Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moments with Mom

I was going to write something wise about aging but I don't feel very wise about aging. Getting older is all around us. I spent some time last week in an assisted living center visiting my mom. Its a reversal of life kids taking care of their parents like they took care of us. My mom's life has shrunk to a very small size. Her room is small and shared with another person. She has half a small room, one small bed, one small chair, one small dresser and few pictures. Maybe a book or two but no tv or newspapers or radio. Her entertainment is bingo and going to meals. She seems fine with that. She remembers things from long ago better than what happened yesterday. She looks at us carefully and smiles glad we are there but if we are not there, then what, I wonder. Does she remember us? Our histories which were contentious at times are forgotten. If I hurt her and I did, she does not remember. It helps me heal, too. We are together as two created persons. Who have the same Creator. Karl Barth wrote that "all human life is surrounded by a certain solemnity. Life is only human, and created, and eternity as the divinely decreed destiny of human beings is only an allotted future. But within these limits it is a mystery emphasized and absolutely distinguished by God himself. As such it must always be honored with new wonder. Every single point to be observed and pondered is in its own way equally marvelous - and everything is equally marvelous in every human existence."  Children of God sharing a moment of eternity.  Is what we are.

Missing the point

Today was the first Sunday of Advent. I love the way the Church year starts four weeks before Christmas. Christmas in our culture starts right after Halloween, then there is Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Buy Online Monday and then only 20 some shopping days til Christmas. Christmas is reduced to what am I buying and getting. We miss the point.

I was reminded today of Light as we lit the first advent candle. The daylight hours are shorter. But, at Christmas the daylight starts increasing again. Again, it happens over and over. So do the lights that decorate the houses in our neighborhood. The Christmas inflatables are out in the front yards and the manger scenes in front of the churches. I saw one leaning against the building as if the Holy Family was tired of all their appearances or just not ready for Christmas Eve yet. Those scenes are part of our cultural mythology of Christmas, too. No one knows for sure when Jesus was born, or how many wise men came, or if Jesus was born in a cave, or a stable or the guest room of a house (where the animals were brought in at night). The birth of Jesus was not celebrated by Christians for a long time. Mark and John barely mention it. It was the cross and resurrection that were the focus of the gospels, the last week of Jesus gets the most attention by far. Good Friday and Easter today hardly get noticed other than it's around the start of Spring Break. Christmas is for buying and getting. Funny, how we give each other gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We storm the malls to get the best buys for ourselves and others. We miss the point.

We talked about hope today as we lit the first advent candle. Where are signs of God's hope in our lives today? we asked. Once we got rolling they were seen as plentiful. But, it helps to slow down, focus attention, and look for them. We prayed too for the hopeless but it helped to know hope is present.

The scripture reading for the first Sunday of Advent was from Matthew 24. Jesus was talking about his coming again and said how no one knew when that would be. It would be a surprise in the night like when a thief breaks into our house when we are sleeping. I couldn't help but think about how many times in churches I heard sermons trying to nail down that date. Telling us to be ready, repent, look to the future, live holy lives. You don't want to be left behind when the rapture comes. I remember seeing those pictures of driverless cars crashing into other cars because the driver was "taken up to heaven".  You gotta be ready although it was never really clear how that happened. The pastor showed a picture of people floating up to heaven - the rapture - and even though I don't see it that way any more I had a knot in my stomach. I had been intimidated often enough by the threat of being left behind. God's word of gospel hope though is not threatening. It's not about who will be left but who will be right. Right with God and that has been taken care of in Jesus, the anointed one, whose birth we celebrate in December. God is going to break into this crazy, messy, hopeless world once more - IN A BIG WAY - and rescue us when we least expect it. Whether we are ready or not. What we need to be is watching. Which is hard to do when we are shopping for gifts all the time.

Ezekiel 38 and 39 talk about Gog and Magog which the prophecy teachers who came to my churches in my youth stood on their heads trying to make sense of what countries they represented today so they could explain how close we were to that day of Christ's coming. Robert Jenson comments that Gog and Magog are symbols of sheer violence and when the darkness is most extreme God shows up and is the Victory for us.  Gospel hope wins out. That's what the Bible keeps telling us.

Advent is here to help us not keep missing the point.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Where hope comes from

The small church started to gather the Sunday after the election. A group stood around the coffee table munching on donuts and muffins talking college football and the upcoming Jags game that afternoon. Some rehashed the election. No one had any new insights as to the outcome. Many in our mostly red city were elated while some were "whatever" and others were crushed. There were tears in our service. Worries about how the election was going to affect the minorities, marginalized and poor.

We heard from Nadia Bolz-Weber via video. "Do not mistake my refusal to be swallowed by fear and despair as acquiescence. It is defiance"

We read the story in Luke 21 about the ruin of the Temple. Some of Jesus' followers were admiring the architecture and Jesus told them plainly that it was as good as gone. Shocked, they wondered when and how they would know the signs of the times of the end. And he said there were times of great confusion and chaos coming and they better be ready to pay a price too. Be prepared, he told them, to say what you need to say when the walls come down. You may be betrayed and hated but I will be with you, Jesus told them.

Ironic scripture text for this Sunday. It was from the lectionary readings for the day. Our pastor preached on it. She got hope out of it somehow. It was a good job. She saw a ray of light in the recent happenings. A shaking out. A waking up. A clearer sense of what we are about. She saw community and faith and a renewed call to justice work.

We listened to a song, Rise Up.  It said, when you can't find the fight in you and you're broken down and tired of living life on the merry go round. We are going to walk it out and move mountains. Unafraid. You and I. A thousand times if we have to. In spite of the ache.

Then, we ate the body and blood of Christ. The person who invited us to the table said, Come if you want, Come if you can, Come if you need grace.

Far as I could tell we all did.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Basic Plan for Getting Through the Next Four Years

First, Pray often.
Read the Sermon on the Mount. Then read it again and again...
Read through St Augustine's City of God (it may take four years). Augustine said, "As far as this mortal life is concerned which is lived out and ended in a few days it matters little under whose rule a human being marked for death lives so long as those who govern do not force him to impiety and sin."
Turn off the news.
Pray some more.
Read a portion of The Imitation of Christ daily and try to practise humility.
Remember the Lutherans: they teach that church and state really don't have much to do with each other.
Pray for my enemies.
Stay active in a church that cares about social justice issues.
And do something about it in the local community.
Laugh. A lot.
Have a glass or two of wine handy.
Be surprised at how fast the years go by.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Is God fair?

Last night we had a good discussion at one of our church small groups. It was about the fairness of God, or not. Does God love everyone the same? Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet was considered as a source. Ezekiel 1 - 24 are directed against Israel and lay out the judgment of God because of their faithlessness in brutal and particular detail. Chapters 33-48 are about the restoration of Israel and the future fellowship God's People will enjoy with God. Those in-between chapters focus on Israel's enemies and how they will be judged for their actions against Israel. They will be judged not for their religious sins like Israel but for their hostility to Israel. Moab delighted in God's judgment of Israel - see, they are not so special after all - and for that they will be crushed. Robert Jenson, in his commentary, suggests the Targum translation where Moab asks, "Why should those of the house of Judah fare differently from all the other nations?" Jenson goes on to make this point, "The root of the world's inveterate and pervasive anti - Semitism has always been and still is offense at the claim that the one who is supposed to be the God of us all has a special love and purpose for some of us, for this particular people. This particular love has made some Christians uncomfortable so they have said that the Church is the New Israel; it has superseded the old Israel and there is no longer any special status of the Jewish people (this is not referring to the politics of the nation of Israel).

No one likes favorites or those who play favorites. That has been Israel's burden.

Christians have used the idea of election as a way to mark off God's love. "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" the Bible says (this is an unfortunate translation given our understanding of love as an emotion. Better is Goldingay's, "I dedicated myself to Jacob and acted against Esau") so the conclusion was reached that God loves some and saves them and rejects others. Christians are God's chosen people today like Israel in the Old Testament.

But God's purposes for Jacob and Esau were separate with different choices and  God loved and chose both. His love is always particular. It is not the same because individuals are not the same. And in the case of Jacob and Esau, God preferred one over the other for his purposes with Israel. The Bible is clear that God is free to make choices as God did with Saul and David. That God's love chooses does not make it unfair even though it often seems so. God's choice in the short term may result in long term benefits. Goldingay again, "This does not imply that Israel ever ceases to be God's first love but it could imply that other peoples could be equally loved in their own way."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Liar, Liar

My wife came home from substitute teaching in a second grade class yesterday. Telling me about her day, she mentioned an informal debate among some children over the election. One boy said he could never vote for Trump. To which a girl replied, how can you vote for Hillary, she is such a liar.

Lying has been a huge part of this election year, both as a theme and as a background. Trump, who has branded Cruz and Clinton as liars so much it's like their first names, while he is hardly a candidate who gets high ratings for truthfulness.  His campaign was built on the lie of Obama's birthplace (not America). I've noticed local elections are getting a lot of mileage out of accusing the other candidate of lying, too. Who would have thought lying would be such a big deal. We should be used to it by now. Fact checkers check every speech and always spot a few lies. We don't expect anyone to be lie - free, do we? Maybe our kids but what kind of role models do they have in the adult world? We teach the importance of honesty and then they listen adults debating politics.

Well, adults think they do better than they actually do when it comes to lying. The NY Times polled over 2500 of their subscribers and asked them if they had told a lie that day. Only 7% said yes. That's right 93% swore to truthfulness at least on the day in question. Makes me wonder what people consider a lie. We have "bald faced lies" and "little white lies". Then, there are the lies we tell because the truth may hurt or get us into trouble like when some one asks us if we like what they are wearing or cooking or listening to. We have many ways to categorize lies. Like we need places to file them because there are so many of them. The really, really bad lies are the only ones that count. We all know what those are, apparently. No one wants to be known as a liar. If that tag sticks, no one will believe any thing you say.

Perhaps we have been caught in a whopper once or twice. Not fun. Told one lie and it spiraled out of control until we had such a big lie that no one but us believed it. Or, we didn't really believe it either but we had to keep telling it. Some times the lie gets so big we say she is living a lie or his whole life is one big lie. We like mysteries for that reason, trying to figure out who is lying. It's not easy but it is interesting.

I think it would be better off if more people, especially politicians, admitted they have lied, or are lying or will lie. Then, we can get to what they aren't lying about. It isn't that big a deal. We all have done it, in fact, we are pretty expert at it. We have had lot of practice. We may not like it when we do. Or when others do it to us. But, if we are honest, we have a problem here. 9 out of 10 of us on any given day believe we have told nothing but the truth all day. We even lie about lying.