Monday, February 25, 2013

A Mother Hen--Images of Jesus

This reflection is based on the gospel lesson for February 24, 2013, in the Revised Common Lectionary, Luke 13:31-35.

The Good Shepherd, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Holy Lamb, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World. We have so many images for Jesus, and today we get yet another one, the mother hen.
It’s hard to imagine something so helpless as an infant—how about an infant animal? Like a baby chick? Without some instruction, some survival skills, some protection from the elements and predators, I really can’t see them surviving for long. That’s what the mother hen is there for. She gathers and protects them at night, teaches them to hunt and peck, to scratch the dirt for seeds, to survive. This is what Jesus says he wants to be to the world.
The world has another power in play, however. Did you catch it? Caesar is there, too. We don’t necessarily know why the Pharisees want to warn Jesus about Caesar, but they do. Maybe they’re playing some sort of power game; maybe they honestly want to help Jesus by giving him a heads-up. In actuality, it doesn’t really matter.
Caesar is out to win. He’s going to kill Jesus—at least that’s the threat from the Pharisees. They say that Jesus should stop preaching and healing and go away because Caesar will kill him if he doesn’t. It’s a threat.
How often do we encounter that sort of sentiment in our world—do or don’t do that, even if it’s the right thing to do. Give up, walk away, or else. Go back to your lives the way the world says to—buy commercial products, keep your head down, show up for this and that, stick with your life station. Don’t change. Status quo. Or else.
Sometimes it might even feel like we have to choose between who we are and what we learn in here and who we are and what we act like out there. Faith vs. The World.
So what’s our answer? Who wins? What would Jesus do?
Actually, let’s not speculate on what Jesus would do. Let’s look at what he did do. Jesus isn’t going to play their game. He says that he knows Caesar has a function, but that he does, too. So he isn’t going to stop. Jesus is going to continue his work—continue healing and teaching and saving and forgiving.
He’s even going to die for our sin. Jesus looks at Jerusalem, and we get a hint that he knows what is to come, yet he doesn’t back away from it. He looks with compassion at that place, and says that he only wishes that the people would let him embrace them, gather them in like a hen to her chicks. The chicks won't get it, though—they won’t see what’s going on until much later.
Do we hear this message? There are places and people in the world that are good for us—offer us a place of kindness, compassion and healing. This life—we can’t live it alone. We can’t get through the day to day challenges let alone the really big things on our own. Do we let ourselves be helped and healed when we need it?
And then do we turn around and offer that same kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to others? Do we bring the challenge and compassion our faith gives us to the world, or do we leave it in here?
Who wins? Neither side is giving up. Caesar is still strong and Jesus is still going. And us? We’re human. Like it or not, we have to live in the world. So the question is, how do we reject the game, like Jesus did?
How do we go from seeing faith vs. the world to living faith in the world?
We can’t. Not by ourselves, anyway. We need the power and grace of the Holy Spirit to give us something to hang on to what’s important—to be clear on what that even is. Last week we learned about prayer—the toolbelt that goes everywhere with us—that holds all the rest of the tools of discipleship. This week, it’s worship, the tool of discipleship that helps us maintain our grip on what’s important. Like pliers, worship helps us hang on to what’s important—it reminds us of that. We refresh our grip every week—sometimes even more often than that.
Without this tool that helps us hold on to what's important, we could be looking for anything in this world, maybe easier things. With the pliers, we look for the little things—things that seem so small to the world. So small—like a single person—a carpenter along the Jordan River at the turn of the era. But those are the important things, even if the world can’t always see it.
A carpenter--a rabbi--who would end up giving his life for the sake of the whole world, who gathers us all in together, who embraces and forgives us even when we can’t possibly think we could be loved. Who encourages us to extend that embrace as well. These are the important things to hang on to.
In these next weeks, we will hear about Jesus making the turn from ministry to the cross. He knows that Jerusalem won’t see him for who he is or what he is doing, but he embraces them anyway. We, too, need to see and share, receive and give, that compassion—to help and heal as well as let ourselves be helped and be healed.

This week, we welcomed new members in the congregation. We open ourselves to their gifts while sharing our own.

We lead as well as follow. We learn as well as teach. We serve as well as receive.
None of that can stop once we cross the threshold to the church or close the browser window. We go to be refreshed in worship, fellowship, and community so that we can have the energy to show Christ to the world through word and action.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Transfiguration: The "A-ha!" Moment

Scripture passages for this sermon are from the Revised Common Lectionary's Transfiguration Sunday, found here.

Can you recognize any sign that’s up here? In general, you probably know what these or other traffic signs mean when you see them. Most of them warn us or signal us as to what’s ahead.
The Gospel lesson for today has those elements as well. Everything about this passage says wake up. Pay attention. This is something you need to know about. Just like these traffic signs that tell us what’s going on, this passage is full of elements that should serve like a flashing neon light, telling us how big this is. If you have your Celebrate insert, go ahead and pull it out to read.
First of all, it’s eight days later. Eight days, the time of dedication after birth in the Israelite community. That’s transitional, when a baby is brought into the covenant with God and the community.
Second of all, they go up a mountain. There’s a reason we have a saying about Mountain Top experiences. That’s where stuff happens. Big stuff. Life changing stuff.
Also, the “They” is Peter, James, and John. These are the inner circle, the few, the ones who were allowed in to heal the daughter of the synagogue leader when the rest were excluded because they were the strongest.
And that’s just one verse! If we aren’t keyed in to the significance of this story yet, we then hear what happens. Jesus is praying and is transformed—transfigured—his face changes completely, and his clothes become dazzling white. I don’t know what they looked like before that, but imagine that a hike up a mountain can get a little dirty.
Jesus completely transfigures, and the three—Peter, James, John—are there to witness it. Almost as if in response, Moses and Elijah show up as well. These are probably the two most impressive and famous figures of the Old Testament, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, and Elijah standing up for God and being swept up to heavenin a chariot, and here they are, talking to the transfigured Jesus about what is to come.
Then, Peter speaks up. Let’s build three dwelling places for the three figures here—Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Three shrines, essentially. Peter doesn’t get it. These three aren’t here to be revered and worshipped, there here to talk about the next step for Jesus. Peter chatters away about how good it is that he and James and John are there to build these things for them, that they could do that. You almost want to just say, “Quiet, Peter! What are you doing?”
That’s what happens. He’s interrupted. A cloud comes over the Mountain and God’s voice says, “This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him.” In other words, “Quiet, Peter!” Suddenly, everyone is gone except Jesus and the disciples. The glimpse into heaven is over, and they’re back on the mountain.
They finally get it. Peter stops talking. In fact, he doesn’t say anything for three chapters. Maybe he didn’t say anything worth recording, or maybe he heard what the voice said and started listening instead of talking.
Peter got it, but it makes you wonder. It was not the trip up the mountain, or the eight days, or the fact that it was those three, or even the transfiguration itself and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. It took a voice straight out of heaven before he understood.
What does it take for us? We have been given this community of believers around us. We have the legacy of Christianity—the Bible, the witness of centuries, millennia, of faithful ancestors. We see everyday miracles in nature, creation of God that surrounds us. We experience the love of family and friends. Some of us even have a mountaintop experience or an “A-ha!” moment. Eventually, we probably get it.
Well, the disciples do get it. They have their mountaintop experience, and they finally understand. But here it is—it’s not what it takes for us to get it. It’s what we do when we do get it. Jesus and the disciples understand, but they don’t stay on the mountain with their understanding.
They come down from the mountain, and there’s the world again. Just a day after this experience, a distraught parent comes up complaining that the disciples can’t do what Jesus does. Someone is afflicted again, and Jesus is sought out to fix it. Mountain top experience, real world.
There are still people to heal, still those who don’t get it, still work to do. In the big picture, a story like this seems petty and mundane, but isn’t it how it really works? It does no good to stay in isolation with the “aha” moment. If it doesn’t change anything, there’s really no point, is there?
When we follow Jesus and the disciples to their aha moment on the mountain, we might get it, too. But then, we can’t stay on the mountain or in the building, either. We have to follow Jesus back down the mountain, back into the world. Complacency isn’t an option. There is still work to do, still people to heal, to feed, to care for. There’s still a world to make a difference in.
So go make a difference in it.