Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking for a little help/advice/critique/etc.

The following is a rough draft for Sunday.  I'd appreciate your thoughts.  This isnt' where I was iniatilly headed.  Initially I wanted to have a 60something in my congregation and a a14 yr old stand and greet one another as Elizabeth and Mary, then read their respective parts of the scripture.  Now I'm not sure where or how that fits in.  Originally I was thinking about how unexpected Mary and Elizabeth are, how human, and messy this whole incarnation thing is and to awaken us to the messyness of it all and to rejoice in it.  Yet, I didn't get anywhere close to that and currently I'm a bit too close to "see" properly.  I'd really like your thoughts--please leave your thoughts in the comments.

One of my favorite things to do is to look for art, especially paintings that were inspired by the scripture we read each week. The paintings draw me deeper into the story. Each artist emphasizes and illustrates something different from the next. For example, some artists have dressed Mary in rich and luxurious fabrics like velvet, while others dress her in rag-like clothes. Some have the angel, Gabriel, larger than life floating above her with Mary cowering in fear. Others have Gabriel bowing before Mary to honor her with the news. Each picture enriches the story of the Annunciation, gives more depth and food for thought.


Often what appears to be a "little thing" might give us a new perspective into the scripture, give additional meaning. Until recently, it was normal for artists to paint Jesus and stories from scripture into their own modern context---think of all the elaborately decorated dresses and costumes Mary has been robed in throughout the years--historical accuracy was not a concern. This allows the story to be real for us--to break into our world and open our eyes and heart to where God is moving in the present. Sometimes we zero in on a particular rendition or image and begin to idolize that image--forgetting that it is just that, one artist's idea. But if we examine many images it can enrich our understandings of the scripture and help us to grow in faith.

As I've looked for pictures of this week's gospel reading, of Mary and Elizabeth meeting, the pictures I've seen show 2 women greeting one another, sometimes with rounded bellies, each filled by a little boy. Yet, they sort of look the same--perhaps it's the family resemblance. Their differences are not striking nor profound--a slight difference in age but not too much.

Yet, when I picture Elizabeth in my mind, I see a woman with grayed hair, tired from the weight of the child, tired from taking care of her ailing mother and father, tired from reading and playing with neighborhood children that could, should have been her grandchildren and yet she is just beginning her journey into motherhood.

Mary, she's young, her face pleads innocence and confusion, and joy, through it all is joy. She has just the beginning of a baby bump, hardly noticable unless you already know she's pregnant. She could be the nursery helper, assisting her aunt Elizabeth on Sunday mornings.

These are two women who have no business bearing children, let alone children that are special not only to their mothers but to the world, to us 2000 years into the future and beyond.

As they meet there are no wayward glances, no scanning of one another's bodies looking for a note of shame, downcast eyes, that recognizes the aberration of their bellies--each filled with an infant son. No, instead there is joy, excitement, and anticipation for the birth of their special babies. They are at home with one another.

Can you imagine the chatter? Have you felt the hiccups yet? Oh, John kicks all the time--I think he might be a great soccer player! Then laughter! The laughter they must have shared--laughter over the disbelief, Zechariah's muteness; tears over the lack of understanding, the lack of belief, the looks, the small cruelties inflicted as they walk down the street. Joy over being together, finding sanctuary in one another sensing that "yes, this IS absolutely real!"

It is no wonder that Mary would then break into song! Have you ever had one of those moments? Have you ever just burst into song because you were overwhelmed by something--good or bad? When the girls were younger we'd make up silly songs for everything and there were (and still are) those moments in which life feels like a part of a movie and you could easily be convinced that someone is recording it? The only thing missing is the background music to cue you in on what will happen next.

Mary's song, her Magnificat, begins by praising God and moves to proclaiming the promises that her son will make come true. Her song is much like Hannah's, it's the classic Biblical reversal of fortunes--the hungry are fed while the previously well fed go without, the poor are elevated while he rich are humbled, the world is flipped upside down.

Good news for some but for most of us in this sanctuary it's sort of scary, at the very least a bit intimidating! But this is what happens, what has been promised by the Most Divine, the Holy One when God becomes man, becomes flesh and bone. When the glorious day arrives and Christ returns for a permanent transformation of all of Creation, the world will be made right--which likely means that our values and priorities will be set straight, that all peoples on the earth will be well fed and have what they need.

No longer will we be driven by fear of war to stockpile weapons of mass destruction. No longer will we feel be driven by greed to stockpile stuff. No longer will we attempt to fill the emptiness--the void that we foolishly attempt to fill with food, alcohol, drugs, money, and stuff. All of our additions and greed will fall away, shatter into dust because God will be with us upon the earth, peace will fill our lives. Real peace, peace that is more than freedom from fighting, the peace that which only God can give will envelope and transform us from the inside out. We will be free from the fears and false idols that distract us from loving our neighbors and loving God with all that we are. God will live among the people, finally, at last, all will be well and joy will stir our hearts evermore.

This is the joy I see in Mary and Elizabeth's greeting. This is the joy that I pray you and I, we will awaken to this Christmas and this is the joy that I hope and pray that we will courageously bring into our world with each day that is gifted to us. We too are asked to make room for Jesus, we too are asked to give birth to Christ, to raise Christ up so that all may see and recognize the bit of Christ, that image of God that lives within each and every one of us. May that living image of Christ be born in us, so that when we greet one another--we too can experience a joy-filled exchange of love and recognize the Christ in one another. Amen? Amen.

We're not really up and running with screen and projector so projecting images isn't great.  I'm not sure about making large prints from borrowed photographs of paintings, besides unless they were really big then people couldn't see anyway.  Help!  Please!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Altar time

As I walked away from the altar this morning I felt great joy and honor, and a wish to bring this to everyone. 

I fully believe that God is present all the time, that holy moments surround us but we are not awake to them.  Each time I kneel at the altar I am awakened--physcially, mentally, and spiritually.  As soon as I breathe in the wood, feel my knees on the hard floor, I am transported to a new place. I look at the cross above me and I am surrounded by the presence of God.  It is beautiful, awe-full, and tender. 

Sometimes I can only stay but a minute--feeling frightened, likely a time in which I need to stay.  Other times, like today I wanted to stay longer but wasn't sure of the time and didn't want to be interrupted, so I ended my prayer and walked away.

As I walked away, I realized that I am tremendously priveledged to have a key, an in to the sanctuary any time I feel the need.  I can come day or night it does not matter.  I wonder if others do the same.  I know of a few people who have keys and do come into pray.  One comes in late at night/early in the morning before the dawn and loves to sit and pray in the darkness.  She says its most beautiful then.  But what about the rest with keys--do they know they can come, any time and pray?

What about those with no keys?  I long to go back to the days of unlocked churches, unlocked sanctuaries that are open for prayer, for refuge.  Out of fear, we lock our doors, even in a house of faith.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

frustration with this process

Why do they ask unknowable questions?  Questions which far greater minds than mine have struggled with and come to no good answer.

I say, "I have an inkling that it began with free will but know nothing else."  Sin, that is what we're talking about.  I want to say, "I don't know and neither do you so why do we play this silly game so that you can decide if my answer is enough?"  Instead, I will come up with a fallible failure of an answer that I know we cannot possibly discern.  I will play your silly game because I want the status, the honor, you can give me.

How ironic is that?  Nearly every week I get up and preach that these honors men and women bestow upon themselves are nothing.  I preach that God chooses, prefers to lift up the lowly, the tossed aside and tossed away, those trampled on, those who men and women say are worthless.  Yet, here I am prepared to play your silly game so that I can  come back week after week and proclaim that God loves the lowly, the weak, the untouchables, and so should we.  All while I play your silly game where you determine if I am good enough to proclaim God's love in your churches.

Some days I wonder why I play this game.  I wonder if God is truly in this game that we play.  This game in which I'm asked to pretend that I have the answers and you determine if these answers are good enough while we both know that they are not.  Yours are not. Mine are not. Our human minds are not enough to fully understand. 

I take this time to step away from my family, my church, God's people who I've been called by God (not you) to comfort and to lead and to love.

I have to believe that this game we play means something more or I am a fool.  Why can't we sit down and talk about God, grace, love, redemption, and where God is moving in our midsts?  Those are important conversations.  Why do we instead play a game, a quiz where the answers are simply shadows and echos of what might be truth or might be our greatest misunderstanding?

Why not make it truly meaningful, rather than a game in which neither of us know the answers to the questions?