Lent

Hair of the Dog

Back before we had a treatment for rabies, you had to catch the dog that bit you and put a bit of its hair into a potion. The thinking was that having a little hair of what caused you pain could magically cure you, kind of like a day-after flu vaccine. Magical thinking prevails in the advice that a shot of alcohol in the morning will cure a hangover (Carrie Fisher’s alcohol soaked memoir is titled, “Magical Drinking”). Hence we say, “hair of the dog” when we repeat an action in miniature that got us in trouble the night before. In actuality a heavy drinker would be better off drinking water (they are usually dehydrated), and seeing a counselor (any hangover is a sign of a toxic relationship with booze), rather than taking something that delays their reentry to reality.

Moses might well have said, “hair of the dog,” or its yiddish equivalent, when the people of the Exodus were faced with snakes in the dessert. Moses had them cast a snake in bronze wrapped around a pole. People who were bit by poisonous snakes were told to look upon this snake, lifted up, and they would be cured (Numbers 21:4-9). In an unrelated bit of mythology, the Greek/Roman god of healing, Asclepius, had a pole with a snake around it, which today is the symbol for medicine. The truth behind the magical thinking is that the prayers of Moses brought forgiveness and healing to the people. In looking to the snake and pole, the people were meant to focus on their dependance upon God, and repent from the sins that had broken their faith.

Sunday, March 11, 2018
Lent 4

About that Cross Ahead

Jesus once called Peter, Satan — as in, “Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve come to think of Peter as a mother hen. He wants to protect Jesus. Keep him from any harm. I tell the people I love to be careful when they go out into icy weather. I have not yet resorted to hiding my wife’s keys when she plans to drive in the snow. That would be silly. Jesus is telling Peter that he is more than being silly. Peter’s urge to protect Jesus borders on being traitorous. He is, in this moment, Satan. For Jesus’ mission involves going to the cross. He plans on being harmed. Jesus plans on dying. That is why he reacts to Peter’s concern so dramatically.

Jesus goes on to say that each of us will go to the cross, in our own way. We must plan it into our lives. We must not let our urge to protect ourselves cause us to back away from our mission. We must not let the concerns of our loved ones keep us from doing what we are called to do. If a mother hen stands between us and doing God’s will, we call him or her Satan.

I think of Martin Luther King. As the fight for civil rights intensified, he knew it would cost him his life. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will” (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Montgomery, April 3, 1963).  I imagine his wife had a hard time listening to that speach. Jesus says that each of us will go on to the cross in our own way.

What does Jesus mean when he says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”?

Sunday, February 25, 2018
Lent 2

A Double Shot of Spirit

A man walks into a bar and says, “Make mine a double.” What he means is take a shot of whatever spirits and put it in a glass, then double it by adding another shot. It’s a very literal thing. Instead of one ounce of booze, you have two. I think we should be more literal when talking about the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have one ounce of spirit. Sometimes we have more. When Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit, he is imagining a real commodity. I always tell people that spiritual passion is measurable. Our soul is real, as is our God. Religion doesn’t deal with intangibles. In spiritual matters we deal with a substance that matters. In Bible times, every son got one portion of the family estate. But the first born son got a double share of the family farm. This was a real commodity that could be measured in furlongs and feet. Is the Holy Spirit that real to you?

Sunday, February 11, 2018
Epiphany 6
Transfiguration Sunday

Outsiders

It is hard to celebrate Palm Sunday, and read Psalm 118, with today’s newspaper in your hand without reflecting upon the term outsider. The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone. Is this being said about Jesus, Christopher Columbus, or Donald Trump? You form a mental picture of Jesus leading his noisy throng up to the gates of Jerusalem. The religious and political leadership of the nation is standing on a parapet high above, and crying out for someone to bar the door. Now shift the mental picture and see the towering glass building of Wall Street, and dodging the yellow cabs below is a parade of Bernie Sanders supporters, shouting about breaking up the big banks and raising the minimum wage to $15. Perhaps we need to step aside from Palm Sunday a moment and consider the role of an outsider, both for our personal religious journey, and for our common good.

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Palm Sunday

Psalms for Lent

Because they don’t provide the evangelical fervor of Paul, or the face to face encounter with Christ of the Gospels, many pastors don’t preach the Psalms. Yet, the Psalter provides the steady middle way of spiritual formation. Few people leave worship thinking that the responsive reading of Psalm 91 was the best part of the hour, but in their heart, the psalm is often the most resonate voice. So, it may be good to not only make reference to the psalms throughout Lent, but also wrestle with how these ancient poems help us to grow as Christ’s disciples and spiritually integrated persons.

 

If you focus is on the Gospel narrative for the first week of Lent, then the best thing you might say about Psalm 91 is that it provides the inspiration for the Devil as he tempts Christ. Out of context, “No harm will come to you… you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:10-13), looks like the makings of a dare. “If you have faith, then you will____,” (just fill in the blank).  Who doesn’t want to test their God and go walking on coals or handling snakes when they are told, “you will tread on cobras and lions [without harm]”? 

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Lent 1

False Endings

There a number of movies and plays that provide a false ending. Into the Woods, has four interwoven plot lines that seem to be resolved just before the intermission. Then the curtain comes up on Act two and everyone finds another reason to go into the woods and face even greater dangers. Palm Sunday is the same way. We see Jesus come into Jerusalem and be honored as the Messiah, no longer hidden away in the backwoods hillsides of Galilee. He gets to teach in the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, deceive us into thinking that Jesus has passed the finish line of his race. If this were a book, I’d look at the remaining pages and wonder why they were there.

 

John’s Gospel uses the false ending of Palm Sunday to link two different books about Jesus; the first book tells seven miracles, beginning with the Wedding of Cana and concluding with the raising of Lazarus. Each miracle, or sign, separates Jesus further from our expectations of a “normal” religious leader. The seeds of Jesus own death, portrayed in the second book, are sown in the new life he gives to Lazarus just outside the city gates. John has Jesus get anointed for burial in Bethany, then asks us, do you want to go with him into Jerusalem?

Sunday, March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday

Lent & Changing Churches

    In the United Methodist Church, decisions to move a clergy person from one church to another are usually made during Lent. This habit has many practical advantages, and one glaring fault. It disrupts the key spiritual process of Christian life. Lent is the process of moving from ashes to fire. We do it in our personal lives, as we embrace the fact of our mortality on ash Wednesday, follow Jesus to the cross, experience grace on a gut level, carry his body to the tomb, have our hope renewed by miracle, then rediscover the ways we are each called to utilize the fire of Pentecost.

Two Paintings

Why do I like Caravaggio better than Carracci? Two paintings, both about 1600, by Italian artists.  Annibale Carracci paints the Virgin mourning over Christ for the altar piece in Naples. Here, Mary represents the church, her extended hand inviting us to grasp her role in the passion story. She is serene, wise, and still. Jesus lays on her, like some waxen Adonis, perfect and inert. There are cherubs darting around the stonework, adding a little religious froufrou. I hate this painting.

 

Jesus goes into the temple and, as John chapter two tells us, gets rid of the cherubs. He doesn’t need a church that is full of holy froufrou. His disciples will gather people together, in simple buildings and homes, for prayer, study, and worship. They will relate to each other and to the world as Christ desires. They won’t need an altar paintings where the Church looks serene, wise, and distant from the world. The also won’t need goats, money changers, and fifty-fifty raffles to pay the heating bill.

 

Sunday, March 8, 2015
Lent 3

Lenten Themes for 2015

Our journey towards being the people God wants us to be.

 

Ash Wednesday: “Purity”  - Psalm 51 - “Create in me a clean heart”

Lent 1:  “Wilderness”  - Mark 1   “Jesus was driven…”

Lent 2:  “Suffering”  - Mark 3  “Take up your cross…”

Lent 3:  “Worship”  - John 2  “Zeal for your house…”

Lent 4:  “Salvation”  - John 3  “Everyone who believes…”

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Essential Jesus

There’s nothing churchy about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. It takes place outdoors and on the road. We know the location, but the importance of the place is in its current insignificance. The well is mostly empty. The disciples, who act like the ushers at the back of the church handing out bulletins and taking attendance, are gone. The crowd is absent. There are no rules, no social protocol. Just Jesus and this woman. Anyone who takes this text and tries to say something from it in support of institutional religion, or to get something done in their church, is doing the gospel great harm.

    Jesus knows just the right thing to say to this woman to prepare her for spiritual transformation. He asks her to bring her husband. There is something in each of our lives that acts as a hinge. For some people its money. For others its status or the position they hold in their career. Still others are spiritually shut down because of childhood traumas or past violence. For this woman, the door that needed to be swung involved her relationship with men. Since the issue is between this woman and her God, John throws a veil over the specifics. He says simply that she has had five husbands and is living with a sixth. I’m sure that the conversation she had with Jesus included much more than what we have the right to know (see John 4:29).

Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lent 3

Away from it all

What an odd choice. Jesus you’ve just been baptized and announced to be God’s gift for humanity; where are you going to go?  Jesus’ answer, “Away from it all.” We live now in a world of constant connectivity. I grew up in a time when if you passed people on the street talking to themselves, you knew they were crazy. Now, if you are simply walking — I mean looking at the world around you and putting one foot in front of another —- people ask you what’s wrong with your cell phone. Information floods in. We refuse to simply be quiet. We contribute our tweets to the chaos. We have become crazy people.

 

Jesus didn’t need to get away as much as we do. He chose forty days of wilderness. Complete isolation. He had no cell phone reception or wifi. The world lost his wisdom from Facebook for forty days. He heard no one. Even the devil honored this choice of solitude until the last few days. Jesus only needed forty days to reestablish his sanity, how long do you need?

 

Sunday, March 9, 2014
Lent 1

Seeking God for God's Sake

He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling...

Psalm 27 does an odd thing, it has a number of high security phrases like, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life,” and “set me high upon a rock.” It appeals to the fortress mentality of our faith, as if to say that is the reason for religion. It being Lent, I was struck by the wilderness and the 'seeking God for God’s sake' quality of the Psalm. David is saying, I only want to seek the Lord’s face, nothing else matters. What David really found in the wilderness wasn’t security from madman Saul, but the mystery of God in the night. Jesus also retreated into the wilderness and into his all night prayer sessions, not because he found people threatening, but because the mystery of seeking to know God is fundamental to the human experience.

 

The common book of prayer does an apt thing in the responsive reading of Psalm 27:5, instead of  speaking about God’s tabernacle, it says, “He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling...” How important are the secrets of God to us? It is easy to get the wrong idea about our reason for practicing religion. It’s not like we go to church to buy an insurance policy. I know this doesn’t preach as easily as the fortress aspects of Psalm 27. Jesus wasn’t going for the easy message when he told Nicodemus that the spirit of God that allows us to be reborn is like the wind, blowing where you do not expect it (John 3:5-9).

Sunday, February 24, 2013
Lent 2
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