Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pause for a moment of silence . . .

The Rabbi Jesus awoke early in the morning and walked the short distance to the temple, where he sat down with an early arriving temple crowd and began to teach.  The religious leaders  of the day thought this Rabbi to be too soft on sin, too quick to excuse behaviors prohibited by the religious laws. He would accept anybody doing anything,  That is why the crowds were coming to him.  With this teacher, anything goes.  Who wouldn't love to be judged by that rule?

As the Rabbi was teaching, several of the religious leaders appeared in the temple courtyard, walking toward him with purpose.  They were dragging a woman with them.  

"Teacher," one of the religious leaders, the spokesman of the group, addressed Jesus.  No howdy, good-morning, howyadoing, or shalom with this group.  They were all business.

"This woman was caught in the act of adultery."   The group of men looked with disdain at the woman they had captured.  I will leave it to you to ponder the questions this declaration raises.  How was she caught?  Who caught her?  Doesn't it take two to tango?  Where is the man?

"In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women,"  the group spokesman continued. A no-frills opening statement, unfortunately flawed by an omission of law.  Actually the Law of Moses was more enlightened than that.  It required that both the man and the woman be stoned to death. Equal treatment under the law.  Apparently the man had worked a deal and turned state's evidence.  But the law of Moses had been broken. The woman must be stoned to death.  The religious leader then fixed his gaze on Jesus and spoke.

"Now what do you say?"  

Jesus was silent. Bending down, he doodled in the dirt with his finger. The religious leaders continued to question the Rabbi.  Jesus said nothing. He just looked down at the dirt and doodled.

There are times when it seems God is saying nothing. God is frustratingly quiet.

We should probably give thanks for the silence, the incredible grace of God's restraint.

With our deadly stones easily within the God's reach,  God bends down and listens as we approach self-righteously with our perverted, self-serving version of the law handed down to Moses, waving it furiously in Jesus' face, explaining to the Rabbi how the law is supposed to work. 

And God is quiet.

While we angrily judge and accuse, using God as our authority, insisting that appropriate punishment be meted out for the other, God's children whom we have judged and condemned. 

And God is quiet.

While we embrace lies to support our judgments, without question, because our all important judgments cannot be supported by truth.  So we bury the truth under our pile of stones.

After awhile Jesus lifted his head and returned the gaze of the man.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  Then Jesus returned to his doodling.

Man, that is maddening, isn't it?

The accusing group of men left, not as a group, but one by one, the oldest first, then down to the youngest, till no one was left but Jesus and the woman.  Jesus stood up and asked the woman, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus said.  "Now go and leave your life of sin."

Perfect truth. Perfect grace.  The woman's life was saved by the insightful response of Jesus.  True enough.  But in our arrogance we sometimes fail to claim the other, equally significant grace.  The lives of the men who held the stones may have been saved as well. It depends on what each did later.  Like so many of the stories of Jesus, we don't know how the characters' stories ended.  Perhaps that is so we can make them our stories. Maybe we are supposed to write the endings of the stories with our lives.

I am disturbed by my own silence these days.  I am angry in my soul.  I wish that in my silence I could discover the kind of grace that Jesus offered all who were in his presence in the courtyard that morning.  But my silence is not so holy or noble.  It is mostly to avoid the pitfall of gathering my own pile of stones to throw out of anger.

But maybe Jesus was angry in the silence as well.  Maybe the period of silence was necessary, not to suppress the anger, but to allow it to be directed with God's love, grace, truth and wisdom.  So that it was possible to change the hearts of all present.

So maybe it's okay to be angry.  But not as an excuse to judge, divide, injure or kill.  Maybe it takes the energy of our anger to do the hard work of love sometimes.

I don't know.  I do know that much. But at my age, according to the story, I should be dropping my stones and walking away first, whatever that means.

Maybe I need to work on my doodling.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christ IS Risen . . .

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

  The events of Holy Week happened a couple of thousand years ago in Jerusalem.  The triumphal entry amid the waving palms, the cleansing of the temple of the money changers, the preaching of Jesus in the temple court, the dialogue of Jesus with the Pharisees, Jesus' last supper with the disciples, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and all of the rest of that amazing week leading up to Sunday, are history.  We still talk about it. We study it.  We even re-live it in our spiritual lives at the close of every Lenten season.  But even as we can almost see, hear and feel the familiar stories of Jesus' last week, it is still history.  An important part of the past from which we learn.  

But Jesus Christ is risen. 

It will always be that way.  

The resurrection will always be now.  Christ is risen to and for all generations.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event to commemorate.  The resurrection of Jesus is the continuing act of a loving God to offer transforming grace, restoration, and Love to every generation, even to the end of the age. 

And for that surely we must humbly worship and be thankful.  Not only for what happened in the past, but on this day,  for what is happening right now because Christ is risen.  

But even more important we must act, we must respond as if we believe the resurrection of Jesus is now, that it continues with its power in the present.  We must locate our present day Galilee to meet Jesus, not for salvation, not to save ourselves, but for instruction and empowerment of the Spirit, so that through love and service, the Body of Christ can do God's work and will in today's world.

It was a wonderful moment when Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the Lord.

But Christ is risen.

Where will we see Jesus today?

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday: Holy and Fearful

Holy Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It seems like everything is falling apart.  The foundations that hold up our lives are crumbling, leaving us precariously hanging, dangling at the edge of an uncertain future.  Even our past is in question.

The crumbling away creates open space for those who take advantage of the fear, grabbing for the power that seems to have no master.  We falsely place blame on a convenient, powerless other, wrongly giving names and faces to the causes of the destruction, the source of our fears. We declare war on the fictitious enemy, this powerless other, who has been losing these same wars for generations, as if by making them lower, we can be raised up.

And out of fear, we believe.

The crumbling away causes some to scramble for safety, wildly latching onto anything that seems to offer something different.  In groping and grasping for whatever we can reach, we let go of all that we have held onto before, even that which continues to hold our hand tightly amidst the chaos. But it feels good to feel good for the moment. And the moment is all that matters. 

And out of fear, we believe.

The crumbling away causes some of us to retreat, to seek nothing, not power nor distraction; just a place to hide.  We become numb in the darkness. Motionless. Thoughtless. Hopeless.  Prayerless.  Alone.  Convinced that all we had once held as dear is over, if it ever really existed anyway.

And out of fear, we believe.

But there are some who hold on.  Fearful and uncertain they lovingly made preparation yesterday, and spend today, this moment, this Sabbath,  in faithful waiting for tomorrow, as they have been taught from centuries of teaching, and from three short years of living, learning and loving.  Fear does not drive them to hate, or to seek other answers, or to retreat.  They spend today amid the chaos and crumbling in waiting, fully prepared to go and see tomorrow what will come of all of this.

And amidst the fear, we believe.


"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . ."
                                                                   1 John 4:18


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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lenten thought: What is truth?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Cold drizzle and clouds on the hillside, delaying daylight, create an appropriate outer climate for my inner mindset this morning.  It is a little foggy in there all the time, but there can be a happy oblivion in the safe cocoon of a fog. But cold drizzle just wakes me up for no apparent reason.  At least it seems so. 

Each year, during Lent, a particular moment of Jesus' final week in Jerusalem sticks in my head.  The moment is generally defined by a short passage of scripture.  It is different each year.  For instance, a couple of years ago it was "Give us Barabbas" .  

This year the simple thought that sticks in my head is:

 "What is truth?"

 Pontius Pilate famously asked "What is truth?" on the final day of Jesus' earthly life.  Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, who ruled over the province of Judaea, where Jerusalem was located, during the ministry of Jesus. Pilate posed the question "What is truth?"  as he was involuntarily cast in an unforgettable supporting role in a complicated drama. Even before his big scene was finished it was clear that Pilate desperately wished for his part to be washed away.  But it could not be.

Pilate was the Roman authority before whom Jesus was brought by the Jewish religious leaders who wanted to get rid of Jesus for good.  The religious leaders claimed that Jesus had broken laws for which he should be executed.  

 Pilate, the secular Roman official, told the religious leaders to "judge him yourself by your own laws".   The religious leaders said they could not because their religious laws would not allow execution for the charges, but the Roman law would. 

Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar?  Even if it's Jesus?

How awful were these religious leaders?  They knew better. They said so. The religious law they had been given, which they took so much pride in following, which they espoused to be God-given to His chosen people, did not allow the execution of Jesus, even if He were actually guilty of the charges they brought.

But if Caesar killed Jesus, the religious leaders hands were tied, they were clean. Nothing they could do about it.

Sounds a bit too familiar to me somehow.

 Jesus said not to lie, and yet we defend, even repeat and promote with apparent glee the lies of our favorite candidates for political office, and most of all the lies about those that we oppose. Our enemy, if you will.  And we know how we are supposed to treat our enemy, don't we?  

Jesus said if we love Him we are to care for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick,  the alien, the children, the widow and orphan and the oppressed, and yet we cheer and applaud those candidates, repeating their lies and loathsome rhetoric, who diminish the humanity of and deny responsibility for the least of us that Jesus loves so much.

Jesus said to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and yet, we roar with approval the horrific practice of indiscriminate carpet bombing, no matter who may be living, sitting or playing on that carpet.  

As Christians we act as if the teachings of Jesus do not apply to politics, as if the political arena is a free zone where anything goes.  This is a pretty silly notion when you consider that Jesus' whole ministry was conducted in the center of a political arena that would make this year's election look like a tea party. It was in that environment that he gave us His profound teaching of how to live and love.

Government is not the answer to all things. It can be the best or partial solution to some things.  Our politics at its finest should be a healthy debate about finding the optimum role of government in making all of our lives better.  And like Jesus, Christians should not remove themselves from the discussion.

But for a Christian, politics and government must never be places to go to hide from the teachings of Jesus.  It is not a free zone in which to achieve a result or promote opinions or say things that are contrary to the life and love of Christ. 

It is not a place to go to once again crucify Jesus.

The crowd outside that cried "Give us Barabbas" was angry because Jesus seemed to be less than what they had been waiting and longing for.  

The religious leaders inside that wanted Jesus dead were terrified because he seemed to be so much more. 

And Jesus gave no wordy defense of himself, merely saying he came to "testify to the truth."

It is no wonder, on that awful morning, Pilate asked the famous question.

"What is truth?"

Not so much different from this morning, it seems.

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