle to play well with each other, and peace isn’t any easier.  What is peace?  What gets us toward peace?  And what do we do when two or more groups are at odds with each other cannot agree on who gets peace and at whose expense?

These are timely questions as right now the 221st General Assembly is happening in Detroit as the Presbyterian Church (USA) discerns matters of policy and polity.  The elected commissioners are quite literally trying to work together for justice, freedom, and peace.  But there are some very challenging questions before them: particularly the matters of the definition of marriage and justice for same gender peoples who have been denied the right to marry, and in the matter of potential divestment of three companies deemed to be have no interest in being in dialogue with us about their continued profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel.

On both these subjects we have strong disagreements about what is justice and what is peace.  We struggle with freedom in the midst of unity, and how to work together with such strongly held and opposing views.

And then I went today to my preachers bible study where we read about Hagar having a covenant from God (Genesis 21) to be God’s people also: none of us has unique status in the eyes of God, or maybe it’s that we aren’t uniquely chosen by virtue of the fact that we all are uniquely chosen.  So how do we check our privilege at the door?  A question made harder by the fact that most of us get defensive at the suggestion that we even have privilege.  And how do we help our neighbors check their privilege at the door… particularly when that is an offensive enterprise.

Then Jesus walked in for the Gospel text in Matthew and announced that he comes not to bring peace but a sword… to set us against each other… and that to gain our life we must lose it. (Matthew 10)

How do we work together for justice, freedom, and peace?

I don’t know… but I have some ideas.

We have to let go of our life.  We have to let go of our self-interest both as individuals and as corporate entities.  We have to let go of the idea that we should secure our safety and well-being at the expense of others.

We have to be humble.  We need (I think I heard this somewhere) to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves… and vice-versa.  And… we have to have the humility to imagine that we are at least as wrong in some of our ideas as the people we disagree with.  No-one is really setting out to be mean.  No-one is seeking the badwill of all other people.  Our disagreements are heated exactly because we each think we are seeking what is good and right.  For a moment… let’s imagine that about half of what we think is wrong, and about half of what “the other” is saying is right.

We have to be willing to be offensive.  This is hard because I don’t think that means offending people for the sake of it.  We ought not to SEEK to be offensive, but we cannot be afraid of it either.  Seeking peace as a ‘not rocking the boat’ is not in fact peace, it is asking those who are not currently protected by the dominant narrative to be quiet so we can pretend that all is well.

We have to trust each other.  We have to trust each other enough to stick in relationship long enough to get past the offense, the defensiveness, and the monologue-slinging to actually listen, hear, and relate to each other… for it is only if we can stay in conversation this long that we begin to actually do the work together towards peace part.

We have to admit that we won’t succeed.  We are seeing through a glass dimly.  We all are.  We will not achieve peace, or perfect justice, or grant pure freedom to all people.  We just won’t.  These are guiding lights – like the North Star.  We pursue them, not in the idea that we are capable of reaching them, but in the hope that we move ever towards them… and that in our fractious discernment and yearning for goodness the Spirit of the Lord is actually present.

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage… to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”

Thanks be to God.

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This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: see below
  • In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
  • To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Restless for Peace

“Restless for Peace” (an approximation of the sermon preached at First Pres, Boise, ID on the third Sunday of Easter)

Deuteronomy 3:16-20

16And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; 17the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.

18At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the Lord your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin.19Only your wives, your children, and your livestock—I know that you have much livestock—shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. 20When the Lord gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.”

 Luke 9:57-62

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Today’s text continues us on a theme – how do we know Jesus? How will we recognize the risen Christ?

We asked that on Easter because no-one seems to know Jesus when they see him after his resurrection.  Here in this text today we get some explanation given: their eyes were kept from recognizing him. What does that mean?

It probably easiest and most comfortable to presume that God kept them from knowing they were talking to Jesus. That is the conspiracy theorist way of explaining it – that God is play a game with us – whatever the endgame of that game would be I cannot guess.  I think it’s far more on target to imagine that what keeps them from recognizing Jesus was themselves.  I’m reminded of early in Jesus’ ministry when he arrived in his home town.  Where he grew up, where he was a snot nosed child, where his baseball crashed through someone’s window.  Where he ran wildly, and dug up worms in the bushes, and tried to find his moral compass.  Where his neighbors heard his mom complain about how he ditched out on his family that time in Jerusalem like some juvenile delinquent.  Because – you know, the Temple is exactly where all the pre-teen runaways go when they ditch out on their parents.

When he came to his home town they couldn’t imagine that Jesus would be wise, they couldn’t imagine that he was a learned and insightful teacher – this son of a carpenter – and the last thing they could imagine was he would be a miracle worker and healer, a prophet of the Most High and so the text tells us he was able to do no works of power there because they couldn’t imagine it.  Our imagination is able to limit what is possible – we can keep the awesome power of God at bay with our fear, and doubt and skepticism.

So what do we think is the more plausible scenario : that God doesn’t want them to know Christ until the rabbit is pulled out from the hat at the dinner table or that their own fear and skepticism – like Jesus neighbors in his home town – causes them to close their eyes to the miraculous presence of God at work in their lives.  The story isn’t about God’s artistic timing, but God’s desire to make us aware of God’s transformative presence in our lives.   Like we said last week we can imagine that nothing is miraculous in the world or that everything is.  These disciples are coming from a place of just such skepticism; just listen to their account of the women’s experience of the risen Jesus.  There is no sense that they believe the women’s account to be authoritative.  “They claim to have had some encounter with angels or something… yah – you heard me right… angels.  Sure.”

It is not surprise they do not know that they are talking to Jesus.

And I’m not trying to beat them up.  Because it’s no surprise that we don’t know we are talking to Jesus either.  We live with clouded imaginations; we live as skeptics at best and cynics at worst.  We cannot imagine God is actually walking with us on the road.  We limit what is possible – we limit even God’s imagination and work in the world through our close minded and hard heartedness.

So what do you think?  How do you imagine Jesus at work in the world – because oh my! Jesus is at work.

This is the phrase that jumps out at me in this text today – this is the phrase I cannot get rid of, “And he vanished.” What is up with that?  This was just getting good and then Jesus is gone!  Why couldn’t Jesus stay a little longer, have a couple of drinks at the table and talk about what it’s like to die… to rise.  What is the plan now? What comes next?  So many things to sip wine and discuss at length…  except Jesus is gone, in that moment of recognition he is gone, vanished, right before our now open eyes.

Several things about this vanishing intrigue me and play at my own imagination.

First it doesn’t bother the disciples at all.  These two who were journeying to Emmaus, who wanted to pause and have a leisurely evening meal and rest before continuing on their way.  They aren’t bothered by Jesus disappearance.  There is no talk about the inconvenience or even weighting what to do next.  They immediately get up and go back to Jerusalem.  In the story Jesus was walking as if to continue on and then they wanted to stop.  Now that Jesus is gone, presumably to wherever he was headed when they asked him to stop, now that he is gone they turn around and go immediately back to their community in Jerusalem to tell them the news.

This gets me to two more observations.

Jesus presence is catalytic.  Jesus causes things to happen.  Jesus causes them to turn around and turn around immediately.  Jesus transforms what you see and the Jesus type of transformation requires action – immediate action.  They don’t sit around and talk about it.

Jesus catalytic presence wants to be shared.  Where do they go?  On their way?  No – back to their community, their neighbors, and their friends- to share what they have learned.  Jesus catalytic transformation is also contagious and it requires being spread and shared.

And then one last observation.  The moment Jesus gives us that catalytic spark – Jesus is gone.  Because Jesus has things to do.  When these two disciples get back to Jerusalem did you notice what has happened?  That community is already ablaze because Jesus has appeared to Simon – presumably at the same time Jesus is appearing to them or maybe that’s where Scotty beamed him up and sent him to after he vanished from the two on the Emmaus road.  But that community is ablaze with this fire.  Some other day we can talk about why they believed Simon but not the women but for today it’s enough to note that Jesus is lighting sparks all over the place.  He appeared t the women, he appeared to these two, and to Simon, and who knows who else we don’t know.

I think the Gospel writers language of vanished, and the seeming teleporting Jesus is not about Jesus having some magic resurrection powers but it’s to remind us that Jesus is at work – God is at work everywhere whether we are able to see it or not, whether we can imagine it or not.  The on-the-move-Jesus is passionately driven to spark life.

Movie convention would have us believe that when we die we write on our tombs, “Rest In Peace.” But the Risen Christ’s tomb has very different words on it – Jesus is restless for peace.  Not his peace, he has nothing but peace.  But he is passionately driven by a desire to share that peace with the world.  Jesus is, and will be restless, until the world knows the peace he has.  The Risen Christ – it would seem to me – has every reason to be able to rest on his laurels, that he has done what he needed to do and now he can rest.  Instead he is appearing all over opening minds and imaginations and giving peace and he’s a catalyst for transformation in the world… off to light that spark somewhere else leaving the work of spark sharing in our more than capable hands.

I’m reminded of the passage we started with in Deuteronomy.  Because in my head it is possible to imagine that an “it is finished” minded Jesus could consider his work done on the cross.  That Jesus dying sinless for the world had done his job.  That in resurrection and conquering sin and death the victorious Christ could proclaim his mission fulfilled and his victory won.  But none of this is what happens.  There is nothing in the behavior of Jesus that he has completed anything. So I’m reminded of Moses talking to the tribes of Israel as he leads them to promised land, to what will becomes their ancestral home and having procured some initial promise and apportioning that lot to one and half of the tribes he tells them however that their job isn’t done.  You cannot rest in this land… none of you can rest until everyone has land.  You are responsible for making sure all of your brothers and sisters have land, have inheritance… have peace and place.

You may not rest just because you have what is coming to you – you may not rest until everyone in the community is cared for.  God is a communal God, not my God or your God – God is our God.  I believe that Jesus in that Luke 9 passage picks up this thread.  The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. I’m restless for everyone to have a place to lay their head, I have a mission to bring good news to all people – healing and teaching; transforming and opening – until all people can know peace, and until all people can have somewhere to lay their head than I will have nowhere to lay mine.

It was true of Jesus then, and it is true now.  Jesus doesn’t rest on his laurels: he doesn’t say, ‘I’ve done my job and I’m going to sit on my throne now.  When you have done your work, you will have earned the right to join me in rest.’  That is not what Jesus says.  What Jesus says in his actions is, “I’m restless to share peace with all people. Life is stronger and death And my life is lived with great imagination that we can indeed secure life for all people and place for all people and peace for all people, I imagine / God with us imagine that all people can have a place to lay their head in peace and wholeness.  And I will go wherever I need to go – even hell itself – to spark that fire in my people.

Jesus is risen, he is on the move, and it is good!

How are you catalytic for Christ?

How are you on the move on behalf of your neighbors in Christ?

How are you restless for peace?

 

Amen.

Illuminating Peace (day two)

You can find the first Peace reflection by Joanna Dunn here: http://pastormomjdunn.tumblr.com/post/69525010066/illuminating-advent-peace-yesterday-we-started

Joanna challenged us to let there be peace on Earth by beginning with ourselves.  How are we agents of peace?  I have voices swirling in my head that remind me that we cannot be agents of peace if we are not at peace within ourselves.  When we are filled with anger and strife we spread those things.  In fact the monk Benedict made it a part of his monastic rule (law) that you could not leave a monastery and go to another because you were unhappy.  Why?  He said that while you may think you are leaving to get away from the problem, in fact you are simply taking the problem to a new place.  The problem resides within us.

But… I say… But it’s tempting to move on to greener pastures.  It’s easy to want to identify how others are a part of the problem.  It’s easier to see the toothpick in my neighbor’s eye (to quote Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew) than to think about my role in all of it.

For true peace to reign on earth we have to start by finding God’s peace within us.  We have to be willing to look deeply to our own soul’s discontent, unhappiness, and anger.  This is why peace is not simply the absence of war.  Peace requires to the ability to be comfortable in our own skin; comfortable with the people around us.  Peace is not subjugating our own inner turmoil and keeping it reigned in, just as peace cannot be achieved by subjecting other people to our ways and views.  This is not peace.  Peace is relieving that turmoil and letting it go.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

What burdens are you carrying?  What makes you weary?  How are we prepared to come to terms with this, to give it up, and to rest in the one who is peace that we might become agents of peace?