Lent Day 32: CHILDREN

Today’s text highlights the word CHILDREN. It is used here to refer to generations of Israel that inherit the legacy of God’s chosen people. It is also, in Gospels, used to refer to all those adopted into God’s kingdom by becoming children of God. It implies vulnerability in our relationship with a God who wants to care for us.

children-560x375By implication, we are all siblings. And in the way of families, we didn’t all choose each other, and it’s not always easy to get along with our adopted brothers and sisters. And yet this is our family, and we are asked to find ways to be in community together. We can sit at a common table, maybe on opposite ends, maybe arguing or staying quiet or speaking out, but we pass the bread and wine, and we eat together and pray together, and ideally when we leave the table, we find common work to do together in the world.

children_viet8024-bwCHILDREN in the time of Christ were vulnerable. The Gospels tell many stories of children being brought into Jesus’ presence for a blessing. Parents were concerned for their offsprings’ wellbeing, because amny children didn’t live into adulthood: childhood mortality rates were high in those times. Gospels stories especially include instances of Jesus healing and even resurrecting children.

Thus the comparison of people to children is a reference to our vulnerability, as well as God’s caregiving role. We are asked to come into God’s presence openly, admitting that we are imperfect and flawed, beautiful and also broken. We asked to come, not robed in confidence, authority, and trying to look like our best and most powerful, potent selves, but as our honest selves.

child_discipline_xlargeFor some people, the image of a mother-like or father-like God is problematic. We don’t all come from safe or healthy families of origin. Sometimes our personal experiences with parents cause us to mistrust the idea of God as a parent and ourselves as children. It’s important to honor this issue, and find other ways to talk about and illustrate God’s care and connection to us.

CHILDREN are the offspring of our own bodies. Like us, they integrate spirit and flesh. And they are tethered to us not only by physical, genetic ties, but also emotional, spiritual and mental ones.

children2After all, children are vulnerable in today’s society, too. Daily headlines remind us of this, whether it’s children dying from violence in our homes, city streets or someone else’s children killed as collateral damage in global conflicts. Diabetes is a threat in our country. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues abound. Children are victims of abuse and crime. They struggle with addiction. Many of the US un-homed population are children. Even in the United States, and in greater proportion around the world, children live in extreme conditions of poverty, hunger, without shelter or access to basic healthcare or economic stability. Too many are living in times and places of violence, uprooted and forced to move without a regular home, refugees.

children3CHILDREN put a face on issues of justice. They cause us to pay attention, when it migh otherwise be easy to avoid or ignore the problem. It’s hard to look into the eyes of a child without caring what happens next. CHILDREN reach past our boundaries and create connection, when we’d prefer not to get involved.

As we are called to care to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, our neighbors’ children are at stake.

Excerpt from lectionary texts from Bible:

  • Exodus 12: 26- 27 — When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord.
  • John 11: 53 — And not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

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 13: WORKS

Today the word that surfaces in the scriptures is WORKS. We can hear this word as a noun such as a creative project that has been completed. Or we can hear this word as a verb, an action we can undertake.

Feb22_LentC_workbootsTo me, whether we think of ‘works’ as a finished project or actions to be undertaken, the word implies legacy. It is something we’ll leave behind after our lives are done. Something that makes a difference, that shapes and changes the world, even a little bit.

The Psalms extol ‘works’ as the evidence of God’s creativity and power through what our senses tell us: what we see, feel, hear, smell, taste and touch. In the New Testament, the idea of ‘works’ takes on the aspect of those actions we undertake in order to be righteous and faithful people.

Of course, whether our acts of faith can earn any portion of God’s grace has been a long debate in Christian theology, a point of division among different movements within our faiths. The debate is academically and intellectually worthy, of course, but I’m glad that I’m not ultimately responsible for these answers.

It matters whether we live ethically, of course. As for whether I can receive God’s grace because of ‘works’, that’s beyond my control. I just don’t know the answer.

We are partners in our destinies, so we shouldn’t be complacent, even if we cannot be sure of the outcome. Admittedly, I strive toward the ideal that God would find delight and joy in the way I live out my days. Yet I fall short of that ideal … well, every day.

Would I choose to live un-righteously, to live without participating in ‘works’ that are faithful, if I thought it didn’t matter to God? Would I live differently, indulgently, recklessly, carelessly, selfishly, if I thought I could live so, and still be forgiven at the end of all time? Probably not. I’d probably still be my messy self, following most of the commandments, but breaking some of them.

In contrast, do I believe that if I live ethically and faithfully, I somehow deserve more love and compassion and mercy from our Creator than someone who turns to God after a lifetime of ill deeds? After all, Jesus forgave one of the men hanging on the nearby cross at the end of his own life, as he was being crucified. We don’t know all the man’s crimes, but his newfound belief was only minutes old, his life was ending, yet he was invited into paradise with Christ.

crossesThe criminal being crucified next to Jesus didn’t have time for any ‘works’ that would help him earn God’s grace. Or did he? Perhaps his one action was his profound internal movement to form a relationship with Jesus in the brief time they knew each other.

Who deserves grace? Who doesn’t deserve grace? Can ‘works’ earn it for us? Can a life filled with the opposite of righteous works, a life measured by the atrocities and violence and oppression committed by a person, place someone beyond grace?

I confess, I have debated with my colleagues over that question earnestly, wondering if historic figures who have committed massive atrocities can ever expect forgiveness from God? I have learned that different faith traditions have different ways of understanding how God offers resolution to those who harm God’s children. The chance to form a relationship with God, to be in God’s grace, certainly starts by being remorseful and seeking forgiveness … and even then, how might one offer some form of apology and seek to atone for  massive losses inflicted on whole populations? Perhaps it isn’t possible. Again, this isn’t within my control. It belongs to God.

Of course, while God’s mercy is God’s business, systems of justice and reconciliation are our human business. We have models for attempting to seek reconciliation and justice from those who oppress others and perpetuate atrocities. Even creating chances for redemption for perpetrators whose actions would seem irredeemable. Nations such as those in Rwanda and South Africa have found systems of reconciliation that allow people to remember, listen, learn from the past, confront each other, bear witness to each others’ stories, develop systems of consequences and atonement, and rebuild together. It is a slow and sustainable approach to healing.

This is certainly the work of deep faith … and humans are capable of it because of our capacity to love and hope, beyond all reason. Examples of this level of work are available through the forgiveness challenge. http://www.humanjourney.com/forgiveness/

Meanwhile, let’s return to the word ‘works.’ Again I wonder, can any of us ever earn or deserve or negotiate our worthiness to be beloved and forgiven?

We are connected, I believe, to a God that knows the best and worst about us, and loves us just as we are. That shouldn’t make us complacent. Our God always hopes for more from and for us: that we should stretch and reach toward our potential.

We are called to ‘become’ rather than just ‘be.’ From that perspective, our daily actions … our daily ‘works’ … are the place where we grow and become more fully human.

Below are excerpts from the lectionary:

  • Sing to him, sing praises to him;tell of all his wonderful works.
  • Remember the wonderful works he has done,his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered.
  • For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say?
  • Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
  • So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from work.

Day 10 of Lent: ENEMIES

How do I write about today’s word? Enemies. I’m so uncomfortable with it. It exists due to extreme conflict or tension. It draws lines, and puts me on the opposite side of that boundary from other people, or from aspects of myself.

Today is an invitation to wonder, are our ‘enemies’ other people, or sometimes, ourselves? And how do we reconcile ourselves with these ‘enemies’?

I cannot be enemy of myself: One photo from the #jewsandarabsrefusetobeenemies campaign at twitter.com

In some of these texts, the word ‘enemies’ is used with the military context of those who win and lose, those who conquer or submit, those who live and die. In current times, since our nation is engaged in many armed conflicts, and our culture is steeped with fear, the concept of ‘enemies’ is hauntingly close to us.

In other texts, such as the letter from Paul, ‘enemies’ are those who live apart from the way of Christ. Again, this might imply parts of ourselves as well as other people. Often enough, we find ourselves living in ways that are not allowing us to be connected to Godself. I understand that when the text discusses Jesus’ way, it means, in part, his way of living in the world … his ethical way of engaging issues of mercy, justice, faith, healing and human connection … his ways of engaged living in the political and social environment of his day. It also means Jesus way of  healing us by recognizing and restoring our integrity as members of God’s body, God’s kingdom.

Today is also an invitation to consider fear. And find another way to respond to the conditions that develop ‘enemies.’ To walk God’s path, to turn to God as stronghold. In countering fear, we seek responses rooted in love, versus fear.

Maybe we are invited, by walking the way of Christ, to reconsider those parts of ourselves, or other people we have labeled as enemies, from a different perspective. Perhaps we cannot become friends with our ‘enemies’ or  reconcile ourselves to our adversaries. Yet perhaps we can find some clarity, some empathy. Or some way of letting go. One example comes from deeply-wounded societies such as Rwanda or South Africa (see the the Forgiveness Challenge developed by Desmond Tutu). Through the arduous process of forgiveness, we can work toward the capacity to relinquish the internal emotions such as fear, loathing or hatred, that allow our ‘enemies’ to maintain their presence and power in our lives.

  • Psalm 27: 1 — The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
  • Psalm 27: 11-12a — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path, because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries …
  • Genesis 14:20 — And blessed be God Most High,who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
  • Phillipians 13: 17-18 — Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Day 6 of Lent: HAND

day6_Lent_open-handsOne of the words that rises up out of today’s texts, when placed side by side, is HAND. These are the parts of the body into which we entrust ourselves, when we turn ourselves over, when we release ourselves into someone else’s care and keeping, or into the potential safety and refuge of a reciprocal relationship.

We place ourselves in someone’s hands.

In a prayer from David, seeking deliverance, he places himself and his people into God’s keeping: into God’s hands. Later the writer of John claims Jesus Christ as our advocate, the one to whom we turn.

We are partners in this process of becoming vulnerable. When we extend our hands, and hold them open, sometimes we catch and uphold, as much as we release and receive. We are called to move toward God, and risk all, by making ourselves available, just as God moves toward us.

A relationship occurs when our hands are involved. We hope it is one of tenderness and compassion, and also of justice and service.

Consider that we are God’s hands in the world. We walk, as the writer says, as Emmanuel walked. By using our hands as Christ used his hands, we are called to be in relationship with others in a way that models that ethical engagement: forgiving, truth-telling, healing, community-building, educating, feeding, washing, rescuing, pouring, fishing, mending, holding, transforming, carrying, praying, yielding, and so many more acts of connection.

I should note that these scriptures are excerpted from Biblical passages that also include images of violence and vengeance, sometimes done with hands holding weapons. So let’s acknowledge that hands can also inflict harm, and bodies can be landscapes that experience hurt.

Yet in his deepest need, David, one of the greatest kings of our sacred texts, cries out to be in the shelter of God’s merciful hands. Rather than focusing on what David may wish to happen to his adversaries and enemies, I pay attention to what he hopes for himself and his people. David’s human, after all, and there’s a limit to what he imagines God’s grace can accomplish. From our perspective, we can also hope that what God can provide for us is also possible for ‘others’ too, so that ‘others’ can become more than enemies and oppressors.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 17: 7 — Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
  • 1 Chronicles 21: 13a — David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.”
  • 1 John 21: 1b — But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
  • 1 John 21: 5b-6 — By this we may be sure that we are in him:whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

Day 2 of Lent: LOOK

feb11_lentc_look2These texts gaze backward into the past. They take up the act of remembering, which is at the heart of many of our sacraments. To know ourselves, it helps to look at those places and people from which we are descended, and to acknowledge those privileges and problems we inherit. Looking backward, knowing and reconciling ourselves to the generations that preceded us and set the foundations upon which we stand and grow, allows us to live in the current time and reach for the future.

And then these texts notice and name the un-seeable and un-mentionable. These readings ask us to look again. To bear witness. To look more closely when we’d rather look away. To live as ethical beings, by seeing what is in front of us, or noticing what might otherwise be hidden or rendered invisible. To pay attention.

These texts also challenge us to pause and drink in the sheer glory of God’s creation. Maybe it’s the way the light breaks through the branches, or how the ocean rolls onto the shore. Or some other moment that brings God’s handiwork into focus.

So perhaps when we look, we perceive the face of God. Maybe we see God in a stunning landscape or beautiful view that rivets the gaze, due to its magnificence. Or maybe we see God in the horrific details of ugly, raw, complicated sights we’d rather forget, but from which we shouldn’t turn away.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Exodus 5:13 — “Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.”
  • Exodus 5:21a — “The Lord look upon you and judge!”
  • Acts 7:30-34 — When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.