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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Second Advocate

This week the Gospel of John continues with John 14.15-21.  It is a continuation of Jesus' farewell discourse and the beginning of a serious reflection on the work of the Spirit.  I find the language here fascinating.  Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to ask the Father to send them another Advocate to be with them forever.   Jesus is the first Advocate that has been sent by God.  The formless God of the universe has become 'formed' in Jesus of Nazareth and now that the incarnation is about to come to an end, it is the incarnate Word who realizes that there is need for another.  This second Advocate--the Holy Spirit--will be that aspect of God that unlike the incarnated Word--Jesus--will be in the world and actually dwell in/among the disciples.  How do we understand the Holy Spirit?  For confirmation I will take a candle and lite it.  I will tell the kids that the flame is the light of Christ.  I then put a glass container over the flame and we watch it go out.  I then tell them that the oxygen in the air is like the Holy Spirit.  It is that which allows the light of Christ to continue to shine in the world.   I like this metaphor because Jesus uses a word that suggests that like the air we breath, the Holy Spirit will be both within and among us.  That seems to me to be an important aspect of what the Spirit does.  It certainly calls me to holiness and relationship with God; but it also is that which we mutually share and need for life.  That is, it is extremely personally and yet ultimately communal.  I like that.   How do you see the Spirit at work in your life?  
Joseph Mildrofer, Pentecost 1750's

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The end of the Incarnation....

This Sunday we'll have the famous passage from John 14.1-14 where Jesus talks about there being many mansions--or places--for us and that we should not be afraid.   Thomas of course, taking Jesus literally blurts out, "We do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?"   This leads into an even deeper conversation where Philip asks to see the Father and Jesus tells him that whomever has seen Jesus has seen the Father.    But behind all of this conversation is the fact that the incarnation, the Word made flesh, is coming to an end.  I don't know if you ever thought about this or not, but when Jesus is resurrected he is changed, he is no longer simply flesh and blood, but is the first born of the dead and the one who now points to what our own resurrected life will be like.   So this means that the incarnation will lead to death--as will the life of all human beings.   But here Jesus is pointing us to a reality that death is not the end of the story.  The crucifixion will give way to the Resurrection and to the Ascension.   Incarnate life is good; but it is not the end---there is mystery to be found when we understand that we are more than what we have experienced in this world---and Jesus is more than what the disciples have seen.   This of course points us to what Christians call the Trinity.  The understanding that God was fully present in Jesus of Nazareth.  That Jesus is God with us.   That being said, while God can become incarnate, the incarnation cannot fully express the reality of God.  God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a mystery as wondrous as the promise of life everlasting.   So as Christians we live fully committed to this life--it is after all the only life we know--but we do so fully anticipating that it is not the end of the story, but only one part of that story, just as Jesus is only one aspect of the mystery of God.  

Here's some art that might help you reflect on this mystery of the Trinity.
Domenico Beccafumi, The Trinity 1530

El Greco, The Trinity 1577

Monday, May 5, 2014

Christ as the Good Shepherd

This Sunday is unofficially known as "Good Shepherd" Sunday.  Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter we get a reading from the 10th Chapter of John.  The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one of the oldest known in the Christian church.  It was particularly useful because in a time of persecution a statue of a shepherd carrying a lamb or ram would not have raised suspicion.  It was a known pagan image as well (see the pagan idea of criophorus or the Ram Beaer).   And of course we can also connect the image of the Shepherd to the Old Testament as well, where often this was an image used for God and also for the kings and leaders who were called to care for God's flock.  It is probably no accident that David was out keeping the flock when Samuel came to look for the new king to be anointed.    Or reading for this Sunday makes the most sense when we see it as a continuation of John 9--the story of the man born blind.  This poor man, whom you would think would have been blessed beyond believe by having his sight restored is instead offered one hardship after another.  He's given a "Sabbath Violation" ticket by the authorities, his friends don't recognize him, his family distances themselves from him, and he is kicked out of the synagogue--accused of being a sinner!   In answer to this story, Jesus tells the three Good Shepherd vignettes in John 10.   He is the one who cares for the sheep (not the leaders of the day) and he is the one whose motivation is entirely at work on behalf of the sheep, not the institution or some inaccurate sense of who belongs and who doesn't.  He is the Good Shepherd who knows you by name!  You!  With all your complexities, doubts, insecurities, triumphs and joys.  He knows your name and you know his voice!  Listen for it!   

Below, a great brown pencil sketch by Murillo.  Look at the Child Christ walking firmly and purposely forward.  Even as a child he knows for that which he has been called.  The sheep over his shoulder keeping his eyes on the Christ, the sheep's body is relaxed and you get the impression that the child is truly carrying the entire weight of the animal.  Now look at the Child Christ.  He eyes are on the look out; but for who and for what?  Is he searching for those who would endanger the sheep in his care (John 9) or perhaps he is looking for his other sheep--us--and compelling us to allow him to carry us as well.   It's a great sketch from a brilliant artist.  Peace! pj
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the Christ Child as the Good Shepherd, 1680

Monday, April 28, 2014

Emmaus Road

Robert Zund painted this famous picture of the Road to Emmaus in 1877.  I seen have reproductions hanging in churches and pastors studies more times than I can remember.  The painting is quite soothing, the two disciples walk along a wooded path while Christ walks between them.  Up in the right hand corner the clouds seem to give way to some blue sky as the light seems to be making inroads into the dark forest of trees to the left.   Of course the two disciples, Cleopas and his companion (could it be his wife?) are recipients of the greatest Bible Study ever given as Jesus opens their eyes to the scriptures.  Then of course they stop for the night and encourage Jesus to stay with them.  It is then that Christ is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Many will pastors will preach about communion on this Sunday, that Jesus still meets us in the breaking of the bread.  That's a perfectly good approach and never a bad thing to lift up.  But I wonder if perhaps as important as this is the two disciples act of hospitality.  It is after all their hospitality to this stranger with whom they shared the road that leads directly to their realization that it is Jesus in their midst.  What if they hadn't asked him to stay; would they have just thought that this stranger was a great teacher, a curious fellow traveler, a rather learned Rabbi that they would soon forget?   Or can we also see in this story an echo of Matthew's reminder that we see and actually minister to Jesus when we are engaged in works of love and mercy even to the least of these? (Matthew 25.31-46)   Was the teaching that Jesus gave them on the road connected at all to their decision to extend hospitality to the stranger?  

Where do we expect to see Jesus?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Doubting Thomas or inept disciples.....

Traditionally the first Sunday after Easter, known as the Second Sunday of Easter, gives us the story of Thomas who has been given the unfortunate moniker of "Doubting Thomas."   While he is certainly stubborn, and perhaps even a bit suspicious of the claims being made about the resurrection, he is certainly not a doubter.  He is a seeker.  

But here's the rub, those disciples who were in the room a week earlier--when Thomas was out getting take out or whatever it was that took him away from the group--had been sent by Jesus to go and bring about belief.  In fact he even has breathed the Holy Spirit upon them in order to help them move forward with their mission. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."   But now, a week latter we find them in the same place!  We find them having moved not one iota since being 'sent.'  And in regards to being able to share the Good News of God....well they couldn't even convince Thomas, who should have been a pretty easy mark, as he had been with them throughout Jesus' ministry.

No, Sunday's reading is not about a man who doubts; but about the ineptness of the followers of Christ to do what they are told with an kind of proficiency.  The Good News is that the risen Christ comes back and is there to help those disciples with their appointed work.  Isn't that our good news as well?  That Christ continues to come in our midst, even when we are ineffective and seem to lack the ability--or perhaps the will--to be his people.   It is then, perhaps especially then, that Christ returns again, and again, and again, nurturing our faith and once again encouraging us to be about his business in the world.
Incredulity of Thomas, 1601, Caravaggio

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter 50 days of celebration

Here it is Holy Tuesday (the Tuesday after Easter) and it already feels as if Easter and Holy Week are light years gone by.  The many things that were put on the back burner as we approached Easter have now reemerged and demand time and attention.  Summer seems to be on the distant horizon and my attention quickly moves away from the empty tomb to my weekly planner that is anything but empty---on the contrary filled to overflowing with things to do.

But Easter as a season is supposed to last 50 days.  50 days of celebrating that sin, death and the devil has been put on notice and that God's intent for the world is life here and now and in the world to come.   I'm going to try and find at least one way to celebrate this promise each and every day of Easter.  How about you?  We have kept the Lenten will we keep the Easter feast?   Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Week 3 questions

Day 13 Wed:  "Who do you say that I am?"
Day 14 Thurs:  "Do you not believe that I am in the Father?"
Day 15 Fri: "Did I not tell you that you would see the glory of God?"
Day 16 Sat: "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
Day 17 Mon: "Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?"
Day 18 Tue: "Will you lay down your life for me?"

day 14

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Week two list of questions....

Week two questions:
Day 7 (Wed) Where is your faith?
Day 8 (Thur)  Was no one found to return and give thanks?
Day 9 (Fri) Do you believe that I am able to do this?
Day 10 (Sat) Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Day 11 (Mon) Why do you just see the speck in your neighbor’s eye?
Day 12 (Tues) How much longer must I put up with you?

Lent 2014 Day 8

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Painting in the background

Folks have asked about the painting in the background of the daily videos.  It is an original work from Irish artist Brian Whelan.  The title is "In the beginning."   One of my favorite pieces of art that brings me joy every day.  

Lent 2014 Day 5

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Further reflection...Day 2

I was thinking about the 'bad' questions that this woman may have been asking.   Questions that led to shame, blame and despair.  "Why can't they heal me?"  "Why did I spend all my money?"  "Why is this happening to me?"  "What did I do to deserve this?"   Then it seems to me that she somehow--by the Holy Spirit--came to a transformative question: "What can I do today to make steps toward being well?"  She decided to reach out to Jesus.  And she was not disappointed.  Jesus' question, "Who touched me" is also a call for us to look seriously at our own needs, our own hurts, our own motives that drive us to Jesus/God.  Didn't Jesus 'know' who touched him?  Perhaps the question is for her sake.  "Who touched you?  It was me.  I'm hurting.  I'm scared.  I'm at the end of my rope.  I've got no where else to turn and so I've come to you--that's who I am and that's who touched you!"  May we be as honest as we reach out to Jesus.  Amen

Luke 8:40-48   New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.
As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[a] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[b] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Lent 2014 DAY 2

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Good Question.....


When thinking about the questions that Jesus asked, pastor Eric Burtness reminds us that he does not ask questions for simple answers.  Rather he asks questions to reposition you, to challenge your image of God and of your place in the world, and to present you with new and creative possibilities for personal transformation.  He asks probing, realigning, transformative questions in order to change core convictions, and to produce behavioral results in the one to whom the question is asked.

This Lenten season I want to invite you to come along with me as I look at some of the questions that Jesus asked.  Each day I will plan to have a video clip that lifts up one of these questions and invite you to consider how the deep questions that Jesus ask can help transform our everyday lives.

Week 1.
Ash Wednesday March 5th:  "What are you looking for?"
Thursday March 6th: "Who touched me?"
Friday March 7th: "What can you give in return for your life?
Saturday March 8th: "Do you wish to go away?"
Sunday March 9th (no reading as Sundays are not a part of the Lenten Discipline)
Monday March 10th: "Do you wish to be made well?"
Tuesday March 11th: "Whom are you looking for?"