Monthly Archives: March 2016

Deserters, Betrayers, and Liars!

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

Mark 14:12-31

We all know the story of the Last Supper. At least we think we do.  The meaning that this meal has taken on for us—the fact that it has become a ritual and the holy meal of Communion—I don’t think that’s what it was for the Disciples that night.  I honestly don’t think that’s what it was for Jesus either.  I think maybe the disciples had a good idea that something big was about to happen, and of course Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen.  But for all of them, the meal that night—the meal many of us with re-enact tonight—that meal was a holiday meal.  It was a Passover meal shared between thirteen friends…thirteen really good friends.

Jesus had gathered his 12 best friends in the world for one last dinner before he had to face the cross.  And it was the Passover feast, and so it was going to be one heck of a dinner: lots of ritual, lots of meaningful things to remember from their history as a Jewish people, and of course, incredibly tasty food!  Jesus was there with his Disciples to celebrate the things that mattered to them: faith and family, even when that family is made of friends.

So…why was Judas there?

You have to ask that question, because in general, we Christians don’t like Judas very much.  He was a vile betrayer!  Judas was one of the twelve disciples. He had been there from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He knew Jesus as well as any of the other disciples.  Jesus trusted him enough to let Judas be in charge of the money that was donated to support Jesus’s ministry, the money that fed Jesus and the disciples and kept them all together so that they could minister to people all over Judea.  And after all that, Judas turned around and betrayed Jesus.

So…why was Judas there?

You have to admit, it’s kind of weird to invite the guy who is about to betray you and guarantee that you will die a horrible death on the cross to a lavish holiday dinner that you are about to share with your best friends.

As Christians, we tend to revile Judas. I don’t know about you, but I have always thought of him as a smiling, slimy Yes-Man.  You know, that guy who smiles at the boss while he does his own thing under the table; the guy who makes it look like he’s totally committed to the vision we are all pursuing while lining his own pockets at our expense. The thing is that we get to form our opinions of Judas in the aftermath; in other words, the things we know about Judas are the things that got found out after everything was over and the betrayal was revealed.  The things we know about Judas start with our awareness that he betrayed Jesus and then we work backwards from there.

Jesus, on the other hand, met Judas before it all began.  Jesus got to know Judas the exact same way we get to know all of our friends: we meet them unaware of who they are and come to like them because of who we perceive them to be.  We hang out with them and laugh at their jokes, put up with their temper, and lean on their character when we are feeling low and incapable.  In other words, Jesus got to know Judas just like we get to know everyone we eventually become friends with: in real time, not knowing how the story will end.

Yet Scripture tells us that by the time that Jesus was sitting with the Disciples at the Last Supper he knew that Judas would betray him.  He knew that Judas was the one that would turn him in to the authorities and get him crucified.  He even says so right during the Last Supper.  It’s in the Scripture at the beginning of this blog post.  Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, and yet he invited Judas to the dinner.

It baffles the mind.  Why invite the man who is going to betray you to the last meal you will ever eat with your friends?

The answer is right there, in the question.  Jesus invited Judas to the Last Supper because Jesus invited his…friends. Judas was His friend.  That’s why he was at the table with Jesus.  Because Judas one of Jesus’ best friends in the world.  It almost doesn’t make sense.

But it does make sense.

After all, Peter was at the table too.

Peter—that guy who was going to deny Jesus three times.  Jesus knew that was coming too.  Mark 14:30 says “Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  

Jesus sat there through the entire dinner with Judas and Peter knowing that both of them would betray Him before the night was over.  And you might think “Yeah, but Judas got Jesus killed, and Peter…he went out and did good things to create the Kingdom after Jesus was killed. Peter became a great evangelist who created the Church and Jesus knew that was going to happen…Jesus knew that too.”  And that makes it look like Judas is a vile betrayer and Peter isn’t all that bad.

And I say to you—if Jesus knew what was going to happen with Peter after Jesus’ death, wouldn’t Jesus also know that Judas would die because he betrayed Jesus? Wouldn’t Jesus know that Judas would die alone, more alone than Jesus did…after all, Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross so that Jesus wouldn’t be alone when he died.  Judas? Judas was alone. There was no one there for Judas when he died.  No family, no friends, no comfort.  And Jesus knew it was coming.  Mark 14:21 says “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 

I’m betting that Jesus knew that the disciples would never forgive Judas; that no one, not even any of us would ever forgive Judas.  We revile him for what he did.  He betrayed Jesus.

But so did Peter.  So did every last disciple!  They all ran when the Centurions came and Jesus knew they would run.  Mark 14:26-31:

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.”

They all swore they would stay with Jesus and they all ran. Every. Last. One.  They all deserted Jesus and left Him to be accused of things He didn’t do by people who hated Him.  They left Jesus to be beaten and humiliated by Roman centurions while He listened for the cock to crow twice so He could know that Peter had finished denying him.  The disciples ran and Jesus died.

Jesus ate his last meal on earth with his 12 best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of them.

And that is why you and I are invited to this table tonight and every month when we celebrate this meal.  Because when Jesus shares a meal, He shares it with His very best friends in the world.  You and I…all of us…are invited to this specific meal, the very last one that Jesus will have on earth before He dies.  And we are here because Jesus invited us…because we are His very best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of us.

We are just like the disciples were. We are just like Judas. We betray Jesus every day. We ask Him to be a savior that fits us for Heaven and heals our illnesses and relieves our woes even as we pray for Him to keep some particular candidate that we don’t like out of the President’s office because we don’t like them.  Seriously?! That’s why Jesus died?  So we can have good politics?  But isn’t that what Judas wanted: a political Jesus?  Someone who would come into Israel and set things straight; make the world according to God’s will.  That’s all Judas wanted.  Admit it, we kind of want that too.  And we lean on Jesus when we need Him, we call on Jesus to lead us through the darkest night, but then don’t really like it when Jesus makes claims on our time and on our money and on our spending habits and on the ways that we express ourselves.  We want a convenient Jesus was can turn to in times of need, but then when Jesus turns to us because He needs us to pony up and stand with Him in a difficult time, suddenly we go all Peter on Him and deny Jesus again…and again…and again.  We see Jesus taking us to that point in His ministry where things get really tough, that moment when we are asked to stand with Him when standing up with Him means that we will lose power and lose face in public.  When standing up for Jesus might mean that we have to be the underdog and love our enemy when our enemy is ready to kill us…and at that moment we desert Jesus just like the rest of His disciples.  In the end, we find ourselves in that “throwing stones in a glass house” space.  We can’t shake our fingers at the disciples because we are just like them. We can’t throw any stones at Judas because we ARE Judas.

And that is exactly why we’re invited to the table today and every time that the Church celebrates Communion, the Holy Eucharist.  Because Jesus just wants this last meal on earth with as many of His best friends that He can fit in the room…deserters, betrayers, and liars. We are His best friends in the world, and He wouldn’t have it any other way.

So take some time to celebrate the Last Supper on this night…the night before Jesus gives His life to save your life and mine.  Our Savior wants to spend as much time with His best friends as He can possibly have.  We owe it to Him, so let’s break this bread and drink this cup in remembrance of Him.  Amen.

 

I Want To Be a White Rose

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”  So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”  They said, “The Lord needs it.”  Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.  As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”     Luke 19:28-40

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death.  I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!”  (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.)  Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.  He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.   Luke 23:13-25

Today I watched my very first “Anonymous” video.

Anonymous is a “hacktivist” group that protests against entities by hacking their websites, distributing their private information, or preventing access to their website/social media accounts.  I know that I am simplifying this a great deal, and I encourage you to Google the group.  You will find Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos and a number of articles in the press about them, especially in relation to Anonymous’ declaration of war against ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

If you watch the videos, prepare to be stunned and disturbed.

I found myself watching a video from Anonymous because they recently hacked Donald Trump, revealing his cell phone number as well as some of his other personal data, posting on several websites.  While they encouraged people to peruse the data and use it to fight Trump’s potential rise to power, the speaker for Anonymous did remind the viewers that each individual is responsible for their own actions.  The video is a scathing indictment of Trump, based in Trump’s own behaviors and statements.  Anonymous #OpWhiteRose  I quote the early portion of the video:

The time has come for a movement morally strong enough to do battle against the forces of evil, bigotry, and fascism that have come to the forefront of this election cycle in the United States.  Morality dictates a movement of those who can neither be bought nor sold; who will not compromise in defense of the innocent, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or place of birth…one candidate in particular, Donald Trump, has set his ambitions on the white house in order to promote an agenda of fascism and xenophobia as well as the religious persecution of Muslims through totalitarian policies. He has proposed targeting family members of suspected terrorists for assassination even while acknowledging that they are innocent.  He said that this will serve as a deterrent for terrorism when in fact it is terrorism itself and would only lead to more violence from those whose families were killed by the Trump regime.”

In itself, this was not disturbing because I have been watching the news.  It’s not as if Anonymous is telling me anything new.  And then:

“…to find an accurate comparison, we must look to the Gestapo of the Third Reich.”

Anonymous systematically compared Trump’s statements and behaviors to that of Hitler and the policies of his Third Reich…and then they encouraged the American people to join or form local chapters of the White Rose Society.

The White Rose Society was the student resistance movement formed in 1942 to fight Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist government that was called the Third Reich.  White Rose Society

Apparently, chapters of the White Rose Society have been forming across the nation, with chapters showing up to protest at Trump rallies. Again, I quote:

“Imagine if the people of Germany…had risen up against Hitler during his failed campaign for office in 1932. Many of you have said to yourself that if you were alive in Nazi Germany that you would have done “something”, you would have resisted like the White Rose Society resisted.  Now is the time to prove that.  The White Rose Society has risen again in the US, they are at anti-Trump protests and rallies in support of their Muslim and Latino neighbors.  You will recognize them by their wearing of a single white rose and their use of the #WhiteRoseRevolt on protest signs…we call on all of you…to stand with them and take action against Donald Trump and his new era of “Brown Shirt” terrorists assaulting protestors and trying to intimidate millions of peace loving people who happen to be a different color or religion. Seek out a White Rose Society chapter in your city or form one yourself.…now is the time to unite to fight fascism.”

I want to remind all of you that this Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day when Christians everywhere celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem.  Palm Sunday marks the first day in Holy Week, a spiritual rollercoaster that includes the emotional highs of Palm Sunday and Easter combined with the sorrow and lament of Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper) and Good Friday.  I call Holy Week a spiritual rollercoaster because this week always reminds me how easy it is to be singing praises on Sunday and screaming “Crucify him!” with the mob on Friday morning.  I am no different than anyone else, and I am just as gullible and easily manipulated as everyone else, although I would prefer to think otherwise.

And of course, this brings me back to politics and the potential rise of fascism in the United States.

As Christians we need to remember that it was not that many years ago that a Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for trying to kill Hitler.  Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators hatched a plot to try and kill Hitler (and they were almost successful) because they feared that nothing would stop Hitler from exterminating the Jews, Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, Polish people, Soviet war prisoners, homosexuals, anyone who was considered to be anti-social, Afro-Germans (blacks)…essentially, Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators realized that the list of people who Hitler wanted exterminated just kept growing longer and longer.  There comes a point when you must act or admit you are willing to go silently to your own slaughter.  Sadly, none of these people chose to act until after Hitler had risen to power and fascism and fear had taken their places in the hearts of an entire nation.

Bonhoeffer chose to act and was unsuccessful.  He was executed by the Germans for his crimes as were nine of his co-conspirators.  The six most recognizable members of the original White Rose Society were all executed for their resistance to the Nazi regime.  Resisting fascism after it rises appears to exact a very high cost.

Perhaps, as we head into that week where we all remember just how easily we can become a part of the angry, screaming mob that condemns an innocent man to death, we should consider being brave enough to resist fascism before we will have to lay our lives on the line to do so.  Be brave enough to admit to yourself that you would have found yourself standing next to me screaming ‘Crucify him!’ with the rest of the crowd that horrible Friday in Jerusalem.  We hate to admit it, but we are not as moral or spiritually strong as we think we are individually, and our nation is not as moral and strong as we like to think it is, either.  Facism can happen here, just like it did in Germany…though the rise of a brilliant, morally corrupt orator who convinces the people that he can make the country great again.  As if.  We weren’t that great in the first place, or we wouldn’t need a Savior, you know?

#WhiteRoseRevolt

Lent. Yeah…Not So Much.

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor. Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.  Matthew 26:6-13

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Mark 14:3-9

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Luke 7:36-50 

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”   John 12:1-8

It’s Lent.  I’m not a big Lent person.  I know that I should be, but I’m not.

I have always struggled during Lent.  To be totally honest, I had never participated in Lent until I was an adult. Lent was something that other people, specifically Catholic people, did.  I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical church and we did not do the stuff that those Catholic people did because those Catholic people were all wrong. Don’t ask me why they were wrong because then I’d have to start enumerating all the ridiculous things I was taught as a child that were not entirely true because they were based in distortions of Catholic theology and then we’d be here all day and all night and you’d get disgusted with me…heck, I’d get disgusted with me.  Never feed anyone else’s way of believing in God through your own filter of understanding God and expect to come up with anything that makes sense.  To make a long story short: I didn’t do Lent at all until I became Methodist at the age of 22, and when I did start doing Lent, I did it poorly.

I tried giving up things like chocolate or soda, but then I’d forget that I wasn’t supposed to be having those things and wouldn’t remember that I’d screwed up until I got to church on Sunday. It was not a very effective sacrifice for Lent.  I tried giving up alcohol at the suggestion of a friend, but I wasn’t really into drinking at that point in my life so it wasn’t a very meaningful sacrifice.  Giving up alcohol for Lent in my early 20s was about as meaningful as promising God that I wouldn’t commit securities fraud during Lent.

As I grew older, and finally as I got into seminary I started praying about what God wanted me to give up for Lent and that’s when things got strange.  One year, God asked me to give up overeating.  Another year God asked me to give up complaining.  Several times God has asked me to stop being constantly busy. Apparently God knows me really well and is not afraid to be blunt about what needs to leave my life.  I would bet money that God would actually prefer if I stopped overeating, complaining, and overworking altogether…not just during Lent.

I struggle with that overworking thing, almost more than I struggle with complaining and eating too many Thin Mints (guess what I was munching on when I wrote this?)  There always seems to be so much work that needs to be done, and it isn’t meaningless work either.  It’s not like I’m incredibly busy because I have so much laundry, or because the house needs cleaning, or because the grocery shopping just isn’t getting done.  Those things do need to be done but they are not really what’s creating the problem for me. What keeps me working way too many hours is that there is always another class to teach, another counseling client that needs an encouraging word, another parishioner than needs a pastoral call, another elderly family member that needs contact and/or care, another friend who needs some attention and a listening ear, another child that needs comfort or wise advice, another script for another training video that needs written, another training video that needs taped, another sermon that needs written….

I got tired just typing that.  And the funny thing is that I had to stop myself because I could have kept going about meetings and paperwork for my practice and reports for the conference and minutes of meetings that I need to keep and financials that need to be done…  I told you that I could just keep going.  I started getting tense the moment I started typing the massive list of things that must be done and before I was done typing I was angry, because it seems endless and demanding.  I talk to my friends about it and they say “You can’t say yes to everything. You have to start saying NO.”  And I think: To what? To whom? What part of the Kingdom do I start ignoring?  What part of the Kingdom should become unimportant to me? On the contrary, I often feel like I am not doing enough…not even remotely doing enough.

When I pray about my habit of overworking, the answers I get do not indicate that any of this should fall by the wayside. All of it continues to remain important and God doesn’t seem to encourage me to push anything off my overfull plate.

Every now and then, however, God drops me a line to help me figure it all out.  This is where the scripture for this post came into play. There are four passages at the beginning of this post but all of them tell the story of the woman who anointed Jesus, and each of these Gospel stories has its own way of spinning the story.  In three of the stories she is a reputable woman but in one she is a prostitute. In two of the stories, she anoints his head; in the other two accounts she anoints his feet.  In two of the Gospel stories, she cleans his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. In three of the accounts the woman is preparing Jesus for his burial; in one she is simply expressing her gratitude for grace and forgiveness. In three of the Gospel accounts the disciples become indignant about how the costly perfume is wasted when it could have been sold and used to care for the poor.

And THAT is when God starts speaking to me.

The disciples and I fall into the same error: thinking that if something can be done to advance the Kingdom that it should be done. Disciples should be busy doing meaningful and charitable things!

And then Jesus says “The poor will always be with you.”

That statement freaks me out for a number of reasons. First, it means that we will never fully create human equality. Someone will always be going without, and that is a terrible reality to face.  Second, I’ve heard that statement used to justify Christians ignoring the needs of the poor. After all, if we can’t ever solve the problem then there’s no need to put some big effort into finding a solution.  Third…depending on how you say it, it can make Jesus sound a little cynical.

Today, though, when I read the passages, I heard something a little different.  I heard Jesus saying that it might be okay to lighten up because the problems in the Kingdom are going to be there for my entire life.  The poor will always be with us.  There will always be war and oppression.  Injustice isn’t going anywhere.

That doesn’t exactly sound positive when I see it in writing, but what this scripture revealed to me is that Jesus understood what we were up against: the world isn’t the same as Heaven and until Christ comes again nothing is going to change that…so lighten up.  Stop working so hard to get to a solution that isn’t coming until He comes again…but about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt 24:36)

And that is the one thing we need to remember during Lent, isn’t it?  Easter is just around that corner, and that means that the solution is already in pocket. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!  That means that all the problems we currently face as Christians have an identified solution that is coming…we just don’t know when.  And our job between now and then is to do our best to right the wrongs, to end injustice, to bear up under the burdens of others and in doing so become a living, breathing proclamation of the Good News.  Knowing that Jesus is the solution and that He is coming again doesn’t mean that we can give up, but it does mean that we can lighten up.

So go ahead and give up meat or chocolate or alcohol for Lent if that’s what you think you should do.  The way you choose to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for you is beautiful, holy, and fully honors God.  But understand that sometimes what God would like us to give up has nothing to do with sacrifice.  Giving up complaining isn’t about suffering in silence…it’s about choosing to focus on what’s working, what is good, and what is joyful.  Giving up overeating isn’t about going hungry, it’s about realizing that we have enough…more than enough…and that there will be more tomorrow.  And giving up overworking is about realizing that we cannot truly fix anything: solutions are God’s business.  We do the footwork, and God does the rest…and while we may not seem to be getting anywhere, it would be good to remember that the solution is already in pocket and his name is Jesus, and on March 27 I’m going to spend the entire day celebrating that He lives and reigns and is coming again.

I don’t do Lent very well.  But when it comes to Easter, I am all over that.  Easter is my biggest hope and the greatest comfort I know.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

On Being a Tree

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”   Isaiah 55:12-13

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”  Psalm 92:12-15

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45

I love trees.  I grew up in the Midwest, where the trees turn color in the fall, lose all their leaves for the winter, and cover themselves in green buds and red sprigs in the spring.  And every fall, we would go to New York state to see my father’s parents and to stare in awe at the forests of maple trees.  Nothing is as beautiful as a maple tree in the fall.  We would drive all night to get from our home in Illinois to this tiny town in New York where my grandparents lived.  I absolutely loved the forest covered mountains of New York. Leaves in every color—pine trees to add in just the right amount of green—just enough wind to make the leaves shimmer as they moved.  It was beautiful.  I didn’t think I could ever see anything as beautiful as that.  Of course I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon yet, or Sequoia National Park, or Bryce, or Zion, but that’s another story.

Now that I’m a homeowner, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with trees.  Anyone who’s ever had a Palo Verde or a Mesquite in their yard knows all about branches that come crashing down in the middle of monsoons, and little flowers all over the yard, and trees that grow so fast and so large that you have to trim them to keep them from growing across the roof and lifting up the roof tiles.  Yet I still love trees.  They’re so solid, so steadfast, so ordinary and yet so unique.  I wish could be more like a tree.

If I were a tree, I’d be taller by now, and probably thinner, and that would be great!  Every year I would grow taller and more majestic, and it wouldn’t matter if my bottom was kind of big—which it is—because a big bottomed tree is a good thing—nice, sturdy, not likely to blow down in a windstorm.   And if I were a tree, adolescence would have been so much easier.  I have yet to see a tree start to hate itself for how it’s trunk is changing, or end up with low tree-esteem because it looks different from all the other trees.  Trees are totally comfortable in their tree bodies—they seem to be just fine with how they grow, how they look, how they express their unique “tree-ness” in a way that is kind of like other trees in their species, but not exactly like the other trees of their species.  And growing old would be easier if I was a tree.  Old trees might not look as nice as younger, neater trees—their bark might be a little ragged, and they might not fill out their crowns with leaves quite like they used to, but an old tree is a respected tree.  We know that, and I think that the trees know that.  They seem to know deep within themselves that growing old is just a part of the cycle of living, and they go with the flow of it, accepting each phase of life as it comes.

And speaking of growth, have you noticed that trees are willing to take as much time as they need to grow?  Some trees grow quickly, others take years and years to look like much more than a skinny sapling, and the trees don’t seem to be bothered about this at all.  Of course, we humans are not quite on board with that concept.  We plant a sapling, and we want a big tree next year.  After all, we are the folks who invented “Miracle Grow.”   We seem to want everything quickly, and the quicker the better.  Instant coffee, microwaves, fast food…   And if we can’t have it right now, we want it at an accelerated pace.   We advertise weight loss products that speed up our weight loss, even though it took us years to gain the weight.  We look to relationship gurus who are supposed to fix us in the space of a one-hour television show when it took much longer than that for the relationship to grow into disrepair.   But the place where we really mess ourselves up is that we expect accelerated growth of ourselves in areas where there is no such thing as accelerated growth.  You cannot become mature overnight—it is a long journey through adolescence and into young adulthood.  Deep abiding relationships are not built overnight unless you’re in elementary school.  Truly close friendships develop over months and years.  It should be no surprise that you cannot become spiritually mature overnight either. If you want a deep, abiding relationship with God, it is going to take time.  And every day you will reap the benefits of that deepening relationship, but you will have to keep working at it, day after day, month after month, year after year.  In fact, spiritual maturity seems to take longer than physical maturity—despite being almost 52 years old, I could swear that I am a spiritual teenager.  I say this because of all of the resistance that I seem to give the Lord, and that “I-know-what-I’m-doing” attitude that I can cop when God is trying to give me direction.   I’m hoping to grow out of my spiritual adolescence soon, but I just said that there is no such thing as accelerated growth, so…

I think I want to go back to talking about trees.

We’ve all seen deciduous trees—in other words, trees that lose all their leaves in the winter.  When I moved to Arizona I was surprised to discover that there were evergreen trees that weren’t pine trees.  In Arizona, many of the trees are evergreen and don’t lose their leaves in winter and I like it that way.  When I lived in the Midwest, I couldn’t stand the bare trees during the winter because everything looked dead. And don’t think that snow made it look prettier for more than one day after a fresh snowfall.  Within a day or two, the snow looked dirty and the landscape went back to looking dead.  That happens at some points in life, doesn’t it?  The landscape of your life starts looking dead.  Everything looks bare, or barren.  It gets kind of hard to live at those points, because you start thinking that it will stay like that forever.  Yet every winter the deciduous trees lose all their leaves, and they seem to hold on just fine despite their barren look.  They seem to know that there are cycles of life that are kind of bleak and bare—times in life when things look totally dead and wasted.  They seem to trust that spring always comes, and that life is renewed—the trees sprout and life looks green and alive again—filled with new growth and new possibilities and new beauty.  I think the trees count on that—that God always manages to renew life.  I think it’s that resurrection thing.  And the trees that don’t make it through the winter, the ones that actually do die—well, maybe it was their time, maybe it was a bad year, I don’t know.  The other trees don’t seem to be bothered by this; they just get on with budding up and getting green.

We need to be more like those trees. Sometimes a certain part of our life just needs to die off, to be laid to rest.  I don’t mean that some person needs to die.  What I’m talking about is the parts of our life that aren’t sustainable, the things whose time is up, that no longer work in our lives.  God removes those things, and it doesn’t always feel good.  On the other hand, maybe letting a few things die is what makes spring and all that new growth possible—some things die, and some things live, and some things grow by leaps and bounds like never before.  Trees seem to have no trouble accepting that. I wish I had more of that grace.

You may have noticed that the scriptures at the beginning of this post are filled with references to trees.   I think sometimes that the Lord compared us to trees so often because He wants us to be more like the trees.  And you’re sitting there thinking “Exactly how would that work, Tina?”

Well, let’s see.  “All the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  This isn’t the only time that this is mentioned in the Bible.  In fact, Psalm 96 says that the trees of the field will sing for joy!  Apparently, trees are relatively comfortable being public in their praise of God.  When they have something to praise about, they do things that are outside of their normal character, stuff that no one expects—they sing, they shout, they clap!  What do you do when it comes time to praise the Lord in public?  Do you sing?  Do you shout?  Do you mumble “Praise the Lord” under your breath so low that only your best friend notices?  Hmmmmm.  That public proclamation thing—that’s a rough one, and I understand that.  Getting all public with your faith is risky—you never know how people are going to react.  But God didn’t say the trees did a can-can down the road, or that they started a traveling revue, either.  God said that they clapped their hands, that they sang for joy.  We’re not talking televangelism here.  No one wants you to become Franklin Graham, God bless his soul.  One Franklin Graham is enough!  God is just looking for a little acclamation, a little jubilation—when the time is right, God is looking for some public celebration.  Say it out loud—GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME!  ALL THE TIME, GOD IS GOOD!  Don’t be afraid to tell your neighbor.

And what did the gospel of Luke say?  “There is no good tree that produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.”  What fruit are you growing? Most of us, when asked about the fruit we produce, look to Galations 5:22-23, where it lists the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faith, and self-control—and we start asking ourselves—am I patient?  Am I kind?  Do I really have peace within?  Yes, those are the fruit of the Spirit, and when the Spirit is within, those fruit do grow.  But those are kind of private fruit, meant to fill our own spiritual cupboards with good things.  There are other fruit as well—a kind of public fruit—like the fruit of ministry, the fruit of witness, the fruit of mercy and mission.  What kind of fruit are you bearing there?  Because when the fruit of the Spirit is growing on the inside, there tends to be some more fruit that grows on the outside.  Or maybe I should say that when the fruit of the Spirit is filling up your spiritual cupboard, you start providing some tasty pies and jams for the public to consume.  Things start happening—fruits become works—and works build the Kingdom.   Not that I believe in a salvation of works—but the proof is always in the pudding.  Fruits growing on the inside yield works happening on the outside.

And speaking of fruits growing, in Psalm 92, we read that “The righteous man will grow like a cedar in Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord…they will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green.”  Apparently, age is an illusion.  Long after our bodies become old and begin to fail us, our spirits remain young and vital, continuing to grow towards a maturity that our bodies passed a long time ago.   As long as we remain connected to the Holy Spirit, the fruit just keeps on coming.  Unless you step away from the wellspring, the growth just doesn’t stop.  What an amazing consolation, because as human beings it is hard to grow old.  It’s hard to be witness to the slow fading of our health and our vitality, to lose our stamina and our prowess.  We tend to view ourselves as physical beings and see our purpose as rooted in what we can do.  Makes sense—just a moment ago I said that fruit on the inside bears works on the outside—and works are expressed through what we do. But what we do for God is merely an expression of who we are in God.  As trees of the Lord, our roots are planted in the house of the Lord, not in the soil of the earth.   Our feet are planted in Heaven even though we are standing here on the ground, so let’s not invest too much time and energy into the illusion that the riches the world can offer us are important.  We spend a lot of time trying to make our mark in the world, trying to become somebody.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use the gifts you’ve been given, but remember, the accolades your looking for are coming from on high, not from this world.  Our treasure is in heaven.  Our home is in heaven.  Our feet are in heaven because that’s where our roots are and all this is just the trappings of the physical world.  Remember: in it, not of it.  Keep your mind where your feet are.

I wish I had some brilliant ending for this post, but I don’t.  The truth is that sometimes you just have to say what the Lord sets before you, and this week, He sent me trees, and so that’s what I have brought to you—thoughts on how to be a tree.  I wish I could say that I have all this tree stuff in my own life, that I’ve got this all sewed up, but I don’t.  I’m no more a good tree than the next guy.  But I do know that the Lord doesn’t ask of me what the Lord does not make possible for me.  So I’m planning on spending a little more time in my backyard, sitting next to my grapefruit tree, listening for the word of the Lord on how to be a better tree.  I suggest that you find a tree close by and do the same.  We could do worse, you know?