Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reflections for the First Sunday of Advent

Luke 21:25-36 The Message

25-26"It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.

27-28"And then—then!—they'll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!"

29-33He told them a story. "Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God's kingdom is about here. Don't brush this off: I'm not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won't wear out.

34-36"But be on your guard. Don't let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it's going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don't go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that's coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man."

This is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in which we awaken to the need to prepare, to prepare for the Christ child that will be coming. We are told by Jesus, himself, to keep on guard, do not be like the maidens whose lamps ran out of oil, not to fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom to arrive and bring us into the party. No, we are to be awake and aware, prepared. And yet, not so prepared and focused on the arrival that we miss out on the present, on what is before us this very minute.

I liked how The Message said not to get lost in the drunkenness of parties and drinking and shopping. It is as if the composer, the paraphrase of The Message interpreted this scripture solely for this first Sunday of Advent. He warns us not to get lost in the parties, the festivities, the shopping of the season and forget to be still and prepare our hearts for to wait for God to become human flesh and blood.

The Message gives us the perfect image of the excesses we indulge in at Christmas—not merely the parties but the shopping and spending, the “Shopocalypse,” as Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping say.* It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the giving and getting of Christmas, that we not only lose ourselves but we lose the purpose of the season, we forget the purpose of Christmas—not that families get together, that is nice but it’s not the meaning of Christmas, not the gifts, not the niceties in which people may be more kind to one another during the season, this is good but not the reason for the season of Christmas.

I’m afraid that to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season” is no longer enough to explain—we’ve made Jesus into a cute white plastic baby-doll that lays in a manger never speaking hard truths, like Pilot, we’ve tried to strip Jesus of his power and grace and put him somewhere where we can control him. Like Pilot, we do not have the power to do such things—praise the Lord!

The reason of the season, the purpose of Christmas is to stand up and take notice that Love has been made flesh and blood! God has had enough of this long distance relationship with humanity and has become flesh and blood, has become one of us so that we might truly and fully know who God is. God decides that it is not enough to bless the world through Israel but to come and bless the world on God’s own terms, to bless us directly, to seal the gap, to bring the kingdom of God to us here and now, no more waiting! How amazing and wonderful is that?

That is a gift that money cannot touch, that nothing money can buy, cannot even come close to acknowledging. The magi laid down their gifts and laid their very lives before the Christ child. We have cheapened their gifts with $10 bath salts, My Little Ponies, and PS3s.

Instead we are asked to stop the debauchery, stop the insane shopping trips, stop the parties and quiet our hearts, preparing them for what it means that God will become human, that we are waiting not only for the Christ child to be born (again) in a manger 2000 years ago but also for the Christ that will come again and make this world new, give us peace that we cannot even imagine, to right all the wrongs of this world.

Jesus tells us the signs to look for—war and fighting, the earth quaking and falling apart, the world in natural and political chaos. These are the signs that the kingdom is near. Yet, this is the very world in which we live. This is the world that has always been—natural disasters, “man’s inhumanity to man.” God’s kingdom is always near, if only we are awake enough to see it, feel it, and live into it. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry he tells us, repeatedly, that the kingdom of God has come near to us this day. This very day.

There is more to come—more chaos and more healing by Jesus the Christ. It’s not over yet. Some people are terrified by this promise as it has been “gorified” by books like the Left Behind series, end of the world movies, people selling fear instead of freely offering the hope of Christ, the hope that we find comes to each Christmas.

I like The Message’s paraphrase but it misses one very important piece, listen to these words in the NRSV,

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the  worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
Do not let your hearts be weighed down with the worries of this life. Do not let your hearts be weighed down with the worries of this life. Yes, we have a tendency to party and indulge in excesses and this includes the excesses of worry and fear. There has been much selling of fear regarding the end of the world, the hope, the peace have been left out and pushed aside. Fear sells not only movie tickets and books but also all the stuff we don’t need, stuff that doesn’t protect us from the things we should fear—greed, sin, the things that turn us away from God, lead us into ourselves rather than turning to God’s grace and love. Fear sells but God’s grace and love heals, repairs, changes lives, gives hope, gives us eyes to see and ears to hear God’s message of love and hope.

We are not to live our lives in fear of what’s to come anymore than we are to live in debauchery and indulgence. We are to live in the grace, the love, the hope that is present in the Kingdom of God in which Jesus brought near to us 2000 years ago, and that we prepare our hearts to experience in a new way this Christmas. If we are to experience this again, we must stop what we’re doing and quiet ourselves, preparing our hearts and minds, wake up to the kingdom around us and wait with beautiful anticipation. Amen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday 5: Don't Stand So Close to Me Edition

Songbird writes: 

You see, in high school, I had a crush on my Chorus teacher. He was a young guy, and he had gone to college with some cousins of mine, and over the summer between 9th and 10th grade, we ran into each other at a series of pre-wedding parties, and I fell DEEPLY in like.  You?

1) Did you ever have a crush on a teacher?

I've always crushed  on teachers and professors.  In 1st grade I crushed on my teacher, Mrs. Fry.  I absolutely loved her and everything about her.  In 6th thru 8th grades I crushed on her brother Mr. Fry (no joke! it's a small world, especially in KS) as we learned history from him.  In high school I developed a major crush on Mr. Pappas who taught Psychology.  Then my freshman year of college I heavily crushed on my English professor--Mark.  I shared my poetry with him and he took an interest in my writing.  We went to dinner a few times and talked about writing, he took me under his wing.  I thought it was more but I was so wrong.  We stayed in contact for a few years.  I  still get excited when I see one of his books for sale.  Sometimes I think it would be hilarious to tell him that I'm a pastor now--if he would remember me.
2) Who was your first crush?
Gary Gutsch
3) Have you ever given a gift to a crush?
Yeah, Shawn Hamlin--8th grade.  I brought a helium balloon that said, "Somebunny Loves You," and tied it to his locker.  It was awful, he was embarrassed and therefore really mean about the whole thing.  Looking back I understand, but it sure sucked back then!
4) Do you have a celebrity crush? (Around my house we call them TV boyfriends and girlfriends...)

Dr. Calliope Torres from Grey's Anatomy!  This year she has further endeared herself to me.  I so totally love her!  And she is a total hottie!

There is also my long standing crush on Henry Rollins who I recently discovered plays on Sons of Anarchy!  I'm so glad to see him, even if it is without his tattoos!

I also gave him daisies at one of his spoken word events!
5) Have you ever been surprised to find yourself the crushee?
Yes, it was a pretty sweet feeling. (sweet as in gentle and adorable)

AMC (American Movie Classics) Brillance

AMC has a brillant ad campaign this season...Story Matters Here.  Each time the commercial comes on, I have a little cheer in my head. (ok, not so much now since it is always on!)  I love this, this should be our/the church's campaign. 

That's it, I love it.  I might alter it bit for the church

The Story.
Matters Here.

Hope's Story
Changing Lives

I'd have to work with it but you get the idea.

Good job, AMC!  Now, can you replay the Godfather Trilogy during the day so I can actually watch it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Inspiration from a disaster flick--2012

This Saturday, Merkin and I indulged in 2012.  Neither of us can resist a disaster flick (except Armageddon)--especially one that was made by the folks of Independence Day.  It was great fun even if a little disappointing.  Both of us were stoked to see the falling of the Jesus in Rio De Janeiro--it's an amazing landscape and to add disaster and a crumbling Jesus would have been amazing.  However, that was only seen from the small screen of a television set during a news report.
I did not attend 2012 for some insights about the end of the world, humanity, or the Christian faith.  I attended 2012 for some mindless fun and cool (albeit cheesey) special effects.  That said, there were 2 specific scenes of destruction that have stayed with me.  The Vatican crumbling down and the Washington Memorial nailing the president.

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday.  As we proclaim Christ our King we get this whole kingship thing screwed up in our heads.  That Christ is king is ironic, its subversion at its finest but too often we forget this.  Instead we talk about heaven having streets paved with gold, jewels for doorknobs, etc.  We picture Jesus in a gold crown and glorious robes.  Yet, this was a guy born in a cave/barn shared with animals; a God-man who died on a cross rather than call upon the heavenly powers that be to curse his persecutors with Old Testament wrath and fury. 

All of this we forget and we build monuments, cathedrals lined with gold, silver, filled with gorgeous artwork, all to remember that Christ is our King.  We build these cathedrals and monuments out of our need to create beauty and art.  We build these cathedrals and monuments to honor our God and other heroes. 

And yet, in 2012 we watch as people gather before these monuments and cathedrals in their time of desperation and prayer only to be destroyed, killed by them.   The adoration and praise that is channelled into the building of these monuments and cathedrals was terribly misdirected.  Time, energy, and cash was funnelled to these projects instead of helping humanity, giving to the least, and hence giving to our Lord and Saviour.

As the priests kneeled in the Vatican and the walls came crashing down around them, you wondered if they felt foolish worshipping a god that wasnm't there.  I imagine that was the intention of this particular scene, yet I did not wonder about the absence of God.  I wondered if in that moment they realize how misdirected they had, we have become.  Rather than worshipping the living God, we spend too much time, energy, and money crafting institutions and memorials.  Those things we create and craft only serve to come crashing down around us, crushing us rather than helping us to experience God--they kill us.

The president watches as the tip of the Washington Memorial points directly at him and topples ontop of him and the White House.  What is he thinking at this moment?  Is he wondering if the money spent on a humongous spike would have been better spent on the people of the United States providing health care?  food?  housing?

Probably not, afterall it is a scene in an end of the world disaster flick.  But it made me think of such things, it made me wonder if all the "stuff" we've crafted and created to honor God has done more to make us forget the subversion of Christ the King and led us to imitating our governments and culture.  All the stuff contributes to our drift (sometimes a deadheat run) away from the "un-King", Jesus the Christ.

Amen?  Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ramblings from an ill, V saturated mind

I've caught the flu.  It stinks and I'm ready for it to be over.

However, today the SyFy channel is having a V marathon.  ABC has remade it and begins airing the new version on Tuesday at 7pm (central).  I was 11 when the original series aired.  I was fascinated by it.  There couldn't have been a better day for me to be sick--at least I got to watch the miniseries over again! 

It is just as compelling as the first time I watched it, even if the graphics are laughable.    I'm interested to see how they will change things with the new version. 

A few things I've noticed is that in the orginal the leaders tend to be women.  The main alien leader that appears is a dreadful woman who uses her sexuality to get ahead--of course she is sleeping with her boss.  She is as beautiful in her human form as she is vicious.  The leader of the resistance is also a woman.  She too is beautiful (and blonde--the evil alien is a burnette of course!) but uses her mind rather than her sexuality.  Eventually men come in and take over but she remains strong and a leader throughout the story.

They make overt references to the holocaust and needing to hide people away from the aliens.  In the first shows there is a survivor who convinces his son and wife to take in a family.  As I watched I thought about the very few survivors left--that in and of itself scares me.  I wonder if we will forget.  Sometimes it seems as though we've already forgotten.

There is a hispanic man, a gardener (of course) who helps a family escape (the same one the holocaust survivor helps).  Their youngest daughter cries and cries, and the man gives the family a bag of what looks to be Hershey kisses.  As they thank him and seem suprised by his knowing what would quiet her down, he shrugs his shoulders and says "I know a bit about this."  My heart sunk as I heard these words because life is no better for illegal immigrants trying to escape to this country, if anything, they are probably worse.

A few weeks back we saw an updated Children of the Corn.  It was absolutely HORRIBLE.  They ruined the story from the very begginning, there was no guessing, wondering what was going on--they played it all out.  They made the couple a mixed race couple and the black woman was a hateful screaming thing.  The white guy was a vietnam vet who we were supposed to feel sorry for.  How's that for racism and stereotyping?

I hope the updated V is better but I don't have a lot of faith in that.  I will be sitting in front of the tv come Tuesday night, assuming I don't have any meetings to attend (which is a pretty big assumption).

Revelation 21:1-8, A Sermon

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’

Today is All Saints Day in which we celebrate and honor those whom we are joined with through our Christian faith and have passed on. Often we think of saints as only those people whom the Catholic Church has called saints, but as Methodists any Christian who has passed away is now a saint. It’s a day to honor the dead.

In Mexico it is called Dia de Los Meurtos or Day of the Dead and it spans 2 days. At the same time as the Day of the Dead the monarch butterflies are begging to fly through Mexico to reach their hibernation home on the trees in the mountains of central Mexico. It is believed that on the backs of the monarchs the spirits of the dead are brought home. The first day is the day that children who have died arrived and then the adult spirits come on the 2nd day. The night of Halloween, All Hollow’s Eve is spent waiting for the spirits to come. It is a joyous celebration. The graveyard is decorated with the favorite foods and drinks of their loved ones—a feast is prepared for the spirits and made to help them find their way home.

We don’t deal well with death in our culture. We usually understand that it is something to fear. Often when we see the Mexican skulls decorated with gorgeous paintings and even gemstones, we are taken aback. It scares us a bit, it does not offer any comfort. But in the Mexican culture it is a way of embracing and no longer fearing death—almost making fun of it.

As Christians we should not fear death, we have been promised a joyous and wonderful day in which we will be hugged and greeted by Jesus the Christ, himself. God’s face will shine upon us! A day of rejoicing it will be!

Our scripture, our periscope, for today says, promises:

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.’

Granted, we don’t know when this day will arrive—we don’t know if it will be on the day of our death or at the end of time as we understand it, but this day has been promised to us.

God has not given up on our world that seems to worship violence and war, bringing people to death’s door far too soon. No, God continues to work to restore creation. God gave birth to our world, lovingly crafting even the wings of a butterfly, as well as the moon the many universes that surround us—nothing too small or too large to overlook. Everything precious and good. Somehow sin and brokenness found its way into the goodness, the sacredness of creation, but God is not done.

We often think of restoration as bringing something back to it’s original state, but God’s restoration of creation is a promise to not only restore but to make it even more glorious than it ever was, more glorious than we can even imagine. All the words, all the images we can come up with, fall short.

One of the most difficult things for me to understand is that this will happen in God’s time, not ours. Many have given up hope that this will ever come true. It seems that every generation has believed that they will be the ones to watch and experience this world as it comes to its end. Some believe that they can manipulate things and make it come quicker, but the scripture is clear—the city of Jerusalem will come down to earth from heaven. God brings the Holy City to us, to earth. God does this, we do not build a second tower of Babel to meet God—no, God brings the Holy City to us, God as with Christ, breaches the gap between the Sacred Divine and our brokenness. God comes to us, yet again, this time making all things new, beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations.

In this new world, there will be no more brokenness. There will be no more sin. The lectionary writers didn’t think we could handle the entire pericope; they cut this scripture short at verse 6a. Perhaps they thought saying that no fornicators, no liars, no adulterers were going to be allowed in this new creation. Perhaps they thought I’d get up here and shout that you were going to burn in hell if you lie, if you idolize something or someone, if you have affairs, if you practice magic. I’ve heard people do that, but I don’t believe that is what these last verses are truly saying. If all that was true, if we were going to burn in hell for being liars, adulterers, idolaters then what was Jesus about? We are Christians and God has gifted us grace, undeserving, unmerited grace that transforms our lives.

The point of the last verse is that along with no more death, no more crying, there will be no more sin, no more brokenness. There will not be liars, adulterers, idolaters because they won’t exist. All of that will be wiped away and transformed into something far greater, far more wonderful than we can even dream or imagine.

In this new and awesome creation, God will make all things right, we will be redeemed and transformed into the people God has always known we could be, even if we couldn’t do ourselves. Let us remember as we partake of the communion bread and wine, that we are not alone, we do not do have to rely upon ourselves, that God is with us. Thanks be to God!