Fight On!

One way to be near my daughter while she does homework and not interfere is to do crossword puzzles.   I’ve learned an important lesson from these puzzles:  keep working at it until the solution makes sense.  When I leave something in that doesn’t quite work, it is most often wrong.

Many grieved this week because a man was put to death for a crime that some say he didn’t commit.  Others began to grieve 22 years ago when an off duty policeman with a one year old daughter and an infant son confronted someone who had pistol whipped a homeless man in a fast food parking lot , and was shot in the face and heart.  Compassionate people of every stripe mourn, cry out for justice, pray.  Things don’t
make sense to any of them.  Still, they fight on—trying to find answers in a world that often has few to offer.

How different they are from my daughter’s classmate I’m working with in math.  When I ask her to explain something as simple as rounding numbers back to me, she speaks
nonsense, as if she’s given up on ever being able to understand.   My first job is to get her to fight again, to believe that she can and deserves to understand.  She can find the right answers.

Jesus fought.  Jesus fought against the legalism of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  He fought against the buying and selling in the temple.  He fought for the right to
heal another no matter the day.  These things didn’t make sense.  He sought a solution.

The cross is an ugly answer.  It is the result of what we Christians believe was a choice Jesus made to allow God to enter the fight–a choice based in his deep understanding of
God’s will.  In the gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks about how it is necessary for him to die and, after three days, rise again.  He repeats this three times as if he understood the whole plan.  Yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he waits for the soldiers to take him, he still looks for another way.  “Take this cup away from me.”  Jesus keeps on fighting until
that final moment of understanding that God has a way forward, that moment when he says, “not my will but yours.”

We are most alive when we are fighting for a solution.  Sometimes that puts us on opposite sides of political and religious debate.  So be it.  Keep on fighting.  But don’t give up on God.  Sometimes God has an unexpected solution that brings life.  Our loving creator has a
way of seeing outside of the box.  For those who keep fighting to understand, keep on fighting to hear God’s word, more will be revealed.

In Christ,

Heather

Mining the Word: Ali Ali Oxen Free

When all those who were about to throw stones at her left, Jesus asked the woman who had committed adultery, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” The woman answered, “No one sir.” And then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

So ends the story of John 8, controversial in its pedigree, s scholars debate whether it was original to the gospel, and yet often quoted.  The image is powerful:  a woman standing alone, guilty.  Jesus stands with her, gives her voice, and another chance.

This scripture resounds as I think about the young woman who got pregnant with twins, hid it from her parents, and when the newborn babies’ cries pierced the silence of her shame, smothered them.

Some will pick up the stones but others will remember Jesus’ command, “Let the one without sin be the first to throw the stone.”  And, yet, we wonder, how can we prevent this
from happening?  How can we keep a young woman alive to hope beyond her first transgression?  Perhaps we might even look at ourselves:  how do we stay alive when we are ashamed of our actions?

For it seems to me that none of us can escape sin.  Or, if you prefer, none of us can make it
through life without feeling shame, now and again, for something wrong we have
done.  When we are ashamed, one response is to hide, hoping the ramifications of the wrong will blow away and no one will know.

I remember playing hide and seek when I was young.   I’d look for a small area in which I could conceal myself from sight.  It was always remarkable how many hiding places could be found.  How thrilling to wait there as the seeker walked by.  That was the moment I could race to the street light which we called home. “Free,” I’d happily exclaim.

The places where we’d hide were always small.  We’d crouch uncomfortably, looking around the corner to see if the seeker was near.  It was a fun game, but it would be a remarkably difficult life style.

Jesus says, “do not sin again.”  As already said, sin is part of what we do from time to time despite our best efforts.   If you agree, then Jesus’ words are not meant to suggest we can be sin free the rest of our lives.  Rather, they are meant to stop the second sin, the one that tries to hide the first, the one that allows shame, not God, to have reign.

Contemporary Christian singers have given beat and melody to forgiveness.  Mainline Protestants take their cue from Luther, “by grace and not works we are saved” and often confess their sins in an unison prayer before the sharing of the Lord’s Supper.  Catholics are given the duty of coming to church during the week to confess to a priest where they are given the penance of prayer.  Whether or not we have been caught, Christians exclaim, we are free and we are in continuing relationship with God who loves us.

In this way, Christians give voice to that which is stronger than “thou shalt not.”

Still the struggle goes on.

In my ministry I’ve often heard words like these:  If Iwere a proper Christian, then I wouldn’t have gone down this path.   This is God’s punishment, I deserve it.  When these thought have their way it is a human impulse to hide, to run away, for when God is against us, who can be for us?

Who?

Jesus…

and those who would truly follow him.

Forgiveness embodied allows a soul to come out of hiding and opens the door to God’s possibilities beyond the first sin.  We, as Jesus’ followers, are called to embody forgiveness.  It is simple really to do what Jesus did that day.  Wait–remain when all who would throw stones have gone.  Look tenderly into the face of the one who can barely stand, seeking to see them as Jesus would if he were there.  Listen and love.  Finally, trust God enough to let go, to send the other out, having done what you could.

Through all who choose to embody forgiveness, God shouts to those hiding in fear, ali ali oxen free, come out wherever you are, you are free.

In Christ,

Heather

Mining the Word: The Ram

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.  So the two of them walked together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!”  And he said “Here I am, my son.”  He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  So the two of them walked on together. (Genesis 22:6- 9)

Ten years ago hijackers, after months of preparation, boarded their planes blindly devoted to a cause they believed was God’s own.    I awakened this morning to the Abraham/Isaac
passage, the Biblical picture of blind devotion.

Abraham is known as the one who goes when God says “go” (Genesis 12: 1 – 4).  After the tower of Babel, when people built a tower that they might be like god, this is a welcome
change.  Finally there is someone who listens to God’s command.   Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is an old woman when God’s promise to Abraham for a son is fulfilled. Then, one day, for no apparent reason, God demands Abraham take Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him.

The story is long and drawn out.  As on that fateful day ten years ago, careful preparations were made, wood was cut, provisions collected.  This was a carefully planned sacrifice that
God might be pleased.

We watch the father and son walking together up the mountain carrying the wood and knife, the tools of the sacrifice.  The son speaks… Father.

Abraham responds, “Here I am,” words that prophets would later speak when God calls (Isaiah 6:8).

“Here I am, my son” …Isaac, his only son.

The young boy, Isaac, says, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

There is no inner struggle suggested in Abraham.  We don’t see him asking God to take away this cup of poison.  There’s no vision of Abraham in prayer.  There’s no anger or
sadness or emotion of any kind suggested.  As he did from the very beginning, he simply obeys.  He speaks what has become a cliché in our time…”God will provide” and continues on his course.

Abraham builds an altar, he lays the wood in order, he binds his son Isaac, and lays him down upon the altar.  He raises the knife to kill his son.

Blind obedience leads to unimaginable cruelty.

God won’t have it. God shouts from the page, “Abraham, Abraham…do not lay your hand on the boy…for now I know that you fear God because you’ve not withheld your only son
from me.”

And as if he had been awakened from a dream, “Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns.”

A ram caught in the thicket by its horns.

Just as the rainbow was the picture of promise that the world never would be cleansed again, the ram is the picture that God will never require us to be blindly devoted.   We
are not to leave behind emotion, or love, or reason, in order to be faithful.  “Stay awake” Jesus commands.

A group of passengers awakened to the desire of the blindly devoted and they brought down the plane before it could hit its mark.

Stay awake.  It may not be the end time, but it is only a short while that we get to walk on this earth.  Stay awake, allowing all your being to enter into your relationships, your work, and your prayers.  Question, struggle, cry, shout, laugh and love with God.   The ram is in the brambles.  You, who are so very human, go and live.

In Christ,

Heather