Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Party At Jesus House? A Reflection For Ash Wednesday

When I was a little boy I was given a book entitled If Jesus Came To My House. The book was written in England in 1951 by Joan G. Thomas.  It was, in many ways, a lovely book.  It talked about sharing toys and being nice; all those things that we would want a child to learn about applying the Golden Rule in everyday life.  It was one of my favorites, though it never took the place of A Pony For Tony.

Then, through much of my life growing up, I heard about inviting Jesus into my heart.  And I heard how inviting Jesus into the "house" of my life called for a really big clean up.  One poem about this (which I will not name due to my extreme dislike of its theology) suggested that inviting Jesus into my 'house' meant that I would need to give up many of my friends, since they obviously didn't fit into that holy company.....like I said, it's not a theology I buy into.

Then, while preparing for Ash Wednesday, and looking at Mark 2:15-17 I came across N.T. Wright's translation of, and commentary on, that passage. Now I'd always interpreted vs. 15 through the eyes of Luke 5:29 which has this party being thrown by Levi, for Jesus at Levi's house.  But Wright's translation, from Mark For Everyone reads like this:

"That's how Jesus came to be sitting at home with lots of tax collectors and sinners. There they were, plenty of them, sitting with Jesus and his disciples; and they had become his followers."

The implication is that Jesus invited these people into His house.  Let me say it again: one way to read this passage presents a picture of Jesus throwing a party for sinners IN HIS OWN HOUSE! The ones that Jesus identifies as 'the sick who need a doctor,' he brings into his own house for a meal.

All my life I've heard of Jesus eating and partying with sinners.  And I think that's true.  There are multiple stories of him going to the homes of the disreputable and 'sitting at table.'  But this passage is remarkable in so very many ways.

If you were to go somewhere "unclean" you could fix that....by whatever ritual was demanded (I'm not saying that Jesus did that, I don't think he did; I'm merely pointing out that it was possible).  But to invite these folks into your house made the entire place, everything they touched, everywhere they sat....unclean.  Many of the most religious folks of Jesus day....and of ours.....act like God somehow needs our protection from the 'uncleanness' of folks who don't live up to our standards of what God expects or pass our litmus test of what God requires (notice I'm saying these are our standards and tests...I don't think they're God's).

And yet, here is Jesus throwing a party for them in His own house.  I find this particularly exciting (can you tell).  It speaks to the depth of Jesus' openness and love and welcome for us.  And it speaks to the 'back and forth' of our lives in relationship to Jesus.  There have been times in my life when it felt like "Jesus came to my house"......sometimes very directly; but most times through other people that I encountered where I believe Jesus was present in them.  But there have also been times when have felt like Jesus invited me to His house....where this beautiful opening into the heart of God takes place and I've been welcomed in....as imperfect and fallen and broken as I am.

What then does this have to do with Ash Wednesday and Lent?

What if we were to view this season as an invitation to Jesus house?  As a time when, recognizing that "we are dust and to dust we will return" we also celebrate the fact that God in Jesus invites us to His place.  We're invited to come, bringing our burdens and our brokenness, and to share the hospitality of God.  In that love and hospitality we will be transformed.

What would happen if, when we took our ashes this week, we saw them as an invitation to the party at Jesus' house?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Kingdom And The Demonic

We're moving, albeit slowly, through the Gospel of Mark.  This little section of 1:35-39 is important to understanding both Jesus' mission and His understanding of the Kingdom of God.  It will help make sense of the larger chunks that we'll be working with later....sort of like understanding how a turbine functions helps us understand the larger workings of a power grid (I hope that metaphor holds up as well as I think it does lolol)

Anyway.....

Jesus has made an instant name for himself with the healings in the previous verses.  But...and here is one of the places where His humanity is obvious.....does not draw power from Himself, but from God (yes, I know that Jesus and God are One in the Trinity and that Jesus was God incarnate; but in becoming human, Jesus sets some things aside to live in solidarity with our condition, and this is one of them).

So Jesus is dependent on God in the same way that we are; just as He became hungry, tired, sad the same way that we do.  He goes off, away from the demanding crowd, to recharge.  Jesus will later give a structure for how to pray that we can reasonably believe was how He prayed.  In any event, Jesus goes off (He seems to do this frequently) to be in private relationship with His Father.  We need to be careful to remember though that the private relationship fueled the public ministry and expression of God's will.

Then the disciples hunt Him down (that's the image the Greek gives us; of being aggressively pursued), and tell Him that everyone is looking for Him.  Jesus' response is that it's time to move on.  When we talked about this in last night's Wednesday Vesper service, one of the things we discussed is that Jesus is not going to be captured: by a town; by a denomination; by a way of doing things; by a local congregation.  Jesus' "reason for coming" is to preach/proclaim/announce the Kingdom of God.  That task keeps Him on the move.

So, we're told that Jesus goes to the synagogues and meeting places all over Galilee.  Proclaiming the Kingdom and casting out demons.  Some thoughts about this:

Jesus is going to the faithful.  The folks He's speaking to have eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom.  These aren't bad people.  These are people trying to live has God has called them to live.  Jesus come to them to say, 'The Kingdom you've been waiting for is here, now; but it's not going to look exactly like you imagined.  In fact, in may be very different than you thought it would be.  But don't be discouraged, it's going to be even better than you could dream.'

How desperately do we need to hear that?  Our churches are full of people who are struggling (many of them) to believe in the Kingdom.  Some of them (us) are married to a particular picture of what it looks like.  Can we hear when Jesus says to us, 'it's not going to be like you thought, but it will be better than you ever dreamed?'

Next is this thing about casting out demons.  What gives here?  Let's set aside the issue of 'demons' as an entity for a bit.  Can we agree that anything that is 'demonic' is death dealing and contrary to life?  If Jesus came that "they might have life, and have it abundantly," then that which is demonic cannot exist in the same space with the Kingdom.  Jesus' very presence represented a threat to the demonic; which is why they screamed out when He was present.  He "casted them out," shoving them out with tremendous force.

You and I are a bit different.  We can rarely, if ever, shove the demonic out with the force that Jesus had.  But when we are working for the Kingdom we can definitely PUSH the demonic out.  We can remember that when "abundant life" and the Kingdom of God are present, the demonic is singularly unwelcome.  And our job at helping the Kingdom to come "on earth as in heaven" is to push.

In my town of Annapolis in Maryland heroin deaths by overdose have reached terrible proportions.  There is no place in the Kingdom of God for this painful tragedy.  But I'm not Jesus, nor is any member of my congregation.  We cannot cast out the demonic addiction, or the deaths by overdose, or the ignorance of local law makers who deny the funding to help deal with this situation.  But we can, by God (literally), push.  And Jesus will join us there.

But we cannot do it alone, under our own steam.  Pushing this way demands that we engage in a life of prayer and relationship with the God who empowers us.  If Jesus had to 'recharge' in isolation and private relationship with God, what makes us (especially us ministers) think that we can do this on our own hook?

Let me say it again: Where ever we as people of faith push against the demonic, life negating, death dealing actions of people or systems or governments, the Kingdom is present and Jesus will join us there.

It is this proclamation, this fight against the demonic that stands over against the Kingdom, that will finally take Jesus to the cross.  It is God's unwillingness to let death and it's demonic expressions in life have the last word that will explode in Jesus' bodily resurrection.

We have been called to that Kingdom, and promised that resurrection.  In the meantime....we push.

Shalom