3-31-15 - Philip of Bethsaida

This Holy Week, Water Daily will look at the readings appointed for each day and reflect from the perspective of someone on the fringes of the story. We too are on the fringes of this story – and are invited to come into its heart this week. May these holy men and women draw us closer. Here is today's Gospel reading.

Philip: People always wanted to see Jesus; what was so different about these Greeks, that their appearing should cause Jesus such sadness?

I wasn’t even sure I should bother him when they approached me. I mean, a LOT of people wanted to see Jesus – not all of them friendly – and he seemed tense and tired. So I checked in with Andrew, who's closer to the inner circle than I. Together we went to Jesus. And his response surprised me. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he said. I wasn’t sure what that meant but then he looked at us with what looked like resignation, and added, “I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

I couldn't pretend not to know what was talking about – the rumors of plots against him have been flying for weeks now. It got a lot worse after the Lazarus business. The leadership is not happy with Jesus’ popularity, or his miracles. And now even Greeks in Jerusalem for Passover want to see him? This is not going to be good.

Or is it “good” in a much bigger picture? Jesus keeps hinting at a mission broader than we can imagine, that God is up to something huge. Could something good be accomplished by the death of one so amazing as Jesus? Whom I, we, believe to be the Anointed One, the Messiah himself? What kind of fruit might he bear if he dies, like a grain of wheat?

Is he talking about us too? Are we all called to be those grains of wheat, broken open so the life of God can break out?

“Whoever serves me must follow me,” he said. “And where I am, there will my servant be also.” Well, I am his servant. I can think of no greater purpose for my life than to serve Jesus. I will stay as close to him this week as I can, and hope against hope he’s just speaking in metaphors…

How about us? Are we willing to stay close to Jesus this week? What do we find most unsettling about the whole story of Holy Week? Is there a part you routinely want to avoid? Why do you suppose that is?

I pray that we might walk closely with Jesus this week, allowing him to be real in our lives - not the suffering crucified one, but the risen Lord of heaven and earth, bearing abundant fruit through us.

3-29-15 - Lazarus of Bethany

This week Water Daily will look at the readings appointed for each day (here is today's...) and reflect from the perspective of one the people on the fringes of the story. We too are on the fringes of this story – and we are invited to come into its heart this week. May these holy men and women draw us closer.

Lazarus: So, they want to kill me – I, who have already tasted death. More than tasted – spent four days in that place where there is no light. Came back to myself in a cold, dark, rancid place; came back to myself at the sound of his voice calling me. Stumbled toward the light beyond the rock they’d just moved to let me out, not sure where I was, or who.

If I hadn’t seen the power and love in this man who became my friend, I might say Jesus was the worst thing that could have happened to my family. His visits caused my sisters to squabble, his friendship drew unwanted attention. But I can say with my whole heart that meeting Jesus was the best thing that ever happened to us. He drew out the gentleness in Martha, who so often uses her intelligence and competence to control events and other people. And I’ve seen our sister Mary show a new boldness and courage since coming to know Jesus.

Like tonight, at dinner at our house – when she took a whole jar of nard that must have cost her the earth, and anointed Jesus’ feet with it. Just got on her knees and anointed him and then wiped his feet with her hair. It was extraordinary, and unsettling. Didn’t make his disciples happy – don’t know if it was the extravagance or the intimacy that bothered them most. But Jesus defended her, talking about her having “bought it for the day of my burial.” He knew the end of this life was coming soon; I wonder if he knew how ghastly that end would be? Did he fear it? The suffering? The dying? Did he know what would come next – really know? Or did he have to walk by faith, like all of us?

And now, because so many have come to believe in Jesus because he raised me, they want to kill me. The symbol. The forerunner. You know what? They don’t scare me. Death no longer scares me. Like my sisters, I believe Jesus is who he says he is, the Anointed of God, the Messiah we’ve been awaiting. And I know that the next time I leave this life, it won’t be to the place of complete darkness. For he will be with me, the Light of the World will illumine even that darkness and make it holy.

I just wish he didn’t have to pass through the darkness himself first…

What in Lazarus’ story – or Martha’s, or Mary’s – brings up a story in you? A story of new life returning from dead places? A story of hospitality and service? A story of extravagant sacrifice to honor Jesus or your faith? Where do you find yourself near Jesus today? What is your prayer?

3-27-15 - Already Late

What must it have been like for Jesus coming into Jerusalem that day? Knowing this was the last time he would enter this city, where holiness and violence, yearning for God and insistence on human power mingled so potently? “Bittersweet” is too mild to convey the feelings that must have jostled within him. In another passage, we learn that he wept over Jerusalem with its legacy of conflict. Maybe he was also weeping for his own coming loss.

He did not remain long in the city after his triumphal entry. Mark tells us,  

“Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

What a poignant phrase, “already late.” It was late in the day, yes. Also late in the game for the cheering crowds to come his way; the events that would lead to his suffering and death were already in motion. And while I think the doctrine of free will requires us to believe that Judas could have refused to betray him, Pilate refuse to condemn him, even his persecutors stop and choose another way to deal with the threat he represented – it was unlikely that this story could turn out another way.

Especially not if we bear in mind that Jesus’ chief adversary was not the people around him, but the personified force of evil choking the life out of this world and its creatures. That fight had to be fought, and this was the way Jesus was going to take on that enemy and his ultimate weapon, death.

So Jesus did not linger in Jerusalem that evening, but returned with his inner circle of disciples to Bethany, the town where Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived. Was that the night Mary anointed his feet with a whole jar of expensive perfume? Was that the night Judas made the decision to betray him? It was one of Jesus’ last nights on earth as a human being, with those whom he had come to love. I hope it was a night among friends, with good food and laughter enough to push the dread and anxiety to the corners of his mind. Time enough to return to Jerusalem in the daylight and engage his final days.

It is “already late” for us as well, as Lent draws to a close and we prepare to enter the drama of Holy Week. Maybe we too should rest in Bethany for a little while – take some time for family and ordinary chores, get together with friends, prepare for our walk to the cross with Jesus by not thinking too hard. I know that’s what I need this weekend, to recharge my batteries and reconnect with God and myself.

I hope you will do some resting and preparing – and then take seriously the offers of Holy Week to fully experience this story, and your community of faith. (And if you’re close to Stamford and don’t have a faith community, here’s our line-up at Christ the Healer – we’re always up to something creative!)

Yes, you’ve heard this story before, no doubt. But it manages to reveal new gifts to us each year. As late as it may be, God’s love is never too late to overwhelm us.

That is my Holy Week prayer for you.

3-26-15 - Hosanna!

If we only heard about the crowd spreading their cloaks and palm branches before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, we might wonder why the adulation. But when we bring in the audio, it becomes clearer:

“Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”

Jesus was being given a conqueror’s welcome before he’d conquered anything. Those who shouted “Hosannas” must have been convinced that he was more than a brilliant teacher, a holy man, a miracle-worker – he was the Son of David. Usually in the gospels we see Jesus’ Messianic identity affirmed by those on the margins of society – the diseased, the sinful, the demonic. In the story just before this one, it is a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who shouts, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me.” Now, it appears, there has been a tipping point and the general populace has taken up the cry. “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

Jesus never argued against the Davidic title – but he also never talked about the restoration of a royal line or an earthly kingdom as he proclaimed the Good News. He insisted that God’s coming kingdom was Good News for the poor and the lame, the blind and the deaf, the despairing and the destitute. Yet somehow that wider focus was narrowed by the crowd dancing alongside him; the “coming kingdom of our ancestor David” suggests a restoration of past glory, victory over the hated Romans, freedom for Israel.

That was something Jesus never promised. He proclaimed freedom for humanity from the greater oppression of sin and death, leading to justice for all. But who wants to worry about sin and death when you’re being oppressed by a cruel and corrupt regime? Can we blame the crowds for writing the script they wanted Jesus to live out, ignoring his own predictions about the script his Father had provided?

Their fervor here helps make sense of the sudden reversal to condemnation a few days later, as they see their hero arrested, held, beaten, mocked – and not lifting a finger to defend himself. Where was all his power which had been on such glorious display for three years? If he wasn't able to save himself, how was he to save them? Was this Jesus another fraud like all the rest, his promises empty, his miracles con games? If political and military restoration was what they wanted, no wonder they were so bitterly disappointed.

Are there things we’ve wanted from Jesus, from this “Christian thing,” that we have not received? Are we holding back on giving ourselves more fully to relationship with God in Christ because we’ve been disappointed? Those are good things to surface and to talk to Jesus about in prayer. How do we feel about the promises we believe God has made? And what promises have we made to God?

Sometimes our “hosannas” are just phrases we mumble by rote. If we can be honest before God about our hopes and disappointments, and ask Jesus to truly reveal himself, there is a much greater chance that our “Hosannas” will be heartfelt and authentic outpourings of praise and love.

3-25-15 - Covering the Road

We ought to call it “Leafy Branch Sunday” or “Cloak Sunday,” for there is no mention of palms. And those leafy branches weren’t being waved around – people were placing them on the road before the colt that carried Jesus through the streets. People even put their cloaks on the colt, and on the road the colt would walk on. So revered was Jesus in this moment, people didn’t even want the hooves of the beast on which he rode to touch the ground:

“Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.”

In just a few days, we will see this same man whose feet were too holy to touch the ground walking these streets, bloodied and bruised, ground into the mud by the weight of the cross beam he must now carry. How did the people go from excessive reverence to contempt in such a short time?

The human success of Jesus’ earthly ministry reaches its apotheosis in the Palm Sunday story. And maybe the very over-the-top frenzy of adulation directed toward Jesus helped to fuel the degradation he endured later that week. We do like to put people on pedestals, and then watch them topple down.

But Jesus wasn't here for human success. He had his heart and mind set on a victory that would be impossible to explain to those who knew him best. I can only imagine how dislocating this event must have been for him.

It’s hard to know where to place ourselves in this story, especially in worship on Palm Sunday, when we make this transition from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” in a matter of minutes, not days. Each year, we might find ourselves in a different place in the story, and in a different relationship to the man at its center.

I wish I could meet this Jesus for the first time. I wish I could feel the zeal and the love I’ve seen in people who have more recently come to know him. Even in my own prayer life, my experience of Jesus is domesticated and muted. He is too familiar – and not well enough known – to engage my feelings the way I wish.

How might I experience the reverence of those who spread their cloaks on the road? I don’t think Episcopal fussiness about what we do with the consecrated wine counts. I believe we need to get back in touch with the God-ness of this man who came to make God knowable. It’s a hard balance to find. Jesus didn’t want to be on a pedestal, or on the back of a colt. I believe he wants us to have tea with him in the ordinariness of our lives. And yet, this one who invites us to make ourselves known intimately to him, to speak the desires of our heart and confess our blemishes, is God!

I will begin by adding back some reverence into my spiritual practice – the consecrating of the time, the lighting of the candle, the closing of the Ipad (which is hard if that’s where you’re reading the daily office…), the focus on gratitude.

Jesus doesn’t need our hosannas, I don’t think, but I do believe he wants us to be real, "uncloaked," if you will. Maybe laying our cloaks on the road before him is a way of letting him know us fully, as we truly are.

3-24-15 - Why Are You Doing This?

The Palm Sunday story begins with cryptic message. Jesus sends two of his followers to a village on the road ahead, and gives them instructions worthy of Mission Impossible:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”

How Jesus knows this colt will be there, we are not told. But it likely didn’t take clairvoyance to know that the colt’s owners might raise objections to total strangers coming along, untying and leading it away. Jesus anticipated the probable question, “Why are you doing this?” and provided an answer he thought would satisfy the questioners.

Has anyone ever asked you that question regarding your commitment to Jesus and/or his church? “Why do you spend so much time at that church?” “Why do give money to that church?” “Why do you go to Bible study?” “Why would you pray for healing? It doesn’t work, you know.”

We are part of a profoundly counter-cultural enterprise. It was so when Jesus first came on the scene and remained so through the early centuries of the church. To allocate time, money, emotions, resources to this odd sect with its strange forms of worship and bizarre truth claims about a crucified and risen Lord, who was fully human and fully God, a triune God, yet; and one who allows terrible things to happen to those he loves… it could be hard to defend. Add in periods of persecution, when being part of the Christian movement could imperil your life, livelihood and loved ones… it was a reasonable question: “Why are you doing this?”

Then came many centuries, right up to the 20th, when Christendom was the dominant religious tradition in many parts of the world, and that question grew more muted – as did the commitment to the radical Gospel Jesus exemplified. But now we live in a post-Christendom age, at least in America and Europe. No one has to be part of a church, and not many are looking to be. Millions have no frame of reference at all when it comes to religious affiliation, and Christian commitment competes with many other claims on people’s time, money and allegiances (all too often true even among church-goers!) There are many people asking, “Why are you doing this,” if they notice what we’re doing at all.

It’s a question to which I believe we should each have an answer at the ready. We can use part of the answer the disciples picking up the colt were to give: “The Lord has need of me.” No one can argue with that, and some might even want to know more about this “Lord” who successfully makes claims on your time.

You might even ask yourself that question – and invite the Holy Spirit to be part of the answer. Ask God, “What need do you have of me?” While I believe our existence is a delight to God, far more than our utility, let’s put the question to God and see how the answer comes to us. It might point us in a whole new direction.

Wherever it takes us, be assured that God already knows the route, as surely as Jesus knew that colt would be tied up in that village ahead on the road. The instructions may still be cryptic at times, but God will provide what we need as we participate in God’s mission of making all things whole, colts, answers and all.

3-23-15 - Approaching Jerusalem

Jesus has performed his last healing, at least as Mark tells the story of his life and death. He healed blind Bartimaeus outside Jericho, and now he is approaching Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, named for peace but so often the site of religious violence and bloodshed. Jerusalem, where he is to face violence and bloodshed – his own blood poured out for the sake of God’s mission to restore creation to wholeness. He has told his disciples yet again what he faces in Jerusalem, and once again they have squabbled, unable to take in the magnitude of his words. From this point on Jesus does no more healing or soothing. He faces down his accusers, cleanses the temple of corrupt influences and tells pointed stories. And moves inexorably toward his passion and death.

In our church year we are approaching Jerusalem ourselves, closing in on Holy Week. For those who draw near, “close enough to smell the blood,” as one preacher I knew used to say, it is a time of discomfort and disjunction as we hover near the mystery of such a life, such a death, and such life emerging from such death. Death and Life are inextricably linked in this passion and resurrection story of ours.

And who are we kidding? Death and life are inextricably linked in our own lives and our world as well: the natural world around us with its seasons and evolutions and swift brutality; the social worlds around us with all their violence and conflict... and sometimes peace emerging through it all. Even in our own bodies, life and death compete, as the process of dying cells gradually gains on the generative impulse toward life, until the system runs down for good. Life and death are always joined, but it is human nature to focus on life while we are in it, glancing at death only when we are forced to do so.

So Holy Week is a weird time for those who take their Christian commitment seriously. We voluntarily drop many activities and focus our attention on the maltreatment and murder of a man of pure wholeness, complete integrity. Who wants to do that? If we allow the horror to penetrate us it can leave us unsettled, even frightened. I spoke to a child today who came to church last Good Friday during the Stations of the Cross; as she put it, "It freaked me out." She can handle it, in the safety of a loving family and church community, but it’s a lot to take in, no matter what age. It freaks us all out, if we're paying attention.

So we tiptoe up to it. It’s still a week away; but the Gospel we focus on this week is the one for Palm Sunday, when we begin to face that walk to the Cross in earnest. Let’s take this week to prepare ourselves, which really just means to open our spirits to the drama and the trauma, the horror and the overwhelming love. Let’s ask God where in our lives we are called to live this story, and to make it known.

In our lives as Christ followers we are always approaching Jerusalem, that place where our ministry comes into sharpest focus, where God desires to make the world whole through us. We believe Christ accomplished that once and for all on the cross, yet somehow that redemption needs to be made real through us, one person at a time.

For Jesus, it was the cross. What ministry is it for us, on this side of Calvary and Easter? What work of redemption does God want to complete through you?

3-20-15 - Draw All People

There is a prayer for mission in the Episcopal rite of Morning Prayer that begins like this:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.

It is a lovely thought, to take the brutal image of a man nailed to a cross beam, his arms spread wide, and call it an embrace. Or it’s a horrible thought. Or both. It reminds me of the child who once asked me, “Why do they call it Good Friday? How can it be a good day If Jesus died?” Of course, we call it “good” because we believe that we are drawn into that saving embrace, whether or not Jesus chose the position of his arms.

And, in part, we believe that because of what he said, at the end of this passage we read on Sunday -
“’Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

The “ruler of this world” he is referring to is Satan, the personification of corrupting, life-sapping evil, whose power to tempt humanity away from the love of their Creator earned him the title “ruler of this world.” He was Jesus’ adversary, not the authorities with whom Jesus so often tangled. He was the one from whom humanity needed saving. His weapon of choice has always been death, and Jesus had to put death to death.

In using this language, Jesus anticipated the horror ahead and framed it in the context of his mission in this world, his Father’s mission to reclaim, restore, renew all of creation to wholeness. In being lifted up on that cross, the very picture of powerlessness, Jesus was going to exercise all the power that created worlds to break “death’s fearful hold.” That’s why the earth shook and the sun was blocked out when he died. Because he’d broken the power of evil and death, once and for all. All people.

This was to be the way God would draw all people back to himself. And we know that all people have not come within reach of that saving embrace. Some have come near and chosen not to; others have grown up around this tale and never knew it was a love story. And some have never heard, because we haven’t told them.

We are approaching the powerful mysteries of Holy Week, when we tiptoe closer to this awful love story than we really want to. “Did you really have to go through that to save me?” we think. I hope you will choose to walk closely the way of the cross this year, along with those of your faith community. (If you live in the Stamford area and don’t have a faith community, you’re welcome to join us at Christ the Healer – we kick it off Palm Sunday with a mobile, interactive dramatic reading of the passion story, told in different locations, with time to reflect after each scene. It’s a wonderful way to begin that journey to the Cross.)

Jesus' embrace on the cross was big enough to include people who don’t believe in him, or are hostile to him, or don’t know anything about him. It was big enough to include those who had him killed, and those who did the killing. It was big enough to include every enemy, every stranger. And it was big enough for you and me, even when we allow the things of this world to claim our focus.

Can we turn and receive the love God has poured out for us in Christ? Come into that saving embrace and find Life.

3-19-15 - Glorified

One Christian concept that puzzles me is the idea of “glorifying God.” God is already at the top of the glory heap. You can’t get any more glorified than the maker of the universe, right? So what does it mean to glorify God? And what did Jesus mean when, dreading the pain and death that was ahead for him, he discards the prayer, “Father, save me from this hour” for “Father, glorify your name?”

“Glorification” is not a word we use much nowadays – and when we do, it tends to be hyphenated after the word “self.” Like so much in our culture, glorification is all about us (even if self-glorification is frowned upon…) A quick google search on “glorify” elicited several sets of definitions, each of which included two slants on the word. One meaning is to praise, or to act in such a way as to make manifest the glory of God. The other meaning is nearly opposite – it appears the word “glorify” has become associated with attempts to elicit praise or affirmation when it is not justified.

I’m pretty sure Jesus meant the first definition. But he doesn’t say he is going to glorify God – rather he says to God, “Father, glorify your name.” God is to glorify himself – and if we take Jesus as our model, it seems that the way God glorifies himself is through the actions of faithful men and women laying down their privileges and prerogatives, even their self-interest, for the sake of others.

This is not how we tend to think about glory! But then, at the very heart of our Christian story is a Master washing the filthy feet of his followers to demonstrate what their ministry was to look like. And one day later we see that same King naked, caked with muck and blood, suffocating on a cross, abandoned and humiliated. And that, the Gospel of John suggests, is his moment of greatest glory. It is when the Father is most glorified in the Son.

That heavenly Father answered Jesus’ prayer: “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” It is a voice of affirmation and reminder to Jesus that he is walking in his Father’s will, living out the fullness of God’s mission to restore and redeem all of creation. Perhaps it kept him going in the increasingly dark and tense days ahead.

As followers, imitators of Christ, how can we best glorify the God who made us, loves us, empowers and nurtures us? Where are we being called to lay down our privileges and prerogatives, even at cost to ourselves? Sometimes we can discern that best by noticing who we do not want to serve or humble ourselves to. Sometimes that is exactly where God is calling us to allow Him to work through us.

And it is God who will work through us. We can’t glorify God if we’re cut off from God. Just as a flower in bloom brings glory to the plant of which it is a part, so we bring glory to God as a part of God. If we don’t know exactly how to glorify God, perhaps we can just allow God to glorify himself through us. Jesus did.

3-18-15 - That Seed Thing

When we are faced with doing something difficult, it can help if we remind ourselves what good will come of it. That’s what got me to the gym this morning, and keeps me eating healthfully most of the time. But those are pretty superficial examples.

How about a parent who works a couple of jobs to ensure college money for her children? That outcome is a long way off, and yet worth the sacrifice. Or “altruistic organ donors” like the Connecticut woman who recently offered a kidney to anyone who was a match, kicking off a round robin of surgeries in which four couples who were not matches for each other donated kidneys to other spouses, resulting in four kidney transplants and eight surgeries in one day.

In this gospel passage, we see Jesus confront his upcoming passion and death, and remind himself why he had so much pain and loss ahead. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In the natural world, whether in our gardens or in our bodies, growth does not happen without death. New skin grows as old cells die and are sloughed off. Chicks can’t hatch unless the egg breaks. Babies aren’t born without trauma to the mother’s body. Butterflies need to demolish their cocoons. And yes – seeds cannot bear fruit unless they are buried in dark earth, and broken open so that the new life within them can be brought to fullness.

That is our calling as followers of Christ – to follow him into the dark, allow ourselves to be broken and transformed from a seed into a seedling, and then a plant that bears abundant fruit. That’s pretty much the trajectory of a disciple. Every ounce of energy we spend clinging to what we have, what we love, what we can see, is energy not spent allowing ourselves to be planted, broken, transformed and flourishing.
"Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

This is also our calling as the Body of Christ, our calling as congregations to allow ourselves to be broken open, inconveniently, even painfully, our patterns and presuppositions challenged and changed, so that we can bring life and fruit to hungry people around us.

Where are you discerning a call to be like a seed that is planted, broken, transformed and made fruitful? Where are you on that cycle? It’s one we repeat more than once in our lives… sometimes more than once in a week! Maybe it helps to remember that we are following Jesus into that dark earth, and that he is with us in the seed process. As he said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

We not only follow him into the dark earth. We live in the promise that, like him, we have emerged into new Life, that Life which never ends. Do all seeds know the glorious outcome of their process? If we must cling to anything, let it be that promise, that Life we have already begun to live.

3-17-15 - The Hour Has Come

You’d think it would have pleased Jesus to hear that Greeks were asking to meet him. It meant his message of freedom and transformation in God’s love was spreading. That’s how I would react. “Yay! Growth! Expansion! My efforts are paying off!” But Jesus wasn’t just like many of us. He knew his mission went deeper than the healing and conversion of individual people. His mission was to bring freedom and transformation to the entire cosmos. And something about hearing that these Greeks wanted to meet him signaled to him that the final part of his mission was about to start.

Philip had gone to Andrew with the message from those visitors, and together they’d come to tell Jesus. “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He talks about dying and bearing fruit, losing your life and servanthood (we’ll explore that tomorrow…) And then he gives voice to his anxiety and sorrow. “‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.’”

The synoptic gospels show Jesus wrestling with his mission in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before his betrayal by Judas and his arrest by the temple guard. But as John tells it, it is here, some time before his passion fully begins, that Jesus starts to feel the dread and turmoil, the desire for some other plan to be revealed. It’s a poignant reminder of how much he suffered doing what he did for us as a full human person, with all the human emotional load to carry. He had to anticipate the betrayal, the abandonment by his closest friends, the injustice, the physical pain. He had to carry that load long before they beat him and made him carry his cross to Calvary. It begins now, here. The hour has come.

Does it help us to know that Jesus experienced anxiety and dread, irritation and anger, that his soul could be troubled? I hope it does – for it reminds us that there is really nothing we can suffer that Jesus did not, including rejection and loneliness, misunderstanding and exhaustion. It gives us another way to connect with him in our spirits, when we feel these emotions, when we face challenges in our lives.

“The hour has come.” So much human experience can be contained in those words. The hour to give birth, or leave this world. The hour of an examination, an interview or being fired. The hour of diagnosis, of being sentenced, of hitting bottom, of admitting a deep truth about ourselves.

What comes up for you when you hear those words, “The hour has come?” Are you overtaken by dread of what lies ahead or regret for what cannot be recovered? Either is ground for prayer, to ask for the grace to receive the gifts and the challenges of this day, and remain centered in God’s presence here and now.

In his earthly life and ministry, Jesus was bound by time in the way we are, time moving inexorably toward an event, a conclusion, a beginning. He inhabited that hour and every hour afterward until he hung for those six hours on the cross. And then he was released into the eternal Now, where he exists eteranally, outside of time, from which he inspires and empowers us to participate in his mission of reclaiming, restoring and renewing all of creation to wholeness.

When we are made anxious by the “hours” that are momentous for us, we have a remedy. We can meet Jesus, in prayer, in that land where it is always Now.

3-16-15 - We Want To See Jesus

We’ve just come to the end of another round of evangelism training offered by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Some 35 people from five churches gathered for six weeks to learn how to seek and engage in spiritual conversations in which they could naturally and graciously share their stories of God’s goodness. And while this usually happens in the context of connections we already have in our lives, on the last session, this past Saturday, we went out in four teams to try our evangelism muscles in public. One group went to a local pub, one to a restaurant, one walked the local town and my group went to a mall, where a couple of us held up a sign saying, “Want a Prayer?” and prayed with people.

Our team probably had the most connections, praying with about nine people, some of whom wanted to feel more in touch with God. We all discovered, though, that it is very hard to start the “God conversation” out of the blue. How much easier it would be if we’d had the experience that Jesus’ disciple Philip did during a festival in Jerusalem one day:  “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” (This week's Gospel passage is here.)

This suggests that news about Jesus, his teachings and miracles, had traveled beyond the Jewish community into the Roman and Hellenistic cultures of that region. Did these Greeks come hoping to see a miracle they could talk about back home? Did they crave a nugget of divine wisdom to chew on? Or did they want to get to know Jesus as the Messiah? We aren’t told what motivated them, only that they were eager enough to meet Jesus, they found someone they hoped could introduce them to him.

There are more such folks in our lives than we think. In the mall on Saturday, many more people passed us than stopped, but to think that nine people came up to strangers for prayer in the middle of a mall during the 45 minutes or so we were there… that tells me that this spiritual thirst I’m always hearing about actually does exist. And we have Living Water to share.

We don’t have to go looking for such people; the Spirit is already stirring their hearts. But we sure need to stop hiding from those who are actually looking for the spiritual gifts we have! Most are not going to cross the threshold of our odd, if beautiful, buildings at the odd times of the week we happen to be in them. We need to go out to where people are, and let them know how to find us. My own congregation has a team preparing to go and offer prayer on the streets of Stamford, and see what connections we might make.

Where and how might you be being called to make Jesus known in your community? If you have an idea, ask God to bless it. If you don’t have a clue, tell God you’re open to ideas. And then look for how God might answer that prayer. God is not shy – when God wants us to do something, and we’re open, we’ll know.

We may not often hear those words that Philip did, “Sir, we want to see Jesus,” but I believe there are many, many people who hold that desire. And the way they’re going to see Jesus in our time is through us, the Body of Christ, getting out of our buildings and beyond our Sunday schedules and making Jesus visible.

We are all Philip, and all we are asked to do is introduce people to the Jesus we love and worship. 

He’ll do the rest.

3-13-15 - Do What Is True

I have found this week’s gospel reading a challenge - these words of Jesus to Nicodemus that are both wonderfully affirming and yet clearly set a boundary between those who accept the gift of God in Christ, and those who choose darkness. (Jesus does not comment directly about people of different faiths; we can interpret his words narrowly or generously.) It's been heavy going, navigating the flow of his ideas and how to interpret them.

We end on a high note though, as Jesus closes his discourse with this observation: “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

I was struck by that phrase, “Those who do what is true.” I expected it to say, “Those who do what is good.” But “good” is a very subjective measure. What one person considers good might be harmful to another. What is true, though – if we define “true” as guileless, transparent, without any falsehood – no one can argue with that. It just is.

It bothers me when people equate being a Christian with "being good." If we were good, we’d have had no need for Christ, and no need to be a Christian. I believe that being a Christian is about acknowledging how “not good” we can be, and how much we need God. When we accept that Christ did not come to condemn us, and that God receives as we are, we find ourselves more often choosing the good. So let’s take “being a good person” out of this.

What about being true, though? That yields some room for growth. To be a person without guile, without falsehood, without hidden agenda, totally transparent – that is a worthy goal, and one that we can attain only if we see ourselves with humility and clarity. I believe we can also only achieve it if we allow the Spirit of God to work in us, to dismantle the false personas in us, the fears that cause us to pretend or withhold the truth.

In that sense, we not only strive to be true. We must allow ourselves to be trued – the verb form referring to the way a builder will bring something into the exact position or alignment needed for it to function properly. Just as an object cannot “true” itself, so we must be “trued” by the power of God, the only one who knows exactly how we are to be aligned, because he’s the one who made us.

What we can do is make it our heart’s desire to become a person without guile or falsehood or hidden needs or strategies. We can start to notice when something we say is less than the truth, and revise it. We can pay attention to the circumstances in which we seem to feel the need to hide behind a mask of who we think people want us to be, rather than being fully, gloriously who we are, faults and all.

I got very anxious yesterday, because an event I was in charge of was not going well – the person doing the food was late, the speaker was late, many people who’d registered did not show up. I felt it reflected badly on me. I had to remind myself that I was only upset because I worried about what people thought of me. When I separated out my role from that of others, and stopped taking responsibility for more than was really mine, I began to calm down, to become more true. That’s the kind of attention I mean.

I think the Carpenter of Nazareth knew something about how to "true" materials. I want to let his Spirit true me into proper alignment. As I become a person who “does what is true,” I come more and more to the light. Will you join me?

3-12-15 - Cover of Darkness

Ah, think of it. Walking in the light. Transparency. Integrity. Truthfulness.
Good lord, we’d have nothing to watch on TV if this is how humanity operated! Most drama is driven by bad choices followed by cover-ups, which necessitate more lies and bad choices and behaving differently with different people – and before you know it, no one can trust anyone else.

Which, if you attend to the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent, is pretty much how we got into this mess in the first place. A bad choice, followed by a cover-up (even if those fig leaves didn’t cover much…), which necessitated more lies and bad choices. For some people this becomes a way of life, so entrenched that even when something wakes them up – say a light dawns – they are unable to change to a light-based operating system. They are too attached to the darkness.

These are the kind of people Jesus refers to when he talks about those who are condemned by their choosing to remain in darkness, even after the light has come: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

We probably all know some people like this, lovers of darkness, so given over to self-will and exploitation of others they become evil themselves. There are plenty of those kind about, but they are a distinct minority, and I daresay none of the readers of Water Daily are to be found among their number. So what does this have to do with us? We are not lovers of darkness.

No, we are not. BUT… can we be a little too comfortable with the shadows? Are we oriented toward the negative, to the bad news, the worse outcome? Are we quicker to criticize than to compliment? Faster with the reasons something won’t work than why it might? Too ready to give voice to unhappy possibilities instead of speaking our desires into the air? This is how the world teachces us to think. God-Life invites us to change our way of thinking and speaking. We may not be people of darkness, but I think many of us can do some work on truly embracing the light. I sure can.

Today try to make a point of listening to yourself – both your internal monologue and external conversation. Hear what you’re saying – are your words life-giving or squashing? Notice when you make a negative assumption about yourself, another, or a situation. And if you do – and believe me, I do it a lot – don’t jump all over yourself. Just say, “Hmmm. Wow. I do that more than I realize. God, where is the life in this situation? Show me how you love this person. Show me how you love me.”

We are used to dramas based on bad choices, lies and conflict. We’re so used to that, we can’t imagine a story that’s all good having any dramatic tension at all.

But what if we’re wrong? Wouldn’t it be a kick to give it a try and find out?

3-11-15 - No Condemnation

Time was when I adjusted my computer’s screen saver to scroll through Romans 8:1 – 
“There is no now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  
As one whose inner critic tends to work overtime, that’s how badly I needed to be reminded of God’s affirming love. I consider this is the heart of the Good News Jesus came to convey – that God has transformed the judgment we so fear into love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Lest we doubt this message of affirmation, Jesus makes it clear in the next sentence: 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Why did for Jesus to clarify this matter? Was a different message being conveyed by the leaders of Israel, that God was not pleased, that people were in trouble? It would not be hard to draw such a conclusion, living under the tyranny of the Romans, the latest in a string of conquerors. In a culture that saw prosperity as a sign of blessing and misfortune as an indication of sin, people might be quick to see in their circumstances God’s punishment for unfaithfulness.Thus the idea that God’s representative, his very own son, should have arrived on the scene in person – that could feel like, “Uh oh, we’re in trouble now….”

And so the importance of these words to soothe and open hearts: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

But Jesus isn’t saying there is no condemnation anywhere – his next words suggest it is possible, even likely, for those who have been presented with the truth about Jesus Christ and have chosen not to believe:
“Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Is this “condemnation” for those who do not believe in the name of the only Son of God a punishment – or is it simply the consequence of their choice? God may not have sent his Son into the world for condemnation – but he didn’t say he would remove the consequences of our choices. People are free to draw near to God’s love, or to turn away.

Are those who have no interest in Jesus’ salvation still covered by it? What do we mean when we say Jesus took on all the sin of all the world on the cross? Did he redeem even those who choose not to believe in his power to redeem? Who deny any need of salvation? Those who believe in universal salvation would say so. Those who believe each person has to say “yes” are left wondering.

And all this “on the one hand,” “on the other hand” makes my head hurt. It actually gets in the way of my receiving the gift I believe Jesus wants to offer us – to accept his grace, to allow him to take us off all the hooks we have ourselves dangling from, that we’re not good enough, smart enough, wise enough, compassionate enough. Enough!

The Son of God did not come into the world to condemn the world. The Son of God came to fulfill his father’s mission to reclaim, restore and renew all things and all people to wholeness in Christ. I’m taking that deal.

3-10-15 - God So Loved

This Sunday we encounter perhaps the most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, known to American sports fans everywhere. At least, they know the words “John 3:16.” Who John is and what those numbers mean may be a mystery to many. Those with some Biblical literacy know it as that verse about “God so loved the world.” To many, this verse says it all, the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Yet it is much more complex than one might think at first reading. The part about God loving the world is great… but what about the rest of that sentence? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Let’s not even get into the “perishing if you don’t believe” part. What do we in the 21st century think about a deity who expresses his overwhelming love for his creation by offering his Son to save it? Wouldn’t we prefer it to say, “God so loved the world that he gave himself up?” Of course, our wacky Trinitarian view of God reminds us that the Father and the Son are one, with the Spirit – so of course, God was giving himself up in giving up his Son. But why was a sacrifice necessary in the first place?

That’s the million dollar question. Did someone need to die in order for us to be freed from sin and death? The writer in me wants to answer that nobody really takes a story seriously until someone dies. God dying? That’s pretty much as high as you can jack the narrative stakes.

But did there have to be a sacrifice? Was the Father consigning the Son to certain death? OR did God simply “give him up” to take on human flesh, a mission to free us from the power of evil, come what may? Maybe it was humanity who decided Jesus must die, not his heavenly Father.

Our Good News is truly good – and so much more complicated than the “God loves you” message to which it is so often reduced. It is a story of an all-powerful Creator who puts into motion a plan of salvation which limits his power In order to allow for free will on the part of those to be saved. We can say "No thank you." Ever since Jesus Christ made an appearance in human history, people have had to make choices concerning him. Would they believe his claims to be the Son of God? Would they follow his ways, as counter-cultural as they were? Would they remain allied with him when it became dangerous?

These choices remain before us daily, with the addition of this: Do we believe he rose from the dead and has assured eternal life, now and later, for those who believe? How do you choose? Do we want this gift he gave at such a cost?

I don’t know if someone had to die. There are theories of the atonement that would say yes, and other interpretations of the Cross that find the whole idea of the need for atonement a sick distortion of God’s love. I’m not weighing in. I am standing with the story we have, the story we have received. In that story a man, a man who was also God, gave up his divine prerogatives to accept the limitation of human life, to live out the values of the world from which he’d come – values so counter to human values, he became a threat that had to be eliminated.

Gee, sounds like a science fiction story. Someone ought to write that!

3-9-15 - Snakes on a Pole

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we walk into a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a highly placed member of the Jewish council. He has come at night to learn more about this Jesus fellow who is stirring up so much trouble. Jesus tells him that the Life of God is not comprehensible by physical senses; it is a spiritual reality, and one must be born of Spirit to discern the spiritual. He chides Nicodemus, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

That’s a big “outing” of his Messianic identity. Jesus implies that he is this “Son of Man” who has descended from heaven. I can only imagine Nicodemus’ shock – and perhaps horror, at what sounds like megalomania, or delusion, or pure blasphemy. But Jesus has more in store for him.
“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

What on earth did he mean by “So must the Son of Man be lifted up?” From our vantage point, this meant the cross on which he was to die a brutal death, suffering not only the full brunt of human cruelty, but – we claim – also the full consequence of sin, separation from God. This was the penalty he took to the grave for us, and left buried there when he rose on Easter morning. But how could such a “lifting up” bring salvation and its reward, eternal life?

To get that, we need to understand the reference to Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness, a story from Numbers that Nicodemus would have known well. It’s about the Israelites’ journey after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Their joy at rescue had quickly turned to bitterness. They complained mightily against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." God, angry at their ingratitude, sends poisonous snakes and many die – which swiftly inspires repentance in 
 the survivors . They ask Moses to intercede with God to take away the snakes. And here is God's remedy:

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

This story is where we get our symbol for the medical profession. We can see this principle at work in vaccines and homeopathic remedies – a small amount of toxin introduced into the body can build resistance. But how would it work on sin? How did Jesus’ crucifixion set us free? (Like I can answer that question... but here's a stab.)

If we are indeed slaves to sin – wired to act for ourselves at the expense of others, which is one way to define “sin,” then to stare at an image of the crucified Lord is to look at the full effect of sin, the worst case – all the sin of all the self-seeking, creation-exploiting, God-ignoring human beings that ever lived. But I believe the healing power of the cross goes beyond a “scared straight” mentality. We are invited to gaze upon, draw near to the healing love of Christ, demonstrated supremely in his taking on this sin-sickness for us. He did not have to. He did it for love, to set us free.

If we think we have no sin, this makes no sense. But if we’ve ever hurt another living creature, or ourselves, and felt that dull ache of shame at our actions… we know. We were suffering a terminal illness. And now we are healed.

3-6-15 - Seeing is Believing

Hey, disciples, can you take a hint? How many times did Jesus have to tell you what was going to happen? He mentioned that “rising again after three days” thing when he was coming down the mountain after the transfiguration; he mentioned it when he talked about what was to happen to the Son of Man – arrest, trial, execution… and after three days rising again. And he says it here, talking about “raising the temple after three days.”

“But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

I can’t blame them for not being able to comprehend these words of Jesus’. I would have assumed they were some strange figure of speech – and Jesus said a lot of strange things. How should they have known he meant this one literally? This one really impossible thing?

After Jesus is risen, on his second visit to his followers in that upper room, he says to Thomas, who had missed the first visit and would not believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead until he saw him in person, “Blessed are those who do have not seen, yet have come to believe.” To which I always wish Thomas had replied, “Easy for you to say!” (His response was much humbler and more holy than that…)

In truth, none of Jesus’ followers really believed until they saw the unbelievable right in front of them. So we should cut ourselves some slack when we have trouble believing, without the benefit of seeing Jesus in human form with our physical sight. We have to work a little harder – or trust a little harder – and remember all the ways we do see resurrection at work.

  • Cancer patients who have experienced healing and are now cancer-free are resurrection at work.
  • Addicts who have come solidly into recovery after years of self-destruction and self-loathing are resurrection at work.
  • Communities that have moved from blight to habitable housing and secure neighborhoods are resurrection at work.
  • Countries that have managed to choose peace and end years of bloodshed are resurrection at work.
These examples err on the side of the obvious, and maybe all these transformations could take place without God's involvement. I say ‘maybe’ because these kind of “back from the brink” transformations require one or more people to give sacrificially, to humble themselves, to resist hostility and refuse the temptation to “win.” These transformations require vulnerability, submission to a person or a process, a truly self-giving love – and I believe that can only come from God, whether or not God gets named.

What are some examples of resurrection life that you can name, in your life, in your community, in the world? Name them, claim those stories, remember them, tell them when you’re with someone who says, “There can’t be a God – look at all the evil and death and destruction.” That’s when we can say, “And look at all the life where it didn’t seem like life was possible. Here's a story...”

We don’t have to wait for heaven to see that our faith is valid. God shows us “risen from the dead” all the time. Let’s open our eyes and see Life.

3-5-15 - Other Temples

The temple complex where Jesus cast out purveyors of sacrificial animals and turned the tables on the money changers was the second one since the first splendid edifice erected by King Solomon. Having foreign powers overrun your small nation and send your people into exile can be hard on the architecture. The plans for this one must have been ambitious too, for at this point it is decades into its construction, and it’s not finished.

The temple leaders did not throw Jesus out after his scene. But they sure had a few questions for him.
“‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The leaders then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”

It’s an audacious challenge Jesus lays down – and a safe bet, as there’s no way they would have risked harming the temple. (Within forty or so years, the Romans would demolish it.) The leaders take his words literally – “You’re going to raise it up in three days?” But our narrator tells us what Jesus apparently does not tell the authorities – that he’s not talking about the bricks and mortar in which God was said to dwell on earth. He is talking about the fullest revelation of God on earth – himself, the Son of God, made human flesh and yet containing the fullness of the Godhead.

During his time on this earth, Jesus was this living temple, Emmanu-el, God with us, who mediated the presence of God to those who drew near. That’s where his power to heal, and teach, and forgive came from, God within him. That’s why he was so threatening to those who held power. They couldn’t put their finger on why he was so unsettling – it was God in him. That’s a pretty scary thing.

But God’s plan is scarier still. After Jesus’ ascension, he said, God would send his Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Now everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord can become a temple in which God’s presence is made known to the world. Not little “gods,” but vessels of the one true God. That’s why Paul exhorts us to honor our bodies and treat them with holy reverence – because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Wow.

Okay, you might ask, why doesn’t it feel like God’s presence is so powerfully present in me? Why don’t I feel like a temple? Well, I don’t know about you, but I forget, all the time, that that’s what I am. And we are also vessels of accumulated detritus that has nothing holy about it, that in fact can obscure the holy in us. The work of the spiritual life is to become aware of, name, and transform everything in us that is not holy, and to become aware of, name and lift up all that is. Gradually the God-Life in us becomes more and more apparent and the natural, passing-away life dims.

How might we become more conscious of our “temple-dom?” Like any spiritual practice, we can develop this with, yes, practice. Sow reminders into your day – when you eat something healthy, when you take a rest, when you stop and pray, when you offer a kind word. “Oh yeah – I am being God’s temple.” And we can also remind each other, when we make choices that are destructive or not life-giving – “Hey, remember, the Spirit of God wants to hang out in you.”

There are those who await a third temple to be built, as a sign of God’s reign breaking out. 

For Christ-followers, we see that third temple every time we look at one another, for God’s reign has broken out and we’re helping it spread.

3-4-15 - My Father's House

Where should they begin, these leaders of Israel’s spiritual life? Jesus, in his tirade at the temple, offended in so many ways. There was his attack on the system of sacrifice and the economic engine that drove it along. There was his lack of respect and decorum. Yet these transgressions likely paled in comparison to his words: “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!”

His father’s house? This was the holy temple where God resided on earth. It was for everybody. In fact, it had become the only place where holy rituals were allowed to be enacted, where ordinary people could come into contact with the Holy God. And this itinerant teacher presumed to refer to it as his father’s house? This was blasphemy.

When Jesus called the temple in Jerusalem "his father's house," he may have been referencing Israel’s history, in particular the tradition of King David who wanted to “build a house for God.” God’s response was that it was not David who would build a house for God, but God who would establish a house, a lineage for him, from whose line would come the Redeemer. Was Jesus was referring to his Davidic heritage when he called it “my father’s house?” It wouldn’t have sounded any less blasphemous to his listeners than calling God his father, but it’s an interesting notion.

Are places of worship meant to be houses for God? Is that what they are? And is that how we treat them? Or are they spaces for us, places we set apart for us, hoping to find in them a moment of holy presence? Buildings in which we enact rituals that have sometimes mediated the divine for us, in which we offer prayers and praises and portions of our wealth in hopes of encountering God. Is that what a sanctuary is for?

Or is a sanctuary a place to make welcome people who don’t yet know the living God, and yet know they are missing a connection they crave? Should we decorate and arrange our churches for God – who likely doesn’t care where we meet, as long as we come in love and openness, or for outsiders who are hungry for God? How would it change the way we arrange and decorate them, and how we conduct ourselves in them, if we saw them as houses for God’s hungry people rather than as houses for God?

In the next exchange in our passage, Jesus refers to his body as the temple that cannot be destroyed. Peter refers to the people of God as a holy temple built of living stones. I suggest that God’s house is anywhere God’s name and power and love are invoked – every heart, every relationship, every place of prayer and desperate hope can be “my father’s house.”

What if we began to treat our street corners as holy spaces? Our living rooms? Doctor’s offices? Shelters? Police stations? Even our marketplaces, to flip Jesus' words?

Where do you pray? Where do you invite Jesus to make himself known?
That is his father’s house now.

3-3-15 - Zeal

Funny thing about the derivatives of the word “zeal.” “Zealous” has pretty positive connotations as “on the case,” or “committed,” while “zealot” conjures images of bug-eyed maniacs raging about. The word originally referred to members of a Jewish political group in Jesus’ day who were eager to overthrow the occupying Romans. But Jesus’ “zeal” is directed not at the Romans but at his own religious leaders. In that way, he was fairly apolitical; presumably he had an opinion about the oppression and cruelty which the Romans exhibited toward his countrymen and women – but his primary concern was with the corruption of message and heart which he saw in the temple leadership.

After his rampage, John tells us, "His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

What is the place for zeal in the Christian life? The early monastic hermits whom we call the “Desert Fathers and Mothers,” men and women who went into the desert to seek union with God away from the press of daily life, preached the spiritual virtue of apatheia, a detachment from worldly concerns and agendas that they saw as the goal of the spiritual life. The point is not to be passion-less, but to direct our passion into our relationship with the God who loves us passionately. I wonder what the abbas and ammas taught about Jesus’ scene in the temple.

Where do we find our balance between wholehearted passion – for justice, for evangelism, for liberation, to name a few, and apatheia, the spiritual value of letting go?

One way to explore this would be to discern when we are answering God’s call to a particular area of justice, and when our interest might be driven by personal concerns. I have a friend who is taking real leadership on the issue of sex trafficking. I asked her why that issue, and she said she felt God clearly tell her to work on that. She avoided it for some years because it is such an ugly area of human life – but ultimately she said yes. She is galvanizing communities to shine a light on perpetrators and bring freedom to victims.

What issues get you “hot under the collar?” What about that matter hooks you, do you think? Do you feel God has invited you to participate in that aspect of God’s mission to reclaim, restore and renew all of creation? Do you feel the power of the Holy Spirit with you as you work, and speak, weep or rejoice – or are you drained by the effort? Those are some of the ways to know where our passion is to be expressed.

However we discern our motivation, we can also be more intentional about inviting the Spirit constantly into our passion. When we are gripped with outrage over some injustice or corruption, let’s start to note our reaction and pray right then and there – “God, is this a holy anger? Or is this anxiety or guilt or something else?” And if we sense it is a holy anger, let’s take the next step and ask, “What would you like me to do, with you? Show me where to hold back and trust you, and where to move forward with all the fullness of your Spirit working in me.”

We call the great sacrifice our Lord Jesus endured for us – the whole thing, from his arrest through his crucifixion – his “passion,” from the word passio, or suffering. And yet this is also the word we use for ardent love – which is what drove Christ to endure his passion for us. If we let Christ live in us, I believe we will know when to bring it on and when to dial it back. It has to be his work in us, or it’s for nothing.

3-2-15 - Losing It

Jesus must have walked past those tables and vendors and stalls of doomed animals a hundred times. He must have checked out the tellers exchanging Roman coins for temple currency. Maybe he shook his head, even seethed inwardly. But to our knowledge he never said a thing. Until this time:

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (The gospel reading for Sunday is here.)

What was it that caused him to go ballistic now, out of control, driving people and livestock out of the temple courts, knocking over tables, generally having the kind of fit that got so many zealots before him into trouble with the temple leadership, and in turn arrested and crucified by the Roman authorities? Or was that the point? Was this part of the plan to move toward his own passion and death, to live out the mission to which he was called by God?

And why all this commerce in the temple courts? The place had become a killing floor, awash in the blood of animals being sacrificed to meet arcane demands in the Law of Moses. For along with the requirements and regulations of the Law, it provided some loopholes. Instead of committing your firstborn son to God’s service, as the law required, you could offer a sacrifice. Over time, these loopholes accumulated and widened enough to drive a wagon through. Every demand of the Law could be satisfied with the blood of some animal or other, if you had the cash.

An economy grew up to satisfy this burgeoning business of bloodshed. You didn’t have to bring your own sacrificial animal – you could purchase one right there, one stop shopping. No temple currency on you? No worries – we’ll exchange your Roman coins for our own, and take a little fee for our pains. The whole place had become a well-oiled enterprise – what Jesus called a “marketplace.”

Still, it puzzles me why he seemed to lose his temper so thoroughly, when in other stories we see him exercise such grace under pressure. This scene is the start of months of increasingly heated exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day (in Matthew, it comes at the end). Over and over he accuses them of having lost the heart of the Torah, the Law of God, and having distorted it. And they, from their vantage point of power – limited as it may have been under Roman rule – can’t help but resist his challenges to their authority.

Later, after his arrest, during the events of his passion, we see Jesus seem to accept his treatment meekly and silently. Where is this outrage then? He was certainly capable of expressing his anger. Perhaps he reserved his ire for those who would pervert his Father’s love and oppress the weak.

Maybe that’s the lesson for us, when we wrestle with when and how to express our anger. There is one way to handle personal anger, however reasonable it may be – we can invite Jesus to hold it with us, or ask God to transform it into something life-giving. But righteous anger at injustice or misrepresenting God? Maybe there are times for letting that anger show, even when it means knocking tables around.