Sunday, March 23, 2014

Met By the Great "I Am"

John 18:12-27

            The writer of the Fourth Gospel loves a dramatic scene. There are some serious contrasts here. If we were writing a script for this, we would flash back and forth between Peter in the courtyard and Jesus in the garden and then in front of the high priests.

            In the garden, at the betrayal, there are 600 soldiers. A detachment is an enormous number of soldiers, greatly outsized compared to the threat that Jesus might pose. Of course, if they think there is a possibility that he is God… then the more soldiers, the better. Jesus knows what they are about. When they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus says, “I am.” It sounds better to our ears to finish the sentence as “I am he.” However, the Jewish ears that first heard this gospel pricked up at the “I am.” Where else do we hear that phrase?

            It is how God speaks to Moses through the burning bush, when Moses asks for God’s name. God replies, “I am.” Now Jesus uses the same phrase and is carried away. Every set of Jewish ears in that garden would have been burning, whether or not they were cut off.

            Now to the courtyard scene, Peter gets into the courtyard through a friend’s recommendation. This is not likely one of the other 12 disciples we traditionally think of- those disciples would not have had the social connections or power to get Peter in to the high priest’s house. This is more likely to be a disciple like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The person knows Peter and says, “He’s with me.”

            Thus, Peter is in the courtyard, warming his hands- looking around with wide eyes at opulence that is a far cry from his upbringing in Galilee by the sea. He’s nervous and worried. Of what is Peter afraid?

- Dying… (ultimate concern)

            So Peter, when recognized, denies being with Jesus. In John, Peter has a very clear response, “I am not.” Are you one of the disciples, aren’t you the man we saw, You’re a disciple- right? “I am not.”

            Peter says, “I am not.” Jesus says, “I am.”  

            We know that Judas betrays Jesus. We know that the crowd is going to cry, “Crucify him.” Yet, Peter’s “I am not”. Peter’s desire to save his hide. Peter’s unwillingness to say, “Let me die with him.” It’s worse. It cuts to the bone.

            “I am,” says Jesus. Peter says, “I am not.”

            We are talking about stewardship during this season of reflection. In particular, we are in a chapter together of looking at how we use our resources- how we support this community, our synod, the larger church, and the needs of the world for the sake of Christ.

            In this time of more focused discipline, we are called to look at our checkbooks, our bank statements, our credit card receipts, our tax refunds, our tax payments, our church’s spending plan, and ask what they reveal. Do they show us as standing with Jesus? Do they reflect the kind of dedication to God’s work that we want them to?

            My checkbook shows that I give a lot of money to the College Foundation (the place that holds my education loans) and to Fred Meyer. Am I a disciple of CFI or Fred Meyer? I am not.

            Are you a disciple of your mortgage? Of your debts? Of your habits? Of your addictions? Of other non-profit groups?

            What about your schedule? I don’t just mean how often are you here in church, but how much of your time is spent with Scripture? In prayer? In communicating closeness and care to people in your community? Are you a disciple of television, of your hobbies, of your chores, of your work, of your health?

            Can you truthfully say “I am not” to all of those? Do you have a good reason that you want to tell me later or that you want to tell someone else in the car later (wherein you’ll say that I just don’t understand)? But I do understand. I understand all too well. Just because I’m up here doesn’t mean I identify with Jesus. I’m there with Peter.

            And I’m guessing you might be too.

            But we don’t have to be.

            Despite Peter’s unfaithfulness, Jesus didn’t abandon him. Jesus would later give Peter a chance to make up for his denial. Jesus remains faithful. Jesus, and God in Jesus, remains the “I am”. When we say, “I am not”- God in Christ says, “I am.”

I can’t  (God can.)

I won’t (God will)

I don’t (God does)

            It is this faithfulness that we count on, that is the Source of Life that both sends us out and draws us in. It is this Faithfulness that gives us the strength to live into repentance, into turning around, into people who are not afraid to claim lives of discipleship with our money, with our time, with our families, with all that God has given us.

            Stewardship that puts God first isn’t about austerity or humiliation. It’s about celebrating God’s abundance in our lives- relationships, resources, resurrection. It’s about listening for where Jesus says, “I am” and responding with sincerity, “I am with him.”


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Intimacy Conspiracy

John 13:1-17

         In Lutheran understanding, a sacrament is 1) an event associated with the life of Christ that we are commanded/commended to repeat, 2) an event that has an earthly element or elements (tangible parts or acts), and 3) has a promise of God attached to it.

         What makes foot washing not a sacrament?

         When Jesus tells his disciples to serve one another in this humble way, what’s happening?
- He’s wearing nothing, but a towel (exposure).
- He’s physically close to them (proximity).
- They have to respond by receiving (communion).

         It’s a terribly, terribly intimate scene. Intimacy is a word we don’t use a lot in church. We talk about sex occasionally. (Okay, I do and you listen horrified.) We talk about service. But we rarely discuss intimacy.

         Here we have a semi-naked Jesus, clothed like a slave, performing the task of a slave, for other free men. He is on his knees. His hands are on their feet. He is cleaning them, drying them, touching them. Peter can literally feel the breath of God on his shins, shifting the dark hairs numbered by the same Lord.

And, God love him, Peter gets it. He’s as uncomfortable because he can grasp the edges of what Jesus is doing, is saying, is revealing. Does he want to accept it? Will he lean into this intimacy? Is this discomfort worth it to dwell in the light?

This is precisely the question the Johannine community would have been asking themselves. Is the persecution, the rejection, the frustration worth it to dwell in the light they have perceived, received, believed? The gospel writer organizes this scene for that early church community, urging them to care for one another because they are all they have.

For most of us, church is but one community in our lives. It is important to us, but intimacy is not a word we associate with this experience. It might not be a word we want to associate with church. However, intimacy, closeness, deep vulnerability is supposed to be the hallmark of who we are and what we’re about.

Every week, we have six or so 12-step groups that meet in this building. When people go to those meetings, they introduce themselves- I’m so-and-so and this is my struggle. They are greeted by name, Hi, So-and-so, and brought into the intimacy of that community. Of knowing that other people have the same struggle, of hearing the stories of people who would be strangers except for the common bond. A stranger going into a 12-step knows he or she can find people to hold him or herself accountable, to intercede, to advise. They have a closeness, a bond, that is enviable.

Except that we shouldn’t envy it, we should be re-creating it. Right here, right now. Hi, I’m Julia and I’m a doubter, a Lutheran, a follower of Christ, a believer with questions. Everyone who comes in those doors should know that they’ll be welcomed by name and that they have entered into a community of people who are like them, who have the same struggles, and who are prepared to walk with them through darkness and light.

         Kneeling at the feet of the disciples, in this intimate moment, Jesus is creating a holy conspiracy. Not a plot, but a community rooted in the true meaning of conspire- in Latin= con- with, spirare- to breathe. Literarly, to breathe with, to breathe together… Spirare is also the root of Spirit, respiration, inspiration, aspiration. Jesus is close enough as he washes their feet to breathe with them and this is what he urges them to do for one another. It’s not just about feet, it’s about being will to serve and be served with a closeness that allows breathing together.

         It’s about being willing to see others for who they truly are and allowing them to see you. It’s about sharing, not gossiping, lifting up, honesty and compassion together. When we breathe together, our stewardship takes on a different look. We know that we are giving our money, our time, our talents to something that affects us deeply, affects us at the core even to the way we do something as necessary as breathing.

         We have sanitized the sacraments in the church over the years. They are small, quick, and clean. We don’t fling water everywhere. We don’t set up tables for a love feast. We’ve made as much space between ourselves as possible. When we do that, we cannot con-spire. And then, most assuredly, we are not creating the beloved community that Jesus is commanding here.

         It’s a terrible, frightening intimacy to which we are called. If we avoid it, we are truly failing to heed Jesus’ most basic instructions. There is grace in this closeness, in this together breathing, in this intimacy, that we are depriving ourselves and others of because of what… fear?

         This is the life to which we have been called. This is the work for which we have been strengthened. This is the truth that has been poured into our hearts. Do we dare to embrace it and all that comes with it? Do we dare to breathe together, to risk intimacy, to realize that beloved community is only a hand or a foot away?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Since it's still pretty gray here, I searched through some old photos for inspiration for the Lenten photo a day word: purple.

This is from a walk I took by myself around the outskirts of Bath, England. It was late September, very warm, and sunny. I skirted a cow pasture on an old path, on a hill above the town. I found an old graveyard, a blackberry patch, and a canal.

This picture of flowers blooming out of a wall is the essence of purple- a regal growth of life in the midst of stones.

There's something to that.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Water in a stainless steel cup

Lent Photo a Day word: reflection

In many minds, Lent is associated with austerity- a kind of uber-asceticism.

It might actually be more about simplicity, about coming to understand and trust in only what is essential. 

Returning the ground of our being isn't about pain. It's about the best, most life-giving homecoming. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Thanksgiving at the Table. 
At the table. 
At the bedside. 
In the car. 
On the hike. 

Where two or more are gathered...

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Photo word of the day: faith.

She walked ahead and didn't look back. She's not worried about falling, about being cold, about getting lost. 
Someone has always come with what she needed. 
Why would that change now? 

Friday, March 7, 2014


Today's Lenten photo word is "test".

We had a great Ash Wednesday service here, with different stations. This prayer station is going to stay up durin the season. 

The sign to the right says, "Maximum Occupancy 240". We're required to posted that. Normally we have about 1/6 of that in the sanctuary. 

When we think about our smallness, it can feel like a test we're failing. 

Maybe that's just me. 

Lead me away from temptation. 
The temptation to blame. 
The temptation to make it about me.
The temptation to go quietly into that good night. 

Save us from the time of trial. 

Maximum occupancy: One God


Iona, 2005

The Lent photo-a-day word is virtue.

Thinking of the seven virtues, (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility), brings to mind this quote from Wuthering Heights:

Catherine says to Nellie: "...My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary…"

Virtues, like Catherine's love for Heathcliff, do not bring joy in themselves. It is by having them that we bring joy to others. We do not pursue them for their own sake, but because having the Spirit bring them to bear within us brings us closer to a glimpse of God's kingdom at hand. 

They are a foundation, but should never be mistaken for architecture in their own right. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


This is probably one of the least attractive pictures of my bitten nails and dry skin. However, the word of the day is dust- for the Lenten photo a day prompt. This finger ashed foreheads in the snow and in buildings, heads in the single digits and in their upper 80s. The ash dust is ground into the crease of my finger. The humanity, the mortality, the grace. It all marks me and I cannot help but be changed. 

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Every day in between is grace. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Transfigure Our Faith

Our hope is in God, our holy Parent,
who makes all things and from whom all blessings flow.
God’s faithfulness is the anchor of our hope.

Our trust is in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
More than a teacher,
His life, death, and resurrection giving meaning to our existence.
Christ’s faithfulness tethers us to holy mystery.

Our trust is in the Holy Spirit.
Blowing over and through creation, unexpected and untamed,
The Spirit stirs forgiveness, fruitfulness, and creates families.
The Spirit’s faithfulness ties together past, present, and future.

Holy Trinity, One God, we believe you transfigure our faith. Amen.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unseen Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday 
John 9:1-41        

         After he tells the blind man to go wash, Jesus disappears from the story until verse 35. Nowhere else in this gospel do we get 28 verses without Jesus speaking and acting. Instead, we have a man who has been touched and affected by Jesus, but who has never seen him.

            Is there anyone here who can relate to that- having been affected by Jesus’ words or presence or actions, but never having seen Him? The blind man is seeking Jesus, working toward understanding his transfiguration, rejoicing in the change in his life.

            Remember that in this gospel, in John, sin is not about actions. Sin is not what you do- it is what you believe or fail to believe. So the man’s blindness is not in this story so that we (or anyone else) might reflect on sin, what causes sin, and what happens after sin. The blindness just is.

In this circumstance, it is an opportunity for God’s work. God’s work in Jesus is revealing the divine nature and desires. The Spirit’s work around Jesus is supporting belief, trust, faith that Jesus makes God plain. 

The people around Jesus, even in his absence in these verses, are being transfigured by his presence and his actions. They are coming to faith, coming to a deeper understanding of God in their midst, or they are resisting that understanding. Transfiguration, being transformed, undergoing change isn’t easy. It can be painful, frustrating, and feel lonely.

In the beginning, God created out of clay and breath- bringing people into being and into relationship. God transfigured with an eye toward relational possibility, a new way of being together.  Here, Jesus heals with clay and with breath- bringing this man into a new being and into relationship. Jesus transfigures with an eye toward relational possibility, a new way of this man being together with his community.

We can get stuck in these stories because of our modern understanding of disability. We know that blindness or deafness or other physical difficulties (or mental difficulties) are caused by congenital problems or by accidents. We are caught in the action part. Try to let your modern mind go for a minute. This isn’t now, and never was about the disability. Instead, God is using the opportunity (again) to reveal the Divine Desire and ability through Jesus.

For us, this becomes a story about transfiguration- about the areas of blindness in our life, about truths we don’t want to see, about relationships we don’t want to embrace. The tough gospel news about Transfiguration is this: we, you, I can be transfigured by something we haven’t seen. We are being transformed by something that is beyond us. We can be, and are, shaped by something we don’t fully understand.

That is God’s work in Jesus, through the Spirit, in us, in our lives, in our world.

Transfiguration of Desires

Transfiguration Sunday comes right before Ash Wednesday. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Lent.

In the coming week, many of you will be choosing something from which to fast in the next forty days.

May I recommend that you reflect on Transfiguration? Approach Lenten fasting and feasting with a desire to see Jesus.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what we want God to transfigure in our lives and in the world.