Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Big Bang

Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. -- Luke 2:7
Some Christian groups love to wrap themselves in "tussling over trifles."  They will fight to their dying breaths over whether scientists' so-called Big Bang theory is how life began on this planet.  They much prefer the Biblical story of the universe popping into place in seven days, and that's that.  As I browsed through the news headlines this morning there was a story that a long dormant "super volcano" in Italy is stirring to life.  They credit this volcano with "wiping out the neanderthals."  The implied point of the story by the masters of click-bait news was, of course, this thing could blow and we're all going to be extinct.  So, now whether we want to freak out over a super volcano or climate change we know we have two pretty catastrophic methods for getting wiped out of existence.  If the super volcano does blow, I don't expect many of us will be tussling over whether the earth was formed in seven days or evolved from a big bang millions of years ago.  However, instead of Creationism/evolution and an epic end on par with the Great Flood, there is a more pertinent Big Bang that happens in scripture that has had life-changing impact, and will continue having an impact into the future. That impact is something incredibly insignificant on its surface: a manger filled with straw.

How much more possibly insignificant is an animal's feeding trough?  There are millions of them in the world.  Nobody thinks much about them.  And yet... a Big Bang occurred in one.

From that tiny Palestinian speck on earth, Infinite God, Extraordinary Creativity, Super Divine Intelligence, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace chose to come forth as one of us self-important, loud, arrogant human beings.  He didn't come in a grand Hollywood entrance with thundering earthquakes and searing lightning bolts, nor as a white privileged son with a silver spoon dangling from his mouth.  God chose the littlest, most common, poorest, humble stable to embark from an animal feeding trough.

From this no-place on a gigantic planet, where oceans had not yet been navigated and the earth was still believed to be flat and communication was still done mouth directly to ear, a firstborn son was born who would change the world.  He changed the world to such a degree that everything we know today would have happened differently.  Without God in a manger it's not hard to trace how nothing at all would be what it is.  Few of us would know we never happened.  

But, even this realization would not mean a thing if millions upon millions of individuals through time - individuals no different than you and me - had not captured this extraordinary moment in their hearts and allowed their lives to be different because of this one birth.  Our lives can be different, better, creating a world with a different ending based on redeeming love and heartfelt peace to all based on us embracing this One who came to us in a manger.

It's a scary world and growing more so daily.  Violence as a solution to all problems, hatred, idolatry of country/race/ethnicity, and humans who place their egos above God dominate the news and the political structures.  We aren't going to realize or be able to embrace God-with-us by following the establishing trends or hiding ourselves in bunkers with weapons drawn.  We also aren't going to know the power love has sitting through a couple hours of sweetly singing children in candlelight at beautified Christmas Eve services.  The manger will win as we each do the hard work of talking to, listening to, and showing compassion and grace and manners to everyone who shares this planet with us. We all have to learn we can turn to each other and know we can rely on each other to hold a real Christ candle burning in our hearts day by day by day. 

Let 2017 be your year to enter the stable and witness the Big Bang that truly changes the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let It Be This Year

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.  He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  -- Isaiah 9:6
For almost 3,000 years this passage has been a part of holy scripture.  When it was written, the Assyrians were knocking on Israel's and Judah's doors.  Isaiah was warning them that their wicked ways of mistreating the poor, kicking around the oppressed, and reveling in their extravagant, supposed God-favored-ness was coming to a screeching halt. With the Advent of Christ, a new spin was placed on the meaning.  Suddenly, all Old Testament (Hebrew scripture) was turned into a Christian realized moment.  The Jewish faith had goofed up, but the Christians got it!  Our special-ness by self acclamation made Christians better. This served it's theological purposes in their time.  Today, in attempting to be more sensitive and accurate in our scriptural interpretation we can see both strands and discern (perhaps) better meanings.

The four names Isaiah supplies were probably his favorite names for the Messiah.  Social order was in a downward spiral.  It is obvious from the surrounding text that soldiers and military occupation were common place realities.  Hope was slipping through their fingers.  The word translated as "government" here is a word that in both Hebrew and Greek is only used one time, here in this passage.  The believed meaning of this particular word referred to a more spiritualized ruling authority, rather than secular.  The verb tenses are all future, as they are for us today.

Two thousand years of Christendom places us in a much more "old religion" frame of mind, with the same gathered baggage, self-righteous assumptions, established religion, and arrogant certainties about belief as those ancient Jews had in 760 BCE.  We may not believe that God rains down wrath for our misdeeds, but our misdeeds and self-serving calculations are just as much at the ready to send us down wrong forks in the road. Little has changed on the human world stage.  Country is still at the throats of other countries.  The oppressed are still being oppressed.  The poor are still with us.  We're still building war machines; swords are still swords; the aim is still dominating others in order to feel "great again."  We are just as much in need of this child, this Messiah, today as humanity has ever needed.

Perhaps the question we need to be pondering in our hearts this Christmas is how long?  How many times must we hear this Christmas message before we give up our DIY projects at a human-constructed world order that serves only me and my kind best?  How long are we going to fear the other, feel threatened, lash out, and compete violently to get our share of everything far more than we need?  Why does the Christmas message only ring partway true for only 24 hours out of a year?

This year, please let it be this year, that we'll take into all our hearts the leading of a child.  Perhaps the child can be from Aleppo, or from the back seat of a car that serves as someone's home, or from the Sudan, or ??  Our God can come to us from so many different places.  Which one will you open your heart to?  Which will cause you to embrace our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?  When will you feel the Touch of Divine Love and surrender all your fears, worries, and head-strong beliefs, and just step forward in naked trusting faith? Let it be this year, O God, our long-suffering One who waits for us to return home.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Prophet's View

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall com forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  -- Micah 5:2, 4
The political climate in the United States has gone from somewhat sunny to very threatening. Millions of people are in a forced wait-and-see position while accusations, recriminations, and imagined cataclysmic thoughts swirl.  Perhaps it's a piece of God-timing that it's unleashed itself this way at this time of year -- during Advent.  Advent is the church season for looking ahead, anticipating, the coming of a Savior.  Which savior are you anticipating?

I want to point you to the promise Micah was proclaiming.  Each and everyone of us, in our lowliness, in our insignificance, and our lack of control to affect the machinations of worldly power need Micah's promise.  Micah was speaking to a lowly people feeling the crushing weight of a foreign power moving inexorably toward them.  The Assyrian army had made their powerful presence known, destroying villages and cities throughout the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  The people were no strangers to bloodshed, grief and loss.  But, the promise Micah brings is one of a lowly Messiah, taking on the role of a shepherd, to feed, strengthen, and protect.

This Messiah is the one Christians point to as Jesus, the Incarnate God, who is born.  He dwells among us and shows us the stances to take even in the midst of grueling hardship.  It is not a stance bearing swords, name-calling, and revenge.  It is one of prayer, doing kindness, and keeping our eyes on what is positive.

In the light of a political claimant proclaiming greatness to the ends of the earth, it is a healing and peace-restoring moment to pause and embrace the real Messiah.  Breathe in real security and affirm where greatness to the ends of the earth truly rests.

Dearest God, Emmanuel, you are with us.  Let us be fed by your hand, be strengthened by your guidance, and have our anxieties put soundly to rest.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Are Faithful Christians To Do?

Whether we can or want to admit it, the U.S. presidential election has revealed, more than ever, a dispossessing underside of the American collective heart. In a warm fuzzy feel-good space, we all liked to think of ourselves as magnanimous, generous, positive, influential role models for the world.  There's a mythological belief among Americans that our patriotism, our Christianity, our leadership, our moral character exceeds that of all others in the world. In an arrogant spirit we often think of ourselves as "so good" how could anyone else not like us?  The election has ripped away the facade of goodness.  Tolerance is being rescinded.  Communal compassion is breaking down.  Full color is getting squeezed into narrower monochrome bands.  Acceptance and kindness giving way to fear and hate.

What are faithful Christians to do?  A lot of the flock has scattered like sheep before wolves. Whatever we might think about how the national politic is going, it is pretty apparent that it didn't get here by Americans standing shoulder to shoulder as a whole.  We got here by being separatists and isolationists. We've come to pride ourselves, define ourselves by the labels we choose - those for ourselves as well as others.  Just a few examples: Conservative-Liberal, Democrat-Republican, Rural-Urban, Rich-Homeless, Gay-Straight, Muslim-Christian, Terrorist-Righteous Defender...  The lists continue ad nauseum. 

Isolated in our little enclaves, we've tended to give a live-and-let-live gracious bow to those around us from other enclaves who we felt sorry for or with whom we felt a kindred spirit.  If we couldn't get along we steered a wide berth around them and kept to ourselves.  The racist or sexist jokes told at family gatherings we let slide because we didn't want to upset family.  We despise terrorists without really knowing the bone-deep suffering and misery that spawns it; nor own the retaliatory terrorism handed down in response.  We hold hands and shake our heads sitting in our church (with our kind) wondering where we're headed.  We gerrymander our own safe life zones.  So the election happens and we discover that there are a lot more people in enclaves that we didn't realize even existed and they're angry from feeling put down and unaccepted. This election may be one of the truly history making ones -- the election that blew the Melting Pot to smithereens. A lot of people don't want to be melted together with "those kind."  

The Christian response is grounded in the Gospel, in the Eucharist, in community.  It is grounded in knowing our neighbors, breaking down walls, expanding our understanding, and reveling the extent to which an infinitely creative God with infinite intelligence will pursue the widest and wildest possible options, so that human beings would not become lonely or bored.  One of the Church's greatest offenses to the world has been it's isolationism.  It has historically attempted to cut the world into us against them.  Beginning in the Book of Acts, Peter and Paul argued who would be included in this newest religious enterprise.  We're still arguing, and still missing the point of being part of the Body of Christ.  Our faith-filled Christian response should be love your neighbor -- whoever they are.  Our faith-filled Christian response should be understand the suffering of another.  Our faith-filled Christian response is come out of your bunkers and eat with us.  The banquet table is prepared.  We can't set a table for the entire United States.  But we can set one in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and in our churches.  Come to the banquet and let's talk.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving musings

But let justice flow like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream."  -- Amos 5:24

On this Thanksgiving Eve, when so many families are in the midst of their remnants returning home, when feasts and gratitude flow for what abundance is present in our lives, let us take a few moments to pause...  Pause to reflect on two weightier words: justice and righteousness.

The Prophet Amos has just proclaimed pointedly how God no longer enjoys or takes notice of our feasts, solemn assemblies, and offerings.  Yet we are here: heaping tables with each one's favorite food, some gathering for a worship service at their church, and most offering an extra measure of bounty to the homeless via a donation or serving at a community meal for the marginalized.  And yet, in light of injustice and lack of real righteousness, these symbols mean nothing.

If we take a timeout from our privileged places, and solemnly look around our world we see so much to be sad about, so much unfairness...  From Tennessee and the children killed by a reckless bus driver to the last hospital bombed out of existence in Aleppo Syria to the bedside of a dearly beloved's dying -- and so much hunger, 795 million in a world producing 1.5x what everyone in the whole world needs.  Where is the justice?  How do we find any sense of righteousness?  

The answer does not rest in feeling guilty or even repenting.  It doesn't come from donating more, or working harder.  Justice and righteousness are not rooted in any works that we can perform.  They are rooted in one's true heart and in faith in One greater and more capable than any.  One who "exceeds anything we can ask or think."  

When hearts are rooted in the heart and soul of Jesus, His mercy flows into life bringing the deepest possible sense of gratitude.  Out of that flows a true discipleship, which writes into our agenda the meaningful ways to reach out in service to Him and the world's need.  As Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, so He blesses our service and labors for the Kingdom of God.  Pursuing that heart flow, grounded in Christ, brings justice and righteousness to our lives and that of the whole world.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Spiritual Arrogance?

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.  -- Luke 18:9

One of the great temptations (and hazards) is to trust in your own assessment of your righteousness.  The majority of "God-fearing" people probably do carry at least a bit of certainty they are "doing it right."  Whatever "it" is.  If you are one of these people and you have a lot of material possessions, have a picturesque family, and enjoy a good reputation, the temptation to feel "better than" is almost overwhelming.  Everything going "right" in your life seems to be a testimony to just how much God is smiling on your goodness.  Also, we live in a society that measures our value by what we drive, what we wear, where we live, and where we work.  And so, we see someone or hear a hard luck tale of someone down and out and we might, at best, feel pity toward them; at worst we might feel contempt.  "If you only believed like I do, worked like I do, lived like I do, then you would not be in this pickle," we might secretly think or even boldly state.

Jesus' parable is about this temptation and sin of trusting in our own power to be righteous and manage our lives righteously.  The interesting part of the parable is that the temptation and sin of spiritual arrogance is revealed through worship and prayer.  It is in the style of prayer that spiritual haughtiness is reveled. If you're finding satisfaction in your spiritual journey by comparing yourself to another, you are missing the mark.  If you are pridefully boasting in your prayers of what you've accomplished, you are missing the truth.  If you are praising your successes, of what you've done, you're off track and in the swamp.  The truth is we can do nothing but what God empowers us to do.  The safer and more noble stance is always to lean on humility, and remember the One who gives you life, breath, and sustenance daily.

I thank you God for making me me.  Might I remember always that I'm your child and can only do all that I do by Your strength which sustains me.  Amen.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What is the difference between arrogance and pride?  Is one more positive than the other?
  2.  On a scale of 1-10, where would you rank your level of humility?
  3. What type of work ethic do you have?  Do you work because of the rewards you receive?  Do you work for the joy of the job?  Is one's work ethic tied to their spirituality or faith?  Is yours?