March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday and the Cross

After our 40 days of preparation, we come to the end of the Road to the Cross. Palm Sunday is always a dichotomy of images. We start the service with shouts of Hosanna and palm waving; then abruptly we crash into the Passion narrative. This should bring us up short with the reminder and realization that we, just as much as those present 2000 years ago, are daily shouting ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ in things ‘done and left undone’ as one prayer of confession says.
The old hymn asks ‘were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ And indeed we are present on Palm Sunday as the words of the Gospel are read. The same people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with glad shouts and palm branches, stand by and cry for His death at Roman hands. 

This betrayal, not just by Judas, but by all was for each of us. In the Letter to the Philippians (2:7-9) we hear that [Jesus] “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.In our place, Christ on the Cross, brings us back into relationship with the God of Love. Our actions tear the community and communion with each other. The crossbeams on Golgotha re-knit heaven and earth.
The Cross, an instrument of torture and death is transformed into the symbol of Life...for those who accept that truth. From the earliest Christian letters, we learn that not everyone is able to believe. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:23-24)
The paradox of Palms and Passion on one Sunday brings us up short because it is the way of our life to have joy and pain, acceptance and betrayal, good and evil. At a retreat last weekend Bishop Vono of the Diocese of the Rio Grande noted that Lent (and especially Holy Week) is a time to ‘look evil square in the eye and see it as a part of life’. It can also be where we find Holy Ground.
During this Holy Week, there may be special services to attend, or you may be able to find some quiet time to sit with God and contemplate the Love that refuses to let us go, no matter how many times we turn our backs.
This week
  • Meditate on the Passion Gospel. How do your actions sometimes cry ‘crucify’ or deny our Lord? OR
  • Sit with a cross, either in a church or in your home. Consider what the Cross means to your faith OR
  • Think about being at the foot of the Cross on Golgotha with Mary and John. What would you have heard, felt, smelled, tasted, seen?
I close with 2 prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that you might use in your devotions this week.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (from the Liturgy for Good Friday)
Next week we’ll come to the Grave with the women and find it empty! For now, though, we sit at the foot of the Cross.

March 22, 2015

Lent 5-Seeds [of Faith]

Only 2 more weeks of Lent this year. During Lent, we’ve looked at how the ‘starstuff’ shapes all creation from dust and rocks to all life. We considered how we are light in the world. This week we’ll be looking at how our journey through Lent and life makes us grow and change like a seed in the ground.
Jesus talks about faith as being like a mustard seed. “He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
St. Paul refers to faith as the gift of God in Ephesians 2:8-9. He states, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Faith, then, starts out as a tiny thing, like a seed. Faith is a free gift from God that brings us closer to God. We are saved and transformed as our faith grows and we become more mature as Christians. Eventually, we might be able to “say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6) Like any growth, that takes time and as seedlings we cannot hope to accomplish it. Only when we are deeply rooted and firm in the soil of God’s grace can we expect to fully do God’s work.
Recently, on A Holy Experience, guest blogger Michele Cushate shared an experience while scuba diving. She realized that too often her faith was “in myself, more often than not….If I believe only in what I can see, manage, and control, sooner or later something will come along and rock my boat…Instead, I must secure my faith where it cannot be unmoored. In the One who controls the waves and whose peace runs so deep we can find a way to sleep in the storm.”
I know I can relate to trying to control my circumstances and to use what I do to increase my faith. As Michele states, we must instead, root our self, our faith, deep in the soil of the Living God who planted us.
Consider what happens to a seed when you plant it. Does anyone remember the science experiment in grade school where you took an ordinary bean and some dirt in a clear plastic or glass cup? You kept the cotton moist and you could watch the bean sprout roots and then a stem. It was fun and fascinating to watch the little roots appear and then the tiny stem. Finally there were leaves. Some of us took home the little plants and put them in the ground. (As a side note, when looking for an image for this post, I saw the idea of using K-cups as seed starters. Empty out the used coffee and put in the seed. I wonder if you could even use the coffee grounds as the starter soil…may be time for an experiment of my own!)
Several years ago I wrote a little parable about a seed, imagining what it would be like to struggle through the dirt to get to the surface of the soil. In summary: Penelope Pansy struggled through the dirt to reach the surface of the ground, encouraged by a worm. There she met a sunflower who was very proud of her ability to follow the sun. Even though she tried very hard, Penelope couldn’t make herself into a sunflower. It wasn’t until there was a terrible rainstorm during which Penelope was able to encourage the other flowers, even the sunflowers, that she understood that she had her own gifts.
“It has been hard,” Penelope remembered. “Popping out of the seed was frightening and growing up through the ground was difficult. Now though, I think it must have been worth it, for I have bloomed and helped the others.”
Only be being planted deeply in the rich soil was Penelope able to stand firm in the storm. Only when we are rooted firmly in our God can we weather the storms of life. God has planted us. We grow in faith in God, through nothing we do ourselves. We cannot grow faster or slower than we are meant to, no matter what we might do.  
This week
  • Meditate on where your faith is rooted. Are you trying to MAKE your faith grow, or perhaps trying to force a bloom? OR
  • Plant a bean or other seed and watch it grow over the next couple of weeks, consider how your faith has grown and changed throughout your life OR
  • Think about how to make your heart more fertile so God’s seed of faith can grow.
Next week we’ll come to the Cross-the heart of Lent.

March 15, 2015

Lent 4-Candles

This Lent we’re exploring some symbols of the season, an idea inspired by Lent in a Bag. Using some of those ideas and a few of my own, I offer these meditations as a starting point for your own contemplation during the week, or for discussion with family or prayer group. I hope the ideas will spark some new insights along your Lenten journey.
This week, we look at candles and light. What does a candle have to do with Lent? We think of candles at Christmas when the ‘Light of the World’ arrives; or candles at Easter proclaiming the great Paschal Feast. However, here we are mid-Lent and considering candles. What gives?
Jesus tells us we are “the light of the world”. (Matthew 5:14). He goes on to say that light is meant to be seen when he reminds those listening, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”  
It is tempting to think that my little bit of light doesn’t make any difference. You may remember the children’s song This Little Light of Mine. Using the forefinger as a candle children have great fun letting the ‘little light shine’ and not ‘let Satan blow it out’! As that song teaches the children, each of us is an important flame of light in the world.
The song Light of the World from the musical Godspell* is based on Matthew 5:13-15. The song notes that when we put our light under a bushel we’ve lost “something kind of crucial” and that “the tallest candlestick ain't much good without a wick.” Lent is a time when we can pause and consider what kind of light we are giving off. We can take the time to throw off the basket that’s covering our light and trim our wick so we burn more brightly. You can see part of the Light of the World scene from the movie Godspell.
A candle doesn’t give very much light, but in a dark place it offers comfort and warmth like nothing else can. Our ancestors understood the mechanics of candle and lamp light much better than we do. My husband’s grandmother once told me how she was responsible for trimming the wicks for the lamps in the house when she was a little girl. A candle or lamp wick needs to be trimmed to the proper length to burn effectively and not smoke. In fact, companies that sell scented candles encourage you to trim the wick to 1/8-1/4 inch because otherwise all the lovely scent turns into sooty smoke without really scenting the air! I’ve always thought that trimming the wick would make the candle less effective. Instead, it is the short, neatly cared for wick that burns best. Interesting metaphor, don’t you think, for the way God keeps our ‘wicks trimmed’ by circumstances in our lives. 
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells “the people, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12) As followers of Jesus we are to be light in the world because we cannot walk in darkness. Our flame, small or large, is needed.
I’ve always found great comfort in “thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”. (Psalm 119:105) Of course the psalmist is referring to a hand held candle or lantern not a brilliant flashlight. The verse reminds me that I do not get a searchlight showing the road for miles, but enough light to show me the next step or two. The direction is out of my control because I cannot plan ahead (not that I don’t try). I have to trust God to light the path one step at a time. God’s word is the candle/lamp that lights the house and immediate pathway so that we can trust God. We are little lights in the world to help provide light to someone else.
This week
  • Meditate using a candle. Sit in darkness with just the candle and sit close enough so you can really see the colors and shapes of the flame. Let your mind and heart experience the candle OR
  • If Jesus is the Light we follow and if we reflect that light, consider how God is trimming your wick so you ‘burn’ and give light most effectively OR
  • Think about being the ‘light of the world’. What is covering your light?
Next week we’ll look ‘seeds’ and growth during Lent.
Light of the World from Godspell
*You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
Brrr, it's lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to be the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor
It ain't got much in its favor
You can't have that fault and be the salt of the earth!
So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)
You are the city of God
You are the city of God
But if that city's on a hill
It's kinda hard to hide it well
You've got to stay pretty in the city of God…
You are the light of the world
You are the light of the world
But the tallest candlestick
Ain't much good without a wick
You've got to live right to be the light of the world

March 8, 2015

Lent 3-Humanity

Just as dust forms rocks and stones, so too dust is the building block of life. As we saw in Lent I God took dust and formed man. In Genesis 2 we hear that “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
That’s always been a powerful image for me, and for other authors. James Weldon Johnson, a black poet (1871-1938), likens God to a ‘mammy bending over her baby’ in his poem The Creation. Weldon’s Creator God says “I’m lonely still” and decides “I’ll make me a man!” When the figure is formed, God “blew the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (read the whole poem
Edward Hays envisions God as pregnant: "When sunrise came on the sixth day, God greeted it feeling a bit sick. you see, she was pregnant-and early morning is a difficult time for expectant mothers! The delivery, shortly after sunrise, shook all creation with cosmic joy..." (St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail, Edward Hays, (c) 1986)
In Jesus we find the completion and fulfillment of that creation. Adam, the first man created of dust and breathed into by God, sinned with Eve by eating of the forbidden Tree of Life. Jesus in being obedient to the Cross, reconciles that sin and reunites broken creation with God. Romans 5:19 explains “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Later in the same letter, Paul continues the explanation. “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” (New Living Translation, Romans 8:3)
The Gospel of John assures us “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14) In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul says, [Jesus is] “the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Over and over this is reiterated in the earliest writings of the church-the Epistles (letters) to the early churches. To the Galatians, Paul writes, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption…” (Galatians 4:4-5) Paul tells the church at Philippi, “being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)
During Lent we are conscious of the end of the journey we are on with our Lord. The journey ends at the Cross…or perhaps that is the beginning. Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
We are promised a cross. In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Matthew 16:24 we learn it is the mark of real discipleship. He states, “A true disciple of Christ is one that does follow him in duty, and shall follow him to glory. He is one that walks in the same way Christ walked in, is led by his Spirit, and treads in his steps, whithersoever he goes. Let him deny himself. If self-denial be a hard lesson, it is no more than what our Master learned and practiced, to redeem us, and to teach us. Let him take up his cross…If any man will have the name and credit of a disciple, let him follow Christ in the work and duty of a disciple.”

This week
  • Meditate the image of God bending over you, His creation, and breathing life in (or giving birth to Adam as Edward Hays imagines) OR
  • Lent in a Bag notes, “Because Jesus was, as we confess, fully human, he gets us, understands us from inside our skin, and knows from experience that we’re each capable of great things, Godly things. And no matter what we do, he keeps on inviting us to join us in his work which has become our own.” Consider the question ‘What might you plan to do [during Lent] so that the Easter you will more closely reflect you and the Christ who lives in and through you?’ OR
  • Think about your cross and how it helps you walk in Jesus’ footsteps as His disciple.
Next week we’ll look ‘light’ in the darkness of Lent.