Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Daily Lenten Thoughts- Ash Wednesday, 2007- "Extreme Makeovers"

I'm trying something for Lent. I've never been that great at doing Lenten disciplnes, but I'm still going to try again this year. For the next six weeks, I will be reading the Daily Lectionary and offering my thoughts on the text. I will do my best to post them in the morning, so you can use them if you want to follow along.

Daily Texts:
Jonah 3:1-4:11
Luke 18:9-14

Ash Wednesday Texts:
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
Isaiah 58:1-12
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

It's interesting that the two daily texts I read (Jonah and Luke) are also very fitting texts for today. This is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, and what better themes to talk about than repentance and piety?

As I was reading the texts, the passage from Joel seemed to strike me the most with the phrase "rend your hearts and not your clothing." Maybe it was because I heard a report on National Public Radio this morning. The story was about presidential candidates trying to woo social conservative voters and for a moment it focused on one Tammy Bennett who is the founder of Makeover Ministries which is about "inspiring women to look good from the inside out and to be supermodels for Christ. " Ms. Bennett went on to talk about one the most important issues for her which was the "sanctity of marriage," which ususally means trying to make sure that gays and lesbians don't access to civil marriage.

As I thought about that, I then went over to the Isaiah text for today which states:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Isaiah and Joel wanted to give the Israelites a "come to Jesus" moment. God wasn't interested in outside repentance that was only mechanical, while the people were still treating others like crap. God wants a "total makeover" an examination our lives, a willingness to stop treating others terribly and start proclaiming justice in the land.

Ms. Bennett is good at outside piety, but she is also wanting to make sure that those of us love someone of the same sex are barred from even basic protections. The outside might look amazing, but the inside? Not so much.

As we begin Lent, all of us are called to look at our lives. How are we living? Are we giving honor by trying to live the life God calls us to live, or are we all for show? Can we, like the tax collector and the king of Nineveh to come before God and ask for mercy and repent? Will we allow God to "makeover" our lives?

Dear God,
You are not interested in surface repentance. You call us to change and change is hard. Lord, it is easier to live for show and to please others than to actually seek repentance and renewal. In this time of Lent, rend our hearts Lord. Let us not be satisfied with rending mere clothing. As the psalmist says, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Sermon- Transformation Sunday- February 18, 2006

Jesus is Coming. Look Busy.”

Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration Sunday

February 18, 2006

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

For those who have heard me preach before, you know I like to start of with a story. Today, I don't have a story to share- I have two stories to share. The first is one that is “ripped from the headlines” as they say, and another is something that has happened in my own life.

Last week, we heard the latest news from the former pastor Ted Haggard. Mr. Haggard, was the pastor of a mega-church in Colorado Springs and considered a leader in evangelical circles. He also was involved in measures that would ban gay marriage. Last fall, people found out that Mr. Haggard was involved in a sex scandal with a male prostitute where he would consume methanphetamine, or meth. Mr. Haggard resurfaced in the news again, declaring himself “100 percent hetrosexual.” He said he and his wife will go and study pshychology. Will he stay “100 percent hetrosexual?” I don't know.

The other story is not as scandalous or even as salacious. In fact, it is quite boring. Last summer, I was asked to help plan opening worship for the Regional Assembly of the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest. We finally made a date for an evening meeting here at Lake Harriet. So, I worked my eight-hour day as usual and then drove from Arden Hills to south Minneapolis. For some reason I was in a bad mood. It might have been a long day at work, I don't know. All I know that I was cranky and was even more cranky that I didn't have a chance to come home and rest before coming to this meeting. And since it was July in Minnesota we were in the middle of a heatwave where the temps were in the 90s. I met with Tammy, our Associate as well as two other people, Sue Prins and Janet Lott, both from Iowa. Janet, is a licensed minister who as many of might know is the music director of a Disciples church in Marshalltown, Iowa. She also happens to be an associate minister at Lake Harriet. We decided to meet in the sancutary, where there was no air conditioning, on this god-awful hot day. Oh, that made me even more cranky.

As we got down to meeting, I started noticing this wasn't the normal church meeting. Now, I have to add that I am not particularly fond of church meetings. Of course, as a pastor you end up going to a lot of meetings. But, back to the story. Janet was leading this meeting and there was something different about it. Instead of sitting around a table, we meet up in the chancel area sitting on the floor. A candle was placed in the middle. During part of the planning, we listened to scripture and allowed space for God to work. This seemed less a meeting than it was a time to be before God and ask for guidance.

Today is commonly called the Transfiguration Sunday. It's the last Sunday of Epiphany and it kind of prepares us for Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. It's called Transfiguration Sunday because the gospel text is about the story of Jesus going up to a mountain to pray and being transformed in front of his disciples. Normally pastors will talk about mountaintop experiences, and then talk about the work to do back down in the valley.

However, I think there is more going on here than what is commonly known. When you tie this with today's Old Testament text, a picture emerges which I think has something to say to the gathered community here at this time and place.

In Exodus, we see Moses coming down with the Ten Commandments. He had spent time with God as the law was being created. What he didn't notice as he came down was that his face was literally shinning. That made all the Israelites nervous and they were afraid to come near Moses. So what does he do? He wears a veil that covers up his shiny face in order to calm the fears of those around him.

In Luke, as I said earlier, Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain to pray. He is then transformed and appears with Moses and Elijah. Peter is one of those disciples present and when he sees this, he thinks it's an opportunity for home improvement. “It's good for us to be here, Jesus. Why don't we build three tents for all of you guys?”

It's then that the disciples see a cloud and hear a voice that tell them Jesus is the beloved son and that they should listen to him.

As I was studying and reflecting on the passages, three things came to mind. The first one, is that we like to be in control, especially of God. The second is how God wants us just to spend time with God and we want to be busy for God. The third is how we tend to wear veils in order to cover up our true selves.

In both passages, the people who saw this presence of God were nervous. They didn't know how to react to the image of God in their midst, so what did they do? They controlled the situation. The Israelites asked Moses to put a veil on, and Peter decided it made sense to build a memorial. I think we are at times afraid of the wildness of God and that was truly expressed in his son Jesus. We are uncomfortable with a God who meets with prositutes and other losers, we don't like a God that dies an ugly death on the cross and we don't like a God who comes back to life. That is too much to bear. So, we try to put God in a box. We make God one who conforms to a political parties' platform, we make God in Jesus into a “wise man” or “revolutionary,” we make God anything but who God truly is. When th voice speaks in today's gospel, that voice is saying for the disciples and all of us to pay attention to this Jesus. Stop trying to make him into something that is safe and pay attention.

The second thing to gleam from this is pretty similar: we spend too much time doing “God's work” and not enough time with God. Like the Israelites, we feel nervous about spending time with God. I will be the first to admit that this is my problem. I feel nervous in God's presence, worried that I'm not doing it right or that I don't measure up. The thing is, I don't think God cares. I think what matters to God is a relationship, I really don't think God is sitting there with a scorecard.

The third thing is that since we are so nervous around God, we not only try to spend time in busy work, we try to cover up our true selves. We've all known people who have this happy facade, but in reality there trouble brewing beneath. Sadly, church can be a place where we only show one part of our lives, and not be honest with ourselves and with God. Again, we are busy putting on veils instead of allowing ourselves the space to meeting with God.

This gathered community finds itself in an interesting position. We are getting ready for Lent, a time of introspection and renewal. We are also in a time of transition as we end our ministry together with Terry Steeden and move on to a new phase. In light of today's scripture, it would be easy to get busy doing “God work” or other work and not face what is going on in our lives. It is so easy to get worked up about this transition to not spend time with God. It would be easy to wonder if God can do anything for us. I want to leave you with this: let God be God and let you be you. Be honest about your fears and concerns. As the good book says, bear one another's burdens and most important, bring them to God. Spend time with God and leave the veil on the curtain rod. Let us be led by God, the same one who came in the form of Jesus, broke bread with sinners, died on a cross and rose again. Let us see what God can do through us and around us.

I want to close talking about the image up on the screen. This is mural called Light of the World, and it is found at United Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was done by an artist, David Hetland, who died last year on Easter Sunday. He was well-known for his religious art, and it can be found in many places around the country, though you will find a fair amount in the communities along the Red River in Minnesota and North Dakota.

This mural is fascinating to me. You see Christ, dressed in white as in the Transfiguration, and yet you also see the nail-pierced hands and feet, a reminder of Jesus date with the cross. And yet, we also see water flowing from those wounds, the waters of baptism that remind us that God is always with us and loves us. Here is God, untamed, the one that faces a gruesome death, and yet brings us salvation. This is the one that brings light to our darkened lives and rays of hope to chase away our clouds of despair.

This is God, no holds barred. And we, all of us here this morning, are called to live authentic lives, to be a light to our community and to our world, to show the world that God is alive and loves us all.

This is the beloved son of God. Listen to him. Thanks be to God. Amen.