Thursday, June 7, 2012

If It's in Your Bones, It's in Your Bones--Ephesians 5:18-20

Keith Richards, the longtime guitarist for the Rolling Stones, is the poster boy for celebrity excess. Since the 1960s he has, by his own admission, used just about every drug from marijuana to heroin, without apparently thinking too much about it. He looks like he's lived a hard life, and one wonders how he's managed to stay alive, given all the abuse his body has taken.

Well, maybe it's the music. He once said, "Music is a language that doesn't speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it's in your bones, it's in your bones." Maybe the music has kept his bones alive.

Music is very therapeutic, of course. Singing especially has incredible health benefits. It forces us to breathe deeply, which oxygenates our brains and other parts of our bodies, lifting our mood and lowering our blood pressure.

I serve a congregation that is housed in a beautiful, historic facility. Yet one of my favorite places is the men's restroom. Surrounded by tile and porcelain, there is nothing to absorb sound, and when I sing there, I sound wondrous, to me at least. Singing energizes me and makes me feel alive.

Apparently, singing is an important component in spiritual health also. The Apostle Paul writes, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Want to be filled with God's Spirit? Sing some songs, spiritual ones if you know them. It will calm you and give you an enhanced awareness that this is God's world and God is with you.

So find a deserted restroom. If you are brave, don't worry whether it's deserted or not. Just sing.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Good Shepherd--Psalm 23

This very familiar Psalm has got me thinking about sacred space, probably because this is the Psalm I always recite at the bedside of dying parishioners. Being present for people who are dying is one of the great honors of the vocation of pastor. It can be difficult but is always emotionally and spiritually meaningful. These are holy moments.

Death is, of course, overwhelming powerful. And not just in those last few moments of life. As the psychotherapist Milton Erickson said, "As soon as we are born we begin to die; some people do it more efficiently than others." The church is that sacred space where we explore the tension between mortality and immortality.

Where do you find sacred space?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Palm Sunday--Mark 11:1-11

Truth be told, Jesus was a big disappointment.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem carrying the hopes of all the people gathered for the Passover, hopes for deliverance from the Romans who occupied their sacred city. If anyone could inspire the revolutionary sentiments of the people to drive the Romans out, Jesus could. He had become extremely popular, as evidenced by the reaction of the people when he came to Jerusalem; they celebrated his arrival in a fashion reserved for the conquering heroes of Israel's past.

But what does Jesus do? He rides into Jerusalem humbly, mounted on a colt. According to Mark, he looks around the city and then departs to Bethany. Yawn. No wonder by the end of the week these same people who celebrated his arrival called for his execution.

Why doesn't he seize the day? Why doesn't he focus and organize the energy of the people and do what they ask--save them. Save them from the Romans.

For the gospel writers, of course, the reason is because God had another plan for Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus would reconcile all creation. He wouldn't save Jerusalem that week. He would save the world.

What are your plans for Holy Week? Is there anyone you need to disappoint?

Sometimes we must disappoint people to fulfil God's call, just like Jesus did long ago. It is difficult. Everyone wants to help people, to meet their expectations, to be liked. But there is something larger at stake. Your identity. Your destiny. Sometimes your life. 

This is Mary Oliver's "The Journey":

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world, determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Get Behind Me, Satan! Mark 8:31-39

Jesus sits his disciples down and begins to tell them that he must suffer at the hands of the religious authorities, be crucified and rise from the dead. This all must have sounded very odd to Peter. He had left everything to follow Jesus, who he believed to be the Messiah, and now Jesus is saying he must suffer and die. The Messiah was not supposed to do that. He was supposed to lead the Jewish people to victory over their enemies.

So Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, which means, I suppose, that Peter tells him that he's got his wires crossed.

Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan!"

Such a strong reaction. I guess you don't accuse the Son of God of getting his wires crossed. Either that or Peter has hit a nerve. Maybe the victory over enemies thing rather than the suffering and dying sounded pretty good to Jesus. Peter had become the great tempter.

Where is Satan in your life? From this passage it sounds like Satan is anything or anyone who is distracting you from doing the will of God. What is the will of God for you? First and foremost, the will of God for you, like it was for Jesus, is to be human. I know, it doesn't sound very ambitious, but in actuality it can be very hard.

The Christian proclamation is that God took on flesh and became incarnate. Jesus did not just fake it. He suffered and died, and he called his followers to take up their cross and follow his path.

During Lent we practice self-examination to discover where we are making our own Messianic demands on life, where we are trying to wrestle what we want out of life by use of our significant powers of intelligence, creativity and energy. Trouble is, all this striving creates its own form of suffering. First, it gets exhausting. Second, at some point life overwhelms even our most formidable efforts.  

The way of the cross is the way of abandonment--relinquishing power, possession and security. Through trust in God, we let go of our fitful demands and find that we are buoyed by a grace we hadn't before experienced. By losing our lives, we find we are saved.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Transfigured--Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres says: "In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better."

In the Church year, this coming Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the season of light. Lent, the season of darkness, is quickly approaching. Lent is a journey, and the journey begins next Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. At Westminster, our Ash Wednesday service will begin at 1:15pm with a brief Taize service and the imposition of the ashes.

The ashes remind us that we are taking this Lenten journey with Jesus, a journey that ultimately leads to death--a painful, grotesque death on the cross for Jesus; our ultimate death will hopefully be somewhat less traumatic. Yet it will be distasteful, I'm sure, all the same. This is our fate--Jesus and us.

The last Sunday of Epiphany, just before Ash Wednesday, is Transfiguration Sunday, where we hear this odd story of Jesus, clothed in the brightness of his glory, conversing with Elijah and Moses, while Peter James and John look on in fear and trembling.

Lance Stone, in his article "Christ's Transfiguration, Our Transfiguration" suggests that maybe this story, set in middle of the story of Jesus' life and just before our Lenten journey begins, serves as a reminder that death is not the end of the story. It provides us with a preview of what is to come after this long journey that seems to end so poorly. Perhaps it is a preview to the resurrection. A risen Christ is to be glimpsed here. Perhaps we can catch a glimpse of our own resurrection too.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Out of the Silence--1 KIngs 19:11-13

"God said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

Where does God speak in your life?

Elijah is probably my favorite character from the Hebrew scriptures. He was strong and uncompromising in his pursuit of God and his struggle against evil powers. Yet the ancient Jewish writers didn't present a simple, one-dimensional prophet who by the Spirit of God enjoyed unqualified success in his calling. Like most biblical stories, the story of Elijah is textured. There is a darkness to Elijah.

After his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Queen Jezebel vows to kill Elijah. Afraid for his life, he flees into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and prays to God to die. This prophet who had been so powerful and courageous is now despondent. Full of God-inspired imagination before, Elijah now can see no way out.

God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain. Violent forces of nature break underneath him and whirl all around him. Yet God is not in these overwhelming demonstrations of power. Rather, it is out of sheer silence that God finally speaks.

If you are like me, and Elijah, then God usually speaks to you out of silence, that place of stillness between hectic pursuits. Silence can be pretty hard to find these days. Hopefully this blog can be a place of silence for you, a place where you can ponder patiently the deeper matters of life and enter into the conversation if you wish to.

So again, where does God speak in your life and how can you find these places more often?