Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chasms: Sermon on Luke 13:1-9, 31-35

Mourners light candles after a car bombing in Baghdad.

Scripture can be found here...

News of another catastrophe greeted me as my alarm went off on Wednesday… the explosion of a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri. You can watch footage of it online… a busy city street at evening rush hour, suddenly illuminated by a flash of fire, an explosion. When the smoke had cleared and the rubble was smoldering, a man was dead and sixteen others were injured.

And once again, somewhere, for a particular group of people, a chasm opened up, between life as it had been—life, as it never would be again—and life as it was now.

Each of us has our own memories of moments like this. The terrible conversation that turned the world on its head. The sudden awareness that we could no longer ignore that symptom that told us all was not well. The officer at the door, the urgent call—“Turn on the TV.” And… a chasm opens before us, one between us and the rest of the world, one between us and our own lives as we knew them.

These are the moments that inevitably leave us asking: Why? Why did this happen to me? Why now, when they were so happy? I know it may sound absurd, but fans of “Downton Abbey” have been asking this very question over the past several weeks, as first one, and then another beloved young character died unexpectedly and tragically. Despite the fact that we all know these are fictional characters, and we all know those actors live to perform another day, good stories get inside us. They tell us the truth about life. And so even on behalf of flickering images on a screen, we ask: why?

And it is inevitable that this question should come to Jesus, especially now, as he makes his way towards Jerusalem. We (the readers) know, and by the end of this passage it becomes clear that Jesus knows: something dreadful awaits him at the end of this hard journey.

And if you read the passage right before this, chapter 12, you can feel, intuitively, the pull and strain of this season in Jesus’ journey. In his teaching of the inner and outer circles of his followers, the disciples and the crowds, his words have turned apocalyptic. He, who faces the end of his own time, speaks of end times. His words mingle tenderness and bitter reproach, words of assurance of God’s care for us side by side with his bitter lashing out at the Pharisees, the religious elites.

And then, at the beginning of our passage in chapter 13, someone asks a question straight out of the first century Palestinian version of the headlines. “What about those people who died, those people from Galilee? They were offering their sacrifices at the Temple, only to have their own blood mixed in with the blood of the goats and lambs and pigeons?” This is foreshadowing, of course. It’s the gospel’s second mention of Pontius Pilate, but it’s our first chilling taste of that Roman governor’s cruelty. And this is a question that could have come right from our own headlines… I am haunted by a news story I read some years ago, a story about a tornado in Alabama demolishing a United Methodist church in the middle of Palm Sunday Services. Twenty people were killed, including the four-year-old daughter of the pastor.

Why? Why do these things happen? These people were all in the midst of worshiping God, and they were not spared. Is there some explanation as to why it happened to them, and not to us? Did they, in some way, deserve it?

Jesus’ response is swift. No, he says. You think these people suffered because they were worse sinners than anyone else? No. Not true. And the same goes for those eighteen who died when the Siloam tower fell on them. Do you think they were worse sinners, worse offenders than anyone else? No. That is not what I am saying to you.

And thank God for this. In a few terse words, Jesus puts to rest the notion that God punishes us for our sinfulness in this life, that God sends tornadoes to rip apart our churches, or airplanes to destroy our centers of commerce, or floods to wreak havoc on our cities and coastlines because of sin, because we are not worthy. No, Jesus says. That is not what I am saying to you. We can look to science or to negligence or even to the evil that lies in human hearts for explanations of these catastrophes. But we cannot blame them on God.

And yet… and yet, Jesus says, let me tell you about this fig tree.

So first, a fig tree refresher course.  In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…  ~Deut. 8:7-9

And in countless places in scripture the presence of grapevine and fig tree is the sign of God’s care and peace, and its absence is the sign of loss and scarcity.

Fig trees are part of God’s plan for abundance. They are a sign of God’s plenty… figs are sweet, and luscious, and their presence in a story told by Jesus is significant.

There was this fig tree, Jesus tells all who are listening. And it was not producing figs. And the owner’s instinct was to uproot the thing, and be done with it. Why waste the soil?

But the gardener asked for one more season, to take particular care of the tree… to dig around it and put manure on it, to let God’s own cycles of waste and renewal go to work on that tree.

And it that doesn’t work, fine. We’ll cut it down.

Parables are funny things. We make them literal, we make them allegories, at our own risk. In virtually the same breath as he is urging us not to read God’s will into those disasters, Jesus is saying, nevertheless, consider the fig tree.

Consider the fig tree, part of God’s plan of abundance.  Consider what happens when it is not producing fruit, as it should.

Consider what it means to bear fruit.

When my children were little, they learned a song in church:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Chasms will open up in life. We will suffer losses, every one of us. We will wonder how we will go on.

But consider what it means to be fruitful. Consider what it means to be already bathed in the work of the Spirit: to be one who embodies love, who exudes joy, who radiates peace; to be one who shows patience, who lives by kindness, who practices generosity; to be one who rests in faithfulness, who whispers gentleness, who models self-control.

To be fruitful, for Jesus, is to be open to the Spirit, to allow the Spirit work on us. And yes, I suppose, to give into allegory, we could ponder precisely what it might mean to have the Spirit digging around us and giving us a good helping of manure to set us right.

My point is this: Jesus says, no, when the chasm opens up, that is not God punishing you. But consider what it might mean to be bathed in the work of the Spirit when that moment comes. To already know in your flesh and bones and heart and spirit, the love, joy, and peace of God. To already be living witness to the patience, kindness, and generosity of God. To already be found in the faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that are a part of God’s plan for abundance in this world.

One thing I notice about the fruits of the Spirit: they are not the attributes one associates with disconnection or isolation. Far from it. They are a way of living that is deeply, deeply connected, not just to God, but to God’s people. The fruits of the Spirit are our bridge across that chasm.

Jesus says, “…unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” When he says that, “as they did,” I don’t think he means “in a great disaster,” or “by the angry hand of God.”  I think “as they did” means, unready. Unprepared. And, perhaps, disconsolate. Despairing.

What would it mean to be ready for anything? Not by filling our homes with canned goods and guns, but by filling our hearts, our spirits, with God’s Spirit? What would that kind of fruitfulness look like?

And as if to answer that question, our passage skips to the end of chapter 13, in which the Pharisees… remember the Pharisees, who were supposedly Jesus’ enemies? Here they are, trying to get Jesus to safety, trying to protect him. “Get away from here,” they plead. “Herod wants to kill you.” And we have an opportunity to witness Jesus’ response, a moment of his clear awareness of the danger that lies ahead, the yawning chasm that awaits. He brushes off Herod as a fox, more a nuisance, a pest, than a threat, and says, “Listen. I’m about the business of healing. I am going about the business of doing God’s work.”

Listen. Life opens up chasms, but we can greet them with love. Joy. Peace. Terrible things happen—to us and to those we love. But we can meet them soaked in patience. Kindness. Generosity. The unthinkable happens, but imagine encountering them in faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Imagine living fruitful lives, lives that enable us to gaze across any chasm unafraid. Imagine knowing that in the moment of disaster, God is not shaking the divine fist at us, but weeping with us. And imagine knowing that God has already sent a healer, one who will not be delayed from doing his work on our behalf. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Journey With Jesus: An Ash Wednesday Meditation

 Scripture can be found here...

It happens to all of us. Every single one of us. There comes a time when we realize, we’re not really doing something. We’re merely “playing at” doing it.

I was watching the new Netflix series “House of Cards,” and admiring Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood, wife of Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood. Between them, the Underwoods are essentially a Lord and Lady Macbeth for 2013. I was admiring Robin Wright’s slim figure, as she went running in various neighborhoods in Washington, DC, listening to music on her iPod. As I watch her, I was thinking, “Yeah, getting into shape is really a good idea. I really have to do that. Look at how cool she looks.” And it hit me: I have been “playing at” my attempts to get healthier. I haven’t really been doing it.

It can apply to nearly everything we do in life. We can “play at” our marriages, our intimate relationships. We can “play at” our attempts to shift careers. High School students can “play at” their college applications. When we “play at” something, we are not really taking the enterprise seriously. We have not thrown ourselves into it. We know, on some level, it’s a worthwhile pursuit—a better marriage, job, the college of our choice—but our heart’s just not in it.

In our reading from Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ followers seem to be playing at following him. Our passage opens with that powerful and thrilling sentence, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he [that is, Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). This is a turning point in the gospel. Following the stories of Jesus’ birth, the opening chapters have taken us along on his ministry in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee, which includes his hometown. We have witnessed his teaching and preaching, his casting out demons and healing, even his raising someone from the dead. But now Jesus needs to go to Jerusalem—and he is steadfast in his determination to do it. Jerusalem is the beating heart of Jesus’ people: the Temple is there, the most important place of worship. Which also means that the religious authorities are there. And because Passover is approaching, the Roman authorities are there with heavy military reinforcements. The Romans always bring in extra soldiers to control the crowds at this feast commemorating an ancient Jewish triumph over tyranny, their escape from slavery in Egypt. No wonder Passover in Jerusalem makes the Romans uneasy. No wonder Jesus has to set his face to go there.

Jesus’ friends seem to be pumped up for the journey. When they experience rejection from a Samaritan town, they respond with a fervor that reminds one of an inebriated pack of fraternity brothers, ready to do damage at the slightest provocation. “Shall we rain down fire from heaven?” they ask Jesus. We don’t hear his answer to them, but we understand that it amounts to a firm “No.”

And then… we have three different followers, or would-be followers of Jesus. His responses to them are…  difficult.

First, we have: The Enthusiast. “I will follow you wherever you go!” he cries. Jesus’ reply is a poetic version of, “Yeah. We’ll see.”

Next, we have: The Orphan: “Let me go and bury my father.” Jesus’ rebuke is harsh: “Who’s it going to be… the dead or the living? Choose NOW.”

And finally, we have: The Homebody: “I’m just going to say goodbye…” And Jesus suggests a little experiment. “Try to walk backward and forward at the same time. See how far that gets you.”

A friend told me of a bible study in which someone said of Jesus, “He was just a very nice man.” Clearly, whoever said that had not read this particular sliver of the gospel of Luke. There is no “nice” Jesus here. Even those who were already committed and following, the ones who had been with him from the beginning, must have taken a deep breath and drawn themselves up and set their own faces after hearing those very tough, very harsh, utterly uncompromising words.

We can play at a lot of things, and in many cases, there won’t be anything wrong with that. We can play at writing that novel, we can play at losing that ten pounds, we can play at perfecting our serve. We can even play at church, I guess. There is no “playing at” being a follower of Jesus. We either are or we aren’t. We either take him seriously or we take him lightly. We either give our hearts over to Jesus entirely or… we go on playing at our faith.

So… what stops us? What gives us the idea that there’s always more time, that we can always get serious later, that there are exceptions for busy people like us?

Pastor and author Tony Campolo tells about a pastor who, speaking to a group of students, started his sermon in a striking way: “Young people, you may not think you're going to die, but you are. One of these days, they'll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the church and eat potato salad.” We may not like to acknowledge it, but someday, every one of us will have to face the "potato salad promise", that we will all die. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

You can’t get much more denial-free than a smudge of ashes on your forehead, to remind you to get back to basics, to what really matters.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The world will keep spinning if we go on playing at our faith, playing at church, playing at life. God will be fine. Jesus will be fine. The Holy Spirit will continue to blow where she will.

But as for us… I don’t know if we’ll be “fine.” It’s not that I think God will smite us, or anything like that. It’s that… we will miss out. We will miss out on the strength that can be gained from leaning on the everlasting arms, on God’s love for us. We will miss out on knowing, here in this flesh, the breadth and length and height and depth of Jesus’ love for us. We will miss out on the bracing wind of the Spirit as it blows through and fills us, with every gift and grace, with every insight and inspiration. If we only play at our faith, if we only play at being followers of Jesus, we will miss out.

So I invite you, in just a few moments, to take on yourselves again the sign of the cross, and the sign of your own frail brokenness and broken-heartedness. I invited you to commit yourselves, heart and soul, mind and strength, to following Jesus, no matter the cost. I invite you to know that this yoke and this burden are not yours to carry alone, but are shared by an entire community of love and support, of caring and concern—and also by God, the author of all our days. I invite you to come on the journey with Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.

** Thanks to Laurie Tiberi and Taryn Mattice. Your words and spirit were in this sermon.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Hospitality of God: A Sermon for Last Epiphany

 Scripture can be found here...

Most of us grew up with some notion of what hospitality looked like. Some of us had parents who welcomed everyone with an ice-cold Coca Cola (in the green glass bottles). For others the instinct was to break out a six-pack and some ashtrays. For still others, it was a plate of cookies and milk or tea for visitors.

We in church strive to show hospitality in lots of ways—of course, hospitality means “welcome.” We try to be friendly to the folks we meet here, we take turns preparing lovely coffee hours, we organize other opportunities to eat together.

In other words, hospitality is a somewhat intangible thing that doesn’t necessarily look the same in different contexts—it can be as different as soda and beer and tea, as diverse as conversation and lunch and movie night—but, as a Supreme Court Justice once said about something else altogether, we know it when we see it. Or, perhaps, receive it.

In different ages, different time periods, hospitality takes on different characteristics. In the era of the Hebrew scriptures, when the people of God were transitioning from a nomadic way of living to one more agriculturally based, the law of hospitality was strictly observed, and the law was simple: any traveler who came to the opening of your tent was welcomed in, and offered food, drink and a bed. If that seems extravagant, think of the context: for desert-dwelling people in a tribal culture, the ability to depend on hospitality was the difference between life and death. There was a strong social compact among all people: even if your enemy came to your door, you offered them hospitality. It was just too important a matter to be threatened by politics, or personality, or even pure selfishness.

No matter what era you inhabit, food and drink always seem to be an essential part of hospitality. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is found to be eating a lot. I mean, a lot. Far more than in any other gospel—nine meals in twenty-four chapters. So much so that, if we had started our passage just a couple of verses earlier, we would have read that Jesus is gaining a reputation as a glutton and a drunkard. Naturally, two verses later, we find him at a table.

Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee… and, the gospel of Luke is the only one in which Jesus eats with Pharisees. Pharisees were a sect of Judaism which emphasized the importance of table-fellowship—eating again!—and all the rules and regulations associated with that. Pharisees were concerned with eating in a way that honored God.

As the curtain rises, a sumptuous feast is laid before us. Think of all your favorite Middle Eastern foods: olives and figs and pita bread hot from the oven. Perhaps a lamb roasted with herbs. Dates and nuts and honey… sweet cakes. And, of course, wine—a far safer beverage than water in that day and age. Our translation tells us that “Jesus took his place” at the table. But the Greek reveals that Jesus “reclined” at the table. The tradition for eating with guests was to recline. Such a meal was to be a leisurely affair. Such a meal was a privilege.

And one more thing: at such a meal, a central feature of hospitality was the act of offering your guests water so that they could wash their dusty sandal-wearing feet.

Immediately a woman… whose name we never learn, which is most often the case for women in the bible… a woman from the city, a “sinner,” who has heard that Jesus is there, comes into the room, uninvited. And, herewith, broken rules numbers 1, 2, and 3… 1. An unaccompanied woman simply does not venture out into public alone. 2. No one, especially an unaccompanied woman, dares to “crash” a party of Pharisees, who are known for their strict religious interpretation of meal-time. And 3. For that same unaccompanied woman to be a “sinner,” which, in the case of our story, is probably meant to indicate that she is a prostitute… well, if there are any swooning types in the crowd, let the swooning commence over all the broken rules.

But what she does. What she does. Without a word, she comes to Jesus. Remember, he is reclining, which means he is leaning at the table, like the other guests, with his feet protruding out into the room, his feet dusty with the earth of his walking ministry, because his host has neglected this basic tenet of hospitality. The unnamed woman stands above Jesus’ feet, and she bathes them with her tears.

Have you ever cried enough tears to wash someone’s feet with them? I try to imagine this woman’s tears, the sheer volume of them… and the kind of anguish that might have brought her to this moment. Tears of sheer desperation. Or tears of pure agony. Or tears of relief at not having to pretend for this one moment. Or tears of fury. Tears of sorrow, tears of fear, tears of loneliness, tears of grief and loss.

Whatever her tears were, they were enough to wash the dust from Jesus’ feet. And then, this woman who has now broken rule number 4 (that would be the tear-bath), proceeds on to 5 and 6: 5. The woman’s hair is unbound, long, long enough to dry Jesus’ feet. In scripture, two kinds of women wear their hair down: women who are of questionable character, and women who are prophets. And rule #6… intimate contact with a man not your husband or father or brother.

Then the woman kisses Jesus’ feet, and that’s how we know what this is all about. From ancient times this gesture has been about three things: showing honor to someone whose greatness you recognize; showing devotion; and showing gratitude because a debt has been forgiven.

Next, the woman takes an alabaster jar filled with precious oil and then she pours it on the clean and salty tear-bathed feet. The fragrance fills the room. Shocked, the Pharisee murmurs to himself—except, evidently, it’s one of those stage whispers we can all hear.

If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”

Now, call me a cynic, but I have to wonder what Simon the Pharisee is most upset about at this exact moment. Is he most upset about this woman touching Jesus, creating this commotion, making this unseemly display at his dinner party?  Or is the Pharisee more concerned about something else… “If this man were a prophet…” he says. It seems he invited Jesus over thinking that he was a prophet. Is he upset that he might be wrong?

If we could read Simon’s mind at this moment, it might sound something like: Jesus can’t possibly be a prophet. Jesus can’t possibly think this is ok. And later, Jesus can’t take it upon himself to forgive sins.

Call it, if you will, a new rule of hospitality: the hospitality of God. This is a kind of hospitality that doesn’t differentiate between who is or isn’t invited. This is a way of welcome that doesn’t distinguish between Pharisee and prophet and prostitute. This is a way of living in which an astonishing release from debt leads to a still more astonishing display of love and gratitude. Jesus most certainly can. And Jesus does.

On the last Sunday before Lent, we usually read a story about Jesus and two of his disciples climbing a mountain, where Jesus is changed, transfigured before their eyes. They suddenly see Jesus for who he is.

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Who is this Jesus? Who is this who came into this world depending first upon the hospitality of a very young girl to welcome him into her body and life, and then, depending at his birth upon the hospitality of animals because the upstairs rooms were full, and shepherds to make him feel welcome?

Who is this? Who is this who went to be baptized by John only to hear the voice of God telling him “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well-pleased?” Who is this?

Who is this who was driven by the Spirit to the most inhospitable rocks and sand of a desert landscape? Who is this who then returned to preach the radical hospitality of God, only to experience the hospitality of his hometown as a place where they tried to throw him off a cliff?

Who is this? Who is this who heals the sick? Cures the lame? Raises the dead? Forgives the debts of a woman he has only just met? Allows her intimate touch to raise the hackles of the religious elites?

Who is this, this Jesus? And, depending upon our answer to that question, what do we do, now that we have that information? How do we show the hospitality of God?

I’ll tell you one thing: if we’re not made at least a little uncomfortable by the hospitality we are showing… we’re probably not there yet. Is it really hospitality if we don’t have to stretch ourselves? If we don’t have to give anything up? If we don’t have to share?

This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will read that “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.” The cross lies ahead, that stunning act of God’s hospitality towards us all, that moment when the shared life of God and humanity hangs in the balance. In Jesus the radical hospitality of God is made known: God’s welcome of the whole person, forgiveness. That action calls us to deeper levels of sharing and stretching ourselves than we have known before. And isn’t that why we’re here? To keep asking that question… “Who is this Jesus?”… and to strive, heart and soul, body and strength, to live into the answers? And while we’re at it, to share a drink or a meal or a conversation as well? Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Healing of the Slave: Sermon on Luke 7:1-17

Scripture can be found here...

In today’s reading, on the surface, we have two healings. But two weeks ago, we read that Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, stood in his hometown synagogue and read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because [God] has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. ~Luke 4:18-19

Today, we begin to see what that looks like: the year of the Lord’s favor, also known among the people of Israel as the Year of Jubilee.

The year of jubilee is described in Leviticus 25. Every fiftieth year is to be a year of jubilee. At the beginning of the year, on the Day of Atonement, the yobel, or ram’s horn, is to be blown, its sound marking the year in which freedom is to come to everyone: all debts are to be forgiven, and all slaves are to be freed. And this is where it starts.

On the surface, we have two healings. We can do a compare and contrast.

On the one hand, we have a man, a Roman centurion, a professional officer of the occupying army.

On the other hand, we have a woman, a Jewish widow… in Luke, and in most of the bible, that word, “widow,” is code for “a vulnerable woman alone.” Widows were the most likely to slip into devastating poverty in the absence of a male head of household.

We have a soldier and a widow. But neither of these seems to be the person in need of healing.

The Roman officer approaches Jesus in search of healing for a slave, but he doesn’t approach Jesus directly. He sends intermediaries, Jewish elders, who testify to the soldier’s worthiness and kindness to the Jews.  As for the slave, our translation says that he is “valued,” but the Greek word means “precious” or “dear.” This slave is precious to his owner. Not daring to show himself to Jesus personally, the officer begs from a distance.

As for the widow, her adult son has died: her only son, her male head-of-the-household, the one on whom all her status depends, the one who is the only thing standing between her and devastating poverty.

The officer, we learn, is a man of authority. He commands people to do things and they do them. He assumes that Jesus has the same kind of command over the causes of illness and death.

The widow, who has no status or authority over anyone or anything, does not even ask Jesus for help. He simply observes her in her grief: a weeping woman in a throng of mourners, following a stretcher that carries the body of her son to be laid in a tomb.

And then there’s the ironic juxtaposition of the issues around ritual cleanness and impurity: the Roman centurion does everything in his power to prevent Jesus from coming into contact with him, an “unclean” Gentile, even to the extent of asking for healing from afar. And what does Jesus do? He walks up to the bier holding the dead son of the widow and touches it, which according to the laws of Leviticus, renders him ritually unclean for seven days.

From afar, Jesus pronounces the slave, precious to his owner, healed. With intimate contact, Jesus says, “Young man, arise!” and the son of the widow is raised from the dead.

Two healings—or, a healing and a raising from the dead, really. Two very different casts of characters. And yet, what they have in common is so much greater than the things that divide them. They are all outsiders. A Roman. A slave. A widow. A dead man. What unites them is Jesus’ compassion, the compassion of God for them. It is the year of jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor.

The year of jubilee has come, and that means that God’s compassion is being unleashed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And we are included, you and me.  Jesus includes those who are hungering for bread and those who are hungering for justice. Jesus includes those who have lost their jobs and those who have lost their hearts. Jesus includes those who are somebody and those who are nobody. In the realm of God, there are no “nobodies.”

And Jesus’ love, Jesus’ compassion, is also Jesus’ commissioning, to all of us who have ears to hear and hands to do the work of God’s reign. We are still being sent to release the shackles of the slaves, whether that means those in the no-man’s land of minimum wage jobs that don’t pay the rent or the real, living slaves still in our midst.

Did you know that Super Bowl Sunday is the single largest target for sex-trafficking and child prostitution in the United States? It’s not just that people are victimized at the game—the huge crowds enable countless women and children to be hidden in plain sight for the use of the men who travel to the game. They are “nobodies,” whose bodies are sold for profit. At the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, tens of thousands of women and children were trafficked in Florida in the days leading up to the game.[i] But in the realm of God, there are no “nobodies,” and if we are to continue to unleash the compassion of Jesus, we are the ones who need to raise awareness, to work, to pray, to give, for the rescue and the healing of these slaves.

Jesus’ compassion is being unleashed now. Today. Here. Where we are. We are the ones who need to bring good news to the poor, whether they are the downtrodden or the broken-hearted. We are the ones who need to continue to embody Jesus’ compassion in a world that is still hurting, for the poor in purse, and spirit, and oppression. And we do it the way Jesus did: one person at a time. One touch at a time. One action at a time. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Tina Kaufmann, “Super Bowl is ‘single largest magnet for sex-trafficking, child prostitution in US’”, Newsnet 5, Sunday February 3, 2013.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Five: It's (Almost) Groundhog Day Edition

I have to admit: I never thought much about Groundhog Day.

Then I saw that movie. And an odd holiday that seems to be a remnant of an obscure Pennsylvania German custom took on all sorts of new meaning.

So, in honor of the movie and the day, let's play the Almost Groundhog Day Edition of the Friday Five!

1. The Holiday:  On a scale of 1-5 (with 1 representing, "Hey! Stop hating on the most awesome season ever!" and 5 representing, "Green. NOW."), how much are you hankering for spring? And what is, to you, a true sign that it is actually on its way?

I am one of those odd people that actually has a little love in me for every season of the year-- especially when it's new. By now, in my part of the world, winter's getting a little bit old, though I have a little enthusiasm left in me for another nice big snow or two. Then, I'm probably done. So I imagine that puts me at about a 3.

As for signs of spring, I would normally cite the appearance of hyacinths in the stores, but since they have already appeared here locally, during January, that doesn't seem like much of a harbinger.

Here, for nothing, a poem my mother taught me about hyacinths:

If thou of fortune be bereft
And in thy store there be but left
Two loaves, sell one, and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

2. The Film: Seen it? If yes, Love it? Hate it? Meh?

As the author of this Friday Five, I must confess: I love this film. I suppose I love second chances, and third, and fourth, and so on and so on. Which, I suppose, as a minister, is something many of us have staked our lives on. No?

3. The Meaning: If you could relive one day of your life, what one would it be?

I remember the play "Our Town," when Emily is given an opportunity to relive a day in her life after she's died. She is warned not to choose a wonderful or special day... the day will be special enough. She chooses her twelfth birthday. I like that choice, partly because it's kind of a mystery to me. I don't remember my twelfth birthday. A recent opportunity to read a diary I was writing in that era convinced me that memory is an amazing and flimsy thing at times. I'd love to see what life was really like for me then.

4. The Meaning, Part 2: If you had to relive one day of your life over and over until you got something right (a la the Bill Murray character in the film), what day would that be?

For this, I think I would choose a day when my children were small, probably my son. I was learning parenting on the job, like every single one of us. But if only I could have figured out how to do it with grace, and breathing, and meeting my/ our frustrations with humor, and forgiveness, for both of us... if only!

5. The Meaning, Part 3: If you had to design a life-changing experience for a fairly despicable human being (as is, for example, the Bill Murray character at the film's start), what would it be? How, given all sorts of unlikely powers to bend time and take control of another person's personal growth, would you do it?

I think the ultimate educational, mystical, incomprehensible tool to change a human's understanding would be pretty simple. Call it the "Freaky Friday." A switch-- with someone in completely different circumstances. Let the CEO know what it is to be shivering under cardboard at night. Let the student know what a challenge the teacher faces. Let the preacher know what is in, not just the heart, but the day to day grind of the one sitting in the pew.

Happy Almost Groundhog Day everyone!