Monday, November 30, 2009
So if a day late is a dollar short, then a week late is...about 7 bucks? Ah well. Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday for those church families who follow the lectionary year...it was also the week after my church's high school youth trip to the Sounds Like Love music festival in the Twin Cities.
Here's the message I gave at church, followed by the video of the kids at Sounds Like Love singing "Go Light Your World".
A Different Kind of King
Last week, I had the privilege of accompanying 20 of our high school youth and 2 other adult sponsors to the 27th annual Sounds Like Love festival in the Twin Cities. Sounds Like Love is, in a nutshell, an annual gathering of about 400 high school students who sing and learn choreography for 7 Christian choral songs, and then put on two concerts. Really, on the surface, that’s it. Pretty simple. But I’d be selling the work of the Holy Spirit short if I left it there. Because so many kids arrive expecting that surface stuff, but along the way something surprising happens. The Spirit shows up. The Holy Spirit, who as we profess in the Small Catechism calls, enlightens, and sanctifies us, makes an appearance, transforming the weekend from just a fun time of singing into a call into relationship, a call into mission, a call into participation in the act of opening hearts and lives to the goodness of the gospel. For all of you youth who went, know that in the midst of geckos and “whoop whoop whoop whoop,” in the middle of trying to dig your flashlight out of your pocket while still trying to sing AND do the choreography with one hand, in the middle of the games, the silliness, the hard work…through ALL of it, YOU were missionaries in the truest and best sense of the word. How was that? You were living out God’s love in the world. Alton, our bus driver for the past 3 years, poked his head in during the final concert and afterwards, on the bus told me that to see all those kids up there singing about faith was one of the most powerful things he’s experienced in a long time. I can guarantee you, he wasn’t the only person God touched through this event last week.
The theme for the weekend was based on Micah 6:8: “For he has told you, o mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The Bible study time, the speakers, the conversations, all revolved around that theme—the theme of what it means to live God’s love in the world.
So, other than the fact that today is the Sunday after Sounds Like Love, what does all of this have to do with worship today? Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day that we focus on the Lordship and reign of Christ over all the universe. And what does this kingdom look like? In today’s reading from John, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.
We in the church have been guilty of two mistakes when reading Jesus’ words here. The first is that we’ve tended to hear that Jesus’ kingdom is not IN this world, that his kingdom is heaven, and that therefore all we can do is struggle the best we can in this life and look forward to pie in the sky in the sweet by and by, someday off in the future. We say things like “my real home is not on this earth.” I refuse to believe that life is just something that God gave us to get through until we get to heaven. Doing nothing but waiting for some distant kingdom off in the future, away from earth cheapens God’s gift of life, it cheapens God’s gift of the world we live in, it makes our relationships with each other completely meaningless, reduces God to a bouncer at some heavenly nightclub, keeping out the riffraff, and reduces our relationship with God to some ticket we have to punch just to get in. God’s kingdom may not be OF the world, but God’s kingdom is certainly FOR the world. Again…God’s kingdom may not be OF the world, but God’s kingdom is certainly FOR the world.
Before I get more into that, the other mistake we’ve been guilty of is trying to make Christ’s kingdom one that is OF the world. We’ve tried to make the church look just like those kingdoms that Christ was saying he was unlike. Christianity has been used to kill, to oppress, to exclude, to wield power over.
Is that the kind of King we worship today?
Is that the Kingdom of God?
To answer my own rhetorical question, no.
We worship a king whose instructions to his followers were to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly.”
We worship a king who showed power through weakness, who emptied himself, who came to heal, to reconcile, to give of himself for the good of the world.
We worship a king who found his power in love.
We worship a king whose kingdom is not OF the world…after all, what are the kingdoms OF the world about? They’re about power. Finding power, wielding power, keeping that power by any means. Jesus was talking to Pilate, a representative of the Roman Empire, and empire so skilled in war that it had conquered most of the known world, keeping its citizens in line with brute force. Crosses were incredibly inefficient killing machines—sometimes it would take a full day for someone to die, usually through asphyxiation—but they WERE incredibly efficient at keeping the peace. Line a few roads with crosses, criminals hanging from them, and people got the picture. Pax Romana was peace through force.
Jesus promises us a different kind of peace. This is a peace that comes through healing, through reconciliation, not through conquest and fear. “I do not give to you as the world does,” Jesus tells us. Christ the King does not rule as the kings of the world rule. This is a different kind of peace, in a different kind of kingdom, because we worship a different kind of king. A king who is seen most clearly through the eyes of justice, kindness, and humility. And a king who is heard most clearly through sounds…like love.
A kingdom that is FOR the world…for the benefit of the world. Not for its own benefit, not placing conditions on the world, but a kingdom that exists purely for the benefit of others.
Later in the service, the youth will be singing a song called “Go Light Your World.” We are called to shine the light of the king who rules through love into the dark places of the world. “Carry your candle, run to the darkness, seek out the hopeless, confused and torn,” the song tells us. “Carry your candle for all to see it…take your candle and go light your world.”
The first chapter of John calls Jesus the Light of the World. Our king, the one who died for us, the one who rose and defeated the power of sin and death for us, the one who is making all things new, has called us partners and friends in his mission of light-giving.
We can rejoice today, because we know the end of the story. God has given us a glimpse, a foretaste of the feast to come, one that we participate in every Sunday when we gather for communion. We read of the vision of the risen and victorious Christ, of God making his home among God’s people, of all tears being wiped from our eyes. But even more, we rejoice because we know that very same king walks beside us, showing us the opportunities to be the answer to the prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
How are YOU called to shine the light of Christ? How are YOU called, outside of this sanctuary, to be the church wherever you are, whether that’s at work, school, at the football game, with your family? Christ IS king! And that’s not something that restricts us, that’s something that frees us! Because Christ is king, we are free to live not worrying about ourselves, but for the good of others, just as the one we worship lived and gave himself for our sake. What might that look like in our life, in my life?
Can you imagine what the church will look like when together, we all ask ourselves that question?
More importantly, can you imagine what the world will look like when the whole church asks itself that question?
The kingdom of God, with Christ the King!
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
And, I have to admit, every once in a while, he has "rest time" while Pumpkin's napping because Mommy and Daddy are tired, are about to keel over from sheer exhaustion, and desperately need a nap themselves.
I'll wait for a moment while those of you without children finish passing judgement.
Okay. Ready to continue?
This past Monday was one of those days. We had had a LONG weekend (VERY fun, but long) at a camp staff reunion, we had spent the morning taking care of things around the house, Sweetie's been nursing a cold anyway, and our eyelids were noticably droopy. So off to bed Kiddo went immediately after we had laid Pumpkin down for her nap, with instructions that he could read quietly or color pictures.
And off to bed we went.
When I got up to get the kids a little over an hour later, there was a picture Kiddo had colored sitting on his desk:
At the top, in 5 year-old phonics, he wrote "I AM HAPPY AT U R MI SISOODR."
"I am happy that you are my sister."
Yes, it was for Pumpkin.
It amazes me, honestly, that he never thinks of her as an intrusion in his life. She takes time and attention that we could be giving to him, she sometimes gets in the way when he's trying to do things, or plays with his toys when he doesn't want her to...but he ADORES her. I have NEVER seen a big brother with more love for his little sister than Kiddo has for Pumpkin.
Kiddo, I AM HAPPY AT U R MI SON.
Friday, September 04, 2009
And tomorrow...GO BIG RED!!!!!
Matt Davison signs Kiddo's hat:
Listening to the "chalk talk":
"Touchdown Tommie" Frazier!
Tommie and Kiddo:
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I can't believe it. I'm the father of a school-aged child. And I could not be any prouder of my little man.
For comparison and contrast, here's Kiddo on his first day of preschool, 2 years ago:
And his first day of kindergarten, last Wednesday:
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
So much so that for three days last week during the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly, I watched (or listened if I wasn't next to the computer) the live streaming video feed. Resolutions, motions, amendments, amended amendments, motions to amend amendments to resolutions, social statements, full communion agreements, motions to amend resolutions by changing their order...you name it, I was in full-glory church nerd extrordinaire mode.
There were some very difficult, very frank, and very emotional debates, most of which revolved around sex in one form or another. There were two main impressions that I came away with, at least during the sections I was listening in (which I have a feeling were some of the most contentious issues):
First, I was proud of my denomination, proud of the delegates, proud of my Churchwide Bishop, just proud of everyone involved at their upholding of the Eighth Commandment: You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor. More specifically, I was proud of how all sides in a very emotional debate lived into Luther's explanation of that commandment from his Small Catechism:
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we
are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything
they do in the best possible light.
Now I'm not naive enough to think that we all succeeded perfectly, and honestly there were a couple of times (on both sides) where I found myself thinking "now was that really necessary?", but given the subjects at hand, and given the passionate views most delegates had on these subjects, I thought the way the "business of the church" was conducted was a witness to the world about how it could be and should be. Imagine what Washington D.C. would look like if our Senators and Representatives took to heart Luther's explanation of the 8th commandment. Imagine what the United States would look like if its citizens did the same when it came to contentious issues. Heck, think of what our church's individual congregations and synods would look like if we really took the 8th commandment seriously.
I think they would be shaped much more like a cross...because they had been shaped by the cross.
My second impression is really more of an extension, or an example, of the first. It was Friday, the day when the two main topics of debate were whether to allow same-sex blessings, and whether to allow rostered leaders in same-sex relationships to serve. It was tense...and intense.
During debate on these resolutions, delegates were invited to step up to microphones, and were allowed 2 minutes to speak. Speaking at a green microphone meant you were in favor of a resolution, and speaking at a red microphone meant you were against it. First a green speaker would say their piece, then a red speaker. And so it went--green, red, green, red, until finally someone would come to a mike to call the question.
Every 20 minutes, the presiding bishop would call a brief halt to the debate so that all could pray together.
One gentleman stepped up to a green mike, paused for a moment, and said in a shaky voice, "is anyone else here as nervous as I am?" There was empathetic laughter from the assembly, after which the man asked, "would somebody pray for me while I speak?"
Immediately, another man stepped to his side, laid a hand on his shoulder, and prayed.
It was the person who had been next in line at the red microphone.
I honestly don't remember what the man at the green microphone actually said--all I can remember is that picture of the church, a church in disagreement about Christ's will in some issues, but a church willing to earnestly pray for and with those with whom we disagree, to stand alongside them, to offer a hand of comfort and encouragement, to "come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."
It is my full and complete belief that Christ was present at the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly. He wasn't standing at the green microphones. He wasn't standing at the red microphones.
Christ was between the microphones.
As my online friend Sarcastic Lutheran pointed out, Christ wasn't between the microphones in a "I'm Switzerland, I'm neutral" kind of way. He was there in a "breaking down the walls that divide" kind of way. In a "giving yourself for the good of your neighbor" kind of way. In the kind of way where, as Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said in his bishop's report, "we finally meet one another—not in our agreements or disagreements—but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Spirit, we are one in Christ."
Monday, June 29, 2009
Based on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15:
The Economy of God
June 28, 2009
I spent this last week with our congregation’s soon-to-be eighth graders at Confirmation camp. It was a HOT week, but an incredible opportunity to reflect, learn together, and grow closer together as the body of Christ in a 317 acre outdoor sanctuary. Each morning, we had 2 ½ hours of Confirmation instruction time, then each afternoon and evening they had the chance to do so many of the traditional camp activities—boating, swimming, hiking, cookouts, that sort of thing. Waterfights were especially popular last week. Anyway, during our Confirmation time, we’d spend the first hour and a half discussing the five promises they will be affirming when they are confirmed (feel free to quiz them if you see them!), and the last hour or so of our time together was spent doing co-op activities. Co-op is a series of challenges that forces kids to think outside the box and work together as a team in order to accomplish something, and is a wonderful illustration of what it means to be the body of Christ on earth.
One of our co-op activities was called “Insanity.” The kids were divided into three teams, and three hula hoops were set on the ground forming a large triangle maybe 30 feet wide. In the middle of the triangle was placed a crate full of tennis balls. The object was to get all the tennis balls into one hula hoop, but there was a catch. You could only carry one ball at a time, and other teams were allowed to steal balls out of your hoop and bring them to theirs. The game started, and true to the name, insanity ensued. Kids were running back and forth, taking balls from the crate, taking balls from other hoops, yelling when balls were being taken from their hoop, over and over and over running back and forth like crazed chickens. The counselor let this go on for about ten minutes, as the campers ran themselves ragged trying to get the most balls in their hoop.
I have never seen a better picture of the way the world works. The economy of the world.
Those tennis balls…maybe they represent money. Or maybe they represent food. Power. Sex. Jobs. Security. Acceptance. Those things that we as individuals spend our lives clawing and scratching and running like crazed chickens trying to get, and spend the time that we’re not doing that trying to protect what we’ve gotten or worried that it’s going to be taken from us.
Remember the name of the game? It’s Insanity. And insanity is an apt description both of what happens at first in the game, and how the world teaches us we should live our lives.
So after about 10 minutes of watching this insanity, Scott, the counselor, told the kids to stop and return to their corners. He asked them if what they were trying was working. The answer of course was no. One team bragged that they had the most tennis balls so far, but they were reminded that the object was to get ALL the tennis balls into one hoop, and according to the rules of the game, they had failed just as much as the other two teams. Scott told them to think about the object of the game and try to figure out how they could accomplish it, because there WAS a way.
It took a while, but eventually, the campers discovered that if they put all the balls in one pile, then picked up all three hula hoops and placed them around the balls, not only could you win the game, but EVERYBODY could win the game.
The world teaches us the economy of insanity. What these campers discovered last week was the economy of God. The economy that teaches that we all have something to give for the good of others, that when we quit worrying about holding on to what’s mine, to what I’ve rightfully earned, to what’s coming to me…when I die to myself I gain the greatest treasure of all—living as the body of Christ. That’s cross-centered. That’s living as Christ did.
In our second lesson today, Paul was teaching the church in Corinth a little something about the economy of God. This church had begun a collection for the church in Jerusalem, which was quite poor. It seems things had started okay, but after some time had gone by they had quit supporting them. The Corinthians as a church body were pretty well-off financially, but they had gone lax in their support of another part of God’s body that was struggling financially.
In the world’s economy, you need to run for more tennis balls, while others try to take yours. In God’s economy, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that we have the example of Christ, as he says in verse 9, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Let me stop here for a moment. While Paul’s appeal certainly was about money, beginning here he turns this into MUCH more than just a plea for dollars. God’s economy may include how we approach money, but in stark contrast to the world’s economy, it’s certainly not all about money. In fact, money is just a small part of God’s economy as presented here by Paul. In a way, it would be easier if it were only about money. But as Paul said in Philippians, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.
In God’s economy, Christ emptied his entire being so that through him we might become, not financially rich, but holistically rich. Authentically rich. Rich in spirit, with those riches that moth and rust do not destroy. Luther had a term for God’s economy—he called it the “happy exchange.” Lutheran pastor and theologian Lisa Dahill explains it this way: "In this exchange, Luther said, Jesus on the cross takes on our poverty, receiving our uncleanness, bearing in his own body our need and our sin, and in exchange he pours out all his holiest, most precious divine gifts to us: his power flowing forth, his heart poured out, his love and mercy, his body and blood, his breath and Spirit and life. He becomes poor to make us rich; and we the impoverished, the weak, the unclean, the unworthy, the desperate – we receive all that is his and are beloved, washed, fed, cherished, and showered with riches. Even our most wretched sinfulness can’t separate us from him. He bears our sins in his own body; we are united with him and held in him in a love that doesn’t defile him but transforms us completely, making exiles and outcasts into daughters and sons."
And so we are called as well to participate in God’s economy along with the Corinthians in verses 13 and 14 of our second lesson. Paul says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” In our own happy exchange, we have been blessed with gifts that others need. And others have been blessed with gifts that we need. And we as the church, we as the body of Christ, are called upon for the good of the world to empty ourselves, to become servants for each other, to use those gifts that we have been blessed with for others, all the while being blessed by others with those gifts that they have but we need.
We see a glimpse of that at work in our downtown ministry at The Table. That’s the whole philosophy behind what we do—bring what you have, give what you can, minister to others, and be ministered to through food and relationships. It’s really a very simple thing, but theologically it’s very profound. Some folks come able to share more than their fair share of money, but maybe they’re in need of something else. Some come with no money at all, but are able to bring gifts of listening, caring, love. Some come completely empty and leave filled…filled with food, and filled with the idea that there ARE people out there who want to know them as a person and who genuinely care about them through conversation.
Shane Claiborne, in his book “The Irresistible Revolution,” described a conversation he had with a friend. He had asked his friend “if you could ask God one question, what would it be.” The friend hesitated. Shane could tell that he wanted to say something, but was unsure about it, so he pressed him. “Well,” the friend said, “I’d really like to ask God why there’s so much pain and hunger and suffering in the world…but I’m afraid God would turn around and ask me the same question.”
God’s economy asks why, in a world where there’s enough food for everyone, one in six of his children, over a billion people, go to bed hungry every night, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization.
God’s economy asks why one country with 6% of the world’s population uses 40% of the world’s resources.
God’s economy asks why millions of people die every year from completely preventable or easily curable diseases.
God’s economy asks why cheap clothes or coffee are more important than justice for those who work in unbearable conditions for little to no pay.
God’s economy asks why celebrity deaths are more important than those everyday people who are lonely, or struggling, or hurting.
God’s economy asks some hard questions, especially for those of us who in the eyes of the world are affluent.
We could debate all day on what the government’s role ought to be in the redistribution of resources. But there’s no question whatsoever as to what the church’s role ought to be. “As it is written,” Paul writes in verse 15, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Again, this isn’t just about money. It isn’t just about material resources. Although it includes both of those things, we’re talking about so much more than that. It’s our whole selves. It’s a complete attitude of servanthood.
Back to camp. The camp’s theme this summer is “Love to serve.” Each day focuses on a different aspect: freed to serve, created to serve, saved to serve, called to serve, and sent to serve. God’s economy calls us to see our relationship to the world as one of service, always looking for those gifts we may have been given that the world needs. Is it money? Is it time? Is it our talents? Is it love? Compassion? Skills? What part do you have to play in the economy of God?
You do have gifts. You have been uniquely gifted by God. You have something that the world needs.
And we, together, as the body of Christ, working together in lives of service, sharing the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, are called to reject the insanity of the world and the way it values people and material goods as things to be grasped, not given. Let’s stop running around like crazed chickens and instead allow God to transform us into saved servants, participants in God’s economy of healing, wholeness, and life.
The economy of the world says your value is based on what you can accumulate. The economy of God says your value is found in being a child of God.
The economy of the world says you are an owner, and need to hold on to what you have earned for yourself. The economy of God says you are a steward, and the gifts you have been given are for the sake of others.
The economy of the world says self-sacrificial giving for the sake of the world is insanity. The economy of God calls it the way of the cross.
The economy of the world says you need to get what’s coming to you. The economy of God says you get precisely what you don’t deserve and could never earn: love, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Thanks be to God!
Monday, April 27, 2009
For the record, here's the list:
The 10 Commandments (traditional wording in italics, 5 year old paraphrase in bold)
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
Nothing should be more important than God.
2. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Don't use God's name in bad ways.
3. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.
Take a day each week to remember and worship God.
4. Honor your father and mother.
Honor your father and mother.
5. Do not kill.
Do not kill.
6. Do not commit adultery.
Husbands and wives should be faithful to each other.
7. Do not steal.
Do not steal.
8. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Do not lie about other people.
9. Do not covet your neighbor's house.
Do not try to take your neighbor's house from them.
10. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, or cattle, or male or female slave, or ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Do not try to take anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Last summer, Kiddo took part in our church's Vacation Bible School. He loved all of it, but the music especially made a big impact. Each child received a CD of the music they sang that week, and he pulls that CD out whenever anyone comes to visit so he can put on a show.
He LOVES that music.
So a few weeks ago, he felt like rockin' out in the living room. He grabbed a play microphone, cranked up the VBS CD on the stereo, and just started jumping and dancing and yelling out song after song for Sweetie, myself, and the tens of thousands of imaginary fans that suddenly filled our house. After the second or third song, he became the announcer as well as the rock star, and shouted in his best "rock" voice:
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN...IT'S THE MONSTERS OF JESUS!!!!"
He then launched into his next song, but I'll admit I couldn't hear a note because I was laughing too hard.
It's tough trying to be a rock star when your parents think you're so freakin' cute.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I kid you not, the poop was no bigger than a small marble.
By the time I had finished the diaper change, the smell had permeated our entire upstairs level. It was everywhere.
All from one of the tiniest poopies I have ever seen in a diaper.
It shall go down in LutheranHusker history as The Tiny Pellet of Concentrated Evil.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Ever since Kiddo has been able (in theory at least) to sleep through the night, it has been my job when either of the kids do wake up at night to go to their room and comfort them. The reason for this is more utilitarian than it is chivalrous—I am a much lighter sleeper than Sweetie. When one of the kids makes noise, I’m going to wake up either way, so it makes more sense for only one person to wake up than both of us. So we’ve got the baby monitor on my side of the bed, and I keep it at a level where it will wake me up but usually not Sweetie.
The spring after Kiddo turned two, he had been waking up with night terrors. It was completely normal for his age, but when you are woken up at 3 in the morning by the most inhuman and inconsolable screaming, it can be a bit disconcerting, to say the least. When it first started, we got him a nightlight, and made a really big deal about how he has a “special light” in his room so he can see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. After that, when the night terrors came, I’d go into his room, sit down next to his bed, rub his back and help settle him down. Then we’d talk about his special light and how he doesn’t have to be scared. I’d ask him, “Does mommy have a special light?”
“Does daddy have a special light?”
“No, only me.”
“That’s right, only you have a special light. So you don’t have to be scared.” (Don’t ask me why that made sense, but for some reason it was a big comfort to his 2 year old mind.)
Then, usually, he’d be comforted enough to lie back down and go to sleep.
After he had had the nightlight for a couple of weeks, I was pretty proud of how well our discussions about the nightlight were working in helping him go back to sleep. So one night, I decided to take the discussion one step further. We went through our usual litany, and then I asked him another question, to see how well he understood what we were talking about: “so why don't you have to be scared?”
His answer surprised me.
“Because Daddy comes.”
The "theology" or even the light behind the nightlight meant nothing to him. What mattered was that in the middle of the night, Daddy comes. To his two year-old mind, Daddy doesn’t come because he ate his dinner or because he put away his toys or because he went poopy in the potty—Daddy just comes. When he is so terrified that all he can do is cry out, he knows that Daddy comes.
That, I think, is a good introduction to our Transfiguration gospel lesson.
What stands out when we read today’s gospel? It’s the light. The blinding light, Jesus’ robes shining white as snow, the glory and splendor of the King of the World suddenly walking around with Moses, bringer of the law, and Elijah, the great prophet…the one for whom a place is always saved at Passover, the one whose reappearance is said to mean that the Messiah can’t be far behind. And the voice of God, reminding Peter James and John of who Jesus is—“this is my son, the beloved,” –and following with a command, “listen to him!”
Powerful stuff. Powerful story.
But my friends in Christ, if that’s where our focus is, I think we end up missing the point.
If we take this literal mountaintop experience and leave it merely as an example of Christ’s power and glory, then all we’ve done is the same thing poor Peter did. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;” he said. “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” By the way, did you catch the author of Mark’s little editorial comment after that? It’s almost as though he felt he ought to apologize for Peter. Verse 6 reads, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” It’s like he was saying, “yeah, Peter’s idea was dumb, but let’s not be too hard on the guy. He was terrified, and just didn’t know what to say!”
At any rate, if all we see this experience as is a demonstration of divine power and glory, then we’re essentially making these nice little dwelling-places, these little boxes for the story to fit in. Jesus’ transfiguration did not happen merely to allow these three disciples to say “wow! What an amazing trick! That was great! Surely, you MUST be the Son of God.” Just like the miracles Jesus performed weren’t simply divine parlor tricks so that those around him would say “wow! What an amazing trick! Surely you MUST be the Son of God.” N.T. Wright said in his book “Simply Christian” that God doesn’t send the Holy Spirit to give Christians the spiritual equivalent of a day at Disneyland. I’d argue that The Transfiguration event falls much into the same category. There’s more to it than just an amazing light show.
There are three ideas around Jesus’ transfiguration that I want to look at today.
1. Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that God has come to us.
2. Jesus’ transfiguration was a “foretaste of the feast to come.”
3. Jesus’ transfiguration calls us to participate in building for the Kingdom of God.
First, Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that God has come to us. Think back to the story of Kiddo and the nightlight. There were two very important things that needed to happen for Tyler to be comforted. First, someone had to come to him. It would have done him no good whatsoever if I had heard him crying over the monitor, turned the volume down, then rolled over and gone back to sleep. He needed me THERE. With him. Second, not just anyone could have done the trick. If some stranger had walked into his room and tried to tell him everything was going to be okay, chances are it would have just made things worse. He needed his mommy or daddy. It needed to be us. We’re the ones he looked to for protection, for guidance, for help and comfort.
So what does that have to do with the Transfiguration? It reminds us that this Jesus person isn’t just some guy off the street who could do amazing things. This was God. This was God in human form, come down to us. Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. Yes, he was their Rabbi. Yes, he was the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. But as the voice from the heavens reminded them, this was also the very Son of God, the messiah, the one sent to reconcile all of creation. As a favorite hymn of mine goes, God isn’t in some heaven, light years away. God came to us in the person of Jesus, and God comes to us today. The same God who created the universe, who created the earth and stars and all creatures and everything that ever was or is or will be—that same God came to earth.
The light of the Transfiguration, while dazzling, wasn’t the point of the event. Just as Kiddo wasn’t comforted by the nightlight, but rather by the presence of one of his parents, so too the light of the Transfiguration points to Jesus as our Emmanuel—our “God With Us.” The one who has come to us in the darkness of our sin, our pain, and our brokenness, and who has begun the process of making all things new through his death and resurrection.
I’m reminded of the final scene from the movie Shrek. In case you haven’t seen the movie, Shrek is the story of an ogre, a big, green, fat, belching, crude creature, who rescues the Princess Fiona, who looks a lot like Cameron Diaz animated digitally and given red hair. Princess Fiona is under a curse; “By day one thing, by night another, until true love’s kiss restores love’s true form.” Every night, she becomes an ogre, every bit as green and fat as Shrek. Every day, she becomes Cameron Diaz with red hair again, and the cycle will repeat until she finally experiences true love and takes love’s true form. At the end of the movie, Shrek finally sees Fiona’s ogre persona (she had been hiding it from him) for the first time. But he loves her and kisses her anyway. Watch what happens in the clip.
The makers of the movie do a skillful job of guiding our expectations. After all the light and glory, we expect to see the Cameron Diaz lookalike there. But what is love’s true form? The princess wants to be like the one she loves. She takes on HIS form.
Philippians 2:5-8 reads, “5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” Christ emptied himself, was born as a human, and came not to be served, but to serve. Love’s true form shows its face by giving for the good of others, and God demonstrated love’s true form to us by coming TO us through Jesus.
Jesus comes to you.
And Jesus comes FOR you.
Which brings me to my second thought, that Jesus’ transfiguration was a foretaste of the feast to come. Do those words sound familiar? They’re part of the communion liturgy. When we participate in Holy Communion, we proclaim that we are receiving a foretaste of the feast to come. So what does that mean? We believe that Jesus is truly present in, with, and under the bread and the wine. The bread and the wine don’t change form…they remain what they are, but when we eat and drink, we experience in a very real way the presence of Christ in our lives. Holy Communion becomes, in the words of N.T. Wright, an intersection of heaven and earth. It’s a place and a time where a little piece of the Kingdom of God breaks into our everyday world, and it transforms us. It changes us. It transfigures us. Christ comes TO us, right where we are, and right AS we are.
And so we see the transfiguration of Jesus, as an intersection of heaven and earth. We receive, in the very human form of Jesus, a glimpse of the glory of the divine. And if the point wasn’t made strongly enough, God tells us “this is my son, the beloved.” There is to be no doubt as to whom Jesus is. And perhaps, for those of us who proclaim our belief in “the resurrection of the body” in the Apostles Creed, we see something of what that might look like. As Christ comes to us through the bread and wine and transfigures us through his presence, giving us a glimpse of the glory that awaits us in an eternity spent with the God who loves us, so too the disciples are given that same sort of glimpse on the mountain.
My third thought is that Jesus’ transfiguration calls us to participate in building for the Kingdom of God. And this is where the real meat for our daily lives is. We’ve seen that God comes to us, that God gives us this intersection of heaven and earth, but what difference does that make? What does it look like when God comes, when heaven and earth intersect?
The answers to that come directly before, and directly after, our gospel lesson. Mark 8:34 reads, “34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I think it’s no accident that Jesus goes from “take up your cross” to the Transfiguration in the very next few verses. Remember--the transfiguration is a reminder that God has come to us through Jesus, and is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. So what does it look like when God comes to us, what does the kingdom of God look like?
It looks like self-giving love for the sake of the world.
It looks like what happens immediately when Jesus goes back down the mountain. He re-enters the brokenness of humanity. He’s immediately met by the sick and demon-possessed, and he goes right back to the work of building for the kingdom of God. He goes about the work of healing, of making whole, of restoring relationships, of taking away division, and brokenness, pain and suffering.
In other words, he goes about doing the work of the church. He gives of himself for the good of creation.
And later, on a very real cross, he doesn’t give OF himself. He gives himself.
Through the Transfiguration, we too are called to that same work. We’re called to be peacemakers, to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, heal the sick. N.T. Wright puts it this way in his book Surprised By Hope: "The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God's renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age." God’s at work making all things new, work that began at the cross and in the empty Easter tomb, and our call is to be a part of that.
We like to speak of mountaintop experiences, of those times in our lives that are life-changing, the highest of the high points. But be careful—mountaintop experiences change you. Are you sure you want to go up the mountain with Jesus? Your transfiguration doesn’t end when you come back down. It’s not easy having your life changed. Often, it means you feel a need to live differently than you did before. It means you see things in a different light than you did before. It may mean sensing a call from God that takes you out of a place of comfort and security, and leads you to places you never dreamed you’d go. It means that like Jesus, you become willing to enter the pain and brokenness of creation, bringing with you the promise of life and hope and restoration. That kind of change in our lives can be difficult, and scary.
But it’s oh so exciting. And it’s the very definition of what it means to live in grace. During confirmation a couple of weeks ago, Pastoral Intern Ben made a point that’s stuck with me. He said, “we’re not saved BY service, but we’re saved FOR service.” We’re not saved BY what we do when we go back down the mountain, but Christ comes to us in all his power and glory to enable, empower, and inspire us to serve others.
We spend today on the mountaintop. But like Jesus, James, John, and Peter, we can’t stay there. In fact, on Wednesday, our church calendar does exactly what Jesus does, leaves the mountain, and descends to the valley of Ash Wednesday and Lent, where we begin the journey toward the cross, the journey through our own sin and brokenness, the journey that Christ made for us and that he calls each of us to make for the sake of the world. “Take up your cross and follow.” Give of yourselves. Bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the suffering, food to the hungry, and the promise of new life to a world gripped by the fear of death.
That, my friends, is kingdom-building in its most basic and Biblical sense.
So, for the sake of our Confirmation students trying to do sermon notes, let’s summarize:
1. Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that God has come to us.
2. Jesus’ transfiguration was a “foretaste of the feast to come.”
3. Jesus’ transfiguration calls us to participate in building for the Kingdom of God.
May you experience, through the power and the glory of the transfiguration, your own transfiguration. May you experience in a very real way Christ’s coming to you, and for you. May you participate in this foretaste of the feast to come. And may you hear and heed the call to participate in building for the Kingdom of God.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Best cartoon ever, and many a child's introduction to Wagner's Die Walkure, The Flying Dutchman, and Tannhauser.
Man how I wish the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show was still on Saturdays. Kids these days just don't know what they're missing.
Did that just make me sound old? =)
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Of course, proud dad that I am, I was more than willing to oblige. =)
I realize he doesn't understand more than a few words of what he's saying--but just like when he was learning the Lord's Prayer, the comprehension can come later. For now, I'm happy to take advantage of the fact that his brain is a big ol' memorizing sponge. Funny thing--near the end of the creed, instead of proclaiming his belief in the communion of saints, he professes belief in the community of saints.
I'm not gonna correct him. True community is what that line of the creed is referring to anyway.
The video's a little dark...sorry about that. Here goes:
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you.
1. Sweetie's and my first date was on Valentine's Day. By accident. All I knew when I asked her out was that it was a Friday and I wasn't doing anything.
2. Moxie is by far my favorite soft drink. Unfortunately, it's also only available in New England.
3. I think bacon can make pretty much anything taste better.
4. In the 17 years between 1990 and 2007, I gained 10 pounds. During Sweetie's last pregnancy in 2007-08, I gained 15. I'm still working to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Item #3 in this list isn't helping with that goal, however. =)
5. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was the first time a sporting event made me cry. I still carry the scars today.
6. I'm still waiting to get the memo that there was some horrible mistake and the Red Sox didn't actually win the 2004 World Series.
7. I was named "Most Improved Runner" on my 9th grade track team. Which meant that I sucked, but worked really hard during the track season.
8. I tried out for the Jeopardy Teen Tournament twice. Both times I passed the initial test and got to meet Alex Trebek for the second round of tryouts. Never made it on the show, though.
9. All Christians should be required to work at least one summer at a church camp. The eleventh commandment, perhaps?
10. When I was in elementary school, I was secretly disappointed in my pastor because he needed the book in order to lead the liturgy, and I had the whole thing memorized.
11. Also in elementary school, I used to lead entire worship services in my room for an imaginary congregation. I used checkers for communion wafers.
12. I used to drive a van to pick up kids and drop them off at daycare. 5-9 AM every day. My last day at that job was the Friday before the great October snowfall of 1997.
13. I also used to work at the Cliffs Notes headquarters. My former supervisor is now a member of the congregation where I serve.
14. I think I've learned more from the teenagers I work with than they'll ever learn from me.
15. The story of the Prodigal Son is my favorite parable, I think. Mostly because I've lived it, and have experienced the forgiving love of a father when I came home.
16. I was once engaged to someone before Sweetie. I think my former fiancee and I are much happier now than we would have been if things had worked out.
17. I've played on Vladimir Horowitz's piano.
18. Some of the best advice ever given me was this: "If you turn 30 and you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up, chances are you belong in ministry."
19. I always knew my parents loved me unconditionally and would do anything for me, but I never truly understood the depth of that love until I became a parent myself.
20. "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" on a big ol' pipe organ with brass accompaniment never fails to bring me to tears.
21. In the last couple of years, I've discovered that I have three goals in life: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Everything else is basically an extension of those three things.
22. In May, I'll be seeing Billy Joel in concert for the 6th time. He is SO much better in concert than his recordings.
23. I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible for me to show or tell Sweetie exactly how much I love her, but that's not going to stop me from trying.
24. The youth I work with at church are pretty much some of the coolest people (in the best sense of the word) that I've run across. I mean that sincerely. And some of them (you know who you are) REALLY need to be thinking about ministry. =)
25. While I don't really believe that God has a specific plan for our lives, I DO think God creates us with specific gifts and abilities and says, "I can't WAIT to see what you do with this!"
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
One sidenote--earlier in the book, the author pointed out that the word Eucharist, a word many Christians use for the bread and wine of communion, comes from two greek words that literally mean "good gift." He then goes on to use the word "Eucharist" liberally through the rest of the book in reference to the "good gift" we as Christians are called to be to the world, in an intentional double entendre. That might clear up some initial confusion in a couple of the quotes.
Anyway, read, digest, and enjoy:
from pp. 165-166:
"The Eucharist is not fair.
Giving to those who can’t give in return, that’s not fair.
Serving those who have no way to serve in return, that’s not fair.
Breaking yourself open and pouring yourself out for people who may never say thank you, that’s not fair.
Because God is not fair. This is a God who is defined by action on behalf of the oppressed. God is about giving the good gift. Jesus is God’s good gift for the healing of the world. The Church is Jesus’ body, a good gift for the healing of the world. It's for the benefit of others. For the good of those who look different from us.
A church is an organization that exists for the benefit of nonmembers."
from pp. 177-178:
"The Eucharist always costs. It isn’t just about trying to save the world. It’s about saving ourselves.
From the kingdom of comfort.
From the priority of preservation
From the empire of indifference
From the exile of irrelevance.
Jesus wants to save our church from thinking that the priests are someone else."
from p. 179:
"Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one.
Jesus wants to save us from preaching a gospel that is only about individuals and not about the systems that enslave them.
Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single molecule of creation being reconciled to its maker.
Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despair, the kind that doesn’t believe we can make the world a better place, the kind that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen ‘someday’.
The Bible begins with Abel’s blood crying out from the ground. The Bible ends with God wiping away every tear. No more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain.
Hope…The church is always about this hope."
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Note to the queasy-stomached: proceed at your own risk.
And I'm currently taking care of 2 sick kids and a sick wife, so this will be short...MUCH shorter than it deserves.
The pukes started Tuesday morning with Pumpkin and continued into Wednesday.
Thursday morning she was mostly better, but then I got it (pukes and diarrhea every 2 hours ON THE DOT from 5 AM until 3 PM...it was actually kinda weird...the furthest away from on the hour any of them got was the 9:00 episode, which actually hit at 8:56. Freaky.), then Kiddo came down with it Thursday afternoon, and into the evening.
Friday I was still sick, my son was feeling better, and my daughter started throwing up again in the afternoon. 9 times total between 2 PM and 8 PM.
8 changes of clothes for her, and 4 changes each for Sweetie and I.
Yesterday we did 12 hrs of 2 tsp. of pedialyte every 10 minutes with Pumpkin, she did well so we put her back on half strength bottles...then in the evening Kiddo threw up again and at 10 pm Sweetie started.
Now Sweetie's full blown sick, Kiddo's thrown up once this morning and Pumpkin twice...so we're back to the pedialyte every 10 minutes. And nothing but gatorade, water and toast for Sweetie and Kiddo.
I'm about to go out of my freaking mind. And I'm tired of getting puked on.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Monday, January 05, 2009
You think I'm joking. I'm not.
Sweetie and I didn't want her getting in her head that the pretty fire would be something she wanted to grab. There were no candles in the pews at the service we attended.
The third reason was that the 5:30 service was specifically geared toward kids, and we thought Kiddo might get a little more out of it.
As part of worship, there were 3 wrapped "Christmas gifts from God" at the front of the sanctuary. At different times in the service, the pastoral intern would ask for a child volunteer to open one, then he'd do a little sermonette on what was inside. The three gifts were actually words--Joy, Hope, and Peace.
Kiddo thought it was all quite cool, though when the intern finished his talk on "the peace of God," Kiddo looked puzzled.
He turned to me and whispered, "why was he talking about the Pizza God?"
It was all I could do to keep from guffawing right there.
But wait, the story continues.
This past Sunday morning, we were back in church. For any non-Lutherans reading this, most Lutheran worship services end with a call and response between the pastor and congregation. The pastor says, "Go in peace, serve the Lord" (or a variation thereof), and the congregation responds with a rousing "THANKS BE TO GOD!" Supposedly as an affirmation of the joy of serving God out in the world, but when I was a kid it was mostly out of the joy of knowing I was about to eat lunch.
So this past Sunday, Kiddo started laughing after we all said "thanks be to God" at the end of the service. That cute, uncontrollable 5 year old belly laugh. I asked him what was funny, and he responded:
"I said, 'THANKS PIZZA GOD!'"
It's too bad I couldn't tell him how funny I thought that was, because if he had ANY idea, he'd do it every time and I don't want that.
But it was pretty freakin' funny.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Some call it coincidence, others call it serendipity, and others the still, small voice of God.
Call it what you will. A couple of days ago, I had one of those experiences thanks to Gordon Atkinson over at RealLivePreacher.com. Exactly what I needed to hear/read, and wanted to share it, in case these words were some that somebody else needed to hear or read.
by Gordon Atkinson
So here’s what you do. You take a phrase or a word or a short teaching out of the Bible. Something like “The book of life,” or “The Son of Man,” or “The Light of the World,” or “No one comes to the Father but by me.” These phrases could mean anything. They meant something in their day, surely, but the deepest and most scholarly study in the world cannot unravel exactly what they meant.
But you. You somehow know the truth. You take these phrases with no study at all, and you fill them with your theology, like someone filling helium balloons at a carnival. Then you hang a little basket below your balloons and float away, so delighted in the complex theological construct that you’ve put together. And from your elevated position you lay burdens on people that you could never keep yourself. Lightning bolts thrown down from the sky. Zeus never wielded as much power.
You are going to hell for your lack of faith or for your participation in a religious life or non-religious life that I don’t understand and therefore don’t approve of.
You may not be a sexual person, but must live in strict, celibate loneliness. You will fall in love many times over the years, but you must deny your love and break your own heart over and over and over again, all the days of your life. (And this from a preacher who can’t say no to a second bowl of ice cream.)
You must believe the things I tell you about the world, the earth, the sky, the stars, and God. You must give intellectual consent to all parts of my message. And if you cannot believe what I say, SHAME on you! Shame on you even if you tried very hard to believe but could not.
Give me your life; give me your money; give me your mind; give me your time. Give me all of these things, and I shall take them from you and use them to fill up more balloons so that I can fly higher and throw my lightning bolts down on more people.
And the hard thing for me is that you think this is the right way to treat the Bible and the mysterious phrases found within it. In your mind, you are the great Bible scholar, while I am a little weak in this regard. Weak and liberal and not very serious about the Bible.
For I, in my weakness, can hardly stand before the mystery of the ancient scriptures. I am hurt by them, filled with joy by them, angered by them, and sometimes inspired by them. And I often can do nothing more than confess my own confusion and brokenness.
You shake your head at me and say, “What kind of a minister are you? Don’t you believe the Bible?”
And I look back at you, just as puzzled. “Believe the Bible?” What does that even mean? I say it over and over to myself.
“Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible. Believe the Bible.”
Eventually the word “believe” starts to sound like something you do with your hands. Like punching something or pushing a vacuum cleaner around. Like you could believe the Bible all over the house and then out into the front yard, where you could believe it around in little circles while waving to the neighbors. Then you could believe the Bible back into your house and store it in the closet, where you keep it until you feel like believing it out in public again.
Do I believe the Bible? I’m trying to know the Bible. And by knowing, I mean the way that Adam knew Eve, and the way that the Creator knows us. I mean the kind of knowing that is like falling in love. I’m trying to love/know the Bible. And I will always struggle with how I can love/know the scriptures when some parts are so hard and mean and awful that you feel bad for even reading them. And then some parts are so beautiful that you can’t stop crying when they whisper little hints of truth and mystery to you.
So that’s all I’ve got. Whatever that says about me is what I am. I’m less sophisticated and more unsure than when I began years ago as a young minister. I’m tired and fairly broken myself. I just turned 47, so I’m half dead if I live to be an old man, and more than half dead if I don’t. So there’s just no time left, really. No time for talking or fighting or judging.
It seems like it is the time for listening and loving and accepting all who seek truth in peace and are open-minded enough to confess that they are simply not up to the task.