Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Brother's Keeper

The younger of my two brothers works in an office that is attached to the church where I work. He is the office manager of there. So we work about 30 feet from each other, for two different entities, but technically within the same building. 

He came over to my side today and told me he didn't feel well. He asked if I would go get him some clear soda and crackers, while he laid down on the couch in the youth room. 

I told him I would. I grabbed my keys, wallet, and phone and hustled to the Safeway across the street. 

In the store, I threw things into a basket- items for him and something for myself to eat for lunch. A woman stopped me, "Can I ask you a question?"

Feeling startled out of my train of thought, I said, "Sure." 

I get stopped for directions in stores all the time, so this is what I assumed was happening. 

"Are you a priest?" she wondered. 

Suddenly, I remembered I was wearing my collar. 

"I'm a Lutheran pastor," I smiled, surprised that it hadn't occurred to me that she might ask about that. 

Her companion said to her, "See- a pastor. Now you know." 

They both walked on, leaving me wondering if I should have said anything else. 

My realization was this: I had been so concerned about my brother's well-being that I had forgotten what I looked like to other people. 

I was so concerned about my brother that I forgot what I was wearing, how I might be perceived, to care what other people thought... because caring for him was primary. 

There's something to that. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Five and 500!

This is my 500th blog post. I could agonize about making it SIGNIFICANT (insert James Earl Jones voice here) or I could just write what I might any time.

Since I have a tendency toward procrastination through perfectionism, I'm going to do a Friday Five (questions from RevGalBlogPals and revkarla).

1.  What have you got going on today?
Work, going to the movies with Dear Son, more work, maybe time with my spouse tonight, making to-do lists, prayer
2.  What about a prayer request, how can we pray for you today?
It's a busy time of year. Please pray that I allow myself to seize opportunities for rest and that I resist the small demons of sarcasm, frustration, comparison, and sniping. 
3.  What makes you curious?
A political system that does not have stronger term limits, thus allowing people to serve for years without consideration for their skills or awareness of current needs or circumstances in their community. 
4.  If you got stuck in an elevator for three hours, (if that is too scary, locked in a room or stuck in a traffic jam), and could magically have any book or activity appear in a pouf to you to while away the time, what would it be?
After I was sure that I would be out eventually and that anything I was responsible for in the 3 hours (children, etc) were okay, I would likely read (whatever was on my Kindle), crochet (if I had things there), or take a nap on my jacket. 
5.  Use these words in a sentence.   Thirteen, lampshade, [a historical person, like Cotton Mather or Judy Garland} basket, hedgehog, and daffodils. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time that Cotton and Judy have appeared in the same sentence. Ever.) 
Grumbling toward his lampshade, Jonathan Edwards scratched out his sentence, "Sinners in the hands of rabid hedgehogs... Sinners in a basket of daffodils... thirteen sinners in a sinking ship... Sinners in the hands of an angry God...!"

Harrowing of Hell (Sermon)

This sermon had many off-the-cuff remarks, but the notes are enough to get a general idea. 

Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

The basis of “he descended to the dead” in the Apostle’s Creed finds its roots in the 1 Peter reading. Along with a verse from Ephesians and one from Hebrews, a whole doctrine has been constructed around what Jesus did, as the Christ, in the interim between being laid bodily in the tomb and being resurrected, of the same body, on Easter morning.

Late Christian writings, circa 325 ce, refer to this time as the “harrowing of hell”, wherein Christ descended to the place of the dead, spoke the words of triumph to Satan, and offered the good news of the gospel to all those who would hear it. Eastern Orthodox traditions have a profound iconographic tradition around the harrowing of hell- showing the gates shattered, demons bound, and Jesus lifting Adam and Eve up from the pit by their wrists. (By the wrist is important, since by the hand would imply that people could grasp the grace by their own works.)

            Of course, the idea becomes more academic than theological very quickly. What was the understanding of the place of the dead at this time? A “hell” of damnation, torment, and punishment in the way we might think of it? A place where souls rested after death- Sheol or Hades? Was there a separation of those who lived righteously from those who were evil? Did Jesus descend bodily and soul or was his body in the tomb, but his soul in Hades? Was this necessary for him to experience the human reality of death or was it part of his work as the second person of the Trinity?

            So. Many. Questions.

            Frankly, the questions themselves are interesting, but they are not helpful. They’re the kind of thing we bring up for good conversation or to avoid the harder realities of what a life with God means. Trust me, I recognize this habit- in myself and in some of you.

            Why do you think we care so much about the specifics of this?

Christ suffered once for all.

Suffering is not an inherent part of what God desires for us.

Lenten disciplines are not about suffering, but about a deeper understanding of what it means to be a child of God with other children of God.

We have the ability to do our own harrowing of hell, by reducing the suffering of others around us. By taking seriously the realities of the world, the compelling of our baptisms, and the power we have through Christ to bring even small glimpses of peace. 

Christ did descend to the dead. He came into a world where people refused to recognize the light of the God of life in one another and he taught, ate, walked, healed, listened, lived, and died so that all people would be able to know that God knows what it is to struggle and to suffer.

We don’t make that story any more than it is with our sufferings or set-asides in Lent. The harrowing of hell happens when we take seriously the work of prayer, fasting, and showing love to all people. The harrowing of hell happens when we speak even small words of truth against injustice or oppression. The harrowing of hell happens when we set aside our fears of getting it wrong or not being perfect and just try. The harrowing of hell happens when we realize our fears, our idols, the false structures of society are not God and they cannot win. In fact, they are already as dust.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.

There is a hell in knowing how many people do not trust the truth of that. There is a hell in believing that we save them. We don’t.

However it happened, whenever it happened, Christ has already done the harrowing of the hell of eternity.

We are co-workers in God’s kingdom with Christ in the effort to harrow the hells of this life.

You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most in human of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. – Thomas Merton

We do not do that work alone. Amen.

Acceptable Prayers

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord- my Rock and my Redeemer.

May the entries in my check register and debits from my account be acceptable in your sight, O Lord- Provider of all things.

May the way I treat my fellow human beings and other members of creation be acceptable in your sight, O Lord- Creator of all.

May the paths of my feet and the work of my hands be acceptable in your sight, O Lord- my Light and my Path.

May the works I attribute to you and the ways I perceive your presence be acceptable in your sight, O Lord- Healer of our every ill.


First published at by this author