An Easter Call

Easter morning—He is Risen!—He is Risen, Indeed!

Sin and Salvation

Jonathan Edwards shouts out

We are sinners in the hands of an angry God

Look what we have done

To ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Look at what we haven’t done

For ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Should God not be angry when we stand apart, build our own towers, testaments to our own strength?  Should God not be angry when those God loves abandon each other?  Should God not be angry when we abandon our world and ourselves when the tower falls?

We are not made to stand alone!

We were made to stand with…

Salvation is connection.

At the cross we stand with

Jesus who believed

God is more than anger

Or vengeance

People are more than sin

Or arrogance

Easter morning dawns

Mary and Peter peek into the

Empty tomb

And are afraid.

Resurrection possibilities

Strewn about in torn cloth.

“Mary,” calls the gardener

Recognizing Jesus’ voice, she cries out, “Rabouni!”

Salvation is connection.

Jesus’ faith  in and Jesus’  love for

God’s faith in and God’s love for

you and me

live on

connect

you and me.

Leave behind Eden

The serpent will never have

The last word.

Leave behind the tower

None of it is yours

Anyway.

Free your hands

Together let us

Take hold of the cup–

The cup of salvation.

Together, let us come into love.

An Outsider’s Faith

When Jesus was born, we left behind the promised land.

By that first Christmas day, something had happened to the temple–scripture tells us it was no longer a place of true worship.  It no longer led the heart, mind, and soul into the knowledge of the love of God.  Instead, it was a a place of duty–where you had to bring your offerings in order to expiate your sin.  And it was a place of politics, having authority over, and making laws for, a special group of people in the Roman Empire; a people for which it had become the most exclusive of clubs.  Soon it would become a place that would lead the persecution of God’s chosen. Scripture, often in the words of Jesus, suggests the temple had lost its soul, the desire to be with and of God. 

 When God chose to send Jesus into the world, God chose to do so outside of the temple.  Mary and Joseph had to leave their home in order to make their way to Bethlehem.  The shepherds were on the hills when the angels arrived to tell them of Jesus’ birth.  The wise men who came later leave behind their country to find what God has brought to life.  While Luke has poetically drawn Simeon and Anna in the temple waiting for Jesus to arrive for his blessing, even he has to admit that the arrival of Jesus, the incarnation, happened outside. 

 Christianity is, at its very beginning, an outsiders’ religion. 

 Terry, a friend of mine, was sitting in her car at 5:30 in the morning yesterday.  Her skin is of a darker hue than most in Southern Orange County.  Seeing her in the car in that pre-dawn hour, a woman was moved to go to her and offer her $10. What did Terry do?  Take offense?  Get angry?  Drive away embarrassed?  No, she invited the woman to her party that day and asked her to bring gifts for kids who are staying in a shelter.  The only reason we know this story is the woman arrived with her daughter and gifts in hand.  If Terry had thought only of her dignity in that bizarre morning moment, this would never have happened. 

 A church musician who recently felt the barbs of those whose selective reading of the Bible put him, because of his sexuality, outside of the Christian Way rehearsed countless hours to present a program which honored many musicians who created the organ repertoire.  He used his words to lift up others, and his talent to create memories and draw us into a world beyond our own.  As is his way, he added a few more pieces at the end. One moment inviting a soprano to sing with him a favorite soft operatic piece, gladly taking his place in the background.  Another moment, playing a song he knew was the favorite composition of a man in the audience because his wife (who had passed) had often played it.  He played on because he knew this music would minister to those who were present.  His focus was never on himself.

Christianity is an outsider’s religion. In the scriptures that tell of Jesus’ birth, there is no sense that those involved argued or felt sorry for themselves.  They didn’t put down a precondition of acceptance or welcome before they responded to God’s call on their lives.  Rather, scripture shows them responding with willful abandon.  Mary and Joseph lay down on the hay and, when Jesus arrived, they made good use of the feeding trough.  The shepherds most likely left their sheep on the hill, overcome by the message they had been given by the angels in the sky.  God didn’t mind having Jesus arrive to the song of the mooing cows.  It wouldn’t be wrong to say God planned it that way. 

 Not only did Jesus come to welcome the outsider into God’s love, but God depended on the outsiders to bring Jesus into the world, to announce his arrival, to bray in the new kingdom.  And so perhaps if we are feeling a little more like a donkey than a king today, we might choose not to put our tale between our legs.

                    Heather

For the Love of Mary

During Advent, Mary takes center stage in the Biblical story.  Believers who speak a historical creed speak of her as the Virgin Mary, underscoring the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth.   Some whose faith lives outside of the historical creeds speak of her as a young girl, pregnant before she was married; they see in God’s use of her another sort of miracle.  And yet, both traditions find their souls singing the words of Luke 1:46 – 55, the Magnificat.  In this telling of the pre-birth stories of Jesus, this is Mary’s response to the news that she is carrying God’s son: not the easiest of jobs even for an experienced homemaker!  Luke chooses to reveal Mary’s faith and God’s world-turning ways through a song:

 

My soul magnifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God

my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the

lowliness of his servant.

   Surely, from now on all generations

will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great

things for me,

   and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

   from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the

thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful

from their thrones,

   and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with

good things,

   and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel

   in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to

our ancestors,

   to Abraham and to his descendants

forever.

Through Mary’s faithfulness, God scatters the proud, brings down the powerful from their thrones, and reaches out to us.

I didn’t think much of Mary until the day I stood with my husband David in St. Peter’s square, being soaked by rain.  From high above and far away the Pope, appearing as a faint, fuzzy dot in a distant window, blessed us.  I felt more cold than blessed, and mostly I worried that I would miss what I most wanted to see that day: the earliest Christian art found in the underground catacombs, the burial place of the first Christians. 

 After a lunch on our feet, we took a bumpy bus ride down the Appian Way and entered again into the rain and the mud.  There was a sign pointing to catacombs, but they weren’t the particular catacombs I had hoped to see.  It was winter.  The light was quickly turning to darkness.  I mentioned we were cold and wet.  Stomping the ground because of my irritation with having spent time waiting for a rainy blessing on a PA system instead of making it a priority to see what I wanted, I gave in and went reluctantly into the available catacombs.

We went on the tour, going underground with flashlights and a Franciscan monk.  He asked David what he did for a living; David talked about his software business.  Then he asked me what I did.  At that time I was studying for the ministry and I said so, hoping I wouldn’t offend.  He took no offense– instead, knowing what I was doing made him more passionate about what he was showing us.  He added to the usual tour.  When we were done, he asked me to wait a moment.  He had something to give to me.  It was night–the rain had momentarily stopped–when he returned with an iconic picture of Mary, the kind you would pick up in a Catholic store.  With a kind smile, he pressed the picture into my hand and said “this is Mary, the Mother of God.”  And the peace of God descended upon me as it does when one has truly been blessed.

When I think about Mary and that day, I realize that God knows that a blessing from on high can easily  miss us.  When the rain is pouring down, when all around us seems to be mud, words spoken through a loudspeaker don’t mean much.  But when the words are spoken by one willing to walk with you through the dark, one who is also a person of faith, the raging ego is calmed, the heart opened, and God can get in. 

I know many of those who were brought up in non-Catholic Christianity want to run right to Jesus as the one who walks with us through the dark.  Mary seems like an idol, one who gets in the way of our direct relationship with God (I’ve been told by some I’ve served that they are uncomfortable with the way Catholics lift up Mary). Consider this: there are times when even Jesus seems too distant, too perfect, too much a Lord rather than a friend.  Jesus had titles.  Mary has only her name, her humanity, her arms that held Jesus. 

Holding Jesus is what we imperfect human beings are called to do on Christmas.  We can contemplate Mary that we might be strong enough to hold and love the one who will die. We can picture Mary’s strength bringing us comfort when we feel alone in the storm.  And, if in so doing, we find a like courage to joyfully sing out a faith where God disrupts the cosmos–rather than orders it according to our plans–then thank God.

 Maybe then our souls will magnify the Lord. 

             Heather