Monday, June 29, 2015

Mark 6:1-13

Year B - Pentecost +6 or Energy to Witness 6
July 5, 2015

Isn’t it the truth that we usually have more trouble from and disappointment in our allies than our enemies. Ever has it been the case. Allies who claim their truth needs to be our truth are the cause of fightings and fears within any movement. Our greatest battles are with ourselves and our allies. Read again Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

What is needed in a movement is an appreciation of the variety of skills, gifts, and strategies needed to be successful. There is no one way forward. We travel on many paths at the same time, evolutionarily leaving some behind and investing more heavily in others. But without each way having value, we are the poorer to leave change to authorized channels, even unorthodox authorities.

Here a strand of a larger movement in an occupied land (religiously as well as militarily, politically, and economically) known as the Jesus Way moves into outlying and foreign territories. The instructions about going out two by two and their provisions opens an interesting conversation about a contrast between Jesus and the Cynics. You can read more about this in chapter 5 of Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan.

Those sent out were to rely upon the generosity of a new community, not their individual moral strength and wisdom. They were to proclaim a baptismal message that takes a village to complete and heal both individuals and communities.

A significant task always before us is identifying who the actual allies are that can be counted on and leveraging that to deeper resolve (lived repentance) and revelation of this through healing (not necessarily curing).

And so a little post-Pentecost test: What conversation about mystery and wonder are you taking part in across the usual boundaries and intersections? If we are just preaching to a choir or demanding accepted responses to deep questions always moving on from last a last response, we are already losing our Pentecostal Power. Remember, Be Glad, and Move Outward.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Year B - Pentecost +5 or Energy to Witness 5
June 28, 2015

Externally, the American economic system (only one of many with no presumption of privileged position) needs to hear again verse 15, “No one is to have too little; no one too much” and once again deal with its tendency toward gildedness and a growing gap between peoples/classes.

Internally, we hear about followers of Jesus who excel in so much, so fruitful, so ripe for harvesting, so full of healing for the nations. If only they could start with themselves! To partner with G*D, as did Jesus, means being generous with that which has filled and satisfied. 

This generosity is not just overflow. This generosity is to begin an emptying process. Having been empty, having been full, we can return to emptiness for the first time, intentionally, trustingly, eagerly. Now generosity can avoid the trap of measuring itself against others. What we have and what we don’t have, both reveal our G*D Partnership. We can’t help ourselves connecting so tightly our love of G*D and love of Neighb*r that an observer could ever tell the difference.

“Fair balance” means neither “fair” nor “balance”.  This phrase goes well beyond measurement. It goes all the way to mutual generosity. Blessings on not responding, “Fine”, the next time you are asked how you are. Rather try, “Generous”, and see what it does to your encounter.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Psalm 130

Year B - Pentecost +5 or Energy to Witness 5
June 28, 2015

I trust you have connected with this psalm is four human ways:

  • Jairus - on behalf of another
  • Woman - on behalf of one’s self
  • Daughter - in silence, unknown, inarticulate
  • Yourself - (your cry hear)

The first 6 verses are the specific needs and connections we have to live our life more fully—in community, health, awareness, and any other quality of fullness. For those in the Wesleyan tradition, it is helpful to remember key words here—depths, cry, there is forgiveness, watch for the morning, steadfast love, redeem—as we hear John Wesley report he heard a choir singing this psalm just hours before he felt his “heart strangely warmed” at Aldersgate.

The last 2 verses are universalized from the individual to the community. Of particular note is a note from The Jewish Study Bible, “Sinners or their descendants normally need to be punished (see Exod. 34.7), but here God redeems, that is forgives, so no one is punished. As in many psalms, the personal becomes the communal.” Likewise, The New Community Bible describes this psalm: “It is a deep-throated cry for forgiveness and survival.”

A reason for attending to the literal in scripture is for words such as this to be carried along and available to individuals in a particular time of need that goes beyond hope. We also need to attend to the metaphoric in scripture to know that limiting the communal to an extension of our personal desires and experience is far too small a way to live—each of our lives is a shard of our community and an entry point of the energy of conversion and anchoring of a preferred future in a wobbly present.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Year B - Pentecost +5 or Energy to Witness 5
June 28, 2015

Verses 19 and 25 reverse their order but act as a commentary contrasting mighty ones, courageous to the core, with their fate—perished/vanity.

When we look around today it is difficult to identify courage. Without courage to contras with, vanity is even more ephemeral than usual. There is not even smoke to mark a funeral.

Saul and Jonathan are noted in the last line as “weapons of war”. It is not surprising that they fall if that is the way in which they are remembered. As we might all have said, “Live by war; die by war”.

Consider what will be lamented at your death. Who and what will be addressed? Will you be remembered as a weapon of war for not resisting it? Will you be remembered as a forgiver whose presence heals? If it will be some mixture of these, what proportion will be noted?

For now, try writing what you suspect would be found in a Song of the Bow, should the Book of Jashar ever be found. Would it also be a lament, like this one? Is it this one with just the names changed? Would it be a victory song? What does a bow mean? The same as a broken bow?

Do be aware that any attempt you make will say much more about you than you might want known. Nonetheless, be courageous—write anyway.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mark 5:21-43

Year B - Pentecost +5 or Energy to Witness 5
June 28, 2015

How many times are we to forgive? 70 x 7!

How many times did Jairus have to beg? 70 x7?

Persistence in doing good and looking for good is a positive value. It raises a question about what we are dogged about in seeing changed. Our culture says, “Three strikes and you’re out!” We are famous for wanting instant success.

What follows (fringe touching and hand holding) roll on from an insistence that something be done—and now! Sometimes our persistence needs to be several generations long as the resistance is that great. Don’t forget to mentor a next generation of persisters (resisters) so they can build on what you are continuing from the prophets of old or restarting in a new situation.

Blessings on all importuning widows and distraught fathers and fierce friends.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Psalm 9:9-20

Year B - Pentecost +4 or Energy to Witness 4
June 21, 2015

Nations, Churches, and Other Institutions have “sunk in the pit that they made”. The very traps they employed to achieve their power and positions have come back to bite and trap them for the world moves on and they have so tied themselves to a last war or a last creed that they cannot see a “new thing” that delivers their usual clientele, giving immunity to the same call to mindless patriotism or blind faith.

If only nations and churches and other institutions had kept verse 10 pasted to their mirrors so every time they basked in their own glory they would see, “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” Yes, if only but so far it has never been.

And so a next time of storm and fear is blowing around and ordinary stones from a river (not cornerstones or capstones/keystones) will remind us that we are human, not cogs in a theoretical economic system that projects losers or imagined theological system that projects sinners.

Karma rises as humans affirm their humanness, their G*Dliness.

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

Year B - Pentecost +4 or Energy to Witness 4
June 21, 2015

A recent conference reported that 50% of seminarians are not intending to enter the vocation of pastor in an established church. They are interested in developing their theological skills but not being bound by the current limitations of tradition, power, and authority that have encrusted institutional life.

This sounds very much like young David recognizing that he could not move inside the armor of the king (priest). His life experience was more appropriate to the present situation than the accepted boundaries within which one can be an agile leader. This takes more than being adaptive. David is evidencing leadership that is far enough outside the box that the box makes no difference whether it is there or not.

And so we bring out our internal balance to weigh our options. On one side are 5 smooth stones and an experienced slinger of stones who is fleet of foot. On the other side is an armored giant with a shield carrier, sword, spear, and javelin.

The balance says weight wins.

So, shall we self-censor ourselves and passively receive our comeuppance? We know that along with weight, institution and fear also appear to be winners against a small bit of experienced truth.

I draw your attention to and loveprevailsumc on Facebook. A small band of 7 people with poster board and markers (even less than 5 stones) who are willing to run toward United Methodist Bishops and Connectional Table and have, in showing up, made a difference as they challenge a giant institution invested in lying about the nature of LGBTQ lives, calling them “incompatible with Christian teaching”, and denying the grace and gifts of ordained ministry to LGBTQ United Methodists.

You may want to visit with them and support them as they are now running toward an even bigger giant of a quadrennial General Conference with insufficient votes. We will have to see how this encounter will ensue. It will go better with your joining them—#showup.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

Year B - Pentecost +4 or Energy to Witness 4
June 21, 2015

Leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was [exhausted?].

Other boats were with him. [A convoy?]

A great windstorm arose and waves beat into the boat, swamping it. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep.

[How do you imagine the other boats were fairing? Also swamped with fear?]

Cries [from all the boats?] woke Jesus: “We’re perishing; don’t you care?”

He awoke to say, “Peace. Be still.” And their fears were calmed and they saw the wind and themselves for what they were [Vanity. Illusory. Windy (not the breath of creation windy or Pentecost windy).]

As regularly as storms arise, so we avoid deep questions such as, “Why am I afraid?”

See us sidestep this hard question with an easier question of authority, “Who calmed the wind [and agitates us with a question of trust]?”

Still the church asks questions about authority—externals, rites, and rules. These cover up our fear rather than bring us Peace. Quiet.

Still the church asks Jesus to “Stand By Me” rather than “Sleep and Dream In Our Boat”. We are all going down in one storm or another, even Jesus. Imagine the storm in the Pentecost room we so easily forget about from a few short weeks ago. To sing, “Stand By ME” keeps folks in the room. Joining Jesus in Dreamtime sends folks out into the mystery of one another’s lives. May you have the Peace, the Quiet, the Dream of repairing/healing external and internal storms. A hearty tikkun olam to you and all in the midst of whatever is currently blowing a fear that divides us from ours self and others.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Year B - Pentecost +3 or Energy to Witness 3
June 14, 2015

How would you make a parable out of this appeal to greed here of moving from Tent City to Heavenly Dwelling?

If you can do this, preach it. If you can’t, forget it.

Best I can do is to end up with what was seen as a dingy tent (original sin) is now seen as a beautiful tent (original blessing). I’m still working on what is in-between “Someone lived in a tent” and “what a beautiful tent it is”.

Maybe the in-between would have something about sharing and building and living together suggested by this image:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Psalm 20

Year B - Pentecost +3 or Energy to Witness 3
June 14, 2015

It would be nice if the promised answers from heaven were clear victories. Well, maybe. Even this psalm is a bit uncertain as there is a repeated refrain of “May G*D ... do thus and so.” “May” language acknowledges that there may also be a “may not” possibility or probability.

As it is, responses from the Universe are mysteriously parabolic.

Until “May” has come to pass, do your part to help G*D do another part and your Neighb*r do yet another. When this all works together it enhances any actual doing to move beyond power and violence as first responses to problems.

May next May find us celebrating being a bit further along than this past May.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Year B - Pentecost +3 or Energy to Witness 3
June 14, 2015

Imagine that—a best laid plan of G*D’s came to naught. G*D warned folks that a structural fix to a non-problem (we want a king because every other kid on the block has a king) wasn’t in their best interest and then promptly caved (make that, decided to let folks experience the consequences of their wants getting in the way of their decision-making).

Instead of helping folks out of their addiction to having a king to blame for their lack of engagement and trust, G*D sets up another king and even constructs a back story to get Samuel past the palace guards to be in position to anoint David of the beautiful eyes.

This sort of personal engagement with sneaky plots worthy of a spy handler and whispering in ears about personnel matters, is not going to prove much other than G*D needs to delegate more to those with the appropriate skills for HR work. Something proves wrong about both the job description of king and the interview questions to sort through candidates.

And hasn’t that been the case all along the way, G*D has been too close to G*D’s own image—not able to engage realistically with G*D’s alter ego. Later, an attempt to triangle Jesus and Spirit into things doesn't turn out any better.

Rather than look upon this as factual history, can you see it as an extended parable? Those who can hear it, will, and the rest will continue to look to structural fixes.

Mark 4:26-34

Year B - Pentecost +3 or Energy to Witness 3
June 14, 2015

Gotta love the pedagogy of Jesus. The first part of this chapter has Jesus publicly relating a parable of a sower. Then, in private the disciples ask what it “means”. So Jesus goes through it, point by point. The best part though is not this teaching to a test, wooden dissection of imagery, but a flurry of parables of which a few are recorded.

Imagine Jesus flooding the disciples, and anyone who would listen, with parables. It becomes a case of sink or swim. This immersion process will have folks talking parables with one another and result in even dreaming in parable.

Jesus “did not speak to them except in parable.” So where has our recent temptation to literalism come from? To have all the answers explained to a select few in private is contrary to Jesus’ Way, even if the Bible tells me so (“...but Jesus explained everything in private to his disciples”).

Parables level the playing field. Horse and rider are thrown, a murderer frees a whole people. Who can control such a Pentecostal fire that has us communicating deeper than language? 

Imagine if we were able to hear some more of the “He also saids” today. How would we relate differently through parabolic responses rather than with definitive answers? Well, listen. A parable is a far off hymn hailing a new creation. Start humming now so you have a melody to put new words to.

Friday, June 05, 2015

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Year B - Pentecost +2 or Energy to Witness 2
June 7, 2015

We believe; we speak. All fine and dandy if we are in a relationship with another or others wherein they also believe and speak.

When it comes down to a post-Constantinian Church enraptured by literalism, this model doesn’t fare well because it has lost its communal fairness. Now those who hew most loudly and literally are privileged.

Now it is the church, not the individual that needs to listen as its outer nature is wasting away. Unfortunately with institutions the wearing away of the outer is indicative of a wasting away of the inner as well. This can also be paralleled with nation states (a conglomeration of institutions). Here so much goes into defense, even against its own citizens, that there is nothing left for the general welfare of its citizens, the strength of the nation.

At best the wasting away, the blaspheming, might call forth a renewal of a remnant that can look beyond the self-inflictions of the present, learn, and begin applying what they have learned to both surviving the crash and building from the ashes.

Now, how to turn our current story into a parable that might reach more who are able to be part of remnant and not be lost in the confusion of a time of great waste. This parable will also help folks hold together through a time of rebuilding, to stay focused. (Unfortunately parables don’t work well when ears are captured by one form of greed or another, protecting an economic system becomes more important than protecting people and a green commons.) And so we run through this cycle again, though hopefully better each time.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Psalm 138

Year B - Pentecost +2 or Energy to Witness 2
June 7, 2015

What is our god/idol? Wanting to be well-liked? Thought well of? Putting too much in the hands of one I give charge of my life? King or named God who gives us what we want and steadfastly looks out for us so we don’t have to consider what it means to be in partnership with G*D.

Yea, though I walk through a dark time
I fear not for I am bubble-wrapped
protected in sparrow-holding hands
comforted in purposeful love I can understand

And yet, this Psalm ends with an unease, an anxiousness. Our appeal to not be forsaken acknowledges that possibility even as our praise has been working overtime. No amount of praise will keep this existential reality hidden forever.

It is time to wrestle again with what it means to be highly regarding of the lowly (verse 6).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

Year B - Pentecost +2 or Energy to Witness 2
June 7, 2015

Listen to the people even as you warn them that what you are hearing from them is not in their best interest.

This is a difficult dynamic to try to pull off—honoring folks who are out to harm themselves and others through a short-term decision that forgets about all we know about human realities. If you put someone in charge, they will gladly receive that and make you much less glad in another moment as they take advantage of being in charge. Somehow it goes to their head while bypassing their heart.

Who among our leaders has not disappointed. Even the ones that I have held in high esteem tried to pull some tricks to benefit themselves first.

Indeed it is difficult to hang in there with folks who start as hopeful reformers only to be the very ones who will be glad to throw us under the bus or send us to the moon. Their calculus always seems to end up that it is better that one group or another die.

What is a priest to do? Go back in a time-machine to see if they can grow better kids that people will see are as concerned about them as is Samuel? Well, that’s not going to work. So people are given over to reap the predictable consequences of of idealized decisions. This may be the saddest moment in Samuel’s life.

Identify a key sad time in your life. Odds are that it is a prior decision that brought about the sadness. Our own way of not seeing this is denial of the wisdom available if we are interested or able to attend in the midst of all the pressures in our lives (this includes the pressures we bring to our own life so we can’t just blame someone or something else). May you find comfort in taking your eye back off of some eternal ideal and putting it back on to ordinary life. Here we can know which way the wind will eventually blow even if we don't act accordingly.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Mark 3:20-35

Year B - Pentecost +2 or Energy to Witness 2
June 7, 2015

Remember this passage is versed as starting in the middle of a sentence. What happened before the crowd came together again?

Well, Jesus had named 12 “disciples” and they didn’t contain any family members. In that day and age, this is simply crazy. In a time of occupation, what could be stronger than blood. Besides it keeps the Messiah-business profits at home where there are mouths and mothers to feed.

This is the context of the final statement about mothers and brothers being those who attend to G*D’s presence where they are.

Supposedly the conversation was to have gone something like:

Mary: “What’s this I hear about your not sharing with your brothers?”
Jesus: “Mom, is this Cana all over again?”
James: “Yeah, I want to heal people, too.”
Jesus: “Hey, you’ll get your chance. Just cool it for now as this is the best way I can protect y’all from what’s coming from Herod's Foxy News.”
Mary: “Ahh me, something else to ponder in my heart.”
James: “Argh!”
Jesus: “Yep, we are in difficult times. Let’s keep loving one another, anyway. And look; our family is getting larger—there's more love to pass around”

Instead we get an aphoristic Jesus keeping it short and hurrying us along to the next  scene.