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Archive for January, 2012

Running from new ideas

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this?  A new teaching — with authority!    He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  Mark 1:27

What happens when someone “radical” comes into our world bringing changes we aren’t particularly happy about?  Most of us fight it, and often we fight it with anger.  When it comes to politics, we at least have the power of voting to express our opinion (even though we don’t always manage to vote in the person we want).  But when it comes to theology – the church – that’s a whole different story!  It’s probably better to separate theology from ecclesiology (the church), though.

Theology is about our spiritual connection with God, and even though it is informed by church teachings and tradition, when we look at our personal understanding of God, it will vary with our experience, background, and upbringing.  When we have been brought up to believe that God has a plan for each of us, one that is mapped out and prefigured, it can be quite difficult to accept that God would plan for some of those things to happen.  For example, why would God plan for our child to die young?  Why would God plan for us to get cancer?  Why would God plan for us to go through a divorce?  Get the picture?

God’s plan for the world was to save the world because, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  God is a god of love.  1 John 4:8 says, “. . . God is love.”  So why would God – who IS love – bring bad things on those of us who are God’s beloved children?  When we look at Jesus’ actions throughout the gospels, they are acts of justice – to correct wrongs, acts of love – to heal, acts of compassion – to bring wholeness.

The Biblical stories that tell us that God punishes mostly are found in the Old Testament, and yet, even there, we find that God is gracious and merciful, always giving a wandering and disobedient nation of Israel an out – a way to make the covenant work again, to make it new again.  Jesus clearly says that he has come to make all things new:  a new covenant, a new relationship with God, a new and open connection directly with God, and new life through his life, death, and resurrection.

Yet when new ideas or new ways of teaching the Biblical story come along, we resist them.  We may not want to hear some new interpretation that might pull the rug out from under our childhood ideas about God.  While there are those who see God’s plan as a blueprint God printed out for their lives, others think that God is going to come down to earth and interfere and correct things.  I once heard a mother joyfully praising God because her child had been spared in a bus accident when other children had been killed.  So what does that say about God’s attitude toward those children who didn’t survive?  Does God randomly pick those who will make it and those who won’t?

When we think in those terms, we miss the teaching of Jesus that he will be with us always – even to the end of the age (Matthew 28).  Jesus’ promise isn’t that we will be saved from loss, pain, hurt, sorrow, and suffering – he certainly understood all those experiences and couldn’t avoid them himself even though he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that God would take that away from him.  Jesus’ promise is that he has overcome death, reconciled us with God, borne our sins so that we are forgiven, and that we will never have to walk this path alone.

I just finished reading a book about message that loved ones received from those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.  Consistently, the messages are “I’m okay,”  “I love you,” “Don’t worry,” “I’m not alone.”  When we walk through this life and experience the entirely – the fullness – of life, we will lose loved ones, be betrayed, laugh, sing, dance, weep, struggle, have illnesses, and the list could go on and on.  The assurance we have is that we have a companion on the journey in Jesus Christ who walks with us, giving us strength to keep on keeping on.

The new theological ideas may actually hold some hope and promise in them.  Maybe we should keep our minds, hearts, hears, and eyes open to the possibility that God may be speaking to us through them.  It’s a thought!

Moving from Resistance to Acceptance

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”  Jonah 3:1

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  Mark 1:17-18

At times I really identify with Jonah.  You have to read the whole story to really get the impact, but “in a nutshell,” Jonah was told to go to Ninevah to call them to repentance, and Jonah didn’t want to go.  He ran away instead and was swallowed by a big fish.  Eventually, even the fish couldn’t stand him, so it spit Jonah up on shore, and that’s where God found him again.  God repeated the request for Jonah to go to Ninevah, and so, the reluctant prophet grudgingly went.  Much to his surprise, the people and even the animals repented.  Instead of being happy about it, though, Jonah sat outside the city gates and pouted.  He really didn’t want God to be gracious to the people of Ninevah.  Why?  Well, we aren’t sure what the writer of this story had in mind, but probably there was some prejudice involved since the people of Ninevah would not have been of the same ethnic background.  Of course, Jonah may have just not wanted to do the task God had set up for him to perform.

I suspect that many of us can relate to that, as I mentioned at the beginning.  There are days when I wonder why on earth I ever agreed to become a pastor.  It sets me up for all kinds of unrealistic expectations.  Even a few members of my family seem to think that I’m supposed to act a certain way, always be nice, never use derogatory language, and the list could go on and on.  I’m human,  imperfect, and a sinner just like everyone else.  I don’t have a corner on the “God” connection any more than anyone else, and I don’t have special privileges because I’m ordained as a clergyperson.  Of course, there are those who also think I shouldn’t be a pastor because I’m a woman, but maybe that’s another blog all together.

The fact of the matter is that I DID follow God’s call in my life, and like Jonah, I ran away from it for many years.  I couldn’t believe that God would call me.  Eventually God’s persistence paid off, and I said “yes.”  Along with all the frustrations comes those many moments when I say, “Right.  That’s why I’m doing this.”  There are the times when someone comes up to me and says that something I said made a huge difference in their lives (ME?), or when a family thanks me profusely for the meaningful memorial service for their loved one whom I didn’t even know.  Or when someone comes into my office and sits – just sits – in bewilderment, or cries for an hour and a half, or wants to work through a problem in their lives.  The amazing thing about it is that they trust me (ME?) to listen, to keep confidentiality, and to care about them.

But it ultimately isn’t about ME!  It is about being God’s vessel which leads me to the passage from Mark where Jesus calls the disciples.  They left everything to follow him.  There must have been something charismatic about him, something special, something that made them want to change their course in life.  Okay, so I was a reluctant disciple at the beginning, but I can testify to the fact that Jesus made me want to follow him.  There IS something about him – it’s that he points us to God – it’s that he loves us – it’s that he is walking with us through life – it’s that he listens, cares, and guides us.  It’s that he died for us and now lives so that we might have life.  That’s why I do what I do, as imperfect as I am, God can still work through me.

How about you?

Taking a Time Out

“[Jesus] said to [the disciples], ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.  For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to each.  And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.”  Mark 6:31-32

This week as my body decided I needed to rest and forced me into it, I have found a lot of time to think – maybe too much time!  First my throat started feeling scratchy; then I began sneezing; eventually the aching started, and by Monday of this week, I was in full blown laryngitis and sick with a cold.  When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me to “buck up;” it was only a cold, so I occasionally went to school too sick to care about my classes.  One time, my French teacher finally asked me the obvious:  if I had a cold, and I said I did.  That was the end of her question, but I still remember it.

Mom meant well, and she has always been a healthy, strong person.  I rarely remember her getting sick.  I’m a lot like her and don’t often become sick, but I have learned from years of teaching when I picked up everything and then some from working with hundreds of children who came to school with colds and flu that the germs they left behind infected me as well as their classmates.  As a pastor, I have been reminded that I cannot visit people when I have a cold or other kinds of infectious viruses, so this week I decided that I could accomplish more by staying home, working on the computer, and trying to nurse my cold so I can return to work healthier.  Not bad for four and a half years without any stay-at-home illnesses.

Anyway, the resting has been good for me, even though I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much work-wise.  (Well, I did two bulletins, worked on the newsletter, posted our Facebook information, updated our web sites, and started working ahead for Lent, so I suppose that IS something!)  But the thinking time was good in that I realized that Jesus called his disciples apart from the crowds for a while, especially after he realized how hassled they were.  Being apart for a while is good for us, and probably needs to be part of our regular daily routine.  Too many of us get caught up in the busy-ness of each day and the tasks we need to do.

I know I become entangled in my “should” list.  I “should” do this or I “should” do that.  Not only does that drain me of energy, but it also is self-defeating.  The reason we draw apart to spend quiet time with God is so we can do the work of discipleship in the world.  We don’t read devotions and pray because we are doing God’s work; we read deovtions and pray so we CAN do God’s work.  The time aside helps us to know God better, even when we are sick.  I think these few days of quiet and nursing my cold have helped me let go of some of the “shoulds” I’ve been carrying around – at least I hope so!

What I would like to do better this year is have a more intentional time apart so I can be grounded in my relationship with God which then can only strengthen my relationships with others.  And, I don’t want a bad cold to be the reason I take that time apart!  May God help me to do so!  Amen.

You are the pride of God’s life

“The moment [Jesus] came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, came down on him.  Along with the Spirit, a voice:  “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  (The Message – Mark 1:11)

     When Jesus was baptized, it was his inititation into his ministry.  John the Baptist had preached that people needed to repent and turn their lives over to God, to begin living in the ways of God and giving up their old ways.  He also promised that there would be One who came after him who would baptize with the Spirit, changing them from the inside out.

     Jesus appeared in the wilderness and presented himself to John for baptism.  As he came out of the water, a voice tore open the sky (notice it wasn’t just a gentle speaking!) and affirmed Jesus as God’s beloved Son.  Eugene Peterson’s translation (or paraphrase) in The Message is a moving claim of Jesus.  God named and claimed Jesus as God’s own Son.

     In baptism, we also are named and claimed as God’s own.  The water reminds us of the washing away of the old life and putting on the new.  We are reminded in the ritual of the presence of the triune God as we are baptized into the life of Christ and empowered to live that life with the presence of God’s Spirit with us.  It’s God promise to us that we are loved beyond understanding, beyond our comprehension.

     Baptism isn’t just a ritual in the church, but God’s way of marking us as God’s own.  Baptism is our identity as followers of Jesus Christ, and a reminder to us that we are initiated into God’s family at our baptism – it’s like God is signing the adoption papers officially.  God is at work in the baptism; that’s why we don’t re-baptize.  Affirming our baptism is a good thing and a great reminder to us that we are truly loved by God and claimed as God’s own children who are then sent forth, even as Jesus was to share the Good News of God’s love in the world.

     Try something using the words at the end of the scripture passage above.  Say this to yourself, “___(your name)___, you are my son/daughter, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  How did that feel?  Do you know that you are God’s son/daughter?  Do you know that God has chosen you and marked you with God’s great and amazing love and grace and that you are the pride of God’s life?

     It’s very humbling.  What a gift!  What a wonderful heavenly Parent we have!  Praise God!

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