Thursday- A Difficult but Important Meal

I can’t help but wonder if the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples seems odd to them. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the twelve disciples who seem to be the last to understand what is going on around them. Jesus has been trying to teach them about his upcoming death, but they don’t seem to get it. They are simply relaxing and enjoying a fulfilling meal when Jesus starts to give a speech, telling them that one of them will betray him and that this is his body and sharing a cup that is supposedly a new covenant. I don’r know about you, but after a big meal my attention span is pretty short.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 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.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl[with me.  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.”

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.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 

Mark 14:17-23

Jesus is teaching a lesson about spiritual fullness and what keeps us from being the person God has created us to be. Each of us is held captive by some view of self, neighbor, or the world that cuts us off from the grace of God.

Each of the disciples, like each one of us, are held captive to something that kept them from true discipleship. Jesus knows they will not be at the foot of the cross the next day. They are held captive by their own fears, their own doubts, their own concern for self.

But Jesus invites them to be set free, to be a part of this meal, of this moment. Even Judas is invited, because all are welcome.

Today’s work is to be open to Jesus’ generous invitation to share in the bread and the cup. Partake so that you may be set free.

 

 

Five for Thanksgiving: Five Things for Which I Am Grateful

2017 has been giving 2016 a run for its money when it comes to civil dysfunction. Let’s be honest; things aren’t exactly getting better in our political and civil discourse. As a Jesus follower, my predisposition is towards hope, but that’s not exactly an easy path on some days. As we slow down and prepare to eat tomorrow, here are five things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving,

thanksgiving-dinner

People who have tables that are expanding, not shrinking, this Thanksgiving.

In the midst of threats to Dreamers, Haitians, and whoever else the Administration decides to target, there are individuals, religious communities, community organizations, etc. who are growing more committed to being welcoming to refugees, immigrants, and others. The strength of this country has always been room at the table for more people who seek to call this home. There is much good work being done each day to make this a more, not less, welcoming nation.

Kindness and grace in day-to-day interactions

Despite all the rhetoric, people are still generally kind towards one another. Sure, we get frustrated with each other from time to time, but that pales in comparison to the simple acts of kindness and grace we offer daily to others. There is good in each of us. Each interaction with another is an opportunity for kindness and grace.

Artists are making beautiful music, art, and writing

In the midst of muck in so many places, there is an abundance of great music, art, and writing that inspires, challenges, and brings beauty to our lives.

The depth of emerging prophetic voices

I don’t necessarily mean the mainstream ones you know.  I mean the ones you see each week in your local pulpit. The local church pastor has always wrestled with the tension between pastoral and prophetic. There are many great voices in the local church who are claiming their prophetic identity, while doing the work of shaping disciples through preaching. I believe that this important work is still the best way to shape people to bring wholeness to our world.

And finally….

Elections in 2018 and 2020

I can’t believe I am saying this, but these can’t come soon enough.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Guns and the Church

“You know you are a sitting duck up there for twenty-five minutes every week. Don’t worry though, I’ve got your back.”

This statement was made to me by a church member as I was walking into the sanctuary to lead worship. When he said he had my back, he pointed to the side of his leg, right where someone would carry a concealed gun. Two thoughts immediately came to mind;

Country Church

Have I really been preaching for twenty-five minutes lately?

Why is the person bringing a gun to church with him and what exactly does he think is going to happen?

This conversation was top of mind as I heard the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, this time at a church in Texas. This one hits close to home. I’ve spent many a Sunday behind a pulpit or lectern looking out at people whom I dearly love who have given up a few hours of their time on Sunday to worship and be in community together. It’s one of my favorite views. It is a place of peace and centering for me. I’d be lying if I said that after the comment was made to me, it’s a little less peaceful.

Churches, by nature, are different public gathering spaces. For one, you are hoping to see people, lots of people, that no one else recognizes. A Monday morning with a full visitor list is a preacher’s delight! Second, every door in the building is unlocked. You want to allow as much access as possible on a Sunday morning, even for those who might accidentally stumble into your building. In this day of high alert and high surveillance, the church goes against the grain. It is counter cultural. There is no physical screening process to enter the doors of a church.

Reading the list of places mass shootings have occurred is like reading a litany of places we frequent; Schools, malls, work, and concerts to name a few. Still no action, no real conversation on the epidemic of gun violence. Yesterday a church was once again added to this tragic list. The place where people gather to be transformed to live as the one we call Prince of Peace lived. With our lack of action and the fear that permeates everything we do, maybe it was only a matter of time. I can’t even believe I am writing that previous sentence, but its true. We fell behind the moment something in our culture triggered the need to begin bringing our guns to church to protect ourselves. When we looked at our worship leaders as “sitting ducks.”

Anytime I write or speak about guns, I offer this disclaimer. Guns have not been a part of my life. Growing up, we did not have one in the house, I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting, and I’ve only shot a gun twice in my life. I have no desire to do so again. I understand and respect that guns hold a different place in others lives, including many of the folks whom I call friends and family.The person who told me that “he had my back” was well-meaning and offered in the spirit of friendship and respect.

Here is what I don’t understand- how much longer must we write “how long O’ Lord?” Why are we not willing to at least have conversations about guns and about our addiction to violence and fear that would necessitate one to carry a gun wherever they go?

Yesterday, the first tears were God’s. Will this be the event where we say “enough” and are at least willing to have the conversation? I hope, with the greatest of hope that it will be. Because this is enough. its past time to do something.

5 For the Next 500: 5 Changes I Would Like to See in the Church

It’s the beginning of the next 500 years for the Protestant Church. The first 500 really flew by didn’t they? A lot changed over those first 500 years, beginning with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door. I don’t have 95 things, but I do have a few I would like to see change in the next 500 (or 5) years in the life of the church.

Horizion

We will no longer need churches to carry an Open and Affirming Designation

I say this because my hope is that when someone hears “church” they know the church is open, affirming, and welcoming to all people. It’s shameful that communities rooted in a faith and ethic of universal love find grounds to tell people they aren’t loved because of who they love. Open and Affirming should be the norm, not the exception.

Scripture claims a central place in our witness

Too often we know the how, but we don’t know the why. The progressive church’s ministry is rooted in the stories of the scripture, but we don’t claim it as such. We lament the way Scripture is used by others, but don’t use it ourselves. We need to find new ways to teach our adults and bring the Bible alive for our children. The Bible is good stuff, lets use it.

The Church better reflects the diversity of God’s creation

Most people still go to church with people who look, act, vote, and think like they do. The challenge is not only integration along racial lines, but socio-economic ones as well. Churches become bubbles where closely held notions are affirmed rather than challenged. The Church of the (near) future will better reflect the diversity of God’s creation.

The Church is a source of transformation, not information

All of us need to be liberated from something in order to experience the wholeness God intends for each of us.  A renewed passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ is in order. Often, we settle for consuming the Good News like we do the Sunday paper. My hope is for the church to find a renewed interest in the transformation of lives and communities.

The Church takes the lead on combating climate change

Climate change is not a political one, but a spiritual and theological one. If we believe that God is creator, then the church must take caring for creation seriously. If we believe that climate change is a threat to that creation, then the church must be an active leader in combating climate change.

Bonus: Children are full participants in the life of the Church

Jesus is one of the few figures in antiquity who spent time with children. The church should mirror this ethic. Children have much to teach all of us about what it means to live a faith-filled life. The Church is better when children are full participants.

Those are my five (well, six.) Here’s to the next 500 years.

The Widow’s Might

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money into the treasury.”  Mark 12:43

Admittedly, I have a habit of associating much of what happens in the world with the Biblical story. This past weekend I managed to tie 311 lyrics together with Colossians 3 for my brother’s wedding. Sometimes I even impress myself.

Folded-American-Flag

When I see the image of Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson leaning over her husband’s casket, I can’t help but think about the story of the widow’s mite from the Gospels. It’s a story about a widow who literally gives everything she must the temple treasury. It’s a story about money, but also a story about a lot more. There is no doubt that in agreeing to serve our country both La David and Myeshia Johnson gave all of their lives.

In many experiences with people grieving the loss of a loved one, I have learned two things:

It’s never easy to walk with someone through losing a loved one.

It’s far easier to say the wrong thing rather than the right thing.

I commend POTUS for calling her. I understand that perhaps what he said wasn’t what he meant to say. Maybe the moment overwhelmed him and he tripped over his words. I realize I’m stretching the benefit of the doubt.

Here is where this gets problematic for me; we know that the POTUS is a bully who especially enjoys belittling women and people of color. At the very least he could have hung up the phone and not said another word about their conversation. Instead, he lied about what happened and took to Twitter to call Myeshia Johnson a liar. So, either a man who lies like its going out of style is lying or a grieving Gold Star widow is lying. You decide, right?

I cannot imagine the grief that Myeshia Johnson is experiencing right now. I cannot fathom the immense pain she feels. I do know that like the widow in the Gospels, she gave her all.  She continues to give her all. Like the widow in the Gospels, she inspires others to give more. Her might in standing up to a bully in this most difficult time is inspiring. I hope her might encourages us to each find our own might and say, “enough is enough.”

A Thin Line Between Protest and Prayer

Colin Kapernick kneeled, Jemele Hill of ESPN spoke out, Steph Curry hesitated to visit the White House, and the President turned his racial prejudiced agenda against athletes and those who cover them. To quote Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.” On Friday, the President referred to NFL players as “SOBs” and tweeted that those who did not stand for the national anthem should be fired.

Kneeling

I don’t believe the issue is a lack of respect for the flag or our nation, but the racial bias and prejudice that permeates our living today. The President has made it clear that he cares only about himself. This is the man that has continuously tweeted about crowd size at rallies while making no mention of Puerto Rico being without electricity. When the subject turns to race, he goes to great lengths to defend white supremacists as “nice guys” while calling African-American athletes “SOBs” This culminated in yesterday’s mass protest by NFL players, officials, and owners. Many kneeled, some locked arms, and a few even skipped the whole national anthem all together. The NFL said “enough.”

Walter Bruegemann describes Biblical Christianity as “awed to heaven, rooted in earth,” The wonder of God roots us to what is going on in current time and place. I’ve been thinking about the difference between being driven to your knees in prayer and being driven to your knees in protest. There are times when the line between the two is thin. This is such a time. Prayer is proclaiming that God’s will makes a way when it seems there is none. Prayer is asking that a world more whole than what we currently experience will take root.

All our biblical prophets confronted the evils of empire in their time and place. The stories from the Bible that we read to our children are about heroes who were in tune with God’s will against empire. The one whom we proclaim Lord and Savior was put to death because he confronted empire. Yesterday I thought about where we would find Jesus. I imagine if you looked closely enough, you would have seen him somewhere on his knees, in prayer and protest, proclaiming God’s kin-dom come to earth.

Jesus Wept- In Defense of DACA

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” Matthew 25:35(b)

It is the easiest parts of the Bible to understand that are the hardest ones to live out. As the Trump administration prepares to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) I have a hard time seeing how Christians would support this action. If anything, people who seek to follow the ways of Jesus should be on the forefront of advocating for rights for Dreamers.

DACA

Immigration is tricky in the United States. In a nation where everyone is from somewhere else, we struggle with what to do about those who desire to do the same as our ancestors.  I’ve spent time building homes in Tijuana and Tecate, along US and Mexican border. I’ve had interaction and spent time with people who live in these communities. The welcome and hospitality is consistently excellent (and biblical). This past Spring, our group meet Eddie. Eddie lived across the street from where we were building. He made it a point to open his home to us each day for bathroom facilities and for rest from the sun. He played music for us while we built. He cut up enough fresh mangoes for twenty-five people each day. I don’t know if Eddie was familiar with Matthew 25, but he sure did know how to live it out. He spoke of the family who had moved to the United States for better opportunities. I remember thinking how I hoped they had been treated equally as well in the states as we had been treated in Mexico.

There are currently 800,000 Dreamers here in the United States. Chances are you know at least one, two, or twenty in some form or fashion. They are neighbors, friends, and colleagues. I suspect that if you took a snapshot of any group of 800,000 people here, you would find that the Dreamers compare very well using the traditional metrics of success. For example, ninety-five percent are either working or in school. In the the wider church I serve, Dreamers offering some of the best ministry the church knows today. Our church will be less whole if DACA is ended. Our nation will be less whole if DACA is ended. Dreamers illustrate the best of what the United States offers not a problem that needs to be solved.

Later in Matthew 25, Jesus points out the consequences for not welcoming the stranger are steep. Rejecting the stranger amounts to rejecting him. While I do think that the ending of DACA by this administration is cruel and has much to do with racial resentment and prejudice, it is not my politics that informs my thoughts. It is my faith. It is my understanding of how Jesus calls us to live that urges me to speak out. A world in which Dreamers are deported is a world that is taking a step away from God’s dream for us. The deportation of Dreamers brings another scripture to mind- “Jesus wept.”