Monday, May 20, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - Stop arguing theology

When the crowd saw Jesus, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, 'What are you arguing about with them?' Someone from the crowd answered him, 'Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.' He answered them, 'You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.' And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.' Jesus said to him, 'If you are able!-All things can be done for the one who believes.' Immediately the father of the child cried out, 'I believe; help my unbelief!' When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, 'You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!' After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, 'He is dead.' But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'This kind can come out only through prayer.' - Mark 9:14-29

I don't know what to make of this passage. It speaks to the necessity of prayer, but it scares me. Are there events that haven't happened, 'demons' that haven't been cast out, peoples who's lives have not been changed all because I haven't prayed enough? That's an infinite amount of potential guilt that I can heap on myself! Does God really hamstring himself and his work in the world by depending on the faith of his followers? Does he really abrogate that much of his power?

These are tough questions that we could argue about forever without reaching any solid conclusion. However as I read the passage through again I was drawn to Jesus question 'What are you arguing about with them?' The disciples were arguing about this boy, his treatment, and their inability to cast out the demon. You can imagine Jesus' frustration with them. He calls the boy to him and after a brief dialogue he heals the boy by casting out the demon.

I love a good theological discussion. I love to pose conundrums and questions. I love to reflect deeply and question my interior motivations and drives. This is all good and necessary, but it can be a distraction, there are times when we all need to stop arguing theology and get on with loving and healing the world. I live in two states simultaneously, Belief and Unbelief. In the midst of my questions about God it is comforting to know that God doesn't condemn me for them. The Father declares that he believes and he doubts, and Jesus responds in love by healing his son.

Jesus loves someone who doesn't have his theological ducks lined up. When the followers of Jesus couldn't help and lost sight of the issue while arguing, Jesus stepped in. When the father admitted his own unbelief, Jesus stepped in.

Instead of arguing about people, issues, politics, right and wrong, I need to step in and be a loving and healing presence in the world.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - I love Jesus, but I run a little.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." John 21:15-19

I inwardly groaned when I saw that this passage is assigned for today. I've spoken before on how the passage uses different Greek words for love in Jesus third question, to his first and second). I've heard countless sermons on this passage so I come to it with a lot of information, interpretation and bias.

When I reflect on this passage today the question Jesus asks haunts me.

Do you love me?

The first thing that came to mind this morning was my friend Glen. For some reason Jesus' question reminded me of a status update he posted on facebook a while back.

I love Jesus, but I run a little

Glen is a Marathon Runner. One of his goals is to run the Boston Marathon. I tried to take up running, and 9 months later I'm still having treatment for some muscle problems. I would say that I run 'a little' while Glen runs a lot! Of course the play on words is in the fact that it is human experience to run from God a little.

I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon where Linus Van Pelt declared 'No problem is so big or complicated that it can't be run away from.' Lucy challenges him on this by asking 'What if we were all like you? What if we all ran away from our problems?' His response - 'Well at least we'd all be running in the same direction.'

I can think of many ways I could finish the sentence 'I love Jesus but I ___________'

The problem with the 'but' is that it makes whatever comes after it sound negative. Running is not always negative. Some of us are so afraid of putting a foot wrong that we would never run from God.....but maybe the God of our imagination needs to be run away from. Only by abandoning what is can we venture forth into new territories.

I didn't like reading this passage this morning, and I don't like where my meandering thoughts have taken me either. My prayer is that we can all find communities that let us run. Run towards God, run away from false ideas of God. Communities that recognize that even with our differences we are all running in the same direction.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - Being right.

 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ - John 17: 20-26

"....they may be one, as we are one"

It is hard for me to imagine Christians being one in the way that Jesus and the Father are one. The disputes and divides seem too great.  The level of intimacy between the Father and Jesus seems unobtainable. I don't even feel that level of intimacy between the different parts of myself, let alone with people whose theological views seem antithetical to mine.

Maybe that is the key. In my mind being One means uniformity. Even Jesus had to say 'Not my will but yours be done'. How do I manage though when the person who I am called to be one with expresses their faith in a way so different to me that the outflow of their faith could be inhibit mine and vice versa.....

(side note, I struggled to even write 'vice versa' on the end of that sentence because part of me feels that my faith expression cannot inhibit them even though I'm convinced that theirs can inhibit me. Hello one sided identification).

If all this seems vague and abstract...well it is. I can agonize about this in the abstract, and by keeping it there it becomes just a thought exercise and doesn't have to impact daily life. I can't live in the abstract however. When I think about friends of mine who are very different to me, I feel more hope than despair. If we can be friends with our very different perspectives, maybe there is hope for us all.

It pains me to admit this, but I cannot always be right. I can however always strive to be loving.

Maybe that is why the passage ends with,

 "...the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

This Jesus, I think he knows what he's talking about :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart. Where?..............

Jesus said to the disciples, 'And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.' - John 17:11-19

we used to sing the song in Sunday school:

I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart
Down in my heart
Down in my heart
I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart

And we were joyful while we sang it. Voices raised, hands clapping. Expressions of delight on every face. The piano player bouncing her way through the chord changes. When we were through we were then told how God loves us all very much and how we were broken and sinful, filled with every kind of deceit and wickedness . How our badness was what held Jesus to the cross and pierces his side and it was our evilness that killed him.

My lips sang joy, while somehow the song was rewritten in my mind as:

I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart
Down in my heart
Down in my heart

I've got that guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I'm so wicked,
So very wicked
I'm evil and deceitful in my heart

And I'm so wicked,
So very wicked
I'm evil and deceitful in my heart

It seems really harsh when I type it out that way. Yet that is where I end up from the theology I was given. If this seems unusual I refer you to the popular mega-pastor Mark Driscoll who in a recent sermon talked about how “God hates, right now, personally, objectively, some of you,” 

I'm not wanting to get into the Theology of all of this. When I read the passage today I was drawn to the phrase ' joy made complete in themselves'.

We each have been wired uniquely for joy. What brings joy to some people leaves me cold.  By the prompting of a friend I have created a Joy List - a litany of the activities that cultivate joy in me. Ways that God has uniquely created me to experience His joy.

In the midst of daily life I am making a conscious choice to not let a day go by without doing something that generates joy within me.  The Shorter Westminster Catechism says 'The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever'. There is a joy that I experience that comes from God. It may be buried under rubble of theology, but it is there.

It is time to go digging.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blogging the Lectionary - feeling fruity

An occasional series of random musings from the Lectionary.

Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. - John 15: 9-17

You are loved by God. Love deeply. Bear lasting fruit.

This passage almost seems over the top in its reminders to love one another. It's almost as if Jesus knows what a hard time we are going to have remembering we are loved and to love one another.

We are loved to bear fruit, lasting fruit.

Most fruit I buy does not last. My freezer is full of brown bananas that I plan to one day make into banana bread. My kitchen counter invariably has the over ripe apple, the extra soft avocado and the petrified lime. Fruit needs to be transformed for it to last. Preserved in jams, or dehydrated. The plant may have finished its task of growing the fruit, but for the fruit to last it must be changed in a way that the plant cannot do.  That thought gives me some hope for the times when I feel like I am being crushed, or having the life sucked out of me. Those experiences, while painful, could be the very thing I need for the fruit of my life to be preserved.

One other thought -

Do not chastise the cherry tree for not bearing apples.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lectionary of the Day

I've decided to start an occasional series of blogging the lectionary. I need to do something to help me engage more with the text, hopefully this will help.

Jesus' disciples said, 'Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.' Jesus answered them, 'Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!' ~ John 16:29-33

I'm not going to blog about Christian Persecution in the U.S. even though the phrase 'in this world you face persecution' is the one that caught my attention. For an interesting post on the difference between persecution and loss of privilege I suggest you read this post by professor Robert Cargill.

I've never experienced persecution. I once didn't get a job because I refused to work Sundays because that was the Sabbath, but that's as close as it comes. Of course I now work for a church that requires that I work on Sundays every week :)

To Persecute is defined as 'To pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race or beliefs'. By that definition I must confess that I am a Persecutor.

I have ridiculed somebody for what they believed.
I have used guilt and shame to manipulate someone.
I have treated someone as 'less than' because they didn't fit my definition of what a Christian should be.
I have punished someone because their behavior did not fit my ideas of right and wrong.
I have been verbally abusive.
I have driven someone to depression with my continual haranguing, belittling and teasing.

I guess I have experienced persecution, for I have done all of this to myself, all because of my misguided understanding of how Christianity should display itself in my life. I have been a long way from the peace Jesus promises.

No more.

The Jesus I read of in the gospel binds up broken hearts, he doesn't berate them for feeling hurt. He stands with the weak and the oppressed, he doesn't tell them to quit whining. He doesn't injure, he heals.

The peace Jesus promises does not come about through laws and regulations, through checklists of behavior or doctrinal statements of belief.

I will be still, I will listen to the heartbeat of God. I will be gracious to myself, and everything will be brought into the light, beliefs, actions, attitudes, creeds. It will be examined under the lens of Peace and Love, and be celebrated for what is and transformed into what will be.