Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shouting from the Rooftops

I often wonder why on Easter morning the world can't find peace. Of course, there are different calendars for dating Easter, so different traditions celebrate it on different days, but I don't think it would be all that bad to have more than one day of real peace. But we don't and we won't because war is easier and habitual and it gives us an excuse to hide and cheat and deceive--both others and ourselves.

As this particular Easter approaches, my thoughts go to the growing revelations in the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of pedophile and abusive priests. I don't suppose such revelations will be the end to the institution that claims to be the final repository of divine truth, but I admit to deep anguish that even one of those sworn to the life of sacrament willfully destroys children and youth, or willfully ignores that destruction, all in the name of being the instrument of God.

I remember when studying church history how dismayed I was when I saw that the efforts of the Reformers in the 16th century ended up shattering into splinters the then somewhat unified voice of Christianity coming from the Roman Catholic Church. Since that time, the rabbits of church multiplication have bequeathed multiple Christian groups, all sure they have the handle on the truth and often barely able speak to one another across doctrinal lines.

And yet, there must be reformers anytime an institution purports to speak for God but does so only in the voice of the privileged few who self-select who gets to come in and who must stay out. And especially when some of those privileged few whisper in the darkness, "What just happened is our secret. You must never talk about it."

It takes nearly superhuman courage to break those bonds of dark secrets, especially when sexual boundaries of children and youth have been crossed by those who were publicly affirmed as trustworthy. The experience of shame and the risk of public censure coming against the victimized combine into such a barrier that by far the easiest path is to remain silent, to keep the secret, and honor the promise never to speak of it. The voice of the dissenter must nearly always be silenced when that voice insists that those things which are hidden must come to light in order for the true Gospel is to appear and actually do its work of redeeming us.

In truth, the current scandal in the Roman Catholic church only reflects the private scandals in which most of us live: we seek to keep much hidden, hoping by so doing, that things will eventually either disappear or right themselves somehow. But they don't.

Jesus taught that those dark secrets will all eventually come to the light. The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, reads: "During that time a crowd of many thousands had gathered. There were so many people that they were stepping on one another. Jesus spoke first to his disciples. 'Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees,' he said. 'They just pretend to be godly. Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.' "

Yes, be on your guard. Be on your guard that you are not deceived by a religious or social structure that says, "This is a secret between you and me," or says, "Only the initiated get to know this." It is a setup for abuse, it is the way of death and destruction, it is a denial of the resurrection that says, "Be free to worship in spirit and in truth."

The first disciples, after a time of prayer, proceeded to tell EVERYONE about the resurrection of Jesus. It is not a secret for the select, but is hope for those who had no hope.

That is Easter. That is life after death. That is true peace. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"No Thanks!"

"Easter is busier for pastors than Christmas?"  So commented an astonished friend recently when I mentioned that I had a summons for jury duty during the busiest week of the year for me.  Yes, Easter is busier.  As important as Christmas is, without Easter, nothing else really matters.

It took me a long time to figure this out.  As a child and young adult, Easter was the day for special dressing up.  It also meant an extra day off from school as schools always closed for Good Friday.  In addition, there was the wild scramble to pick up a bunch of prettily colored eggs during the lunch after the Easter worship service.  Other than that, the holiday seemed to appear out of nowhere.  No big build up like Christmas, no endless blaring of special seasonal music from every speaker, no special decorations for house or yard.  Kind of a "so-what" day except it was nice to have something new to wear and to compare my Easter clothes with those my friends had purchased and worn.

Then, deep into my adult years, I discovered the importance of Holy Week for the development of a mature, integrated faith life.  I learned that I could see my own life in the way that the crowds so eagerly welcomed Jesus entering Jerusalem, and then just as easily turned against him when the crowd favored another.  A leader/savior is welcome IF that leader/savior is going to do what I want--for example, take political power away from those I dislike and give that same power to me or those who think as I do.  Such a one is far less welcome when I'm invited to stand with him when he is being falsely accused, beaten, and mocked.  As for heading to the cross with him . . . no thanks.  I'll play it safe and comfortable, if you don't mind.  Not interested in being hurt, and most especially not interested in offering forgiveness to those who torture, kill and destroy.  An emphatic, "NO THANKS" to that one.

Yes, I am not one bit different from those who called out, "crucify him!"  Not one little bit. 

That's what makes Easter so powerful. Because on this day, I find I, too, have been offered the gift of new life; that I'm one of those for whom Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive her because she doesn't know what she is doing."  If I will take the time to walk again with those who welcomed Jesus, betrayed Jesus, and condemned Jesus, if I will admit my identification with them, if I will use these last few days of Lent to open even the darkest, most despicable parts of my life to healing and light, then . . . Easter is the day of new beginnings.  The ultimate "do-over." 

Holy Week services celebrate the excitement of Palm Sunday and then lead us to the depths.  At our church, we'll remember the week in story and song on Wednesday night with a service especially geared for the children.  On Thursday, we will learn again about the "new commandment (mandate)" to love one another as Jesus loved us in a time of Holy Communion and a series of prayers for healing and wholeness.  On Friday, we'll look at that cross and find our own complicity with those who placed Jesus there, and then solemnly strip the altar of all its furnishings in acknowledgment of death and darkness.

But on Sunday morning . . . as the youth lead us in a sunrise celebration, we'll sing again, "Up From the Grave He Arose!!!"  Thanks be to God, redemption is ours!

Otherwise, just get some new clothes and enjoy the common grace of springtime.  But you will miss so much!  Wish it hadn't take so long for me to figure this out.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Death and Dying Revisited

On Saturday, I will be officiating at the funeral of Ron Sides, church member, community leader, husband, father, grandfather, motorcycle rider, and good friend to many, including me.  Just five weeks so, we buried his lovely wife, Martha.  Several times in the last few days, I have thought and said, "How am I going to be able to preach this funeral?"  

Ron was one of the first to offer friendship to me when I came to Krum not quite four years ago. He and Martha came to my Bible studies where he loved taking the opposite point of view from my own.  Ron, my resident skeptic, possessed well-developed intelligence and used it with great wit and glee.  Several times in the course of our acquaintance, he told me he did not really think there was a life after this one.  He figured when we died, we just died.

Last week, when I walked into his hospital room, he looked up, smiled, and then said, "Preacher, I'm going to meet the Lord."  With good humor, sharp mind and powerful determination, he courageously faced the end of this life.  And as he did, he knew that there is indeed an eternality to our souls.  

Jesus said that he came to give eternal life, and that eternal life was knowing God.  Knowing God--not just knowing that God is, or perhaps a few facts (or superstitions) about God, or being afraid of the wrath of God, but knowing--intimate, life-changing knowledge of God.  That's eternal life. We can get glimpses only of it now.  As the Scriptures say, "we see through a glass darkly."   The window from this life to the next is smudged, cracked, muddied, distorted. We can't see through it well.  

Earlier this week, I had a disturbance in my vision that demanded a immediate and thorough eye exam, including that awful process of having my pupils dilated so the physician could get a very good look at a possible problem developing.  The drive home afterward was a nightmare for me--driving in the misting rain, needing to take extra cautions to be safe, everything just a bit off-kilter.  Yes, I was seeing through a glass darkly (actually, seeing through it lightly because of too much light pouring in, but you get the drift here).  I was so relieved later in the day when my vision fields cleared.  I could read, work, focus again.  

As we are now half-way through Lent, let us continue to be honed by this time of fasting and extra discipline to see more clearly our own souls.  This time of rigorous self-examination gives some space to clean that dark and smudged glass between us and the glory of the kingdom of Heaven.  We'll not see the fullness of God-with-us life with total clarity until we, as Ron and Martha are now, come face to face with God.  But we can train our eyes to begin to discern those rays of pure light and absolute love.  We can expose our souls to that light and love and intentionally receive it and let it do its work in us.  We can make powerful and intentional choices to live as people of that light and love and refuse to compromise ourselves for the sake of convenience, for the sake of being rich, or popular, or famous, or so comfortable that we end up in that most subtle and most dangerous of all evils:  trading away that which is best for that which is merely good.

So as I write of light and absolute love, and continue to ponder the question, "How can I officiate at Ron's funeral?" I also have some answers:  I will stand securely and firmly in the midst of that light and remind all of us that death has lost its sting.  Death has no victory, for Christ has been raised from the dead, and we too will join him in resurrection and hope.  For this I say, "Thanks be to God."

Monday, March 01, 2010

Week Three of Lent

We're about a third of the way through the season of Lent.  The roots of the fast should be beginning to form, possibly even a few green shoots coming up now as we use this time for good self-examination, the development of holy habits, and the continuation of our observance of our chosen fast.

I often speak and write in gardening metaphors because I think the process of gardening gives good insight in the way God works in our lives.  Jesus seemed to think so too, since he also spoke with a lot of agricultural symbolism.  Nice to be in good company.

Anyway, gardening is heavy on my mind right now because the excessively wet soil means the church organic gardening club is just having to sit and wait right now.  These clay soils can't be worked when they are this wet.  I managed to plant my own early spring garden only because my kind husband built multiple raised beds for me.  They are draining adequately, even while the ground around them easily passes for Florida swampland right now.  

So, how do gardens help us understand the growth to spiritual maturity?  Well, we could start with what we are experiencing right now:  the need for patience.  It's hard to say there is too much rain, since we have just come from a drought, but all the extra moisture, which will pay off later, means we just have to wait things out.  Along with this, we might also consider humility: no matter how we try, we really cannot control the weather.  Humans are just not that powerful.  We do have limits.  If we let these limits give us these good gifts of humility and patience, we will have taken great strides of growth. 

A good fast very much teaches patience.  We can't make the 40 days go any faster than they will.  And if your fast includes eliminating some normal meals, the days may drag even more slowly by.  There is nothing like not eating and feeling stomach pangs to slow the clock down.  These endless moments provide powerful prayer posts.  Time to pray for those who are not intentionally hungry, for those whose longing for food is a matter of survival, not momentary comfort, for those who are watching their children slowly and painfully die of starvation, and for those who are also starved for any signs of the goodness of God.  Yes, this will bring humility because we will suddenly see just how much we do have.

An editorial I read this week reminded the readers that even the poorest of us travel today in more comfort than the greatest of royalty did up until the invention of the automobile.  Horseback, or horse drawn carts but mostly on foot, no temperature control, exceedingly dangerous roads--far more than we experience now.  Filthy stopping places--our sanitized hotel/motel rooms, no matter how modest, are castles by comparison, with clean sheets and private baths, hot running water, abundant towels and cleansing products, and oh, the glory of indoor, happily flushing toilets!  Yes, let us rediscover our blessings in the doing without for a while, so they become all the sweeter when we can savor them again.

One third of the way there.  Easy to get distracted now, to leave behind the extra time of prayer and reflection, to lose the benefits.  Hold onto one another, keep up the public encouragement and the private deprivation.  We do this together, and the victory is greater when we help each other up onto the winner's stand.  God is with us and the saints are cheering us on.