Thursday, January 29, 2015

God's Desire for us Human Beings

This Sunday's gospel  is a healing story from the Gospel of Mark. It's one of at least eight healing stories in the Gospel of Mark.

Miracle stories like this one - a healing story - plus miraculous deliverances from foul spirits, resuscitations, and miracles involving nature - comprise over 200 verses in Mark's gospel.

That's more verses than the passion narrative -- the stories of Jesus' betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death -- combined. 

Let that fact sink in for a second.  

Consider the fact that miracle stories are the subject matter of almost half the gospel prior to Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem.*

That points to a truth we often miss: God's desire for us human beings is for healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and joy.

Healing, wholeness, forgiveness, joy is what the author John Eldredge refers to as the "major theme" of the gospel. As opposed to the "minor theme" of the gospel which is sickness, brokenness, sin, and suffering.

Yet Christianity has, by and large, made the minor theme the major theme.

Jesus said (John 10:10) that the thief comes to kill and destroy, but that he came so we might have life, and have it abundantly.

God's will for our life is not quiet stoic suffering, but an expectation of miraculous transformation and an abundance of joy and gratitude spilling over into concrete acts of service.

*(Gospel of Mark, Donahue and Harrigan, Sacra Pagina, page 85.) 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Theory about God

I have a theory.

I have a theory about God. 

And my theory is this: 

The only concept of God more threatening than an
condemnatory god

is a concept of God who is a
compassionate God.

For just a minute, allow yourself to believe that what was said to Jesus at his baptism was said to us at ours, and is being said even now: 

You are my Son. You are my daughter. 

You are beloved. 

You are the one I love. 

With you -- yes, you -- I am well pleased.

Do you feel yourself pushing that thought away, running, resisting it? Even as I write the words, I hear a voice inside me saying, “No, that was a special relationship God the father was expressing to God the Son and he’s said that to no other human being; those words must have been intended for Jesus, not me."

I don’t think there’s any point in denying that that voice exists. The question is, whose voice is that? 

Where does it come from – the Holy Spirit, or some other spirit? Does that voice draw you closer to God, make you trust in more, or does it help you keep God at arm’s length, and continue to trust in something other than God?

Each year around Christmastime, I ask the question: "God could have come down in any form he wanted: he has created the heavens and the earth, the stars.
So, why come in the form of a baby?"
Could it be that God’s deepest desire is that we fall in love with him?

Why would God come down as a newborn? Why not a full-grown adult?

Could it be that part of what God was up to that first Christmas was an effort to overcome our distance?  Could it be that what God wants more than anything else is that we throw away our defensive armor, and that we fall in love with him? 

God’s greatest desire is to be desired…and so a corollary theory about God is this: God is saddest not when we fail, but when we push God, and those made in the image of God, away. 

How would believing that change the way you pray? Worship? Behave? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Maundy Thursday SERVICE?

Yesterday, in a liturgy planning session, I expressed a desire to do something different for Maundy Thursday (this year to be April 2).  

The custom in many churches – one I don’t like, for reasons I explain a bit below -- is a ritual foot-washing, where clergy wash each other’s feet, then the feet of others, then others are invited to wash each other’s feet. 

The symbolism is fine – in a scene found only in the Gospel of John (Matthew, Mark, or Luke do not record it), after the Last Supper, Jesus stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciple’s feet. 

So that first "Maundy Thursday," Jesus did what only a servant would do -- and the lowest-ranked servant at that. 

He modeled service. 

He told his followers that following him meant loving him, and loving him meant loving and serving others.   

But here's the thing: Jesus did something that was done on a daily basis: in a culture/society where sandals and dust and probably raw sewage was common, but well before modern daily showers, covered shoes, and clean sidewalks, foot-washing was common

It isn't anymore. 

But the church has turned Jesus' one-time, one-Gospel-recorded foot-washing demonstration into a ritual, a liturgy. Sometimes it's even set to pretty music.  

Fair enough: the church has done the same thing with the other event that happened that night -- the Last Supper, turning it, too, into a ritual, a liturgy-sometimes-set-to-pretty-music. 

But first of all, that (the Last Supper) was re-appropriating a ritual meal already long in place (the Seder). 

And second, eating bread and drinking wine are still common practices. We still do that.  

The foot-washing, on the other hand, seemed to be a one-time dramatic-demonstration-to-make-a-point, much like when he gathered a small child in his arms to make a shock-value point about who is most able to comprehend Kingdom-of-Heaven values, or when he rode humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey instead triumphantly in a chariot to make a shock-value point about the kind of ruler he is. 

It doesn't seem Jesus was trying to institute a formal church custom in those instances. 

I don't have any trouble with churches and people who find meaning in this ritual. My intention here is not to try to talk anyone out of doing this, or anything else, if they find it makes them better disciples of Jesus, closer to God, more loving to their fellow human beings. 

But -- using "I" statements here -- for the reasons above, I find the foot-washing service (at least as I've always done it and seen it done) as contrived, or precious. And if I’m reading my Bible correctly, there is nothing contrived or precious about Jesus. So since coming to my new church, taking advantage of having a blank slate/fresh start, I haven’t done it. (We've done an instructed Eucharist instead.)  

But I don't want to throw out the baby of loving-service-to-others with the foot-washing bathwater. (Ha! You see what I did there?)   

So I am looking for something else to do this and future Maundy Thursdays. 

And that’s when it struck me: let’s do a “Maundy Thursday SERVICE.” 

A day, or an evening, when we – who as inside-the-beltway Episcopalians are ordinarily in positions to BE served – serve.

Which begs the question, “where, whom, to serve?” Among the many possibilities, how to choose? Who else out there has gone out into the city, not out of a sense of noblesse oblige (the "inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged,") but out of a loving, Christ-like, Jesus-following sense? 

It begs the further questions: "who are those who normally serve? -- easy answers are waiters, bus drivers, cashiers. How about cleaning crews? Parking garage attendants? Public servants? The point is, “what would it look like if instead of making Maundy Thursday a day when people should come to the church building, the church (people) went out to those who spend much of their days (working lives) serving others, and we serve them, somehow?” Thus, our “Maundy Thursday service.”  

Alternatively, we could serve the city: Is there some unwanted task in the city somewhere, some nasty project no one wants to take on that 100 church folk could descend upon and make a real difference in one day?

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the idea. But this wheel has to have been invented out there. There HAS to be lots of good ideas and practices. Right?