A Reflection for Holy Week

April 10, 2019

I am stepping away from the typical sermon this week and giving you more of a short reflection as we enter one of the most sacred weeks of the church year. The gospel of Luke can speak for itself and appears full of desolation as we await what we know happens following Jesus’ death on the cross.

Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people as he entered Jerusalem one last time. Brian McLaren, in his book We Make the Road by Walking, imagines what that entry may look and sound like,

A reverent silence descends upon our parade. It’s a sight that has choked up many as a pilgrim. But Jesus doesn’t just get choked up. He begins to weep. The crowd clusters around him, and he begins to speak to Jerusalem. “If only you knew on this day of all days the things that lead to peace,” he says through tears. “But you can’t see. A time will come when your enemies will surround you, and you will be crushed and this whole city leveled …all because you didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation.”[1]

You didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation!

These are the words of Jesus speaking the harsh truth to the people of Jerusalem that have gathered to welcome him into the city with fanfare and celebration. He could just as easily be saying, “I’m sorry, I think you are a little too late for that.” When do we ourselves fail to see Jesus in our midst? Do we look beyond the visitor and not welcome them in? Do we turn up our nose to the gentleman that walks into our community seeking assistance? Do we jump to quick conclusions when encountering someone that is not like us, whether they are a different gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation? Do we disregard our migrant neighbors that are escaping crime, persecution, and even death? Jesus can and will be found in all of these circumstances.

We are not much different than the crowd that has gathered around Jesus, full of excitement. As a community we are welcomed into something much greater than us over this next week. We are together because God has called us all to be a part of this community. Some of you have never known any other place. Some of you had significant life events that brought you here. Some of you have only been here a short time. It does not matter. We are all called into community to love and support one another. We are called to love and support each other in times of joy as well as times of sorrow. You are called to support those that are leading the congregation. You are called to care for this space like it is your own home. Why? Because we are in relationship with one another and we are community. In this community we welcome Jesus Christ in any and all forms.

We worship together as a community. This week as a community we are invited to walk in the steps of Jesus’ last days. Thursday we will gather to lay down our sins at the foot of the cross, be reminded of Jesus’ love and service for all through the washing of feet, and finally we will break bread with one another as we receive Holy Communion. Friday, we come together as we recognize those last breaths of Jesus on the cross. Breaths that are held until we gather for the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. These three days seamlessly flow together, and as a community we live out these days with the anticipation of what is to come. You are invited to come, and be fully present, and live into community this week as we embrace Jesus’ last days and anticipate the new life to come.


[1] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pg. 149.

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Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth: A Review

I first heard about this book on Rob Bell’s podcast, the Robcast. He interviewed the author and I was compelled to read it.

What is it about wonder and mystery that draws us in? What is it that curates our desire for something that moves us to a point of seeking more and wanting to explore the unknown?

Nate Staniforth has lost himself. His life as a magician has left him exhausted, and yet it is all he has ever known and he cannot imagine doing anything else. While reading many books on magic, he recalls hearing of the stories of magicians in India that truly went to the depths of wonder and left people wanting more. This is what he desired for his own magic. Not just simple illusions that he has mastered, like card and coin tricks, but true magic that leaves all in awe.

I’ll have to admit that while reading his memoir, I was left wondering where God was present. While God is never named, mystery and wonder is. Can God be found in the mystery and wonder of magic tricks or illusions? To simply say no to this, would leave us discounting a God that is present in and among everything.

Nate’s journey toward self-discovery leads down some interesting roads where he meets some very interesting people and encounters an India he never would have imagined in the poverty and trash, and yet many of the people seemed very happy. There is a poem that is given to him by someone he has met which he shares. Perhaps it could begin to give a glimpse into what magic truly is.

Bless the magician for knowing something I don’t. The appearance and disappearance of the artifacts of this material world give me an island moment of unknowing, A mystery that gives me relief from the consuming need to question everything, and then to answer it.

Book Review: Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber

In her latest book, Nadia Bolz-Weber, opens up a topic that many in the church attempt to stay clear from. While the entire basis of our life on earth is contingent upon our ability to have sex, it has often times been a taboo subject within the church. Many times the church has went to extremes to steer clear of the topic or at its worse, to speak of the evils of it.

I did not grow up in the church and therefore was not too aware of the purity movement that happened within it. I heard a few things along the way, but at that time it didn’t affect me so I did not pay too much attention. It is the purity movement that she directly addresses in the beginning of her book and bringing to the forefront the harm that is has caused over the years.

Like many of her other books, she brings in many stories from her parishioners that help support her thesis. She also speaks of the holiness of being with God and each other. As she compares the two she says that “holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.” I believe that it all comes down from this as we are a holy people that are called to live with union with one another.

To attempt to say what is holy and not holy of others is in direct competition with God. God has created each of holy. Every sing part of our bodies. To be with another person in being welcomed into a holy experience. There is nothing that we should be ashamed of. We should not let others make us feel any less.

There is no shame to be felt in our bodies. “God is made known: in the miracle of our infant bodies, so recently come from God that you can smell God on their heads; in the freedom of our child bodies as they were before shame and self-consciousness entered into them; in the confusion of our pubescent bodies and the excitement of our teenage bodies as they become familiar with desire; in the fire and ice of our young adult bodies as they connect with each other; in the goddamn mind-blowing magic of our baby-making bodies; in the wisdom in our aging bodies; and in the so-close-to-God-you-can-smell-God beauty of our dying bodies.” God wants us to be one with our bodies and to know them intimately as they are created in the image of God.

This is a tough message to share as we have avoided the conversation for far too long. It is about time that someone like Nadia brings it the forefront. She has also included some great resources for individuals and congregations to reach out and learn more.

Living in the Mystery

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It has been quite a while since I read The Shack  by Wm. Paul Young. I recall being touched by it when I first read it, and was kind of excited to find out that it was being made into a movie.

I am not going to say that either the movie or the book is the answer to many theological questions. I do believe that it has the power to relate the Trinity to people in a way that they may be able to understand. Quite often we will try to equate the Trinity to different things in our lives that come in threes; such as ice, water, steam. These analogies quite often fall flat. How can we have relationship with ice, water, and steam, or any other analogy that we may make up in our mind.

The personification of the Trinity is wonderful, as God is portrayed as a woman mostly, and a man at one time. Jesus is a relatable loving character, and the Holy Spirit is represented by a woman that seems to radiate God’s love in all she does. Together, the great I Am.

The Shack takes us on a journey of whom God could be. Does it say that this truly is without a doubt who God is? No, it does not. One line in the movie from Papa (God), is “I am who you need me to be right now.” God is present with us in everything, and may just perhaps be with us in the form that we need most at the present time. If we need a little tough love, then God is there to give it. If we need to be loved unconditionally, then God is there with love that overflows.

The question of theodicy (why does God let bad things happen) is discussed, and within a right frame of mind. God does not allow the bad things to happen. We live in a world that is full of sin and evil happens whether we want it to or not. God is present with us and weeping with us the same time that we are.

Forgiveness is a major theme of the movie and book as Mack encounters the evils of his past as well as the evil of his present as he learns to live with the death of his youngest daughter. To forgive is Christian and if more people would learn to do so, the world would be a much better place. If we would not be so quick to react, and more patient to forgive, love would grow and the gospel would be proclaimed.

Be on the lookout for other themes in the movie as well. From resurrection, to baptism, and communion. Who wouldn’t want to sit around the table having a meal with the Trinity?

I believe that it is truly worth the two and a half hours to sit in the theater and watch this incredible movie. Better yet, invite some friends to join you so that you can have a great conversation afterwards.

Old Scratch: a Review

A Review of Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubter and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck.

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Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of the term Old Scratch when referring to the Devil. Richard Beck, a psychology professor, introduces the term after being reminded of it while leading a Bible study in a prison. The appearance of Satan, or the Devil, or Old Scratch, is alive and well in the prison system. It comes in the realization of the crimes that one has committed. It also comes with the fear of turning your back to some of the fellow inmates. It is also found within yourself.

The thought of a physical devil has always seemed to turn me off. While there is sin and brokenness that persists in our world, I believe that the “devil” is present in that and at times we fall to it. Beck appears to back up this understanding to some point, while not disregarding the fact that some people do truly succumb to demons within their lives and perhaps even need to be exorcised. Becks says, “a satan is more of a relationship than a person. Anything that is facing you in an antagonistic or adversarial way–working against you as an opponent or enemy–is standing before you as ha satan, as an adversary, as a satan” (pg. 8).

His whole thesis is that we need to get to a point where we are at spiritual warfare with those forces within our lives that are satan. While we are surrounded with the negative, God’s presence is also constantly around us, giving us comfort and support. It is true that the world is suffering, and has been from the time of creation, “and in the face of that suffering Jesus went about doing good and healing all those under the power of the devil” (pg 83).

It really comes down to the point that our world in counter-cultural to the one that Jesus brought into view with the Kingdom of God. At this time in our country, this really speaks to our current political state and the division within. “All of this is simply to say that the confession that Jesus is Lord of all turns the world upside down. But much closer to home, that confession turns my world upside down. Idolatry isn’t just about the nation-state. the kingdom of God uproots all the idols of my life, petty and great” (pg. 170).

The spiritual warfare he speaks of must be more than just saying we are going to pray for something. We must be called into action, to live and be with those that are struggling, and realize our own inward struggles. We must be up to “angelic troublemaking,” and provide a resistance to whatever gets in the way of the kingdom of God. Spiritual warfare is living the kingdom of God.

Beck takes the reader on a great history of thoughts on the devil and comes to a conclusion that speaks to the wholeness that God calls us to as God’s children. While his call to action may not be entirely new, it speaks to the greater need for humanity to be in touch with the greater spiritualness that surrounds us in our lives. It is a call to resistance to speaks to us in a bold prophetic way in our current time.

 

Pushing It To The Next Level

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Here we go!!!

A funny thing happened along the way as I look towards turning 40. No, I am not there yet, but it is less than a year away! I started running about 9 years ago, and at that time it was more of just something I thought I would try.

This is after growing up and participating in sports where running was the punishment. I played one year of football when I was in fourth grade and because I did not hit properly the coach made me run around the entire area where we were practicing (which was at least a 1/4 mile). That was enough of me playing football! I played tennis all four years in high school and of course some running was involved but I did not think anything about it. I had friends that played soccer and ran cross country, and I thought that the distances they were running were just insane.

So, here I find myself now. Approaching my 40th birthday with a new goal on my mind. That goal is to complete the Detroit Marathon on October 16; my first full marathon before I turn 40! No, I just did not decide to do this on a whim. Since 2009 I have ran 5 half-marathons and a 25k. So much for the boy that grew up detesting running.

My official training started this morning with an easy 4 mile out and back run that felt pretty good. I am motivated by many things while I look towards race day. They are, not in any particular order:

  1. Setting an awesome example for my children.
  2. Maintaining my health and losing weight (Can I get down to 170 by race day?).
  3. Running the Marathon with my sister (and perhaps beating her). A little sibling rivalry is healthy right?
  4. A sense of accomplishment that I have truly pushed myself to a new level.
  5. And many, many more…

Running for me is a sense to connect with God and is a time of contemplation. For this reason I usually prefer to run by myself. I do listen to podcasts usually while I run and the one that I listened to this morning was true motivation. Runner’s World has just started producing two podcasts that are wonderful and the Human Race  podcast that I listened to this morning feature a conversation with 85 year old Sylvia Wiener, who has completed 75 marathons and thousands of other races after surviving the Holocaust. Stories like this are great motivation as well.

I encourage you to listen to yourself and by chance even to where God may be calling you to push in your life. I know that as I push towards this next goal that I am not alone as Jesus is right along side me and that I can count on all of your support and love. I’ll be sure to keep you updated about my training and other opportunities.

 

 

Ground Control to Major Tom

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Those were some of the first words that I recall hearing while attending U2’s 360° Tour a few years ago. If my memory serves me right it kicked off the wonderful evening that was about to ensue as Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry took the stage to commence in an incredible concert.

I have to admit that I have followed David Bowie very little throughout my life. I am of course familiar with some of his top songs. I truly enjoyed the article that Rolling Stone released yesterday following his death. This offering from Lyndsey Parker at Yahoo Music also was incredible and highlights some of Bowie’s best videos. Both of these reminded me of some his great songs as well as some that I were not quite familiar with and will be added to my playlist.

My first impression that I had of David Bowie was from my older brother who included him in the constant mix of music that came from his room. It is the image that leads off this blog that is the first image of Bowie that comes to my mind because it was from an album my brother owned.

Bowie was never afraid to reinvent himself and step beyond expected boundaries. What an example for people that feel as though they are hemmed in. Throughout his music career he was constantly changing his persona and truly was an incredible musician and actor.

There are also parts of the spiritual that resides within much of his music from the very beginning with Space Oddity to the release of his last album just a few days ago, Blackstar. There was something about the title track that moved me when I viewed the video after it was first released. The lyrics speaking to a solitary candle that reminds me of the light that is within us all.

His swan song, Lazarus, is even more moving after his death on Sunday. It definitely could be seen as a prophecy of what was to come. He knew his time was short and the message that he leaves with his listeners is one of hope. The late night shows all touched upon his death last night and I really enjoyed the clip that Trevor Noah shared on the Daily Show in which David Bowie speaks to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. May you rest in peace David Bowie.

“If you feel safe in the area that you are working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you are just about in the right place to do something exciting.” ~David Bowie