Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blessed are the Doubters

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. John 20

Poor doubting Thomas.  There ought to be a beatitude for the guy.

Blessed are the doubters... for they shall not be suckered in... and though their phones ringeth off the hook during the dinner hour they shall not fall for telemarketing fraud.  Nor shall they be caught up in Wall Street Ponzie schemes.  Yea verily, though they be compassed about on every side by friends and television commercials who plead earnestly with them to do this or that, blessed are they, for they shall check their facts and make up their own minds.

Blessed are the doubters, for once they have been given the chance to live into their doubts, like Thomas, their faith shall be all the deeper for it.

Some Christians are afraid that doubt is a sin, but its not.  Only humans are offended if you doubt them  God doesnt think like we do.  Jesus doesn't criticize Thomas for his doubts — he knew Thomas.  Thomas was brave and utterly dedicated to Jesus.  In John 11, when Jesus decided to go into terrible danger by returning to Bethany because Lazarus had died, it says, "Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas spoke his mind.  In John 14, Jesus said, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’"  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Jesus isnt offended.  Jesus reacts as God does.  He just opens himself up, allows himself to be questioned, explored, examined.  He doesnt argue with Thomas.  He has more of an attitude of, Come and see.  In First John it says, "God is light and in him there is no darkness."  He's not going to get angry or impatient.  God can take your doubt.  God can take your anger.

Doubt can be a tremendous gift from God, an invitation to draw closer and touch the wounds.  Doubt can be a call to examine the Body beneath the skin, an invitation to touch what I don't know and haven't seen, what I don't quite believe.

Thomas became a great believer in short order.  But, some of us have created a Jesus we're afraid to touch.  We've made him into a porcelain doll.  Were afraid to doubt as if Jesus is so fragile, he might wobble off the shelf and break.  Baby Jesus is fine at Christmas, but I'll tell you, in my life I need a grown up Jesus.  Thank you, God for giving us a real Jesus!  One that we can doubt and touch and hold onto in lifes storms and have faith in.  After all the doubt, Jesus gives an even greater gift: He breathes on them and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.
The real Jesus meets us in our doubts.  Theology is a fancy word priests and academics use to describe sitting around, drinking tea, and chatting about what we think God is like.  Todays Gospel is about God meeting us where we live... in the flesh.  This is called Incarnation theology.  It is an understanding that the physical matters to God and that God is present in the physical. Again in First John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
God runs out and meets us in our doubts and our unbelief and lets us touch and handle and see and try things.  In my life, it always has seemed I recognized God when I was most in doubt and most broken.  Has it been that way for you too?  When everything is going just fine, we skim along paying little attention, but when everything falls apart, we cry, "Where is God?"  God has left heaven and pitched a tent among us. God reigns here. God is not someplace else.   The only way to know God is in the incarnation, the real stuff of life: The rejoicing of springtime, the resurrection of the earth, in our jobs, in our relationships and fellowship with each other. 

For so many Christians, fellowship with one another is based on a long list of requirements: Do you believe exactly like I do on all the major controversies of the day?  But in John 1, their fellowship was based,  not a list of requirements, but on walking together and a sense of being forgiven: "But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us."  Even forgiveness of sins was changed in todays Gospel: “If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’"  Forgiveness is no longer passive waiting for God to act, but somehow embedded in our relationship with one another.  We have an active role in the reconciliation of the world and each other. 

We dont have a porcelain, fragile Jesus who goes all wobbly if we have human doubts and fears.  We have a tough Jesus, a grown-up Jesus, a real Jesus, a Jesus who comes to live among us.  Scripture points to the real Jesus, but it's not the real Jesus - lets not confuse the two.  John says everything has been "Written so that you may come to believe... and believing ... have life."  Many other signs were done, but this is enough so you can have life.  All of this is just to point us to real life with our Lord.  All the scriptural proof-texting and theology done by all the theologians and priests and scribes and rabbis did not lead to the revelation of the risen Christ.  That revelation only came when the risen living Christ walked alongside the disciples grieving his death on the road to Emmaus, and he went in with them and broke the bread.  That revelation only came through allowing Thomas to doubt.  That revelation only comes through the sharing of bread and wine.  It is in the bread and wine where Jesus comes so close he breathes on you, as he did the early disciples, and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Skittles for Jesus

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  — Matthew 4

I have to admit I don’t know much about football, but I heard so much chatter about the behavior of Seattle Seahawks fans, that I got curious.  There were stories of loud yelling and Skittles being thrown on the field.  I even came across an article about the Seahawk fans causing an earthquake. That was a bit of hyperbole; they simply stomped and made enough noise to be picked up by a nearby seismograph — very different from causing an actual earthquake. 

There was a story about how, in one case, fans from the two rival teams almost got in a fight, until one of them tried to talk some sense into them all.  He said, "You realize neither of us is actually playing on one of the teams?"  There’s a huge difference between being a fan and being an actual player. 

As people are looking forward to the Super Bowl, perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question about our faith in Jesus, "Are we just fans, or are we followers?"  You may be Jesus’s greatest fan.  You may be the one wearing the funny face paint and the colored wig, waving your flag and throwing Skittles onto the field for Jesus, but don’t kid yourself; there’s a huge difference between being a fan of Jesus and being an actual player on his team.

It is here on this ordinary Sunday, somewhere between Christmas and Easter that we read the Gospel account of how ordinary people became star players on his team — how his church began.

Fishing was tough work.  Much of their fishing was done at night, using lanterns. In the morning, the fishermen would sort their catch (Luke 5:5; John 21:3).  When the fish had been sent off to market, it would be time for the fishermen to clean and repair their nets.  Once this was done, they could sleep and get ready for the next night’s work.

In our text today, Jesus is walking along the shore early in the morning, and he comes to Simon Peter and Andrew while they are going about their morning routine.  And something amazing happens…  Jesus calls his first disciples, the first players on his team.  Renowned Rabbis didn’t go out and call followers; they simply waited for followers to come to them.  Not Jesus.  And if you know any of the stories about them in the Gospels, you know these guys weren’t ready for prime time.

I already told you I don’t know much about football, but my impression is it’s kind of tough to get on a major league team.  Kids spend their youth playing on Pop Warner teams, and then they compete to get on their high school football team.  If they succeed there, they carefully choose a college that has a great football program or will offer them a sports scholarship, and then, they fight to get and to keep a position on their college team.  And they hope… just hope they’ll get noticed by a scout for a national franchise.  And most are disappointed.

The Denver Broncos do not select their players by driving up to a couple of ordinary guys out fishing and say, “Hey, you!  We want you to be on our team. Oh, bring your brother too.”  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew...  'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.'” 

I think it’s important to notice what Jesus did not say.  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to believe in me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to love me.”  He did not say, “Follow me, but first you have to be a perfect person.”  There were no preconditions in Jesus’ call to his followers.  You don’t have to have perfect faith.  You don’t have to understand everything.  You don’t have to subscribe to some list of required beliefs.  When Jesus calls, he asks me, and he asks you to step out into the unknown with him.  He asks us to follow even though we may not be quite sure of where he is taking us or whether we are up to journey. 

Peter, Andrew, James, and John must have wondered and even been a little intrigued by Jesus saying, “I will make you fish for people.”  But as they heard him preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” they learned two things about fishing for people:  One, it had to start with them.  They had to be a certain kind of people to bring in others.  It started with them wanting a new kind of life, a change.  And the second thing they knew, it wasn’t going to be too hard to get into this Kingdom of Heaven because it was nearby, right in their midst.  In one place it can be translated, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

And as they followed Jesus day by day, learning to live a new way, a way filled with hope instead of despair, and as they and the multitudes who followed Jesus saw the Kingdom of Heaven breaking out within them and among them, the prophesy of old Isaiah began to be fulfilled, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

We need this light today every bit as much as they did 2,000 years ago.  Each of us has some dark corners in our lives, places where we feel hopeless, lost, overwhelmed, and alone.  But when the great light of Christ begins to shine, we move from darkness into a new day.  But that light, that change of life, doesn’t happen if you’re just a fan of Jesus, you have to be on the team.  You’ve got to get out on the field not just throw Skittles for Jesus from the grandstands.

Now, I’ll be truthful with you, it’s a lot tougher to be a player than it is to be a fan.  And there are no guarantees that there won’t be dark times in our lives.  But what we are promised is we are not alone, and darkness is never going to win.  Knowing that, with God’s presence in our lives, we can walk through any darkness without fear overwhelming us as we hold the hand of the one who walked alongside the sea that morning so many years ago.

The part about “fishing for people” was always kind of hard for me to understand because I’m a pretty bad fisherman despite my poor dad’s best efforts.  But I think maybe that misses the point: If Jesus can use a fisherman, he can use me and he can use you!  He reached out to people where they were in their lives.  To exhausted fishermen, he said, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  To builders and architects and carpenters, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to build up people.”  To lawyers, he says, “Follow me, and I will show you how to share the law of love with others.”  To those who feel they might not have many talents to offer, he says, “Follow me, and I’ll show you how talented you can be bringing light to others.”  And he calls wives and husbands who work at home, and taxi cab drivers, and young people who think they’re too young to have anything to offer, and old people who fear they have nothing more to offer.  Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things, and he still does this morning.  You can do this where you are   In fact, Christ needs you right where you are.

Phillips Brooks was the Bishop of Massachusetts in the late 1800’s.  Most of us know him only as the author of "O little town of Bethlehem," but he was also renowned as an incredible preacher.  Here’s what he said in one of his sermons:

"It seems very certain that the world is to grow better and richer in the future, however it has been in the past, not by the magnificent achievements of the highly-gifted few, but by the patient faithfulness of the one-talented many.  “If we could draw back the curtains of the millennium and look in, we should see not a Hercules here and there standing on the “world-wasting” monsters he had killed, but a world full of (human beings), each with an arm of moderate muscle, but each triumphant over (their) own little piece   of the earth... It seems as if heroes (have) done almost all for the world that they can do, and not much more can come till common (men and women) awake and take (up) their common tasks." 

We don't need one more Superman or Spiderman.  The world doesn’t need any more Wonder Women or Xena: Warrior Princesses.  We just need more ordinary people like Mary and Joseph, like Martha and John and Mary Magdalene, and Andrew and Peter.  We need to stop merely being fans of Jesus and become followers.  What the world needs… what God is looking for in our time… is just folks like you and me living our ordinary lives, doing our most humble tasks, sharing our love and our faith and our light with our brothers and sisters as we meet them every day along our journey.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Wise Men

by Madeleine L’Engle

A star has streaked the sky.
pulls us,
Where, oh where, where leads the light?

We came and left our gifts
and turned
Time had passed, friends gone from sight

One by one, they go, they die
to now,
to us-
gone in the dazzling dark of night.

Oh how, and where, and when, and why
and what,
and who,
and may, and should, O God, and might
a star, a wind, a laugh, a cry
still come
from one-
the blazing word of power and might-

to use our gifts of gold and myrrh
and frankincense
as needed,
as our intention was to do the right?

Here, there, hear- soft as a sigh-
all that is spoken, back to the flight

blazing too fierce for mortal eye.
oh, Love, until we, too, may dazzle bright.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Coffee with God

You know, I suppose I should be more proper and call it “Morning Prayer” as it is entitled in the Book of Common Prayer, but I just can’t help but think of it simply as “Coffee with God” every morning.  I do follow the readings and the format of the BCP — I’m such a daydreamer, always haring off after random thoughts, that I like how it makes me focus.  Still, although I follow the format, I still think of it as simply saying, “Good morning!” and sitting down for coffee with an old friend.  Would I look forward to it as much if it I thought of it as formal prayer?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Storm Child

“…his own people did not accept him.”   — John 1:11

I have come to the conclusion that I like the idea of a White Christmas better than the reality of a White Christmas.  I don’t like driving in snow, and I don’t like shoveling it, and I don’t like walking across it once it’s turned into compacted ice day after day.  We’ve had a couple storms this December, and we’re slated to have another next weekend.  And when the storms come in, I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is stay home and ride out the storm with hot chocolate and a blanket.  I think that desire to go home is built into all of us. 

It’s even built into my smart phone.  All I have to say is, “OK, Google now!  Go home!”  And wherever I am it will pop up a map and navigation to lead me home.

Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, found out there was no place like home. Of course it took her 1 hour and 52 minutes, a really cranky witch, and a committee of flying monkeys to teach her, but she learned it.

Have you seen some of those Military homecoming videos on the evening news or on YouTube?  I think the ones I love best the ones where the dad or mom has been away in Afghanistan, and they surprise their kids at a school assembly.  I guess those are my favorites because I used to be a schoolteacher, and I would’ve loved to have been part of something like that.  But what if that mom or dad comes out and no one recognizes them.  What if no child bursts into tears and runs into their arms?  What if, instead of a welcome, the returning soldier was met with both indifference and in some cases outright hostility.

How unspeakably sad that would be.  How lonely.  How empty.  That emptiness is exactly what John tells us Jesus experienced.  Jesus was not recognized when he came home. 
     "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him."                                                         — John 1:10, 11
 Of all people who should have been prepared to recognize the Messiah, it should’ve been his own nation.  Israel gloried in the commandments and ordinances and prophecies of their Scriptures.  Not only had their own Scriptures prepared them for Jesus’ homecoming, his cousin John the Baptist had tried to get them ready ahead of time to welcome Jesus — he told them Jesus was on his way home.  But if Jesus was expecting a warm welcome, he was sadly disappointed.

I wonder why so many folks were not able to welcome Jesus.  Maybe they felt unprepared, like they hadn't had a chance to clean up and present their best face.  A lot of people are afraid to welcome Jesus home today because they feel like they’re just not good enough.  It’s almost like they think they have to impress him or offer a spotlessly clean house and a perfectly tidy soul, before Jesus wants to be home with them.  And they forget his words, “Come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28)  The only requirement for being safe at home with Jesus is being worn out from trying to handle everything yourself.

Sometimes, like the Jews of his day, we’re expecting a different Jesus to come home.  The Jews of Jesus’ day expected someone a bit more like the Lone Ranger who would ride into town on a white horse and shoot up the bad guys, the Romans.  And when he did come home talking about a spiritual reawakening, urging them to peace as opposed to violence, teaching them to love their neighbor, whoever that neighbor is… it made them mad.

Sometimes we want a Jesus to show up who isn’t quite so radical in his views about caring for the poor.  And we’d rather he not harp on how we shouldn’t be so materialistic especially so close to Christmas.  And couldn’t he be a little more supportive when instead of pursuing peace, we decide our first resort is to go for our guns?  We want a Jesus who agrees with our politics, our priorities, and our spending habits.  And when the real Jesus knocks on the door and challenges us to rethink some of these things, we don’t recognize him.  Sometimes we get mad, and we say, “I think you got the wrong house.”

Some folks are just too caught up in the busyness of their day-to-day lives to recognize just how much they need the new life that Jesus came to offer.  Sometimes, after a hectic day, they pause late at night when the kids are in bed, and the house is finally quiet.  And for just a few moments, they recognize there has to be more to life than just going to work, coming home exhausted, catching a few hours’ sleep, and then doing it all over again.  But then they get caught right back up in the rat race, and never find time to welcome Jesus home. 

But this isn’t the Gospel — The Good News. The Good News is found in verse 12:  “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  The Good News is Jesus knew his children were longing for home, and he was determined that through the storms of this life they would have a home with him.

Garrison Keillor well-known for his stories from Lake Wobegon tells a story about what he called his "storm-home":

The principal of his school, Mr. Detman, fearful of a winter blizzard during the school day, assigned each student from the outlying county a "storm-home" in town, near the school. If a blizzard struck during school hours, each child was to go to their storm-home. Here is how Keillor told the story through his boyhood eyes: 
     Mine was the Kloeckles’, an old couple who lived in a little green cottage by the lake . . . . It looked like the home of the kindly old couple that the children lost in the forest suddenly come upon in a clearing and know they are lucky to be in a story with a happy ending . . .
     I imagined the Kloeckles had personally chosen me as their storm child because they liked me. "Him" they had told Mr. Detman. "In the event of a blizzard, we want that boy! The skinny one with the thick glasses."
     No blizzard came during the school hours that year. All the snow storms were convenient evening or weekend ones, and I never got to stay with the Kloeckles, but they were often in my thoughts and they grew large in my imagination.
     My Storm Home.
     Blizzards aren’t the only storms and not the worst by any means. I could imagine worse things. If the worst should come, I could go to the Kloeckles and knock on their door. "Hello," I’d say. "I’m your storm child."
     "Oh, I know," she’d say. "I was wondering when you’d come. Oh, it’s good to see you. How would you like a hot chocolate and an oatmeal cookie?"
     We’d sit at the table. "Looks like this storm is going to last awhile." (She’d say.)
     "Terrible storm. They say it’s going to get worse before it stops. I just pray for anyone who’s out in this."
     "But we’re so glad to have you. I can’t tell you. Carl! Come down and see who’s here."
     "Is it the storm child?"
     "Yes. Himself, in the flesh!"
Although he was not welcome home, Jesus knew how important home was.  So he became our storm-home and our strength.  And you… you are God’s storm-child.  Like that kindly couple who picked Garrison Keillor out to be their storm-child, our God, has chosen you. You are the beloved.  And when the storms of this life get to be too much, you have a place where you are always welcome... a home near the warm heart of God.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joseph’s Lullaby

“ angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…’”            — Matthew 1
 A little over a week ago, the kids got their parts for the Christmas Pageant.  One little girl, about seven years old, came back to her mother, and her mother asked what part she got.  The little girl very seriously replied, “Head Angel,” and then victoriously pumped both her hands up in the air and said, “Whut! Whut!” 

Ninja Shepherds
Of course, the most coveted role is that of Mary, but there are a number of other choice roles.  Being a shepherd is cool among the boys.  You get to dress kind of raggedy, and you get to walk with those shepherds crooks which both make you feel a little bit like a bishop, and yet should the need arise… you could be a ninja.  That is, of course, one of the greatest challenges of Christmas pageants — keeping the shepherds from going ninja.  It’s great if you get to be one of the three Kings.  You get to dress up like royalty and carry rich gifts for the baby Jesus.

Even some of the minor roles are pretty exciting: Getting to go about on all fours and baa like sheep, getting to be Mary’s faithful donkey, or even one of the cows.  In more extravagant productions, a role as one of the three camels of the Magi might be available — now that’s a role that carries automatic prestige.

Poor Joseph!
But there’s one role in the Christmas pageant no one seems to be vying for… the part of Joseph.  Is there any worse role in a Christmas pageant than that of Joseph?  Joseph usually only gets to stand there.  Sometimes he’s the unlucky guy who gets to knock on the door of the inn only to find out there’s no room. 

Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke and Matthew have birth narratives.  Whereas Luke's story (Luke 1:5-2:20) focuses on Mary, Joseph is the main character in Matthew's account.  So, once every three years in our lectionary we take out Joseph, dust him off, and he gets to take center stage.

And after reading this account, we have to say Jesus' human dad was incredible!  Can you imagine Joseph’s emotions just in one night we read about in the gospel today?  He's gone from excitement about his pending marriage, to what had to be a feeling of betrayal by his virgin bride and her father, to a hard decision to end the farce engagement quietly.

It sounds like Joseph loved Mary.  Bare justice according to the Old Law would have been to shame her publicly.  But his regard for the law was balanced by a sense of compassion that exemplified the higher values of the Kingdom that would one day be proclaimed by his son.  Grace was at work in Joseph’s situation. In the midst of his grief, his inner turmoil and probably his sleepless night, he must have finally dozed off, and God sent an angel.

Now in our society, angels are seeing as kind of fluffy things… kind little cherubs you glue to your dashboard or put on Christmas trees.  But Scripture gives us another picture — especially of announcing angels.  In an article entitled, “The Truth About Angels in the Bible” Candida Moss writes: 
     " ... The Angel Gabriel, best supporting actor of modern nativity plays, is less serene when he announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. 
     When Zechariah protests that he’s getting on a bit, Gabriel replies ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words … you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’ 
If you meet an angel,
you should probably run.
     That’s how he delivers the good news. As the poet Rilke wrote, ‘Every angel is terror.’... If you’re looking for spiritual assistance then you should call a saint. If you meet an angel you should probably run.”    — The Daily Beast (8/15/13)
 But as Joseph wrestled in his sleep, not knowing whether to follow his heart and take Mary to be his wife, or to give in to his crushed honor, and divorce her, an angel came — maybe it was Gabriel again who had also appeared first to Mary and Zechariah — and gave him the strength to follow his heart.  And with Joseph's acceptance of Mary as his wife, he becomes Jesus’ adopted father, and makes him legally of the tribe of David.  Though most of Joseph’s life goes unmentioned in the Gospels, he carried out an astonishingly important task: He accepted and raised the son of God. 

Joseph reminds us of how important dads are, but specifically dads who are vulnerable.  Men are often taught to be tough and invincible, but look at Joseph. Look at how vulnerable he made himself.  He opened himself up to the ridicule of his family and society.  He took the word of an angel who came to him in a dream.  How incredibly vulnerable Joseph was!  But also, how incredibly courageous!  You know, that’s what it takes to be courageous — the ability to be vulnerable.

Think about any act of courage in your life or in the lives of others, and you will see that each of these acts required a person to be incredibly vulnerable.  And we hate to be vulnerable.  We want to appear competent and able to handle anything.  Isn’t it funny that when we meet someone new, the first thing we are looking for in another is that human vulnerability?  It tells me that you will understand me.  But at the same time vulnerability is the very last thing we want others to see in us.

When you have a child, I think it is the most vulnerable can ever be.  That little person has complete access to your heart.  More of us dads need to be like Joseph… vulnerable… courageous.

We don’t hear much about Joseph after the nativity stories, but there’s a lesson in that too.  By raising Jesus, Joseph did a lot of meaningful things without any fanfare.  Joseph surely deserves a lot of our respect, for without his gifts of hospitality, acceptance, and love, the story of Christmas would have no beginning.  And with these gifts, Joseph is a model for all who are called by God to serve in supportive roles.

At the beginning of this gospel Joseph was trapped as many of us sometimes are between what appeared to be two equally bad choices: making a big scene about Mary and publicly shaming her or ending the marriage contract privately.  But because Joseph was the man he was — vulnerable, courageous, open to God— he was able to find the third way.  What surprises me about Joseph is that he shifts from "binary thinking" to considering a third option: to take Mary as his wife.

I wonder how often we are caught in a two-sided ethical dilemma when God actually has a third way in mind that has not occurred to us.  So many people nowadays have the tendency to think in terms of either–or.  Sadly, it often takes the form of being the kind of person who says, “It’s my way or the highway.”  Even if we are not that arrogant, we sometimes get stuck in the same kind of thinking in our own lives: “I’ll either win or lose… I’ll get this great job I want, or I’ll give up… I’ll lose fifty pounds this year, or just forget about it.”  Joseph allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to relinquish his own plan for his life so he could respond to the spiritual reality that was unfolding in the midst of this human drama.  Perhaps if we could unclench our fists around our plans… God could find a third way for us.  It’s scary being vulnerable like Joseph, but it’s also the basis all great acts of courage. 

We are so grateful that, just like Mary, Joseph said, “Yes,” to the angel.  There have been songs written about Mary singing a lullaby to Jesus, like all mothers do to their sleeping babies.  But a more recent poet, Ron Klug imagined another lullaby one that Joseph sang long after Mary and the child fell asleep that silent Christmas night...

Sleep now, little one.
I will watch while you and your mother sleep.
I wish I could do more.
This straw is not good enough for you.
Back in Nazareth I'll make a proper bed for you
of seasoned wood, smooth, strong, well-pegged,
A bed fit for a carpenter's son.

Just wait till we get back to Nazareth.
I'll teach you everything I know.
You'll learn to choose the cedarwood, eucalyptus and fir.
You'll learn to use the drawshave, ax and saw.
Your arms will grow strong, your hands rough - like these.
You will bear the pungent smell of new wood
and wear shavings and sawdust in your hair.

You'll be a man whose life centers
on hammer and nails and wood.
But for now,
sleep, little Jesus, sleep. 
— Ron Klug,"Joseph's Lullaby," Decision, December 1973. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela and The Rifleman

     When I was asked to speak at an interfaith service for Nelson Mandela last week, my first thought was, “What in the world could a white guy raised in a lower middle class family in Sparks, Nevada possibly have to say about this great man that could not be said better by others?

     But then I remembered Chuck Connors in the TV show The Rifleman…

     When I was a kid, he was my hero.  And I… I was going to grow up to be a cowboy.  Funny how life doesn’t always turn out like we expect.  But because I looked up to Chuck Connors when I was a kid — because he was my hero — I did everything I could to be like him.  I had a cap gun I kept in a side holster, and I learned to ride horses… got pretty good at it too!

     We all grow up, and we get new heroes.  For many of us, Nelson Mandela was one.  If someone is your hero… if you look up to him… you try to be like him.  But being like Nelson Mandela isn’t as easy as buying a cap gun and learning to ride a horse.  So many other folks have talked about different aspects of his life, so I’ll just focus on one… what he thought about poverty.

     Mandela said, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.  While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

     There have been a lot of people eulogizing Nelson Mandela.  But if he’s really your hero — in this one area — it’s going to change the way you feel about the poor in your heart.
     It’s going to change the way you speak about and to the poor.
     It’s going to change the way you see your own finances as not all belonging to you.
     It’s going to change the programs you support in this country and the world.
     And… it may change the people you vote for.

     With Nelson Mandela gone, a great light has been extinguished in our world.  But we can all be like him in our own small way.  It’s not as easy as becoming a cowboy, but it will change the world.