Saturday, April 27, 2013

Add a Single Hour

Where did April go?  We run headlong into May this week, I’m still wondering if I slept through Easter.  No, I was there.  Wasn’t I? Certainly, I was.  Definitely.  Pretty sure anyway. Yeah.

But now, we’ve run out of April.  Well, in a few days anyway.  OK, I’ve been busy.  You too, I’m sure.  It is hard to keep track of days when they are so full.  Routine busters like vacations, like family members come to visit and then staying, hospital stays and rehab, planning for a graduation and making college visits. Whew.  It gets so that when I get a text from my son in college I have to think for a moment who this is.  Don’t tell him.

Where did it go?  You can’t help but worry when you get out of control, like that.  Or even if you are still moderately in control - you aren’t running around screaming ... yet - worry can still creep in around the edges. Like just now I inadvertently chose sides in a mother-daughter dispute, and now no one is happy with me or with each other or just happy.

Don’t worry.  You know where I am going with this.  We’ve been reading our way through the Sermon on the Mount.  So naturally we have to get to that Bobby McFerrin passage - don’t worry, be happy.  You know the one.  Well, take a look then.

Matthew 6:19 - 7:12   "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;  20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
    22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;  23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  24 "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.    
    25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith?  31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'  32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. 
    “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?  5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.  6 "Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. 
    7 "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
     12 "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Whew.  All that?  Now I am worried.  Worried that you are bored by so much scripture.  Worried that you’ll think I’m slacking, cutting and pasting to fill most of the page.  Worried that ... wait.  What’s that you say?  Get a grip?

Besides being one those commandments from Jesus that we absolutely refuse to follow, there is actually more going on here.  This isn’t just advice from someone trying to keep our hair from turning white.  This isn’t just pop psychology in an old pop song. 

And in fact a closer examination shows that this isn’t about no more worries!  It is about perspective.  “Do not worry about your life.”  Jesus is setting us free from what we worry most about, ourselves.

Do not store up treasures on earth.  Don’t spend your time focusing on the things that will get you off track, the things of darkness rather than light.  Learn, he says, to prioritize.  Learn what really matters.  And if you don’t know then go looking.

Maybe there is something to worry about, but it isn’t us.  It is the Kingdom of God.  Or maybe we don’t have time to worry, we are too busy looking, knocking on doors, asking others what they know about what life with God is really about.  Maybe we don’t worry because there specks to be cleaned up.  We are motivated to get the logs out of the way so that we can work on those specks. 

And we don’t have time to worry because we are looking for the right moment.  It takes time to build the relationship that will allow us to share knowledge, to share hope, to share lives with others.  And if we skip that relationship building stage, it is like throwing away something precious, like missing a moment, a life giving moment.  And the word we thought would help only hurts more because we didn’t wait for the right time, we drive people away with our untimeliness when all we really wanted was to bring them closer to what has given us life and hope and value.

Maybe that’s how we avoid worry, by not worrying about worry.  By wrapping ourselves up in looking outward.  By not thinking about how we want to be treated, but by treating others as they were our own bodies, our own souls.  Tending to those around us as if they were the body of Christ.  Because they are.  As are we. 

Where did the time go?  It was wrapped up in opportunities to love and to be loved.  Some were missed and some were seized.  In some we were fully alive, in some it is like we were sleepwalking only to awake later and wonder what has passed us by.  These are the hours we have.  We can wish for more, or we can live the ones we are given.  One leads to frustration and worry, the other to life.  Choose this day. 

As for me and my house ...


Friday, April 19, 2013

Saying and Doing

I am off to Ohio for a session with the West Ohio Conference Lay Academy all day on Saturday, so I am trying to get this bible study done early.  Otherwise it would be late.  Or not done at all, and we can’t have that.  Can we? No, of course not.  The stars would fall out of then sky if I didn’t get this done.  The planet would stop spinning on its axis, mountains would be uprooted by the suspension of the laws of gravity, rivers would change their courses, cows would give birth to two-headed calves, and all the dogs would stop barking at once.

On the other hand, who would notice?  Not about the mountains and stars and two headed calves.  Though I would notice if the dogs stopped barking, might even be worth risking a suspension of gravity if the dogs wouldn’t bark at every thing that saunters down the path out our back door.  I mean come on, that squirrel doesn’t even care that you guys are going crazy in here.  That shake of its bushy tail is from laughing at you.  Get a clue!

Sorry, where was I?  Whose day would be ruined?  What catastrophe would occur? Who would notice if I didn’t get this done?  Well, I would notice.  It’s a commitment I made.  It is something that I do.  And while it might not matter in the greater scheme of things whether or not this was done, and I have missed some weeks for a variety of reasons, it still seems like honoring the commitment is better than relying on whims of the moment.  At least to me.  And maybe to Jesus.

I’ve wrestled with the passage chosen for this week, as have many others.  It is a part of the Sermon on the Mount, that great work we are listening to this Eastertide.  And yet it is a low point in a high point focused message.  Easily overlooked, and we mostly do.

In order to get through the whole Sermon in the weeks, I actually assigned a very long passage to this Sunday.  There is an internal coherence to the verses.  The sermon title I chose to tie them all together is “A  Faith of Our Doing.”  The Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus told us what life was like.  Not just the Christian life, but life.  And it involves doing, as well as being, as well as believing.  It is found in how we treat one another, in how we honor our commitments, in how we live in community.  A lot of good stuff, radical sometimes, but good stuff nonetheless.

Yet this section begins with what some might call a bit of a downer.  With something like legalism. Or does it?  Take a look.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Mat 5:17-20 NRS)

Did they hope that Jesus would say “no more law”?  Is that why this phrase got thrown in there?  I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the issue.  Jesus saw in some of his followers this tendency to a “whatever” kind of existence.  “Whatever feels good.”  “Whatever works.”  “Whatever sounds like a good idea, as long as no one gets hurt.”  That’s all.  That’s the law we have to worry about.

I don’t know if that was the problem or not.  But since Paul had to deal with folks who thought that way, it wouldn’t be a leap to think Jesus did too.  And so do we.  Maybe even in ourselves. 

If the law was there to keep folks in line until Jesus came, then we do we still need it?  Come to think of it, wasn’t there a desire to get rid of the law even older than Jesus?  Didn’t Ezekiel say something about that.  About not worrying about the law, but following our hearts?  Yeah, that sounds better to us.  “Use the Force, Luke.”  It is the subject of many movies, just follow your heart.  Doesn’t matter what everyone is saying, just follow your heart.  As if the heart is a better moral guide than any law.  Or that we don’t want to just be obedient to a law, we want to feel it - the rightness or wrongness.  We want to go with our gut.

That’s what we figure Jesus would do, since he was always on about love.  It sounds so much more emotive than legalistic.  Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin, from bondage to the law.  Didn’t he?  Then why does he say, I’ve not come to do away with the law?  That not one letter, not one stroke of a letter shall pass from the law?  (Personally, I like the King James Versions “jot or tittle” - it sounds even more exacting.)

I have not come, says Jesus, to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  What does that mean?  Does it mean that he comes to obey all the law so we don’t have to?  Does it mean that he comes to show us how important following the law really is?  Or, dare we hope, does it mean that he renders it unnecessary? 

Well, yes!  And no.  I think that what he meant was that as an external force that fences us in to behave in certain ways, the law is now done.  That is the bondage that we are being set free from.  That coercive, oppressive, keep folks in their place kind of idea that is just ripe for abuse on all sorts of levels use of the law is no longer in place and is in fact a contradiction of the message of the gospel.  That’s the yes in the rendering the law unnecessary. 

But there is still a need for the law.  But from a different direction.  Go back to look at what Ezekiel was saying. (Ch 11:19)  He wasn’t advocating doing away with the law, he was suggesting that God wants to bring it closer.  He didn’t propose that it be posted in the court houses or on the church lawns.  No, he wanted it written in our hearts.

Jesus doesn’t want the law to work outside in, he wants it to work inside out.  He came to fulfill the law, means he came to live it out in front of us.  He came with the law written on his heart.  He came motivated by God’s law - the same law he describes as loving God and loving neighbor.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus then proceeds to tell us what such a law does for human community.  From verse 21 Jesus defines law at work in the community. The law of love, he says, shows no hostility (5:21-26); the law of love is not predatory (5:27-30), the law of love honors the commitment of marriage (5:31-32), the law of love is unconditionally truthful (5:33-37), the law of love does not retaliate (5:38-42), the law of love extends to the enemy (5:43-48).  And then in Chapter 6, Jesus tells us that this law of love applies to worship in the community as well.  It applies to God and neighbor, both.

Law as law, as words, even spoke words, even believed words, doesn’t serve us at all.  But law as lived out in human community and in worship is transforming.  It makes us who we were created to be.  It makes us whole.  Jesus doesn’t want to do away with the law, he just wants us to live it.

Or better, he wants it to live in us.  To live through us.  As he lives in us and through us.  Because, Lord knows, we need the help.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Trampled Under Foot

We are back!  I know, at least one of you is now saying “Oh, were you gone?”  Yes, yes I was.  Gone on an adventure that probably changed me in ways I haven’t even figured out yet.  For Spring Break, I took my daughter Maddie - or maybe she took me (but then she didn’t pay for anything, so I took her - that settles that) - to New York City for the week.  Whew.  You haven’t seen NYC until you’ve seen it with a seventeen year old girl still wet from crawling out of her chrysalis, but itching to try her wings.

Luckily, my younger brother lives and works in New York which gave us a base of operations and the generosity to host us in more ways than I know how to thank him for.  It would have been a poorer trip in so many ways without my brother Jason and his partner Will. It is good to have family.

We arrived the Monday of Spring Break (after a very early morning flight for which Maddie still hasn’t forgiven me), were picked up at LaGuardia by Jason who brought us by taxi to the apartment, showed us which corners of the tiny apartment were good for sleeping and storage, handed us our subway passes and then went back to work.  We set out for the adventure. 

We took the Q train to Times Square.  Why not start at the top of the mountain!  We climbed out of the dark tunnel into cacophony that is Times Square and the week went on from there.  Maddie’s first comment about her new surroundings was “New York is loud!”

Loud, indeed.  And fast and busy and distracted and distracting as well.  Maddie’s original plan some months ago was that we send her off on her own to spend a week with her uncle in the big city.  I’m glad we said no to that.  Not just because I enjoyed the week away and the sights and sounds and experiences of New York and the too rare quality time with my brother, but because the idea of Maddie wandering those streets on her own gives me the shivers.

Frankly you don’t have to go to New York to get shivers from walking the streets.  I worry about sending her to public school.  Across town to dance class.  Let alone across the state for dance or academic competitions.  Maybe we ought to just keep our heads down and our doors closed.  Just to be sure.  Just to be safe.

Safe is a good thing.  We spend a lot of time and money on being safe, or feeling safe anyway.  It occupies our thinking quite a lot.  Yet, it never seems to be on Jesus’ list of things to worry about.  He has a list, don’t get me wrong.  OK, maybe it isn’t a worry list - after all he did say “don’t worry.”  Call it a list of things to be concerned about.  A list of things to pay attention to.  And it is a long and involved list, full of significant and powerful ideas and moments and people.  But nowhere does safety enter into it.  If anything he seems to be a risk-taking kind of leader.  Get on out there, he says.  Go and do.  Or perhaps, go and be.

At least that is what it sounds like in the passage for this week.

Matthew 5:13-16  "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.  14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Admit it, you are singing that song, aren’t you?  “Hide it under a bushel, NO!  I’m gonna let it shine.”  Or if you aren’t, then you should be.  Let it shine.  That’s what Jesus says.  Not, you notice, make it shine.  Not shine it, but let it shine.

We just walked through the Beatitudes last week.  At least those who go to Aldersgate did.  Pastor Chris did a marvelous job helping us wrestle with those all too familiar sayings.  I won’t re-create his sermon here, but go listen on the website.  It is worth your time.  But he reminded us that though we often try to turn them into imperatives - get out there and be peacemakers, be meek, be hungry and thirsty for righteousness - Jesus doesn’t present them that way.  He presents them as indicatives.  He is describing, not commanding.

Likewise in these verses that follow those first twelve in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t say Get salty!  He doesn’t say “Light up!”  He says, almost matter of factly, you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world. 

If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder “when did that happen?”  When did I become salt for the earth?  When did I become light for the world?  I’m just me.  Just doing my best.  Just watching out for me.  Just trying not to get trampled underfoot.  Jesus wants me to shine, to give light to the whole house. 

See that’s the thing about light, it doesn’t exist for its own sake.  It isn’t about getting folks to look at the light.  When we try to become the focus of attention, when we take center stage, we aren’t being the light.  The light is there to help folks find their way.  It is about shining on the path, about revealing the hazards along the way, about getting where we need to be with a minimum of detours. 

And salt, salt on its own, for its own sake is not really a good thing.  But as an enhancer, as a preservative it is invaluable.  In Jesus day it was a common practice for farmers to salt their fields to add in the right mix of minerals to help crops to grow.  The word that we translate as earth is literally ground or dirt.  You are the salt of the ground, the salt of the dirt.  Not a fun job, perhaps, but one that helps things to grow.  That’s our job.  Not to be the center of attention, but that which helps things grow.

Yeah, its risky.  No question about it.  It is a loud and noisy world out there, and we might be safer just keeping our heads down. But we can’t.  Jesus tells us that too.  “A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  He tosses that one in, even though it doesn’t fit as well.  It is a reminder that we are exposed.  We are the representatives of the faith whether we want to be or not.  So, we might as well be good ones.  We are the manifestation of Christ in the world today, whether we claim it or not.  So, why not claim it?  Why not live as though Christ were alive in us?

That is what he is saying here, you are the salt of the earth, why not help things grow?  You are the light of the world, why not help folks find their way?  Why not mentor, why not lead, why not be what you are, a sign of Christ’s presence in the world today.

Get out there, Jesus says, out there in the world, the noisy, wonderful, scary, glorious world and let your light shine.  Don’t worry about being trampled under foot, that only happens when you stop being who you are called and created to be.  Let it shine.