Sermons

Daily Resurrections: Waving Palms

1147270_68411634

Lesson: Mark 11:1-11 (MSG translation)

I wonder with whom you identify most in our story?

Are you the crowd? How do you imagine the crowd? Are you in the crowd that ran out from the city and surrounding fields, bringing branches and coats to line the road? Are you proud to be part of the tradition of welcoming a ruler to your city? Are you jubilant: excited and hopeful to catch a glimpse of the savior you’ve heard so much about?

Or, are you among the disciples who cannot believe the reception you’re having – for the first time you watch Jesus being treated like royalty which he’s never been ok with, but here you are, amazed, that he’s not telling everyone to hush and chill out like he normally does…maybe this trip isn’t going to be as scary as you thought it’d be.

Are you travelling on the road, perhaps on a pilgrimage, perhaps not, and after a long tiring journey you are almost to your destination, when out of nowhere people start freaking out and carrying-on about “save us” and “son of David!” You have no idea what they are talking about, but you wish they’d stop throwing trash on the road. Move along, folks.

Or, perhaps you identify with the donkey. Minding your own business until some strangers give you something to do. You plod along, head down, doing your thing –moving forward, taking one step after another – step after faithful step. You’ve got this – it’s what you’re born to do. [Surely someone will feed you when this is all done!]

Or, perhaps you identify with Jesus himself? You feel you have a mission, but no one believes you-not really, and you’re pretty sure some bad things are coming…soon, but every time you try to talk about it, your friends argue with you – some help they’ve turned out to be. You love them anyway, of course, but hey check out this crowd…maybe they get it…but, then again…

Jesus crosses the threshold and into the city. The crowd disperses. They go home and prepare for the Passover. Did you turn to go home, or are you following Jesus to the temple to take a look around? Did anyone think to return the donkey? The story ends as Jesus returns to Bethany for the night. Tomorrow he’ll take on the temple and the moneychangers, but it’s late and he and the band of disciples retire.

There are so many ways to enter the stories and space of what we call Holy Week. We are part of a great parade – a tradition spanning centuries when regular people follow along trying to make sense of Jesus and the path he leads us down: the path towards solidarity, freedom, justice, healing, wholeness, and love with a capital “L.” This path leads towards the very center of God’s heart.

We are a people of crucifixion and resurrection. We are a people who tell the story of an agonizing death and we trust in the mystery of this week: that resurrection can come from even the greatest tragedies. Death does not have the last word, which is hard to imagine when facing the grim reality of Good Friday; it’s hard on most any day.

Our lives are not always so dramatic as this story –…triumphal entries, political intrigue, and deadly consequences- and they don’t have to be for us to appreciate the deep truths at their core. Part of our path is claiming our stories and our places within them. We’ve been living with the theme “Daily Resurrection” for six weeks now. We keep discussing one truth in particular: we cannot grow until something dies.

How can we grow towards ending racism without first letting go of some of our privilege? How can we move on after we’ve been wronged without first forgiving and letting go – or dying – to our desire to hold onto the pain? How can we become new – how can we grow – without change, without letting go of something that stands in our way? It may be as simple (don’t hear me say easy – this is difficult work) – it may be as simple – as the death of our assumptions, ignorance, fear, or shame…I wonder what we are ready to let go of in order to live a little bit more fully?

Jesus did not run away from choosing to live fully. He chose love and it led to loving the brokenness in our world including the foolish frailty of our humanity. The mystery of this week is that somehow as he embraces our broken world, the “energy of that embrace gives birth to new life and hope. …This is not something we can explain, but we can experience it.”[i] And, we do, don’t we? We experience this cycle of death and resurrection – sometimes it’s a daily or an hourly phenomenon and at other times it seems we’ll never grow.

I learned of a beautiful story that fits nicely into a conversation on Holy Week. Warning, it includes crucifixion and resurrection – it’s not an exclusive palm-story. It’s a true story that took place in Burundi, a country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Tanzania to the east and south. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations and is still struggling to emerge from a twelve year ethnic-based civil war that was most violent in the mid to late 1990’s.[ii] Part of their struggle is a result of the Rwanda genocide spilling into their borders. This is the story of the Buta Seminary Martyrs.[iii]

“In the morning of April 30th, 1997, when the civil war in Burundi was at its climax, a group of armed rebels carried out an attack on Buta Seminary.” (Buta seminary is a catholic school for young men akin to a high school or junior college where multiple subjects are taught in Christian community.[iv]) “When the rebels entered the seminary grounds, they ordered the students to separate by ethnicity so they could kill the group they considered to be their enemies.”

“The students refused to separate, saying that they were all sons of God. After three futile attempts to make them separate, the rebels opened fire on all the students, killing forty and wounding others.”[v]

I watched an interview with Father Zacharie Bukuru, who was principal of Buta Seminary at the time of the massacre. He recalled his reaction as he learned about the violence spreading in his country. Here are his words through a translator:

“The war damaged and destroyed hearts. I was a priest. I had to gather God’s people. I am a human being and whatever touches other men touches me as well. I belong to a nation which I love, I had to do something about it. I was tasked by this great love of God for Man: Jesus coming and dying for us… so that we might learn to love one another.

“I gathered the [students] and I was teaching them that hatred should not have a place among them. And by listening to one another and getting to know what the other thinks, they were progressively healed inside.

“Later in the war when we were attacked, they were already healed in their hearts. They had taken different initiatives to show that they understood the importance of unity. For instance we [sang] and danced together. Every Saturday evening we were spending the whole night in the church praying together. All those activities purified them from the lies they were taught. They began to love one another and so we created a community that was dominated by love and mutual understanding and peace.

“When we were attacked the students said they could not accept to be separated into ethnic groups anymore because they were already healed of those ethnic divisions. They had understood that they were brothers. When [the soldiers]  tried to separate them, they took one another’s hands and refused to get separated. God was working in their hearts,” he said.

The interviewer asks if he can still say that God is awesome? Father Bukuru smiles and saysI still believe that God is an awesome God because he’s not the one who killed them. They were killed by our brothers who were misled by a bad spirit. But God changed their evil deed into something positive. And now here [the students] have become a testimony of love that people can come and learn from. A door was opened in my heart that God is good …His love is so great that we … cannot follow it, cannot measure it here.

“We can’t even understand it. But I have seen through this door that God is nothing but love for us.” At this point he looks directly into the camera and says in English, “Mystery.” Then, through interpretation, “It’s a mystery.”[vi]

These young men didn’t give in to hatred or fear. They knew the words to say that would let them live. Instead they joined hands and hearts and destinies. This story echoes the story we proclaim this week. What makes a person stare death in the face and cling to love of others? Whatever spirit gave these young men such courage and conviction – wasn’t it the same spirit that stirs in the life of Jesus and the lives of all the children of God – even and especially among us this morning?

I’m also struck by the importance of the work that was done before that terrible morning. The students and teachers of the seminary community were engaged in the struggle to love one another – to die to false assumptions that were tearing up their entire country. How many times did they pray for healing, for saving before they were transformed? Daily resurrections, indeed!

Today we shout our praise – “blessed be the one who comes in God’s name!” and we ask to be saved-to be healed- as we wave our palms to welcome God incarnate into our midst. We are on the road, walking the road with one foot in front of the other over the stones in the road we call life. I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite bloggers that says, “There’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day…”[vii] Indeed, today, like all days, this week like all those before and after, we take the journey with Christ towards death and resurrection.

I invite you now to take a stone. Pray for whatever stones are under your feet today. Pray for whatever obstacles are in your life. [stones located in cups along the sides of your pew]…Amen. Now, please exchange your stone with someone else – or multiple people. You don’t need to share what your are carrying. I ask that we help each other carry our burdens this week. Please take a moment to exchange stones now. Let us take a moment to pray for the person whose stone we now carry. … Amen.

“There’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day…”[viii] May we hold onto each other as we journey together in Christ’s name. Amen.

© The Rev. Diana C. Bell, 2015

Image: courtesy Israeli Antiquities Authority, 2013


[i] Andrews, Susan. “Living By The Word: Reality Check” The Christian Century. March 24, 2009.
[ii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13085064 BBC dot com, 26 November 2014
[iii] “Buta Seminary Martyrs” Work of the People. http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/the-buta-seminary-martyrs
[iv] Dictionary of African Christianity “The Martyrs of the Christian Fraternity” http://www.dacb.org/stories/burundi/martyrs_burundi.html; “In Memory of the Martyred Seminarians of Buta, Burundi” Mere Comments: The Touchstone blog http://touchstonemag.com/merecomments/2014/04/memory-martyred-seminarians-buta-burundi/ (1994)
[v] Work of the People.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Rachel Held Evans blog. Tuesday April 1, 2014 “What Now?”
[viii] Ibid.

Daily Resurrection: Seeing Jesus

stone.spiral.child

Lesson: John 12:20-36

Decades of research show that we often see what we expect to see and just as often ignore what falls outside our expectations. Perhaps the most famous study on this topic involves a video of two teams passing basketballs back and forth. Participants in the study are asked to watch the video and keep track of the number of times the players wearing white uniforms pass the ball. There’re maybe half a dozen players and multiple basketballs so there’s a lot of movement and you have to pay close attention to get an accurate count. In the middle of the game, something happens that’s not part of the basketball game. A person in a gorilla suit strolls right through the middle of the game. He doesn’t sneak across, or appear only in a corner, or anything like that. He just walks straight across the screen, among the players. Researchers found that most participants are so focused on keeping track of the players passing the balls that they don’t see the gorilla.[1]

We see what we expect to see. By the twelfth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus has become something of a celebrity, and so some Greeks approach his disciples and ask to see him. Maybe they’d heard about Lazarus, brought back from the dead.[2] Maybe they saw the commotion created by the donkey-riding king.[3] We don’t know much about these Greeks. They’re described as being among those who were in Jerusalem to worship at the Passover festival. Some scholars think they are Greek-speaking Jews but more believe they are Gentiles.[4] They approach Philip, who, being Galilean and having a Greek name, presumably is more accustomed to Gentiles; and they say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

In one way, these Greeks remind me of many people in our country today and particularly here in Marin County; the people known as Spiritual But Not Religious. It’s a broad category but generally it means folks who are open to a sense of mystery, curious about the divine, wonder about God and the spiritual life, but they haven’t found those inclinations and needs met by traditional religious institutions. Like the Greeks in today’s passage, they’re outside the institution. They don’t ask Philip about a new members’ class or ask to join a committee; they don’t want to know what doctrine or creed Jesus confesses. They just want to see him. They want a personal encounter with him.[5] Read more →

Daily Resurrection: Before and After

Goldsworthy.Cairn

Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10

This morning’s passage in Ephesians is basically a hymn, a jubilant celebration describing the before-and-after of the life in Christ. We’ve all seen before-and-after photos of people after they’ve lost weight or had a makeover, or houses transformed by the Property Brothers on HGTV. Those of course are surface-y changes, not the kind of interior, human changes the writer is describing here in Ephesians. But those photos and the thrill with which the participants greet the improvements are really what’s at work here. It is a new day! A new life! But if you hadn’t seen the “before” photo, you wouldn’t understand how amazing the transformation is, right? So the writer begins by describing the “before” situation. In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the passage begins, “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.”

I feel compelled to apologize to the L.A. Children’s Chorus folks that the one day they show up is the one Sunday in 52 that I mention sin. Believe it or not, sin is actually a perfectly good word; the difference between a poor moral decision and sin being that if we sin, then the values in question are not merely human values but God’s values.[1] But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Who gets to decide what God’s values are? Part of the reason we’re so suspicious of the word is that sin turns out to be whatever a particular group disapproves of.[2] In the pre-Civil War South, a slave’s rebellion against a master was a sin.[3] This focus on individual sin has been used to manipulate people, and at the same time, it misses the reality that collective actions, social systems cause the greatest human suffering in our world. We’ve just finished a four-week study on race and white privilege here at First Presbyterian Church and those of us who participated became freshly aware of the way privilege and racism are built into the system. We learned, for example, how banks redlined neighborhoods, refusing to lend money to anyone whose skin color or ethnic origin might lower property values. We learned how the G.I. Bill excluded aid for people in certain occupations that just happened to be filled mostly by people of color. Read more →

Daily Resurrection: Losing to Find

Stepping-stones

Lesson: Mark 8:31-38

“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?”[1]

Marcus Borg tells the story of a three-year-old girl who was the firstborn and only child in her family. Her mother, however, was pregnant, and the little girl was very excited about having a new baby brother or sister. Finally the day arrived when her parents came home from the hospital with a baby boy. A few hours after the baby arrived home, the little girl asked if she could be alone with her new brother in his room, with the door closed. Understandably, her parents were a little uneasy about this, but they wanted to encourage their daughter’s interest in her new sibling. Besides, they had an intercom in the nursery. So they watched her go into the nursery, shut the door behind her, and then raced to their listening post. They heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the baby’s room, imagined her standing over the crib, and then they heard her saying to her three-day-old brother, “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”[2]

This story suggests that we come from God and that when we’re very young, we remember this. We remember that we belong to God; that all of us belong to God. But what happens? Well, we grow up. And in the process of growing up, of learning the ways of this world, we forget the One from whom we came and in whom we live. So that by the time we’re ten or twelve or even younger, we’re measuring ourselves against our culture’s standards, “the 3 A’s of appearance, achievement and affluence.”[3] Few of us believe we’re enough – thin enough, rich enough, smart enough, pretty enough, good enough, successful enough – because the messages we get from parents, school, work, even church but most especially the media tell us again and again we’re not. Read more →

Daily Resurrection: Time’s Up!

top

Lesson: Mark 1:9-15

We’ve all seen cartoons of an angry, bearded man holding the sign “Repent!” If the sign is large enough, it’ll show the entire verse using King James language: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” The message seems to be that you’d better get ready for the judgment of an angry God who will punish you for your sins. The presumed solution is to join the church, believe the right set of religious ideas,[1] or pour your liquor cabinet contents down the drain.  This fits with what most people think about the season of Lent – that it’s a time for penitence: for remembering that we’re miserable sinners in the eyes of our harshly judging God. For centuries, Lent focused primarily on self-deprivation and generally feeling unworthy, feeling bad about ourselves. And for centuries, it kept people focused on their fear of what was going to happen to them after they died. Focusing on the afterlife meant few people rocked the boat in the name of Jesus, which, by the way, was convenient for those in power.

But this doesn’t fit with the God we meet in Jesus, whose very first message in the gospels, usually translated “repent,” is the Greek word metanoia, which literally means to change your mind or your heart. Change, because the kingdom of God is at hand. Other translations say, “Ultimate reality is at hand!”[2] or “God’s benevolent society is already among us.”[3] The thing is, changing in order to live in this ultimate reality or in God’s benevolent society wouldn’t be convenient for those in power at all, because living as though God is the ruler of our hearts and lives means living as though the leaders of this world are not. Jesus’ first words have to be read in relation to what was going on at Jesus’ time: the kingdom of Caesar and the empire of Rome. Read more →

You Have Something on Your Forehead

ash.2

Lessons: Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

I will not give the Lent sales pitch tonight. I’ll save that for Sunday, for the people who are not here tonight. For whatever reason, you have already decided that the journey of healing that we call Lent is a journey worth beginning. So instead, I’ll introduce our Lenten theme of “Daily Resurrection,” and connect it to ashes that give tonight its name, and the stones that will be part of worship starting Sunday.

When most people think about resurrection, they think, “That’s about Jesus; it happened on Easter a couple of thousand years ago and it has nothing to do with me.” Or perhaps they think resurrection does have something to do with them, but only after they die. The church itself has fostered this limited view of resurrection, this “Jesus died and went to heaven and so will we” approach to resurrection.

The message of the resurrection is much bigger than this, and it is utterly central in the New Testament and in early Christianity. At the very center of the Christian life was and is personal transformation, and this transformation is described as dying to an old way of being and rising to a new way of being, dying to an old identity and rising into a new identity, a new way of being and a new identity centered in God.[1] Dying, and then rising. That’s why Jesus tells us we have to take up our crosses, and in case there’s any question, Luke adds the word “daily.”[2] Daily take up our crosses. Daily die to what is not life-giving and daily rise to new life. Read more →

Transfigure…what?

310878095_d6e3694949_z

Lesson: Mark 9:2-9

It should be no surprise to many of you when I say that I love chocolate. I do. And as a connoisseur I have my favorite brand s, styles and parings. Tcho cholocate, the bay area chocolatier used to be located on the Embarcadero. I took their tour and realized my love of chocolate and my desire for justice could be combined into full-blown chocolate snobbery. That was a good day. Before I get too carried away by child labor concerns and purity codes of chocolate versus candy…let me simply say that Tcho would tell us real chocolate only has a few, natural ingredients.

The two most important are cocoa nibs and cocoa butter. The chocolate’s flavor is dependent on the cocoa itself – where it was grown, how it is processed, etc. Dark chocolate gets its rich flavors from cocoa nibs, or grounds of cocoa left in the mix. White chocolate on the other hand uses milk particles instead of cocoa nibs, which changes the color and allows for more of the cocoa butter flavor to come through. These days it seems that bitter is the flavor marker of an elevated palate. In coffee, chocolate, and other adult beverages, bitterness seems to be equivalent with better. Sharp espresso. Dark, dark chocolate. 60% cocoa, 70%, 75% cocoa… Are on menu’s across Marin and in valentines given and received this weekend.

I’ve heard it said that the simple sweetness that is white chocolate – is a supposed marker of a young palate – a reminder of childhood and the good old days of simplicity. This is the way I have always approached today’s scripture about Jesus and the transfiguration: as if it’s white chocolate: simple, obvious, and without much depth. Those of us schooled in Christian language and tradition may or may not recognize this word, transfiguration, and know the story immediately. I grew up in the church and I didn’t know this story until I had to read it for class in college. It’s imagery seems an obvious choice for inclusion in art and children’s books, but it is left out of most children’s Bibles and curriculums – including Godly Play. I wonder why then it is included in our worship calendar every year? It’s given a place of honor in the Christian calendar, but it’s unclear to me why when so many of our resources and faithful expressions seem to dodge it?

I am not going to make a case that today’s story is actually fine, dark chocolate with almonds and toffee. No. But, I do think there are more layers and flavors in this story than what at first appears. I’m thinking milk chocolate.

It would be pretty easy to try to explain away this text of a miraculous light, dead people showing up, and a booming voice in a cloud. It would be. And, this is one of those stories in the Bible that leave many of us scratching our heads. We can appreciate all of the obvious cultural and religious references within the story. We can identify the cocoa nibs and pieces of the Jewish tradition – patriarchs from ancient Hebrew stories in the books of Genesis and 1 & 2 Kings. Mark’s audience would have known their stories well. We probably recognize Moses although we may associate him with the escape from Egypt and the 10 Commandments before we recall his secret meetings with God on the mountaintops. I’d bet most of us do not recognize Elijah or recall the stories of his great deeds with God’s help. Perhaps instead we might identify with the disciples – with Peter who, in his discomfort, flails around trying to figure out what to do, making plans that are neither wise nor needed. Or, perhaps we identify with John and James who do not say a word – frozen and paralyzed. Jesus leads them back down the mountain without a word spoken.

Sometime when we think of this text, we get concerned with theological questions – what does this say about Jesus? Or, the practical, how we might respond to God’s call to, “listen?” I wonder if we are missing the important part, the part where, if God were a chocolatier, God would want us to sample. God is coming through to the world, to the disciples, in an especially brilliant way. If our pallets are ready, we might be able to join in the awe and wonder of God’s flavors.

I am not concerned with the literal facts in this story and trying to nail down which mountain? How white was Jesus exactly? What was going on psychologically inside Peter’s head? Rather, I wonder what the gospel writer is trying to tell us about an experience of God in Jesus? I wonder because in my experience there are moments of transformation when our DNA does not change, but our perceptions of others and ourselves change. In those moments when we recognize God’s presence in a new way, it might seem as if we are blinded by truth and awe.

Now, our culture loves this idea of transformation and there are many other books we could explore on the topic of transforming our lives – work – relationships – pets. Is there a difference between what these books describe and what we experience? I wonder. I would hope that my faith would lead me to greater wonder and awe. I wonder if it is faith that takes a breath and names the radiance – gives thanks for the experience and names it holy? As people of faith, we claim that the Spirit is acting within and around and among us and thus, there is an aspect of transformation is grounded in the hope and love we know as God. Somehow God is in these moments. I would wager that it is exactly these precious moments of recognizing the Spirit that keep us coming back to this community – back to prayer, back to worship.

Here in Marin we are blessed to be able to point to God in nature. All we have to do is walk outside, and point in almost any direction and our breath can be taken away by God’s glory in nature. Annie Dillard shares a moment of profound awareness and beauty in her own neighborhood, Tinker Creek. She had heard of the tree with the lights in it, and she wanted to see it for herself. She writes:

“It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all, and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured … I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. … Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in….”[i]

In Dillard’s experience, this tree with light is more than a brilliant nature moment. There was a powerful connection and revelation for her. I wonder if we might call this a God moment? A moment of glory in the presence of something so real and powerful that we are struck with awe. Especially here in Marin we are used to hearing about God moments in nature – we expect it, that’s partially why we all live here. I wonder if there are other ways we experience God? I wonder if there are God moments in our lives we have not shared because we fear what others might say? Because we might sound like “those” Christians? Or because words fail us and we cannot ever quite capture the profound sense of awe that we experienced – nor can we get back to that exact, vivid moment. I wonder if there are moments that we might name and share if given a non-judging space to be heard?

What would it take for us to let go of our assumptions of how God is supposed to show up, and to let go of our fear to celebrate the many ways the Spirit leaves a mark on our lives? What would it take to let go of our expectations of where God will meet us, and fall back in love with the mysterious, amazing, complex, fullness – the flavors of the living God?

There are many stories of faith-filled people experiencing God – both in the scriptures and in the world around us. They take many forms. One of the most visceral is the way Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu describes the transformation of the South African people as they struggled to claim a new identity after Apartheid. He describes their first election cycle like this:

“Everywhere else elections are secular political events. Ours was more than this, much, much more. It was a veritable spiritual experience. It was a mountaintop experience. The black person entered the booth one person and emerged on the other side a new, transfigured person. She entered weighted down by the anguish and burden of oppression, with the memory of being treated like rubbish gnawing away at her very vitals like some corrosive acid. She reappeared as someone new, “I am free,” as she walked away with head held high, the shoulders set straighter, and an elastic spring in her step. How do you convey that sense of freedom that tasted like sweet nectar for the first time? How do you explain it to someone who was born into freedom? It is impossible to convey. It is ineffable, like trying perhaps to describe the color red to a person born blind.

“It is a feeling that makes you want to cry and laugh at the same time, to dance with joy, and yet fearful that it was too good to be true and that it just might all evaporate. You’re on cloud nine. …

“The white person entered the voting booth burdened by the load of guilt for having enjoyed the fruits of oppression and injustice. He emerged as somebody new. He too cried out, “The burden has been lifted from my shoulders, I am free, transfigured, made into a new person,” He walked tall, with head held high and shoulders set square and straight.”[ii]

Walking tall in dignity, flailing about, quietly walking down the mountain, walking the path with new expectations…these are all faith filled stories and responses to a God who shows up unexpectedly, and, like fine chocolate, your life and taste buds will never be the same. However God shows up in your life, however you experience transformation, whatever metaphors you might use, and whatever flavors tempt your pallet, may your life be enriched by the experience of being present to God’s awesome power and transforming love. May it be so for you and for me. Amen.

 

© The Rev. Diana C. Bell, 2015

Image credit: “Cristo Redentor” CC image courtesy of bossa07, 2006, Flickr

 

[i] Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Harper Perennial: 1974 p.33-34

[ii] Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Image: 1999. p. 8

Chameleons for Christ?

10926368_10152707661006559_6816600735970421883_n (1)

Lessons: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Paul’s declaration that he has, “become all things to all people”[1] gives me the heebie-jeebies, as a woman, and as a pastor. As a woman, it reminds me of a Peggy Lee song[2] made popular in a perfume ad when I was a teenager. The catch line of the commercial was, “the 8-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman,” who could, according to the song, “bring home the bacon” and “fry it up in a pan,” and, oh, by the way, “never ever let you forget you’re a man.” In the ad, a flawlessly gorgeous model appears first in a power suit with fistful of cash, then in slacks waving a frying pan around, and finally in a slinky cocktail dress.[3] Subtle, right? Well, it was the 1970’s.

And then, as a pastor, as much as both pastors and parishioners secretly or not so secretly want the pastor of their church to be everything to everybody, it’s a recipe for burnout and not healthy for a congregation.

Paul just may be experiencing burnout, himself, but he can’t stop himself. The Corinthian church is divided and one faction has challenged Paul’s authority as an apostle to guide and teach them. In these verses, Paul is justifying his decision not to accept financial support from the Corinthians even though he’s entitled to it. We don’t know why he isn’t asking to be paid in this situation. He explains to the Corinthians that he proclaims the gospel because he is compelled to do so, he can’t stop himself, whether he gets paid or not. He does whatever he needs to do to get Christ’s message across, including becoming like a Jew when he’s with Jews or like a Gentile when he’s with Gentiles. Perhaps some of the Corinthians interpret this as being wishy-washy. People in marketing might be thinking Paul is just following the old adage, “Know your audience.” But is this about marketing and sales? Is Paul just being a chameleon, one thing for one audience, another thing for another? It sounds a little slick; a little manipulative – even if it is all done for the sake of the gospel, as Paul insists. Read more →

Choosing Community

blog2008-best-supper1

Lesson: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I actually do know who’s playing, but mostly because of the underinflated football scandal in the news. It’s fair to say that I am both neutral and detached from the outcome of today’s game. On the other hand, Marin County was in the national news last week, as well – the New York Times,[1] NPR and NBC News. Marin holds the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates in California of “personal belief exemptions” for immunizations – that means, people opting out of having their children immunized for personal reasons. This made national news because of six-year-old Rhett Krawitt. Rhett went through over three years of chemotherapy for leukemia, and now he’s in remission, but he has a weakened immune system. It’ll be a while before he’s strong enough to get his vaccinations. In the meantime, he and his family count on the rest of us to be immunized. On Wednesday, a case of measles was confirmed in Marin.[2] Measles was declared eradicated from the U.S. in 2000 – and then people quit immunizing their children. Rhett’s parents are understandably worried.

Read more →

What Does It Mean to “Trust God”?

Martin-Luther-King-Jr_Pastor_HD_768x432-16x9

Lessons: Psalm 62Mark 1:14-20

Part of putting together a bulletin for Sunday morning is finding an image for the cover. This past week I googled “trust in God” to see what images came up, and what came up were dozens of “inspirational” posters and plaques filled with clichés and platitudes that reminded me of something Anne Lamott wrote in a Facebook post not long ago. She said, “There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, ‘Let go and let God,’ because they know I would come after them with a fork.”[1]

We’ve all heard those vaguely biblical-sounding clichés. “When God closes a door, God opens a window,” or, “Everything happens for a reason.” Neither of these is in the Bible. And then there’s, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” It isn’t in the Bible, and unfortunately, it isn’t true. One poster I found was brief and to the point: “Everything’s gonna be all right. Just trust God.”[2] Maybe some of you take great comfort in these platitudes and that’s OK but I will warn you now, that I, like Anne Lamott, do not.

But then again, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “Everything’s gonna be all right.”

Read more →