Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rend The Heavens: Advent Day 4

Due to having surgery this week, I'm starting a little behind on this daily devotional. I'll catch up days 1-3 at some point. See the prompts here.

Text: And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:31

Prompt: SHUT UP

Yesterday, I had my uterus removed. After several years of pain and bleeding and messiness and discomfort and solutions that only created more problems, we did the thing that would make it all
stop. We removed the source of the problem. 

"Shut up" is the utterance we think of- possibly a little rude- when we want someone  or something to stop talking or making noise or creating a distraction. 

I wanted my uterus to shut up. It had served its purpose for me (growing two healthy babies) and now it was dysfunctional and its noisiness was disruptive and painful. 

Since I didn't often mention the pain I was experiencing and since I am only 35, people have asked if I was emotionally okay with having a hysterectomy. Was I grieving the removal of an organ that was ... was what? For me, being a woman was not tied to having a uterus, but I can see and perceive in the larger culture that ways of being are tightly defined, narrowly constrained, and the more clearly defined by parts and labels, the more comfortable most people are. 

However, comfort as a noun is not something to which Christians are called to aspire. We are called to comfort- the verb form. We are called to open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to God's work that is beyond definition and comprehension. We are led to "paths as yet untrodden and through perils unknown". Along the way, we are to comfort. Comforting others does not mean offering platitudes or promises that are hollow at best and lies at worst. 

Offering true comfort means shutting up and listening. Shutting up and showing up. Shutting up quietism and releasing the fire within our bones. 

I was not defined by my uterus and now I am not defined by not having one. On the day of the trumpet sound, I will not have to account for the parts I had or have. Instead, my words will be shut up as I account for my time. Will it turn out that I sought to be comforted or to comfort? 

Will it turn out that I shut up long enough, loudly enough to hear where I was called to be and to offer the comfort that can only come from God? 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sermon: Premeditated Action

Luke 21: 5-19, The Message 
One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, “All this you’re admiring so much—the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.”  They asked him, “Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?”  He said, “Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.”  
He went on, “Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge
earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling.  “But before any of this happens, they’ll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.
“You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved."

If the definition of the gospel is a scripture reading or artwork or song or conversation that shows us the character of God and how God meets us in our very human need, it is very difficult to see this passage as gospel. By narrower definition, it is in Luke- one of the four gospels, the others being Matthew, Mark, and John- but everything in the gospel writings is not necessarily good news. When the gospel according to Luke and its companion, Acts, are written around 85 A.D./C.E., the temple has been destroyed by Rome and Jesus's followers are scattered, not only around Jerusalem, but also truly into Judea, Samaria, and across the world. 

So Luke is writing about Jesus predicting a thing that his readers have already experienced. Did you get that? Luke is writing about Jesus predicting a thing that his readers have already experienced. It was probably hard to hear then and it's hard to hear now. Wars. Rumors of wars. Destruction. Violence. Division in families. Hunger. Poverty. Imprisonment. 

The hardest thing for me to hear is actually this: 

"So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance" Luke 21:14 (NRSV)

Make up your mind not to prepare your defense in advance? What does that mean? The passage goes on to say that the words will be provided to you. This is some consolation, but not much when it notes that the followers of Christ are likely to be imprisoned anyway... if they're not killed outright. (Keep in mind that when Luke is writing, Peter and Paul have already been killed.) 

I rarely ever do deeper Greek word study beyond reading the scripture, but I went in further for this word. Do not prepare in advance. It turns out that in a more strict translation, the verse would read "So make up your minds not to premeditate to defend yourselves." 

Premeditation is a word that has different connotations and connections... time thinking. Possibly time worrying. Time planning. Time getting things in order. Time spent rehearsing. 

In the long run, when the realities of this passage come, they will not be things for which any of the disciples had rehearsed. There will not have been a drill. There will not have been cards in the seat back pocket. There will be no note cards, no tele-prompters, no practice sessions. 

That's pretty much how this week felt for me. I did not have any practice in beforehand in going down to Mad Myrna's on election night because I was called to listen to grieving and fearful LGBTQ people and their allies. 

I did not have any practice in consoling a friend who felt outside in her evangelical church and wasn't sure where she belonged. 

I didn't rehearse what to say when someone mean-spiritedly asked me what Jesus has to do with an election. 

I did not prepare for what it would mean to listen to many stories of fear, pain, and exhaustion. 

I did not get ready to wake up at 3 am for four days in a row to talk to people who were stressed, afraid, or confused. 

Since I didn't prepare for all those things, you can bet that I didn't have a lot of time to premeditate what to say to you, to us, a congregation that espouses and practices a deep welcome and inclusion, but is very divided politically. 

What happens when you are not prepared? 

If you don't prepare for a race, you get blisters, muscle tears, deep physical pain, and discouraged. 

If you don't prepare for a diet, it is easy to cheat, to lose track, to be hard on yourself for failing and you get discouraged. 

If you don't prepare for a test at school, it is easy to miss answers, feel overwhelmed, fall behind, and feel discouraged. 

If you don't prepare for weather events, it is easy to run out of staples, to be disconnected, to be scared and discouraged. 

If you aren't prepared for death, it is to be overwhelmed, terrified, and discouraged. 

If you are not prepared to talk about what your faith means to you in election years and non-election years, in the stores and at work, with your family and your friends, in letters, emails, and texts, when it's scary and when there is no pressure... if you are not prepared to talk about your faith, you can be silent when it matters, you may not see critical connections between faithfulness and living, you may get discouraged. 

Jesus warns against premeditation because thinking about what you would say if you were arrested for your faith takes away from your time and energy to actually be doing the thing that might get you arrested.

The way of following Jesus Christ is a way of doing, then believing. Doing always comes first. We baptize first. We feed first. We welcome first. We house first. We listen first. We clothe first. We visit first. We heal first. We hold first. In our doing- even when we are discouraged, we come to a better, deeper, broader understanding of who Christ is because we have been imitating him in our actions first. In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples that if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. If we have imitated Christ, we have imitated God. 

In this imitation, in this doing, we cannot help but come to a different understanding of welcome, inclusion, grace, and mercy. Imitating Christ, imitating the Father, being led by the Holy Spirit in that imitation... that will shape our belief. It will shape how we see the world and what we will say about it. The words we have to describe our fellow human beings, the realities of land and water, the powers and principalities... these words will be shaped by what we have learned in imitating Christ, in being Christian in our deeds first. 

The truth, the gospel truth, is that we cannot prepare for what it means to be on trial or persecuted for our faith. And, let's be real, most of us have not experienced that before. We are not afraid of being here in a church. Even if discouraged, we are not afraid of wearing cross necklaces or having a Christmas tree in our window or praying in a restaurant or making the sign of the cross when an ambulance goes by. We have not premeditated a defense for those actions because they come naturally to us and because if we were asked, we would reply, "It is because I follow Jesus." 

The reality of today's reading and this week's events and the nature of the world is that standing up for injustice, speaking out against hatred, calling out racist or anti-Semitic or anti-LGBTQ words or actions, fighting for the marginalized- be they poor or addicted or underemployed or uninsured or unhoused or of uncertain immigration status, standing with neighbors of all religions and no religion... all of these things must become as smooth in our way of being imitators of Christ, as connected to "It is because I follow Jesus", as knowing the words to Amazing Grace, being able to finish the sentence "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall [not want]", or folding your hands for prayer. 

We practice for persecution by doing the right thing when it is safe. Then our muscles get ready. Our faithfulness becomes rooted in our whole heart and mind and body, regardless of our emotional reactions to any event. And no one is waiting on us to get our defense right... through premeditation... because we have put the doing first, where it belongs in the life of faith. 

The temple fell. King Herod had even decorated it with golden eagles- Roman symbols- to make nice with the occupying force, but occupying forces don't care about niceties when they want to destroy and cow the people of the land. We know from the book of Acts the kinds of persecutions that the followers and imitators of Christ faced, but they persevered. And how do we know that? 

Because we are here. We are a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit in them and through them. Not their buildings. Very few of their letters. Not their words. But we are a testament to their deeds- to their sharing of their resources, healing the sick, remembering the marginalized, inclusion of racial and sexual minorities (see Acts 8), feeding and housing one another and visitors, and daring to speak the truth to power. The church of Christ remains today because of that work and nothing else. They didn't take time to premeditate a defense. They went to work. 

And we... we who have received grace in Christ Jesus, we who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we who have eaten at this table- once or a thousand times, we who have the written word in our own language, we who are united by faith, hope, and love, we who wish to imitate Christ and to be on his side... we can do no less. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we don't premeditate our defense... we get to work. 


Friday, November 11, 2016

While I Wait

I don’t know what you want me to do, but I see people in pain- so I will tend their wounds img_2279while I wait for you.

I don’t know what you want me to say, but I hear people grieving- so I will listen to their stories while I wait for you.

I don’t know how you’d like me to react, but I see injustice and unrighteous- so I will sweat and bleed to make things right while I wait for you.

I don’t know how you’d like me to see, but I perceive spaces of unwelcome and violence- so I will speak and act against them while I wait for you.

I don’t know how you’d like me to pray, but I cannot remain silent to your face- so I will pour out all my grief and pain and anger while I wait for you.


Written for and originally posted on RevGalBlogPals

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

About Last Night

I am thankful for friends, who let me absorb some of my shock in their home. It gave me enough air that when I was called to go to Mad Myrna's by another friend, I could go. Because if you're called to the gay bar on election night because people are crying and want to talk, you put your shoes back on and your glasses and you go. I went as a pastor, but a friend also said, "We need you as a human being."

And so I went. And I listened. And I was sober like a rock because I can't drink right now. 

There was laughter and crying. 

And then the thing that blew me away: a guy I had met earlier because he came with some friends to Election Day Communion leaned his head in to talk to me. 

"Tonight was my first experience with Christianity. It was really nice. Really welcoming and helpful. I liked it," he said. 

Election Night Communion at Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK was his first experience with Christianity. I don't know if that meant ever in a church. I am sure it meant he had his first communion since I didn't skip him. It was small group on what turned out to be a hard night where no partisan language was shared and where we laughed and sighed and shared Jesus. 

I think my eyes were the size of peaches when I replied, "Thank you for trusting us." 

"It was really good," he said again. 

I hugged and was hugged. I listened to a long lecture on Trotskyism. When Mike Pence came, there was literal wailing and gnashing of teeth. The pain in the room- the screaming and real grief- was such that the bartender turned the channel to HGTV. In that space, we needed to turn away from the man who hasn't renounced conversion therapy to the mundane nature of two people building a house. 

There was real pain, real grief, real fear. 

And in that space I just listened. 

At one point, a guy was talking to a group of people about why we can't get along. Not asking, he was explaining why- at length. I was next to him, but he never ever looked at me. Finally he said, "Why don't we rise up?" 

"Because you can't see me," I volunteered. He turned to me, "You're right. I don't see you. I didn't. And, normally, I wouldn't at all, but I do tonight." 

Tonight I was part of someone's first experience with Christianity. And I was part of one man's recognition of how he looks at the world. And a Trump voter in my congregation texted me amid all this and said, "God Bless America." 

Who don't I see? What do I assume about the people in front of me in any place, especially in church? What do I say to someone who chortles, purposely, at my pain and that of others? 

It's been a long day. A painful day. A prayerful day. 

And I ache because there are a lot of hurting people right now. And I'm not going to say that it will be okay because I don't know that it will. 

Yes, on a theologically cosmic level, it will. But if I learned anything from Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation, it's that it can really suck on the way. 

It's late (or early) and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow I might be someone else's first experience with Christianity and I better rest up for it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sermon: In The Resurrection

Luke 20:27-38 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”  Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Do the Sadducees actually care about the woman? When they seek to trap Jesus in this question (and it is a trap), do they stop and think about what it would be like for this hypothetical woman? That she would be passed from brother to brother as part of each preceding sibling's estate and if she became pregnant, then, and only then, would she possess value. Then, and only then, would she be worth anything. Then, and only then, would she cease to be a nuisance to the family, for with the baby- more specifically, a son- the family is thus guaranteed the eternity that the Sadducees otherwise reject. 

Their entrapment plan is NOT because they are Jews (it is NOT a character reflection), but because

they are the wealthier, non-Roman leaders of the Jerusalem community. The question comes out of their social safety and privilege at the time. Resurrection has always been more popular among the lower classes or the less wealthy because they hope for a better future; those who have are already experiencing it. The Sadducees only believe in the first five books of what we call the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (or the Torah). They ignored and did not use the poetry, prophetic teachings, or other writings that existed at the time of Jesus and which the Pharisees did embrace.

The resurrection of the dead has no presence in the Torah in the Sadducees' way of thinking. When one died, the only way for one's life to continue was for one's line to continue in one's children. This is why the levirate marriage (in the one bride for seven brothers story) mattered- the brother who impregnates the wife is keeping alive his brother's name, as well as his own. By using this example, the Sadducees hoped to trap Jesus into acknowledging what they believed to be the fallacy of resurrection- that if such a thing were real, this woman would be very confused. 

It is easy to think that Jesus also doesn't care about the hypothetical woman. He answers the Sadducees' stupid question with a snappy comeback that leaves the Pharisees cheering for him (if you read further on). Jesus points out that Moses, when confronted with the burning bush, is addressed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses does not call God that, God uses that term to describes the Divine Self. Therefore, Jesus points out, these patriarchs are not alive to God by the descendants that they have on the earth at the time of Moses. God doesn't introduce the Divine Being as the God of the children of Abraham. The patriarchs are alive in God because nothing that God has made is ever separated from God. Nothing that is contained in the God of life can be dead- beyond repair, beyond hope, beyond restoration, beyond resurrection. So if God refers to the long-dead patriarchs in the present tense when addressing Moses, then they are surely alive. 

How do you like them figs, Sadducees? 

But Jesus isn't done. Not only does Moses's encounter with God at the burning bush lend support for resurrection, but it also means that there is a reality about which we do not know. This was what the Pharisees and some of the other religious sects also believed. They gave more weight to divine power and prerogative over human will, while the Sadducees simply believed in human action and divine distance. Jesus tells the Sadducees and those who are listening that in the resurrected life, there is not the giving and taking in marriage. 

That can be hard to hear for those who have deeply loving marriages in this life. It can be confusing or relieving to those who have been married more than once or who are divorced or separated. It is very, very, very, very, very, very important to remember that marriage at this time is not about love. It is a property transaction. It is about family connections, dowries, convenience, and necessity. The Sadducees might as well have asked, "Who owns this woman?" 

When looked at in this light, Jesus is actually doing the thing the Sadducees didn't do. He is thinking of the hypothetical woman. He is speaking beyond the Sadducees to all those around him and Luke, as the gospel writer, wants to be sure that the message is heard. In fact, this story also appears in similar for in Matthew and Mark. This underscores the reality that the gospel writers and those around him knew that Jesus was trying to communicate that the resurrected life is not like that on earth. 

There is not social hierarchy. There is not slavery. There is not division between classes. There are no widows or orphans or barren women or men who die without legacies. Everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. Let me repeat: in the resurrected life, everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. 

This is, then, what the church- then and now- is called to do, teach, and believe (in that order). Our present task is not to bide our time, waiting for that great time of resurrection. Instead, we are called to live out its reality and truth even now. The people who lived out that reality from day to day are the people we are able to recognize as saint and faithful souls. Their best days, best actions, and legacies supported the truth that everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. 

Does your faithful living look like that? Does your conversation, your outreach, your spending, your time commitments, your prayer life, your voting, your home life, and your everyday living look like you believe in resurrection as a present reality- with all people equal in the eyes of God? Will those around you remember your soul as faithful when you are alive in God in whatever way comes next? 

The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus and probably ended up snapping their jaws closed so quickly that they bit their tongues. When resurrection is a reality, it is not really a worthwhile pursuit to speculate about how it works or what it is like. Instead, Jesus truly calls us to trust in that future enough to let it affect how we live today, tomorrow, and the next day- living as we are alive in God and equal with all people because we are children of God. 


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review: CEB Women's Bible

A couple weeks ago, I was asking a group of [church-going] children what they knew about the Bible. Among other shared information, we tried to name some Bible characters. They quickly shouted out, "Jesus!... Moses!... Abraham!..." The oldest kid in the group is probably 8, so that was okay. I asked for the names of any women or girls in the Bible. Mary's name was speedily recalled and then there was a stall. My own son raised his hand and said, "I can't remember her name, but there was the girl in the garden who ate the apple." Great, our group could literally only name Mary and Eve. So, looks like my work is cut out for me. Good news: there's a Bible for that!

I recently received a copy of the CEB Women's Bible for free in exchange for a fair review. This Bible is in the Common English translation- hence, CEB. This is not my favorite translation. All translation is interpretation and all interpretation is political. So, accepting the CEB as a study bible was a stretch for me going in to this project. Not all pastors share this characteristic, many LOVE and endorse this translation of the Bible and find it to be as accurate and helpful as early translations.

It turns out that, translation notwithstanding, this is an excellent study Bible. Nearly all the chapters have summary introductions that could be used for the people who like a big picture view or as prayer prompts before or after devotions. The inserted commentaries on situations, circumstances, and people are very helpful. There is one on birth control near Genesis 38 and on one women and property at Joshua 17. There's celebration (Psalm 31), pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2), mercy (Romans 9), adolescence (1 Timothy 5)- plus ministry and widows (separately) in the same chapter.

These short explanations given insight not only to the time of the Bible's events or writing, but also for how the verses impact the life of the reader today. I enjoyed every one that I read and I think they are the best feature of this Bible.

My second favorite element of the CEB Women's Bible is that there is at least a sentence or two portrait of every single woman who appears in scripture. No matter whole small her role, how implied her presence, how unnamed she may have remained through the centuries- she or her group get recognition in this volume. Through recognition comes thankfulness and growth in understanding. I have been doing work in Daniel lately and, boom, there was the portrait in words on Belshazzar's mother (Dan. 5). She's actually critical in the story because she remembers Daniel and his skill, when others have forgotten him. Yet, she doesn't usually appear in the stories people tell off the top of their heads regarding the writing on the wall incident. Regular use of this Bible and encountering these portraits will help the reader become more familiar with all the women of scripture and, perhaps, more emboldened to speak up in times of trouble.

It is extremely exciting to flip through the front matter of the book and see how many women were involved in the creation of this volume. Lay women, professors, writers, and clergywomen all contributed their talents to the creation of this volume. I am of mixed emotions when I see this. I am so happy- nearly tearfully so- that these women were sought out and their vocations and talents used well for this book. At the same time, I hope that the work in and on this Bible will be noticed- especially in academic and professional religious circles. This amount of research, talent, and commitment deserves recognition beyond making a commercially viable devotional Bible (which is NOT nothing- far from it).

Despite my own reservations with the translation (which are NOT shared by all other pastors!!!), I believe that I will continue to use this Bible for personal devotional reading, along with others. I do say to people that the best kind of Bible to get is the kind you will actually read. This Bible is very readable and the portraits, summaries, maps, and drawings all serve the purpose of increasing knowledge and learning in faith. I recommend this Bible, particularly if you do not presently have a study Bible that you enjoy using. If you are the kind of person who is bothered by adjectives in the titles of Bibles, I still recommend this Bible and a roll of electrical or duct tape to cover the title (or use a Bible cover). Several people in my congregation do this and it seems to soothe their angst and help them to use the Bibles they find most accessible.

The stories of women in the Bible- known, forgotten, and unknown- deserve attention, scholarly time, and church/devotional study. This Bible accomplishes that task superbly. It does it so well in fact that I recommend considering one's own preferences or biases (translation, title, margin size) as adiaphora (or unimportant) relative to having a truly helpful and revolutionary study Bible that spotlights the work of women in history and the work of women today.

I received a free copy of the CEB Women's Bible from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

You can get a FREE sample of Ephesians from this edition of the Bible here. Try it!