Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lent and the Good Creation

Lent and the Good Creation

I pray that your Lenten journey has been renewing.  We are blessed to have this focused time to examine our lives, to set aside that which may be an obstacle to our faith and to take up a discipline / exercise that may grow our faith.  This year’s season of Lent has been a true joy for me.

I have particularly enjoyed the thread of “freedom” that has been so visible in the scripture readings for worship.  Especially the scripture about Nicodemus and the one about the woman at the well.  Both are so full of hope and transformation.  Following the thread of freedom in each text leads us to a place in the tapestry where true freedom is of God and not of humanity or creation.

Christians now and over time have reacted to this notion as if it were a continuum.  One extreme is to say that if true freedom is of God, then the things of this world (especially material possessions) are bad for us.  The other extreme is to affirm true freedom in God makes us free to have no worries about the things of this world.  I suggest that these two extremes are both false, primarily because they are self-centered in that they are focused on us and upon our relationship with the things of this world.

In the beginning, God judged creation to be good.  You and I, our neighbors and all the things of this world are inherently good.  Everything you know or have seen or will discover is great.  I am confident to write this for God has already said as much in the book of Genesis.  In addition, all the things of this world have the potential to point to God, to be in relationship with God, to serve the neighbor in response to God’s love.

Rather than the extremes of hate or love of all the things of this world, if we first love God and base all upon that relationship, then we will find much joy in the things of this world.  We will learn to use the things of this world to point to God, to discover God, to praise God, and to serve our neighbor.  The more primary our relationship to God, the more free we are.

I realize that this writing does not deal with the problem of evil and that problem may have crossed your mind as you read my article.  If there is interest, I will put pen to paper on that topic.  Till such time, let me encourage you that rather than be distracted by the problem of evil, be assured by the judgement of God that all God created is good.  

May your approach to Easter be an experience of freedom.  Freedom from the obstacles to your relationship with God and with neighbor.  Freedom from guilt and despair, from sadness and doubt, from anger and malaise so that you can experience the “good” that God sees in you and all the things of this world.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

by Titan, c. 1560
by Dr. James R. Brooks
March 2, 2014

A reflection on Matthew 17:1-9

With weather hampering worship again this winter, I want to offer this reflection on the scripture passage that would have provided a theme to our worship today.  The transfiguration passage is both profound and perplexing.  Typically read in worship on the last Sunday of Epiphany, this text is a profound revealing of Jesus as our Messiah and the Son of God.  The inclusion of Old Testament heroes, Moses and Elijah, bring a perplexing flavor to the scene.

Perplexity:  Moses and Elijah were heroic leaders hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus.  The tradition does hold that neither have earthly graves because God took them up to heaven prior to their death.  There are a multitude of explanations and interpretations for the presence of Moses and Elijah in this scene.  I will offer one that brings a sense of the profound out of the chaos.  Moses and Elijah, according to tradition, live on because God helped them avoid death on earth.  Jesus lives on having traveled through death.  Jesus’ resurrection after dying on the cross becomes an even greater demonstration of God’s love and power.  God so loved the world as to send His only Son.  God demonstrates ultimate power by resurrecting His only Son after a death upon the cross.  For us, God’s children, this witness becomes a life changing reality.  God loves us so much as to save us through His Son, Jesus, and God has the power to fulfill God’s promises to save us.

Profound:  Why does Jesus tell the disciples to tell no one about the event on the hill until after his resurrection?  How often has transformation been derailed by telling of it before it is complete or has taken root as a lifestyle?  Sometimes we need to tell others of our attempt at transformation to seek their participation in keeping us accountable.  We are less likely to skip a trip to the gym if we know others will ask if we went.  

Sometimes, we are distracted by telling of our early experience of change.  The distraction steals from us the opportunity to experience an even more meaningful change.  This is especially tempting in spiritual transformation.  Stereotypes carry a kernel of truth.  Recall the stereotype of the apprentice who babbles non-stop and the master who speaks few words.  

It may have been that Jesus knew the disciples would not understand the meaning of the transfiguration without having experienced the even greater resurrection.  We read the story from our side of the resurrection and even we struggle with the passage.  The three that climbed the mountain with Jesus were yet to see the resurrection.  Those disciples had experienced the power of Jesus to teach and to heal in ways that were amazing.  Experience of the ultimate power of God to resurrect had yet to be seen.  Why have the disciples prattle on about the transfiguration before they truly understood the event.

There is a hint at this interpretation early in the story.  After Moses and Elijah appear, Peter offers to erect dwellings so all three (Moses, Elijah and Jesus) could have shelter.  This implies that the three will be staying for sometime.  As the Bible remembers the scene, God then interrupts to say “This is my Son . . .” as if to say . . . “Peter, you are missing it.  Moses and Elijah are among my loved children but this one, Jesus, is my Son - LISTEN TO HIM!”  

Transformation that is to be trusted and lasting comes from God.  Maybe you pray for brokenness to be healed.  Maybe you pray for your healthy faith to grow.  Regardless of the change, how often do we jump to conclusions and explanations prior to listening to God’s leading.  

Spiritual discipline is, in part, a practiced submission to God’s will in our lives.  Set aside and let loose of our need to control or determine.  Allow the small still voice of God to speak into our souls as we experience healing, change, growth.  

This Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and next Sunday we begin the journey of Lent.  It is a journey of preparation to receive Jesus on Easter.  Much of that journey is to recognize the brokenness / distractions within that keep us deaf to God’s voice.  Today God says, “listen to my Son Jesus.”  May this be a theme to your journey to Easter.

Reflection Activities:

Helping Children Engage the Text:  After reading this story with your family, invite your children to share what it would be like to have been there.  Would they be scared?  What question would they ask Jesus about the event?  If Jesus asked them to wait till Easter to tell people about God’s love, who would they tell first?  When Jesus is transfigured and shiny, would it smell like fresh sheets or new roses?
NOTE:  This is a text where it might be more meaningful to help children have an experience of engaging the text, pondering the text, using their imagination rather than leading them to a singular lesson.  This story is about an event beyond our experience and beyond our words.  It is a meeting of the divine and humanity - special and profound and beyond our five sense.

Helping Individual Reflection:  In a quiet place, read this story alone.  Read slowly and allow yourself to enjoy each sentence on its own.  Allow yourself to recall the heroic efforts of Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.  Allow yourself to remember the prophetic work of Elijah to keep God’s people in relationship with God.  Give yourself the grace filled time to ponder the sacred work of Jesus to give you eternal life where you are invited to the table with God.  When you are done with the story, allow yourself to pray your thanks to God and some quiet to listen to God loving you.