Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Door

John Claussen
Lectionary from June 1
Genesis Scriptures

He stood looking at the large wooden door. The last time he had been on the other side of that door was a year ago. But the world that he knew on the other side of that door was gone. Gone. His home, his neighbors, and his favorite shady spot by the tree he had planted…all gone. How many times had he walked by the large wooden door, wondering when it would open; when he could walk out and smell the fresh air again; when he could put his feet firmly on land? There had been no time table, no scheduled release. He had no idea when the door would open, or what would be waiting for him on the other side. He had built the door, but he was not the one who shut it. And he could not open it. That was up to God. So Noah stood looking at the large wooden door. Waiting.
When I read about this great man of faith I find it hard to imagine what he must have been going through. And then again, as I look at my life, at times I understand completely. I have stood behind that large wooden door. I have waited for God to open it up. I have felt the fear of the unknown, and the anxiety of waiting on God. Now, please do not get me wrong. I know that God knows what he is doing. But still. He doesn’t always tell me. And like Noah, you and I spend a great deal of time standing at the doors of life.
So, what can we do before that big door opens? The first thing we can do is to trust God. His timing is perfect. After all, if Noah would have found a way to open that door early, he would have been sunk…literally. Too often when the door is shut, we become spiritually claustrophobic. I remember the first time Cindy and I flew on a commercial airline. After a great deal of prayer, I listened intently as the flight attendant explained what to do in case of an emergency. That speech was not necessary. I had already scoped out the plane, and I knew exactly where the exits were located. Have you ever noticed that we human beings do that all the time? Watch people. As soon as they enter a room, they look around for the exit. The escape. In our spiritual walk we do the same thing. The next door is very important. If the door won’t budge, we look for a window, or a sledge hammer. The best advice: Don’t panic! God brought you through that door for a purpose, and God will open the next door in his time. I like the verse in Psalms that says “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Ps.130:5).
Next, we need to remind ourselves why we are on this side of the door to begin with. Noah may have been thinking about that big wooden door, but he was feeding animals. When he had time to relax, his mind may have wondered about what the world was going to be like when the door opened, but there was still stalls to clean. And believe me, if Noah would have decided his job was to simply watch the door and wait for it to open, I am fairly sure Mrs. Noah would have hit him upside the head with a bucket.
And speaking of family…too often we forget that they are in the same boat we are in. Even though you and I may be ready for that large wooden door to open, maybe there is someone in the boat who really enjoys taking care of those animals. Family communication is crucial, especially during times of possible transition.
Finally, remember that even though we are waiting for that large wooden door to open to new possibilities and new ministries, God is with us on this side of the door as well. God will not only open the door at the proper time, but he will walk with us thru it. And while he is showing us all the new things, please pay attention. Don’t immediately start looking for the exits. It may be a long boat ride before that large wooden door opens again.

Friday, May 16, 2008

May 25th Blog - 2nd Sun After Pentecost - Deliverence & Humility

Based on the lectionary for May 25, 2008
(Isa. 49:8-16; Psalm 131; I Corinth. 4:1-5; Matt. 6:24-24)
By Dr. Richard Guentert, Upper Midwest Regional Minister
[Italicized Scripture quotations from the N.R.S.V.]

This is the second Sunday after Pentecost, Memorial Day weekend, and the theme is “God’s continuing deliverance and the Humbled Countenance That Confesses It.” The four texts portray God’s healing and renewing spirit at work – a perpetually repairing presence – and the humility people of faith should manifest in the face of God's action.

It begins in Isaiah 49:8 with the reminder that it is “in a time of favor I have answered you … I have helped you.” This is God’s doing, not our own. Thus it is an act of mercy. The “favor” and “salvation” that here characterizes the awaited deliverence is reliant upon the mercy of the one who delivers it!

Isaiah 49 portrays this in God’s revitalizing visitation. It is deliverance in the form of “the desolate” being apportioned a new “heritage.” (verse 8d). It is a visitation in which nobodies become somebodies . . . invisible folk are made visible all over again . . . a voice speaks to those who are prisoners of their “dark” life-circumstance and it says: “Come out! … Show yourselves!!” (verse 9). And because of this visitation what were once obstacles become roads, and what was once impassible becomes an opening and a passage . . . “I will turn all my mountains into a road” says the Lord (verse 11).

Such a message was the politics of change and the anticipation of hope in Isaiah’s day.

While in Romans 8:19-22 the earth “groans in travail” awaiting the transformative work of God, here in Isaiah the earth rejoices and “sings for joy” at God’s ability to turn things around (verse 13). Deliverance takes the form of a new harmony between the human sphere and the sphere of the humus. The concerns of the human and the humus are of equal importance to one another. The fruitfulness and fecundity of each is dependent upon the other. The generativity of each is dependent upon the generosity of the other. Such is the interdependency of creation as it was intended by its Creator.

The degree of God’s “comfort” and “compassion” is referenced in verse 13, even before the questioner frames the inquiry in verse 15. Even when our circumstances blind, impair or prohibit us from being fully aware of God’s care and loving kindness toward us, even then – notes Isaiah – even then God’s attentiveness and understanding are part and parcel of God’s own being. Note the scope of God’s awareness in the image Isaiah provides in verse 16: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

If you and I wear rings to signal our covenantal seriousness to a spouse, God one-ups us! Isaiah says we are “inscribed” on the palm of God’s hands. (The plural suggests both hands, and connotes that we are never absent from God’s perpetual attentiveness, no matter what our lot in life might be.) God has made us part of God’s own self. How could any relationship matter more, or be more personal than that?

This metaphorical tattoo is God’s betrothal promise – insuring the creation of an enduring love. And such love fosters the kind of "hope" to which the Psalmist in today’s lectionary text alludes (Psalm 131:3). What the Isaiah and the Psalm passages today share in common is human humility cultivated in the soil of healing hope.

And if this is not enough, the Isaiah text takes us one image further. “Your walls are continually before me,” says the Lord (verse 16b). So whatever our “walls” are – whatever confinements limit us, whatever barriers restrict us, whatever walls curb and narrow our options – God is knowing; God is abiding with us; God is partnering with us in all our efforts to overcome those walls. That is the nature of a God of deliverance!

Psalm 131 calls us to a life of quiet trust – to humility – in the midst of our life journey. The image of God is a feminine one. Our life, our being, is likened to a weaned child in the arms of this mother God! (verse 2)

Because of this the Psalmist is a non-anxious child of God. There is no propensity to give-in to worry. Being held in God’s life-giving protection is enough – a step removed from nursing, but still dependent upon God’s nurture. The lesson here is that faith trumps fret, that belief trumps bother, that trust trumps tension!

Much of our time is preoccupied with trying to “figure-out” evil and suffering and the bad stuff that happens in the world. We get consumed by the need to find answers for all the questions posed for us by an agitated and neurotic world. As in the temptation of Adam and Eve in one of the Genesis narratives, we are gripped by the need to know more than we need to know. We obsess about things over which we have no control. The press and media have persuaded their readers/viewers to crave their “fair and balanced” coverage, so much so that we have become mesmerized junkies in search of a “fix” called ultimate Truth! After all, the news agencies have convinced us, “We have a need to know and we have a right to know!” It is the media’s methodical mantra! So we fixate on solving mysteries which are beyond our comprehension. We become consumed by the vagaries and ambiguities of life. And when we are unable to “figure it all out,” we succumb to doubt – or worse, to complacency.

So Psalm 131:1-2 is a refreshing alternative. The Psalmist is content with some mystery in life. He is willing to modify the ravenous hungers of the mind and the spirit. There is a state of acceptance that culminates in contentment. This is not naiveté. This is not turning a blind eye to trouble. Nor is it a denial of the realities of life, which is often “not fair.” It is simply a state of being that recognizes human limitations, is willing to do the human part, and to leave the rest to God. Herein is real hope!

It seems to me that this is what Paul is getting at in I Corinthians 4:1 and 5b, when he writes, “I think of us in this way, as . . . steward’s of God’s mysteries.” He leaves it up to the Lord to “bring to light the things now hidden in darkness” . . . (which fits, of course, with his sentiment in I Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”)

Matthew 6:24-35. Ultimately we are to trust the teaching of Jesus. Even as we are on a journey toward fuller expressions of deliverance, and are called to be ambassadors of that deliverance (i.e. reconciliation), we are admonished by our Lord to forsake worry. Abandon it. Leave it behind. Matthew 6:24ff suggests that our worry discloses our worship of the wrong master. So our Lord’s counsel is simple: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink. . . . Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of life? . . . “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." (verses 25, 27 and 34)

This God of Deliverance calls us to live in humble recognition of the exigencies of life, even as we do our part to partner with the Deliverer in those ministries of deliverance which Jesus has given us to enact.

And the best prayer I can imagine to pair with this set of lectionary passages is The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

A humorous alternative occurred when the philosopher W. W. Bartley juxtaposed Neibuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme in 1965, with a similar sentiment.

"For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Is God Green?

May 18, 2008

With the beautiful images of Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, this seems like a good week to have a heart-to-heart conversation about the stewardship of creation with our congregations. The question is: how do we have this conversation in a manner that can be heard? Although most scientists agree about the damage we are doing to the earth, high-profile political pundits claim that scientists exaggerate our impact on the environment. What are we to believe? Whom are we to believe? Is anyone speaking without an agenda? What impact can we really have on the environment as churches and individuals?

Unfortunately, traditional interpretations of Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 have contributed to a callous and harmful attitude toward nature. The following sentiment is not uncommon in our pews: “God gave us dominion over the earth. It exists to serve our needs. It is ours to use as we see fit. . . Besides God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. This world will pass away. This world is supposed to pass away—the world exists for humankind, not humankind for the world.”

Perhaps we need to help our churches to re-examine what it means to exercise dominion. We should think more about stewardship than mastery over creation. That God giving us dominion over nature meant that we ought not be arrogant. We should exercise our dominion over nature the way God exercises dominion over human beings: lovingly, respectfully and seeking out what is best for the other. Ultimately, our attitude toward creation needs to be one of respect and awe. Rabbi Abraham Benjamin Heschel says that when we lose our capacity for awe we lose our capacity for praise and then we lose our imagination toward God.

It seems then to me that we ought to try to live in harmony with nature. That it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever step on a bug or that we can’t build homes or live here. We belong to the earth, too. But we should try to conserve wherever and however we can and not just rely on our own technological advances to clean up the messes we create. Remember: you can’t ever throw anything away because there is no “away.”

Is God green? Remember God created green. Chief Seattle gave the following speech in 1857. The heart of it sounds much like the sentiment reflected in Psalm 8.

Chief Seattle's Letter
"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."

David Clark
Ankeny Christian Church

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pentecost and Mother's Day... Hmmmm

As we continue to grow the use of this online lectionary Blog I am sure that each of our unique perspectives will become visable to one another. I hesitate to require a formal format that all must use but hope with the Holy Spirit we will all understand each other.

On a week in which most may punt and run away from the lectionary in favor of a mothers day theme let me suggest the following for the beginning of our conversation on Acts 2:1-21... The Story of Pentecost!

I gravitated to verse 14 and particularly the phrase: "But peter, standing with the eleven raised his voice and addressed them: 'Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say."

Peter, in a moment of confusion and fear stands up and leads, teaches, interprets and guides his people through an event that in truth could have gone either way. It could have turned into a riot or into a witch trail. God breaking into our lives is sometimes a very scary time even when it is a good thing. I must say that I have in the past tended to focus in on the spirit and tongue thing and the obvious overtones toward unity and diversity as a Disciple.

However, this time, though I did not set out to link mothers day and Pentecost, it seems if I were going to do this what I would do is talk about my mother and how she and others have been the one who stood up and raised her voice and guided me through those potentially confusing moments of life.

I have writen a story about everyone else in the family but my mother. Im not sure why I have been unable to catch my mothers presence in my life in a paragraph of letters and words. Everytime I sit down to write something about her I seem to fall short with just the right emphasis that tells my soul that "Yes, this is my mother."

Yet, she has always been there! Other then a moment when my mother stood up and dump an entire huge bowl of peas on my head to emphasize the point that I was being annoying and selfish to all around, I dont remember my mother as the person who would have been like Peter standing up and saying LISTEN to me for I know what this means!

What I remember about my mother and what I would share this Sunday is a mother who has struggled with the loss of 3 of her six children. A mother who allowed me to make butter and sugar sandwiches even though it was not her particular favorite food. A mother who for her own reasons believed in a God who has a plan for all people including hers and mine. An idea of God that she focused on but never talked to me about during the rough times of her life. A mother who still claimed me, when I, her son, came home from seminary, now a well trained theologian and had writen a paper that articulated an understanding of God as one who is neither in full control or has an overall plan for our lives [because if God did have a plan or that much control than things that happened to my mother would not have happen ever.] I was passionate and proud and like any good son I let her read my paper; I needed her to read my paper on "How I see God in this world." She took an hour to read it and then said, "I am proud of you, your paper is very Good and I understand how you see God." However, then she said, "As for me, I still see God as one who, has a plan and purpose for our lives." We smiled and at butter and sugar sandwiches together... Ok maybe not that last part but we did spend the rest of the day sitting in lawn chairs talking about all the other things that we never knew that we did not know about each other...

We did not speak the same langauge or have the same understanding of how God is working in our world... So my mother is no Peter in the sense of telling me to LISTEN to what he has to say! But she has often stood up next to me and said I am listening to what you have to say about God and that has encouraged me to be willing to listen to her and others as well who may speak of God differently.

Thank God for Pentecost, for mothers who stand up and listen and congregations willing to worship together particularly when we DO hear each others understandings of God clearly for the first time...

Those are my thoughts on pentecost and mother's day... what do you all think.. continue the conversation by clicking on the comment button below....