Welcome

Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning



Sunday, May 19, 2024

Raised with Scars

The Ascension

 

There is a silly joke about a preacher who found three little boys sitting on a curb playing hooky from school. Thinking he could motivate them into better behavior, he admonished them on the need to follow the rules and ended his lecture with the question, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”  There's nothing like the threat of damnation to get people to toe the line.

 

“I sure do,” two of the boys answered, but the third replied, “No sir.” “What’s the matter?” said the preacher.  “You mean you don’t want to go to heaven when you die?” “Oh, when I die!” exclaimed the youngster. “Of course I do, when I die. I thought you were getting up a crowd to go right now.”

 

Today is Ascension Sunday.  That day when the church focuses on the final leave-taking of Jesus from his disciples. This is the day, or so the story goes, that Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving his disciples staring into heaven.

 

If you have ever seen paintings representing the ascension, you will find that they almost universally show a glowing, beautiful, perfect Jesus, with clean flowing hair, and an amazing white robe, surrounded by clouds, headed via the express lane to heaven.  And the hint is that Jesus is leaving all the travail of earth behind, and is headed off to glory in the heavens.

 

I think those pictures have it wrong!

 

Think about all the other post-resurrection appearances of Jesus!

The appearance to the disciples, and later to Thomas, and to the men on the road to Emmaus.  There is his arrival by the sea of Galilee, where he sits by the fire and cooks breakfast

 

The post-resurrection Jesus is not a repaired, sanitized, ethereal Jesus

It is the same Jesus who walked through the dust of the earth

Who ate meals with his friends

The same Jesus who was arrested, beaten, killed on a cross, and pierced with a spear

 

Richard Rohr, in talking about that famous encounter between Thomas and the Risen Jesus (John 20:19-28) says that this “is not really a story about believing in the fact of the resurrection but a story about believing that someone could be wounded and also resurrected at the same time!

 

When Jesus went back to God, it was very much the same kind of deal as when he came from God.

 

He came from God as a very human baby.  Born in poverty

Delivered in humble place, surrounded by animals and the dregs of society

He came fully entering into our mess

The pain and poverty, and all the rest

 

And whether we think about it symbolically or literally, I believe that when Jesus went back to God, he went back with dusty feet,

And hands smelling like fish and robes smelling like campfire smoke

I think he went back, as dark, Semitic man with frantic hair

And I believe he went back with holes in his hands and feet

And a wound in his side

 

I believe Jesus was raised with Scars

 

Jesus descended to earth, bringing God to us

When on earth he experienced it all

He took it all on, the pain, the grief, the misery, the joy, the love

 

And when he ascended, he took it all with him. He maintained that intimate connection with we human creatures, and with our pain, and hate, and fear and all the stuff of humanity.

 

There is a bridge between us and Jesus

Created by shared pain and hurt

A share woundedness

 

The Ascended Christ hasn’t relinquished his engagement with us

He shared our experience,

And shares it still

 

I love the way Richard Rohr puts it.  “God loves you by becoming you!”

To think about it another way, Jesus is a wounded healer!

As we read in Isaiah 53, “…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

 

In the Spirit God becomes incarnate in us, and experiences with us everything we experience.

 

God is present in our racing pulse when we are afraid

In our singing heart when we are in love, or the Aurora Borealis

In our noisy brain when we are overwhelmed

In our gut when we are upset

 

God is in us through it all, as savior

Lover

Guide

Advocate

Comforter

 

Doing the God thing!

Changing

Challenging

Moving

Transforming

Reconciling, comforting, teaching,

 

Making us new

Lifting us up into a new way of doing life

 

And we, when we are lifted up into newness, are also called to stay connected with this world.

With all its hunger, pain, homelessness, and addiction

And racism.

Our faith is not a ticket out of this world but is a call to engage in this world more deeply.

 

We take it all on, touching the pain fear and hate

as best we can, with God’s love

and transforming it, with that love

 

We are the ongoing incarnation, the ongoing ministry of Jesus

We are in the mix

And we can be present for others, we can engage with them compassionately, and appropriately because we have been there.

 

And frankly, much of the time, we are going through the same struggles as everyone around us. 

 

Paul talks about it all the time:

 I do not do the things that I want, but the things I do not want to do I do (Rom 6)

I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be (Phil. 3:12)

 

We may act as Christ’s ambassadors, but we represent Jesus not as those who are above

Not as those who are better, wiser, stronger, but as those who are WITH

We may be full of the Spirit and made new

But we are still fearful, angry, and all the rest. 

We like Jesus are the resurrected wounded

 

So we do not need to be afraid of the depths and breadths of our own lives

of our failures and mistakes, of those dark moments when we wound ourselves or are wounded by others

 

Those moments give us understanding.  And humility.  And compassion.

God uses it all, making “all things work together for good” (Romans 8)

Enabling us to reach out to a shattered and fragmented world

and touch not only our own wounds but the wounds of other

 

We can minister to those who are fearful, because we have been fearful, because we are still fearful.  We know what fear is, we feel it in our bones….

So we can meet people in their fear, taking with us Sacred Presence, and all the resources of God.  We can help them with their fear, even as we struggle with our own.

 

We can help with who are angry, because we have walked in anger

We can help those who have failed, because we have failed

 

Henri JM Nouwen writes these powerful words in this book, The Wounded Healer.  “Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind?  ….Who can take away suffering without entering it?

Who indeed?

 

Churches often have signs outside that say “come as you are”

That is it exactly!  Comes as you are!  With all your baggage.  All your fear.  All your wounds.  All your imperfections.  Come as you are, saint and sinner. 

 

For it is the fact that we are empowered and rescued “as we are”

That enables us, in the power of the Spirit, to touch a hurting world.

With understanding and compassion. 

And love


Saturday, May 18, 2024

Line in the Sand

Our line in the sand is clear.

Love compromised is faith denied.

          Steven Charleston

___________________________

 

If we can recite bible verses without end

If we have memorized a catechism perfectly

If our theology is immaculate

 

If we hold vast to the social norms of our ancestors

Deeming them holy (indeed)

 

If we loudly proclaim that we are for

Family values

and are pro-life

 

If we thump a “God Bless the USA Bible”

And arrogantly push our faith

As “the faith”

 

If we brag and boast

And post short reels of Christianity

Strutting its stuff

 

But have not love

 

We are denying our faith!

 

If we protest for Gaza

and stand up for women

and the marginalized

 

and make noises

about feeding the hungry

and clothing the naked

and housing the homeless

and protecting the vulnerable

 

but forget to love

 

we are denying our faith.

 

Words are words

Creeds are creeds

Values are values

They may speak of love, insist on love, tout love

But they are not love

 

Love is not insisting on “our own way”

It is not controlling or coercing

It cannot be legislated

Or imposed at gunpoint

 

Love never stirs up hate for the sake

Of power or wealth

Or even “rightness”

Love does not follow leaders whose power comes from hate

 

Love is a blanket

A place to stay

 

Love is respect

listening

giving

serving, caring

feeling

 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 

Faith enables us to love

Love is the fruit of faith

 

Do we believe enough in God (who is love)

Do we feel safe enough in God

Do we trust God enough

 

To love?


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Night Prayers

Night is drawing near.  Soon the night prayers will begin

The after-hours prayers

The prayers without the need for words

Spoken from the heart

The language of those who work the late shift of sorrow

 

Night prayers turn bar rooms into churches

Motels into temples, truck stops into shrines

Night prayers are first-time prayers

Last-change prayers, prayers tossed up into the stars

To see if anyone is there to catch them.

Prayers without expectation

          Steven Charleston

___________________________________________

 

Welcome to the fellowship of the lost

The lonely

The scared

The anguished

 

Welcome to that desperate space

Where all hope is gone

And expectation has been sucked into the vortex

 

We are the people who sit

In the eerie glow of computer screens

The flickering light on televisions

 

Who linger on the fringes of the light

Peering out of the darkness

Of fear and hate

 

We are those manipulated by those

With small souls

And big needs

 

We are those who go chasing after solutions

That are not solutions

Who think power and wealth will make us

Powerful and wealthy

Instead of small and impoverished

 

We are the night prayers

Who pray prayers of desperation

Who pray for things we should not pray for

Power

Revenge

Retribution

Affluence

 

We do not know how to pray and yet we pray (Romans 8)

Tossing our tortured words heavenward

Hoping against hope

 

May you catch our prayers

And may the anguished groans of the Spirit

(for we must make you weep)

Embrace our fear,

Our selfishness

 

May the Spirit transform our prayers

And return them to our hearts (Psalm 35)

 

and thus returned

transform our hearts and minds

and make us new

 

so let us pray