Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blogging toward Sunday

The Lectionary readings for March 4, 2012 are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38.

In the Old Testament reading, 99 year old Abram gets a visit from God and much, much more. God appears with a covenant in hand: "...this will be my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you...an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you..." Then, God has a word for Sarai. She, too, gets a new name and so much more:  "...[Y]ou shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her."

God comes calling and in the twinkling of an eye, Abraham and Sarah come away with new names and a new purpose that will set them on a path they could never have imagined. God's like that--always guiding us along new paths, into new territories. Sometimes we go quietly and obediently, but so often that is not the case. So often, let's be honest, we go kicking and screaming.

Thus far, how is your Lenten journey? Now, be honest. Are you going gently along the path of self-reflection and denial or is there a bit of kicking and screaming going on? Today during our pastor's Lectionary group meeting, I felt an urge to kick and scream. Allow me to explain. (I will be quick about it before you make some dreadful assumptions about the pastor:) Part of the process for us during our group time is to meditate on the gospel reading using the ancient practice of lectio divina. We read the passage through three times, and after each reading we sit quietly, listening for the Spirit to speak to us. A time of sharing follows each individual reading. Often we put ourselves in the story during the reading to imagine, "How do I hear this as a passerby?" or something along those lines. The instruction prior to the final reading of Mark 8:31-38 today was as follows: "Listen as one who is walking the path of Jesus on the Lenten journey." 

I listened. Truly, I did. But I couldn't get past verse 31: "Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Later in the reading, Jesus tells his disciples and those gathered around, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Jesus invites us to follow him; follow the path he took. But when I heard verse 31, I wasn't so sure that was a good idea. Everything in me screamed, "But I don't WANT to suffer; I don't WANT to be rejected; I don't WANT to be killed EVEN if I do get to rise in three days."

Oh how readily we see the things of God through the eyes of the world. It's what Peter does. Just a couple of verses before this, Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. But, here, Jesus speaks plainly about what is to happen and Peter takes him aside to rebuke him. Peter may be able to SAY, "You are the Messiah," but LIVING that truth is a much different thing. What kind of Messiah does Peter have in mind? Surely not one that will suffer and be rejected and die, bringing shame to everyone who follows him by dying on a cross, of all things. Peter sees Jesus in such a limited way. Don't we all? How can we grasp this upside-down Jesus who won't let us journey along our comfy, cozy path? No, Jesus will always call us to a deeper life; a life that may well be dangerous and wholly "other," a life that will surely cost us something.

Here are a few questions/comments to consider as you prepare for worship:
  1. The Abraham and Sarah story tells of a covenant made by God. Is committing to follow Jesus in the way Jesus directs a covenant as well? What might the cost be?
  2. Consider the words of Martin Luther: "A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing." 
  3. In Jesus' day, the cross was a scandal. When you think of a cross today, how do you imagine it?
I pray that you are finding time each day to reflect on Jesus' path all the way to the cross. With each step you take this Lent, I pray that you will hold this truth in your heart: the journey through Lent leads to our Resurrection Hope! 

I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blogging toward Sunday

Sunday we have the honor of a visiting pastor bringing a good Word into our midst. Scripture passages that will be read are Joshua 4:1-7 and Mark 1:9-15.

Our Lectionary Group of area pastors met again on Tuesday, and using the ancient practice of lectio divina, we read the gospel text for Sunday. We always end our time together with some spiritual practice. This week was quite special for me. As ministers beginning the season of Lent, we talked about our own Lenten intentions, the happenings planned for each of our churches, and then we prayed for one another. How good it is to be a pastor and have the opportunity to pray for other people, leading prayers, etc. But what a joy it is to BE the one being prayed for by another brother or sister in Christ. What a blessing to hear your own name, your own situation, your own church family, being lifted up like incense before the Lord.

Today is Thursday. Ash Wednesday has come and gone. Have you been asked THE question yet? You know, the question, "What have you given up for Lent?" It seems to be the most asked question of the season. But, as we discussed in our Lectionary Group, it's just as important to ask another question: "For what purpose are you giving up or fasting from something?" Although often overlooked, the answer is simple enough. We fast from something (like fasting each Friday or perhaps one meal a day) or give up something (like TV or desserts) not for the sake of "fasting" or "giving up" alone. No, whatever we choose to stop is only for the purpose of having more time to meditate upon Jesus the Christ. Giving up something may help us be more aware of ways in which we indulge ourselves so readily, but the greater good is to "fill up" on the things of Christ.The Cross, Easter morning, is, after all, our destination.

So if "giving up something" is for the purpose of "taking on something," in what ways might you add the things of Christ? How might you focus more on Jesus in the coming weeks? Here are a few suggestions:
  1. Take time to ponder our Lenten devotional, From Death to Life, each day.
  2. Start a new spiritual practice, like meditating or beginning a prayer journal.
  3. Determine to read through one of the gospels during Lent. (Mark is the shortest:)
  4. Plan to spend more time in prayer.
  5. Plan to spend more time in nature enjoying God's creation.
  6. Each day, pray through our church directory.
  7. Fast from watching television.
  8. Fast each Friday during Lent, recalling Good Friday throughout the day.
Of course, the list is endless. The important thing to remember is that giving up something for Lent is only part of the story. Replacing whatever you choose with increased mindfulness of Jesus' sacrifice for all of humanity, in whatever way you choose, is the even greater purpose.

I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday. Come and support our visiting preacher.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blogging toward Sunday

Our Lectionary readings for Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday include 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-9.

Each Tuesday I have the privilege of meeting with a Lectionary group made up of pastors in the area. What a wonderful time we have breaking bread, sharing stories and then exploring God's Holy Word together. Today we examined Mark 9:2-9. It is the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John with him to the mountain top. There Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses and there, the inner circle of disciples are terrified by the glory of God. Out of our time of prayerfully reading about the Transfiguration, some excellent questions arose. I hope that you will take ample time this week with the gospel reading and reflect on the following (just as I will be doing as I journey toward the sermon). 

  1. Why are Peter, James, and John included on this adventure?
  2. What compelled Peter to offer to build three dwellings?
  3. Does it seem like Peter interrupts Jesus and then God interrupts Peter?
  4. Was this like an old fashioned Homecoming for Jesus, Moses and Elijah?
  5. What might they have discussed?
  6. For whose benefit was the Transfiguration, really?
Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday is the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent. In the cycle of the church year, this is the high point prior to some very dark days in the life and ministry of Jesus. It might behoove us to stop and consider how this event may have prepared Jesus for the days ahead. And then follow that thought with this one: How will we prepare for our own journey toward Easter and the Risen Savior?

I offer you the following poem for your spiritual enrichment. (From Australian Accents by Bruce Prewer).

Baptized by the Morning
Risen Lord Jesus,
as the rising sun
baptizes trees and shrubs
in rippling light,
let me be baptized
by your resurrection light.

May I
trust in you above all else,
hope in you above all other goals,
seek you in all things,
find you in every situation,
meet you among all people,
know you over everything--

And love you with adoration
beyond all telling.

As always, I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday.