Lent Day 44: SERVANT

Today is Maundy Thursday of the Holy or Passion Week. As we have mentioned in many postings during Lent, sometimes the scriptures turn our ideas upside down. In today’s texts, we consider the call to be a SERVANT.

washingfeet1This call first asks that we be willing to have others serve us, as well as to be served. It’s harder than you’d think, to be the one that needs or allows someone else to care and support you. It’s hard to accept help, even by having someone else cook for you or wash your feet. After all, letting someone else wash your feet requires that you expose yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and put yourself into someone else’s hands, someone else’s care.

For many of us, it’s easier to be the one doing such tasks for someone else. In fact, even when we are called to be SERVANTS, as long as we’re doing something for someone else, like fixing a problem or taking action, we often feel empowered and somewhat in control.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s tough to be willing to humble yourself to the role of SERVANT. There’s an awesome column in the April 2016 Rotary magazine about an airline executive in an expensive suit, who came to deliver airline tickets to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. He was directed back to the toilets, where she was scrubbing them. Not missing a beat, she assumed he was a volunteer, so she handed him a brush and showed him what to do, and left him there to scrub toilets. He told that story for the rest of his life, because for that brief span of time, he was part of her work and mission.

Those with the greatest earthly political and social authority and power are called to be SERVANTS and disciples, just as are the most humble. Our faith calls us to an ethical accountability to each other, from those we love dearly to those we have never met. We are also responsible for creation’s well-being, starting with this planet.

Jesus’ final commandment, which is one of today’s texts, gives the standard by which we measure our service. It is rooted and channeled as love for one another, as Jesus loved us.

This may sound simple enough, but think about a lifetime of scrubbing toilets for thousands of sick people, and it may take on a new perspective. Yet we don’t all dedicate lifetimes to such pursuits, but we can set aside segments of time and attention to support such work, one way or another. That has certainly been an invitation of Lent.

As God’s people, we are asked to submit, by choice, to the love and leadership of God. In ancient Hebrew writings, this submission was directed toward God, often through God’s representatives, and often in sacred spaces such as the temple. Kings, queens, priests, judges (some judges were women) and prophets bowed their heads, made their confessions, offered their sacrifices, followed the law, and raised up their praise to One with greater power than they could embody. In Gospel texts, submission comes by following God through the embodied, incarnate presence of Christ, who calls himself a servant to those who follow him.

Today, on Maundy Thursday, faith communities offer many spiritual practices that allow us to serve each other. Below are some of them:

  • Prepare suppers: light meals at common tables. Often we feature bread and soup. We are cooking and preparing food together, and offering it to each other, serving and feeding one another. We are enacting the final commandment, the great commandment of Christ, to love one another.
  • Celebrate communion today, moving from the shared meal to the shared sacrament. During communion, also called eucharist, we offer bread and wine (or juice) as the formal elements.
    Hopefully our tables are open and welcoming to everyone. This remains a challenge for many churches, who impose limits on those who are formally invited to partake of the sacraments.
    Together we remember and bring into this moment: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus whose whole existence was an act of servitude and passionate teaching and risk-taking for justice and outpouring of transformative love and tender grace.
  • Offer foot-washing tonight, following along with the act of servitude and blessing that Jesus offered his followers after the passover seder meal, which we call the Last Supper. This appears in today’s texts.
    Jesus washed his friends’ feet physically with water and towel, and washed their lives symbolically, purifying them and blessing them and consecrating them to ministry.
  • Prayers will be offered. Ultimately we are seeking “help”, sighing “thanks”, and shouting “wow.” These are the three essential human prayers as suggested by Anne Lamott. Whether spoken aloud or in silent meditation, alone or in community, prayer will open a dialogue between us and Godself, who is eager to be in a relationship with us, and will welcome and hold whatever we share, spoken or unspoken.
    God listens. We may not see or know the response we receive, until we look backward across events. And I can admit, we may not like the answer we receive. Yet I believe God hears and answers all prayers.
  • Read sacred texts. We can listen to the ancient Biblical stories of our spiritual ancestors, and how they approached encounters with holiness. We can hear the messy, imperfect human ways we bungled our lives and communities, and God found ways to heal and redeem us, whenever possible.
  • Creatively express ourselves in worship. We will make artistic offerings of dance and music and poetry and many other creative mediums.
    In this way, we use  Spirit-given gifts to tell stories to each other, inspired by the themes and events of this Holy Week. Through our witnessing to each other, God continues to speak into our lives, not just through ancient texts, but in new expressions.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 116: 18a — O Lord, I am your servant.
  • I Corinthians 11: 24 — And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
  • John 13: 5 — Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
  • John 13: 8-9 — Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
  • John 13:34 —  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Lent Day 28: YIELD

The word that rises up in today’s texts is YIELD.

  • YIELD may be a verb that means to submit or surrender.
  • YIELD can also be a noun. It is the material outcome of a process, such as the result of a mathematical equation, or in more practical terms, the quantity of grain or other produce harvested at the end of a growing season.

In its active, verb form, YIELD suggests giving oneself into another’s power or authority. In daily use, we YIELD when operating a motor vehicle, giving right of way to someone who is already in in traffic.

Yet it has much deeper connotations. It implies an unequal relationship. We need to be cautious about how we read and use the word YIELD in this context.

We can YEILD when we are seeking mercy, either from the threat of death, or when we are seeking a form of forgiveness for a transgression we may have committed. It can be an act of sheer survival, or a renewing spiritual practice. The event, the experience, determines what YIELDING means to us.

surrenderYIELD may mean surrendering to a greater physical, political, or military power. This might be an authority, a person or a system, that is unjust. In this sense, to YIELD is to be coerced or forced into an act of submission that is not of our own volition. Such power, such hands, do not wish us well.

When YIELDING is done without consent, this does not mean that our human dignity is gone or our capacity for resistance is over. If we yield to an aggressor or an oppressor who will harm or damage us … then to find a way to survive and endure becomes the act of resistance, when that is possible.

Through social examples of resistance, we see that YIELDING can mean to submit to powers that overwhelm us, and yet endure. Such stories can be found in the reflections of Jews who lived through the Holocaust. And we can find it in the stories of marginalized people who have been oppressed in United States history, such as the lives of Civil Rights activitist. Yet this legacy is not limited to African Americans with histories shaped by slavery and racism. It also involves Native Americans (First Peoples) whose homes and ways of living were systematically wiped out. And this story isn’t limited to the USA, it can also be found in societies which have confronted their recent violent and oppressive histories, such as South African or Rwanda. More examples find their way to our attention survivors of regimes which continue to be oppressive, such as North Korea.

When used by people of faith in a more holistic context, YIELDING to Godself can mean to place oneself into the care and keeping of a just and compassionate Creator. In this relationship, we can expect that God hopes and works toward the best for us. Our YIELDING is a form of vulnerability and reciprocity in a relationship that leads us toward more healthy, holistic, integrated ways of being human.

YIELD, as the harvest, is the valuable outcome of our labor and nurturing over many seasons. It is the result of our efforts. And such YIELDS are ever empowered by our relationship with God, and how God blesses our lives.

yeild2Sometimes YIELD means a literal harvest. It arrives as forms of nourishment and sustenance for people’s bodies: crops from fields, picks of orchards and vineyards, herds of livestock, catches of fish.

Sometimes YIELD is the metaphorical harvest of our beliefs and practices: the virtues and characteristics we cultivate in our lives. We call these the fruits of the spirit, such as kindness, patience, wisdom, mercy, and hope.

At its best, to YIELD is to be in relationship. And YIELD is also the tangible benefit from how we live our lives as people of faith.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages from the Bible:

  • Psalm 53: 6 — O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
  • Leviticus 25: 3 — You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.
  • Leviticus 25: 6 — You may eat what the land yields during its Sabbath.
  • Revelation 19: 10a —  Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus.”

Lent Day 27: SAINTS

We often use the word SAINTS. We usually mean those who have lived particularly righteous lives, made extreme choices to follow their faith, those who have been martyred for their faith. Sometimes we refer to those faithful souls who have died and gone ahead of us.

In today’s readings, I would say that SAINTS refers to those who ‘seek after God.’ It’s a description that can work in today’s world, as well as historical contexts.

Being a SAINT is not an implication that such people are perfect. They’re not. People such as Mother Theresa, named a saint by the Catholic church, reveal the depth of their doubt and fear through their own writings. Writers such as St. John of the Cross, writing centuries ago, called the times when he grappled with isolation, depression, and despair as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Wrestling with faith deepens it. It’s part of the human journey.

So don’t think that being a SAINT is about being perfect in deeds, words, thoughts or emotions. Humans simply cannot live perfect lives.

What we can do, in any circumstance, is ‘seek after God.’

In that seeking, we choose more often to reach for thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us closer to God’s hopes for us. Those hopes are rooted in our personal, individual choices and deeds. Yet what starts with individuals flows into communities, systems, and impacts all of creation.

We become ‘saints.’ We’re not born that way. We learn this way of being. We put it to work. We practice ‘seeking after God.’

SAINTHOOD is a measure of a lifespan comprised of small moments. And we won’t always be at our best. Nobody ever is.

Even Jesus got angry or impatient: at fig trees, at markets in the temple, at his followers, at a woman he called a dog. He got tired and needed respite from crowds. He asked for the cup to be taken from him, when he wrestled with his own darkness, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet he struggled with those moments and grew as a person, and became a more gentle and compassionate human.

When are you pressed by fear, doubt, anxiety, sorrow, depression, anger? Those are the times when it may be most difficult to seek after God, yet that’s precisely when the practice of being connected to God, to faith, becomes most vital. Even if it seems like an empty exercise, because you’re down in the pit of despair, it’s the time to call out, to pray, to turn your mind and heart to God.

‘Seeking after God’ isn’t a brief moment. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a constant, daily practice. It’s a way of being. When we live by ‘seeking after God’ we are in the state of becoming saints.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

Psalm 53: 2 — God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

Revelation 19: 3b — “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great.”

Revelation 19: 7b – …for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Lent Day 26: CELEBRATE

It’s early in the season of Lent to contemplate a word like CELEBRATE, yet that’s the image that rises up in today’s texts. And after all, while people often associate Lent with a solemn time of fasting and deprivation, it can also be a time of lightness and being present. It can be a timing of giving, versus giving up. It can be cause for celebration.

day26Perhaps we should consider why we celebrate. In Joshua, the Israelites mark Passover, which is always a time of remembrance of Exodus, and their liberation from slavery. It is both bittersweet and joyful, it has a sense of obligation and ritual, but it is also an important time of family gathering and community-building.

In Psalms, people are invited to rejoice and shout for joy from a place of righteousness. I would interpret this to mean celebrating once we are in right relationship with God, self, and other people, as well as creation.

Finally, in the parable in Luke, the feast is laid when one son returns after an absence that his family experienced as if it were a death. His homecoming has the element of resurrection in it, a return to life and renewal of connection with everything that gives meaning to his life.

Remember, it’s too soon to say Alleluia … we don’t say that until Easter. Yet we are preparing for this day, for the time when Love overturns death and returns into the world to meet us where we are. Isn’t every communion both a remembrance and a celebration? And doesn’t every meal, shared with others, hold this same potential?

So in this season, celebrate with intention. Celebrate thoughtfully. But do celebrate. This, too, is a spiritual practice.

Excerpts from today’s Biblical passages:

  • Joshua 5: 10 — While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
  • Psalm 32: 11 — Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
  • Luke 15: 31-21 — Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Lent Day 25: HEAVEN

heaven_day25HEAVEN is one of the words that rises up in today’s scriptures. We think of heaven being someplace else … somewhere up there, or out there … the place where God and angels and saints dwell.

It’s never the place where we live, is it? Not if we’re living, breathing, mortal beings. When we think of heaven, it’s the place where we go when this mortal life ends. When we die. It’s a future destination.

Do you think of fluffy clouds? Harps and winged angels and cherubs? Or green fields, and marble cities, and paved streets and sparkling fountains? Or many rooms in a mansion? It’s hard not to picture a Hollywood heaven, isn’t it?

My favorite  depiction of heaven was in an old Twilight Zone episode, when a hunter and his hound dog end up on the road to heaven. They come to a gate, and meet a fellow who claims to be St. Peter, but the hunter refuses to go through the gates, because they won’t allow the dog in, too. Turns out, that gate was the portal to hell (where dogs can’t go). Heaven is down the road a piece, around the corner, and as it turns out, dogs can go through the same front gate as people.

Even that picture of heaven leaves God outside our world. Not too involved or connected. And I just don’t believe that. I believe God is intimately engaged in this world, too.

The Lord’s prayer reminds us, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray this way, we are putting into words a hope for heaven here among us, not just in a distant place and time, beyond the end of our mortal lives. This ideal requires that we become partners in creating heaven on earth.

We are invited to be part of the dream, the prayer, that believes that the kingdom of God, here on earth as it is in heaven, is possible. It’s not just out there. It’s an-always-unfolding possibility. It’s happening now. It’s in us and among us. We are part of God’s aspiration for this kingdom on earth.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Exodus 32: 13 — Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven.
  • Luke 15: 7 — Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.