Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's in a Day?

With the ice days this week, I've been given the gift of rearranged time. Not extra time, since all the work I miss while spending more time with my family will have to made up somewhere, but my days were definitely rearranged. Instead of heading into the office, hearing the busy, happy sounds of our Children’s Day Out, meeting with event planners and premarital couples, visiting the homebound and the hospitalized, and all the other moving parts of pastoral ministry, I've been at home.

And unlike some of my colleagues, who don’t have young children at home, my work has had to be put on hold for the most part. Even as a write this article, my 5-month-old son is asleep on my chest and I’m balancing the laptop on my legs while reaching around him to type. It’ll work for a while, until he wakes up, but my “productivity” is definitely down.

Instead, I've made painter’s tape spider webs with my 4-year-old and tossed cotton ball “flies” into it. I've taken naps with my baby. We painted toast and made cookies. It’s good stuff. The days slip easily by, with no one paying too much to the hours.

But there was one day, one 24-hour period, that changed the world. This year at the Krum Church, to observe the season of Lent, we are going to walk beside Jesus through the last 24 hours of his earthly life. Jesus is believed to have died at the age of 33.

And while the gospel writers devote most of their attention to the last 3 years of his life, each one devotes the most attention to the day he was crucified. The last 24 hours of Jesus’ life is the continuation of the love story between God and creation. God would take it upon God’s own self to lay down his life for our sake.

Beginning on Thursday evening after sunset, Jesus would eat the last supper with his disciples, pray in the garden of Gethsemane, be betrayed and deserted by his friends, be convicted of blasphemy by the religious authorities, be tried and sentenced for rebellion by Pontius Pilate, be tortured by Roman soldiers, and experience crucifixion, death, and burial.

When the apostle Paul summarized the gospel for the Christian community in Corinth, he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus represent the heart of the gospel and the completion of God’s saving work.

This past Sunday, we started with the Last Supper. If you missed it, you can head over to our Facebook page (Krum First United Methodist Church) to watch a video. Through that meal, Jesus transformed the Passover Seder, the reminder of the Exodus and God’s central saving act for the Jews, into our Holy Communion, the reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s central saving act for us.

This meal is how we remember the story of who we are and whose we are. And, if we let it, it can reshape our lives. Just as the Passover Seder moves those at the table from slavery to freedom, our Communion can move us from slavery under sin and death to freedom in Jesus Christ.

We all have stories that define us. Words spoken over us or about us come to become the voice within us, defining not only our past, but predicting our future. But instead of the hurts, injuries or insults we may cling to, God invites us to let Communion define who we are. Through it we remember that someone saved us. We remember that God, walking in human flesh, suffered and died for us to be free.

In breaking bread with his disciples, Jesus taught them one last time. He showed them his love. He gave them a meal by which they would remember him for the rest of their lives. And from that time on, every time Jesus’ disciples have shared this meal, it binds us together and reminds us that he is never far away.

This Sunday, we’ll continue on to the garden of Gethsemane. There the betrayal that Jesus had predicted over his last meal will come to past and his closest friends will desert him. It’s a dark day to keep pace with our Lord. But, if we let it, the gospel will continue to transform our lives. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rationing our Compassion

Around a week ago, a local news story popped up on my Facebook feed. A young woman had a car accident and died. Her baby, just 8 weeks old, survived with non-life-threatening injuries in the backseat. 

That’s the way the story read. I skimmed the details, brimming with tears, and filed it away as another tragic thing in a broken world. Then I got the text from one of the CDO directors at the church I serve – Did you see the story? Did you know that these are our people? The baby had just started in our program.

Oh no. My heart sunk further. I went back and read the story more carefully. Then I did the dumbest thing – I read the comments.

“I heard she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.” That may be true, but I can tell you this – I have done a million dumb things while driving. I’ve reached into the backseat to retrieve a pacifier and attempt to shove it back in the mouth that’s crying. I’ve fumbled for my phone as it rang in the depths of my bag. I’ve reached down to try to grab something on the floor. I’ve even unbuckled myself from the front passenger seat, shimmied between the gap, and wedged myself between my children to try to fix something back there. The difference is this – none of my choices have been fatal. Yet. 

As I digested all the ugly things that people are willing to say when they have the distance of a computer screen, it boiled down to this: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what happened, why it happened, or whose fault it is. The truth is this – there’s a family hurting and they need our compassion and love. They deserve a humane response to a human tragedy.

I know our boats are swamped with tragedy these days – from Michael Brown to Eric Garner to the Jordanian pilot burned alive to the three young Muslim people killed by a neighbor in North Carolina. And, quite honestly, I don’t care who is right or wrong after the incident. The truth is this – there’s a family hurting and they need our compassion and love. They deserve a humane response to a human tragedy.

What do we save ourselves when we ration our compassion? We try to justify not responding with love and grace by saying that something the person did or said or was earned them this horror. Rather than saving ourselves heartache, we diminish our humanity. We refuse to see the other person as our brother or sister, and we find ways to attach blame to the one who was hurt.

And here’s the catch for me because, as much as it hurts, I can let my heart break a million times for the victims or survivors of tragedy. It’s much harder to let my heart break for those who enact the violence and create the horror.

A colleague of mine is inviting members of his church to adopt a terrorist this Lent. They will pray for that person, not in some vague way, but specifically. They will read all they can about this particular individual, look at their picture, and pray to God on their behalf. Not combat prayers, which I've experienced myself – those prayers that people pray only so you’ll come over to their way of thinking. No, these prayers offered on behalf of those who have found no other way to live life in the world than by inflicting fear on others will be for God’s mercy, grace, and healing.

It’s an incredibly bold proposition. I don’t know if I’d be able to do it. Would you? And yet I know it’s precisely this life of unlimited compassion, of love freely poured out, that God calls us to live. As Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). 

It’s not for us to decide who deserves compassion. After all, I know I can be pretty unlovable at times and make some bad choices. And yes, we also need to work on our wisdom and justice, but if we start with our love, flexing the strength of our compassion, the other things might fall into place. Perhaps when we practice giving our love away, we’ll find we have more of it. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Angels and Mothers-in-Law

This past week at the Krum Church, we dove into Mark’s gospel to hear about our kingdom work. We’re in the middle of a series, moving from water to glory.

A few weeks ago, we talked about our baptisms as we remembered Jesus’ baptism. In baptism, we are adopted by God and put on a new family name – Christian. And when we become a part of the family, it’s time to take on the family business.

Last week, our reading started at Mark 1:21, but already in this gospel we've met John the Baptist, witnessed Jesus' baptism and the voice from heaven, seen God's Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness to encounter and resist Satan, then Jesus’ return to announce the presence of the kingdom of God and calls hearers to repentance before calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to fish for people. Mark’s gospel is a fast-paced adventure story, characterized by phrases like “just then,” “immediately” and “at once.”

The text we studied focused on Jesus’ teaching in a synagogue and exorcism of an unclean spirit – both offering windows into his authority.

Authority – now there’s a concept I often struggle with. Usually authority means someone’s authority over me and the necessity of my obedience and submission. Not my favorites. But as I've struggled with these ideas in the course of my discipleship, a hymn came to my aid – “As the Deer,” whose opening lyrics are based on Psalm 42.

As the deer longs for the water, / so my soul longs after you. / You alone are my heart's desire / and I long to worship you. (Refrain) You alone are my strength, my shield / To you alone will my spirit yield. / You alone are my heart’s desire / and I long to worship you 

Hearing this song, sung by a youth choir many years ago, was like a key in the lock for me when it comes to authority. To GOD alone will my spirit yield. It was entirely freeing. I don’t have to bow down to worldly powers or consent to abuse by a partner. I don’t have to be satisfied with making 70 cents on the dollar or concede my unique gifts because of any classification under the sun. I don’t have to be content with the world and its exercise of authority.

I yield to God. That’s what I’m called to as a Christian in the world. It means I might be going against the grain sometimes. Really, if I’m not swimming upstream in this broken, hurting world, I’m failing to follow my savior.

I don’t have to worry about God abusing God’s authority over me the way I might worry about worldly powers. While corporations, countries, and citizens destroy the earth and degrade the image of God in each person, God is all about the liberation and redemption business. I can give myself wholly over to God’s authority, because God loves each of us so much, myself included, that God gives love and sacrifices God’s own self.

In a worldly sense, Jesus didn't have any power. He wasn't a king with political or military power. He wasn't a priest, who had the power in Roman Judea. He wasn't even a scribe with the authority of Jewish tradition. The only authority he had was the supreme confidence that what he did and said was God's will and God's truth. He lived into God’s kingdom, bringing a glimpse of life as it will be.

In a world plagued by powers that try to enslave us, Jesus breaks through. We are rescued from evil, injustice, and oppression by the authority of the crucified and risen Christ. When we put ourselves under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we become agents who break the bonds that enslave our brothers and sisters.

So what does that have to do with angels and mothers-in-law? I’m sure not all of you are blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law like mine. I've heard enough grumbling and joking to know that.

But this Sunday we’ll take another look at Mark’s gospel, picking up in chapter one where we left off last week. Immediately after he rebukes an unclean spirit in the synagogue, Jesus goes to Simon Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Jesus heals her and she responds in one of the biggest surprises in the whole gospel.