Lent Day 29: GO

Today the word is such a simple call to action: GO! It’s a command, a request, a suggestion, an invitation. It’s a call to leave whatever situation you’re currently in, and change scenes and directions. Head out to a new destination, a different purpose.

In Kings, we hear the story of a woman who follows the guidelines of a prophet, and experiences the mercy of a miracle that saves her family’s future. In Luke, we hear Jesus give instructions to his disciples, asking them to venture out among the crowds that had followed him to a deserted location, and care for them. In both cases, responding YES to this command to GO, leads to abundance and blessings.

What holds us in one place? What keeps us from moving out to do something new and different? Sometimes we’re comfortable and safe, and even complacent. Sometimes we’re already in danger, living on the edge, and cannot imagine having the resources to take another chance, and GO somewhere else, to do something else. Sometimes, we just need the invitation. Sometimes, we just need the to-do list.

It takes us from wherever we are, right now, right here. It sends us out into the world. It also suggests we will return.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary readings:

  • Kings 4:3 — He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few.
  • 2 Kings 4: 4– Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.”
  • 2 Kings 4:7 — She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”
  • Luke 9:12 —  The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.”
  • Luke 9:13 —  But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

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.

 

Lent Day 18: FRUIT

Today’s passages from the Bible talk about sustainable crops with terms such as yield, grapes, and fruit. Human life and human spirit are spoken about through metaphor.

From living trees and vines, we grow. Alternately, without care, we may wither or fall and rot. Interestingly, the Gospel passage also talks about our unique gifts and blessings. Each tree bears its own type of fruit.

black-and-white-grapes-sally-bauerThe kingdom of God is compared to a vineyard, and we’re reminded about the tenderness with which it is domesticated and cultivated. It is surrounded by hedges, fed and watered, pruned and watched. Each of us, a vine or tree in this field or orchard, becomes the ‘pleasant planting’ of God’s love, commitment, and grace.

Without such vigilant care, we are trampled and devoured, and we do not yield a harvest that changes the world.

Seasons pass in anticipation of what will bud and grow. Yet sometimes the one who planted us is surprised by the harvest.

Of course, God may promise such care, but we are also the hands and feet, hearts and mind of God in the world. Whereas Christ may be the leading gardener, isn’t it wonderful to imagine ourselves as the gardeners of our communities and our lives? We are invited to tend and nurture ourselves, each other, and this world.

What fruit do you bear? What presence do you offer, rooted in God’s kingdom, right here on earth? What surprises do you offer to God and this world?

And what aspects of yourself and your life require additional tending, in the form of  self-compassion, self-care or perhaps self-discipline?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 5: 4 — When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
  • Isaiah 5: 7 —
    For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
    he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
    righteousness,
    but heard a cry!
  • Luke 63: 43-44 — No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.

Lent Day 15: HOUSE

Lent15_housesIn the lectionary today, one of the most common themes is HOUSE. Like so many of these Lenten images, it’s a value-laden word. It’s strong. It promises shelter and safety. It aspires to intimacy and relationship. It suggests belonging. It brings up questions about hospitality and neighbors. It anchors our identities.

Sometimes we distinguish the structure of the building, the architectural existence of the house, from the emotional center of our lives, ie, our heart-centered home. In contemporary terms, the house can be considered bricks-and-mortar: a physical location. Or it might be understood as a metaphorical place where our hearts and spirits dwell.

For a list of cultural references to house and home, try some of these sites:

I struggle with the themes of oppression, subjugation, and exclusion that arise in the Bible around houses and homes. Ultimately I believe in the most expansive invitation into the kingdom of God and a broad welcome to the common table. I want everyone to have a room in the ‘house.’ Yet I have learned, through painful experience, that boundaries are important, too.

At least in the last lines of today’s Gospel text, Jesus suggests that the most vulnerable people will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Nowadays, it sure feels like the door is narrow, and some people want to slam it shut and others want to tear it off the hinges.

Ow. This has real ethical, political, and cultural implications for all of us. We’re voting for political candidates who reflect our values. Policies and practices will be shaped by what we believe. This is a real question … and here we are, supposedly on our Lenten journey into the wilderness, far from home and getting lost. Yet we’re focused, quite often, on the politics of our own homes and the un-homed people who seek safety among us.

We’re reminded, for instance, in debates like this, about the Biblical definition of neighbors.Who is our neighbor? It’s one of the great questions in the Bible.

Domestic Implications

We construct many ideas about houses, and they bear real consequences. Being homeless or un-homed carries a social stigma, and a real loss of power and resources. So to gain access to services or identity, we often need a street address … a physical location that is acknowledged by official government maps or records. Being housed stamps us with a form of legitimacy, systemic access, and some level of power.

homeless-Un-homed … that’s a difficult story. Many local UCC churches shelter families in times of emergency, or as part of their service for organizations such as Family Promise, thus providing temporary refuges. And organizations such as Family Promise coordinate their un-homed clients’ mobile lives, becoming the headquarters that families use as an interim address and gathering place.

So what do we think about the mobility of people who couch surf? Sometimes it’s by choice. Some are people who travel and live – temporarily — at someone else’s address, sleeping on the sofa, remaining on-the-move and off-the-grid? Our own children do it from time to time, in the way that youth once used hostels.

In one senses, welcoming wanderers, couch-surfers, is a form of radical hospitality. In a more formal arrangement, it’s also a way to capitalize on your own stability as a form of business. Plenty of online platforms allow people to rent a room in someone’s house, thereby saving money while finding accommodations, either short-term or long-term. It eliminates some of the fuss of hotel reservations or apartment leases. Social media has its own way of regulating this system, through ratings and feedback, although I wouldn’t claim it’s secure and safe.

Off-the-grid! This transactional, cloud-based and fluid model of finding shelter seems like a potentially anti-establishment, cultural response to institutions, perceived government control, and monitoring. It resists traditional ideas about rootedness, identity, and belonging. Perhaps it echoes the way people are spiritual-but-not religious and won’t label themselves as members of organizations like … well, churches.

It’s also an economic reality. We live in a time when many people are not making a living wage in expensive places where they can find jobs, but cannot afford the security of a place of their own. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing rather than shrinking. Even a couch in someone else’s place may be a luxury!

International Ponderings

Let’s go global. Let’s consider the nation of Israel, its great religious narrative of exodus and wandering until the people of God reached their promised land. Centuries later, that idea, now made into a geopolitical reality in the middle of a contested land, is a polarizing site fraught with internal and external struggles.

It’s also an example of a troubling equation. When one group acquires land, it often means someone else is displaced. Yet our own histories repeat this cycle over and over, and those who were once exiled become the ones who occupy another’s house. To create and hold a homeland, who else’s ‘place of origin’ is overturned? It’s the story of North and South America, as we consider the ongoing legacy of First Peoples. It’s the story on every continent, really.

And in other parts of the world, it’s not just history. It’s happening now.

Read facts and findings from the UN about displaced people and refugees:

Once we consider displaced people, the whole conversation about contemporary times becomes even more tense. Refugees are fleeing their countries, without safe destinations or certain welcomes. Borders are closing or warded. Nations struggle to absorb and support the people they do allow into their lands.

And many people are displaced within their own nations, and yet they’re just as powerless as those who have been exiled … they have left behind their houses, their resources, their access to funds, shelter, education, food, healthcare, water and so much more.

One of the rare things some refugees seem to hold onto is the capacity to communicate and document their circumstances. Many have devices like cell phones: these are lifelines, ways to reconnect, or simply to be heard, and acknowledged as real people with a story to share.

Biblical Anchors

In today’s Hebrew scriptures, ‘house’ is used to refer to the temple or a sacred tent or place where God resides. It can also refer to the name of a family, tribe or clan, usually defined through a male ancestor or patriarch.

In the Gospel, ‘house’ is part of the parable. It is, in its most straightforward use, the private residence where Jesus gathers to eat and teach and work among his followers in different towns and villages. Interestingly, the homes of women (which may indicate women of some independence, with resources and property) often became the places for this movement that formed around Jesus’ ministry. The homes of other outsiders, outcasts, and marginalized people, such as tax collectors who were powerful but ostracized, were sometimes used for the same purpose.

‘House’ is also used metaphorically to describe the kingdom of God. This arises in Jesus’ lesson about entering the house through a narrow door which has been closed. At least we’re consoled that the last shall be first, the least shall be welcomed into God’s keeping and God’s kingdom.

So then, I stop and earnestly wonder as I read passages like this, am I one of the last? One of the least? Will I be saved and walk through the narrow door?

Do I want to be one of the last or least, in this life? That sounds awfully uncomfortable and inconvenient. What does that really mean? Ummm … on second thought, do I want to go through that narrow door?

Except, wow, it sure sounds like there’s quite a party … quite a celebration … on the other side. Hmmm, do I need an invitation? If so, where is it?  Who do I see about acquiring an invitation? Can I buy it at ticketmaster.com or boxoffice.com?

Oh, wait, just knock … At least that’s the first step.

Then ask the host or hostess, the one who wields authority in the house, if you can come inside. And hope. And wait.

Remember what this feels like: waiting and wanting to be asked inside. Remember this position, someday, when you’re the one who opens the door, and has to answer the same question. Trust me, it will happen.

Selections from today’s scriptures from the daily lectionary:

  • 2 Chronicles 20: 5-6 — Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations?”
  • 2 Chronicles 20: 9 — If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment,or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.’
  • Luke 13:22 –Jesuswent through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
  • Luke 13:25 — When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’
  • Luke 13:29-30 — Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Day 12 of Lent: WAY

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from: fabforgottennobility.tumblr.com

Lent is a time of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. We turn inward to learn more about ourselves, and we also look outward at our connection to the world. We practice following Jesus. We walk in his Way, with the help of the Spirit.

The Way implies movement. We are beings who move and grow: bodily, emotionally,  psychologically, and spiritually.

Humans are creatures of motion, traveling through time across varied geographies and landscapes. Our sacred stories are filled with motion. We depart, we journey from point A to point B, we get lost, we wander, and we arrive. We cross borders, bridges, and boundaries. We go through rivers and deserts, lakes and mountains, wilderness and cities. We pause at crossroads. We pass through doors and portals. We detour for walls and barriers. We turn back. We keep going. We ascend and descend. We swim, walk, run, ride,  or fly. We stop at places of safety: wells, oasis, gardens, temples, tents, and other places of refuge. We leave and go into exile. We return home.

We also stretch and expand with our minds, our emotions, and our spirits. So what does it mean to walk or stand firm in Christ’s Way? Consider the Gospel’s most basic and ethical commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Within that statement are the anchors of a covenant: God, self, and others (including creation). These are Jesus commandment, in their primal form, for living ethically.

During this season, you’re invited to ask yourself, what parts of walking in the Way come easily to you? And what parts need more attention?

Following the Way combines what we learn from scripture and tradition, and what we learn from intuition, intellect and experience. In today’s scripture, we hear that God’s word (the Bible) is one guide for the Way. Christ’s life of ministry serves as a template. Plus our church says that God is still speaking in the world today, through the people we meet and the insights we gain. Prayer serves as a chance for redirecting ourselves, as we respond to current events. Our community can be a resource as we study and follow the Way of Christ.

Sometimes the Way is more than a metaphor, it is also a physical pilgrimage. People travel certain roads, and visit specific sacred stations or sites, as a bodily journey through the landscape, toward a specific destination. The Way is embodied by a route that you navigate using maps and GPS. Examples of pilgrimage include walking along the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain for Christians or the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) for Muslims. Pilgrimage is a universal experience that can also be found in other faith traditions around the world.

  • Genesis 15: 4a — But the word of the Lord came to him.
  • Psalm 27: 11 — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path.
  • Philippians 4: 1 — Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
  • Luke 13: 32b-33 — ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.