Friday, March 31, 2017

Does Jesus Hate Sin and Death The Way That I Hate Cancer

Cancer
I hate you.
You have eaten the lives and bodies
of so many I have loved.
I have stood helpless, watching
as you peeled the weight
from their bones,
and drained strength
from their muscles;
til finally all that was left to steal
was their last whispered breath
And you took that too, you sorry bastard.
I would kill you if I could,
grab you by the throat
choke the death dealing out of you
Rip you open so that you
could never again
swallow someone I love.
So I wondered today
at the bedside of another friend
if this is how Jesus felt
when He dragged Sin and Death
with Him to the cross?
Was He tired of seeing them
swallow those He loves?
and determined to tear them open
like He is the woodsman
and all the world
is Little Red Ridding Hood
Even if He had to die in the process?


[for Kathryn, Dub, Robert, Moses, and my Mom. And for Garnet, who is still fighting]

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Poem For Congress After Watching The Volunteers At My Church's Food Pantry

A poem for Congress after watching the volunteers at my church's food pantry.

Dear Congress,
Thought you'd want to know
That while you squabbled this week
And posed for the cameras
while you decried
The other party's inability to get things done;
A Pentecostal Church down the street
gave away a couple of tons of food
To other churches, (asking nothing about their theology).
Who took it,
and adding their own donations,
shared it
With the homeless (and near homeless)
and elderly, lonely and frail,
and mentally ill (who sometimes show up just asking for a prayer to get them through the day),
and the out of work drug addicted (who sometimes make it to the 12 Step meeting in the basement of these same churches).
And we never asked a single question
about immigration status
or whether they were gay or straight
or even what their income is
or whether they've ever had an abortion.
We've received freely,
So freely we give.

I know you folks in Congress
get tired of hearing us tell you this,
But we think we're feeding Jesus.
Silly us, it's a wonder we get anything done with that kind of motivation.

And just a reminder before I end;
nearly every social program
you ever created was in imitation
of some church, or mosque, or synagogue
Whose good work you were drawn to.

Ya'll have a good weekend now,
and remember,
while you're licking you wounded pride
cause you couldn't get everything
you wanted (so, by God nothing will get done),
A grandmother on food stamps
will be donating two jars of peanut butter
To her church's food pantry.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Adoption

"It followed me home,
can I keep it?"
Was the cry of kids in my day,
cuddling stray, flea ridden
cats and dogs close.
The kitten born under the dumpster
the puppy put out
on the side of the road.
Every time I hear Jesus saying,
"Who is my brother and sister?"
Every time I read Paul proclaim
that we are not just adopted, but heirs,
I feel Jesus arms
around my ragged self,
holding me and a million other strays close,

Saying
Abba, Daddy, they followed me home,
can I keep them?

Friday, March 17, 2017

"Ransomed and Redeemed"-Bigger Than We Thought

It happens to me, sometimes, on weeks like this that I want to throw my scriptures for the week and my sermon out the window.  It particularly is true this week when I'm knee deep in a sermon series on What Happened At The Cross and trying to explain Atonement Theory without the theological nightmare that is Penal Substitutionary Atonement....only to have the proposed Trump Budget with it's cuts to things like Meals On Wheels and After School Care programs, drop a turd into the national punchbowl as it backpedals on the values that people of faith in America hold dear.

My sermon topic this week is "Ransomed and Redeemed"; and my title (for better or worse, already in the bulletin) is Who Will Buy Me Back?  My scriptures (picked weeks ago) are Romans 7:14-25 and Matthew 20:20-28.  When I went looking for a hymn that utilized the word "Redeemer" that might help me out of the funk I've fallen into, it got worse.  Every hymn in our hymnal: Redeemed How I Love To Proclaim It; I Will Sing Of My Redeemer; seems to focus on the "Jesus and Me" view of redemption that makes our salvation a purely personal event that has nothing to do with the redemption of all of creation.

Then it hit me that I had fallen prey to the very things that I preach so hard against.  In my reactionary rage at the tragic, sinful, actions coming from this Administration, I had sunk back into responding as if  Atonement, the cross, and Jesus' sacrificial death has nothing to do with the child who will not eat til tomorrow morning at school if she is not fed at her after school program; or the elderly person whose only human contact many weeks is the person delivering his meals on wheels.

The truth, however, is much more complex.  "Redemption" is much more complex.  A study of the word "redeemer" brings us to the Hebrew word "go'el" which is the word for the family member in early Israel who was tasked with defending family honor, making sure that the weak were defended, and buying back family members who had been sold, or had sold themselves, into slavery.

One of the earliest uses of the word is found in Exodus 6:6

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgement, and I will take you for my people and I will be your God..."

And in Isaiah, the prophet makes a response to one of the cries of the Psalmist in distress.  Listen first to the cry of the Psalm, an expression of anguish by a people who wonder if they have fallen beyond rescue:

In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved, in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.  But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;[and say] "He committed his cause to the Lord; let Him deliver him, let Him rescue him, for he delights in Him!" (Psalms 22:4-8)

It is worth noting that this Psalm, Psalm 22 is the one Jesus quotes from the cross when He cries out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?"

But back to Isaiah, who picks up on a Psalm that would have been well known to his hearers, one used in the liturgy of Israel.  Israel is feeling crushed, shamed, in the words of the Psalm, "not a man, but a worm."  Isaiah does not deny any of this, but speaks to the "worm" to the very place of crushed shame

Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:14)

Redemption, according to scripture, is so much bigger than the lie that Evil tells; the lie that all it is about is some individualistic piety thing that goes on while "real life" and "real issues" are being addressed by the current Empire, in whatever form it is currently taking.  The redemption that takes place on the cross, when Jesus takes on the brokenness of humankind, both individually and in the collective expressions where we are crushed beneath the weight of nationalism and idolatry, is one in which God claims us as "my people," "my family," and declares that God's own self will be our go'el.

This redemption is a small as my own life where my shame and brokenness crush me to a place where I do not believe I will every rise again; and as large as the sins of a nation whose government appears to have sold out it's responsibility to the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger and worships at the temples of the false gods of wealth and power and military might. And scripture points to a redemption even larger than the paltry sins of failed leadership of our time, toward a redemption that will remake heaven and earth so that we can be bought back from the Evil and Sin to which we have sold ourselves as slaves.

This does not mean that there will not be consequences.  Jesus, Himself, tried to warn His contemporaries that if they continued in the direction they were going that Jerusalem would be destroyed.  They did not listen. And finally, there was not a stone left on top of another in the destruction of the city in 70 AD.

There will be no fairytale ending to drama that is unfolding as Trump and those around him gut what matters about this country.  We have a responsibility to resist and to, in Jesus name, continue to try to care for the marginalized whether our political resistance is successful or not.  We will need to work to feed the children and the elderly; to house the homeless; to find medical help for the sick.  We may need to create new models and new expressions of Gospel care; just as Christians lived out their care for others in the middle of a Hellenized Roman culture that could not understand what they were doing.

On the cross Christ redeemed creation: from us to the cosmos.  We are called to join the dance of that redemption, to sing it's song, to raise it's banner....even, no, especially in the face of the tyrants of our day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Happened At The Cross: Healed And Restored

Some time back I blogged about how the Japanese art of Kintsugi (the art of using a natural glue with gold as an ingredient to take broken pottery and remake it into a work of art) struck me as a great metaphor for what happens when Jesus mends the broken pieces of our lives.

As I am moving through the Lenten Sermon Series What Happened At The Cross it seems appropriate to revisit this image.  At the cross God in Christ heals and restores us; both to what we were created to be, and to relationship with God, self, and neighbor.  We see examples of what is coming in the healing stories in which Jesus takes individuals who have been separated from family and community by their illness (lepers, the woman with the bleeding issue, dead folks) and not only heals them, but sends them back to community.

The poem below speaks to some of my thoughts about this.

Kintsugi Glory

In all our brokenness O God
we trace the cracks and lines and fissures
That separate us from Your love
as well as from ourselves and neighbor.
Our woundedness is so complex
we often cannot tell
what, or who, struck the original blow,
where or when it fell.
All we know is that we stand
at the gulf's sharp edge
and are driven to our knees
trying to reach across
the gapping wounds of our lives.
Panting, bloody, hopeless
powerless to bridge the space between.
Til Your cross
like a surgeon's stitch
pulls our torn lives together
holding them there while they heal.
Then Your love rubs aloe in the scar
which slowly, slowly fades
Until
all that is left is a thin line
of Kintsugi glory
To sing Your praise.