Sunday, April 30, 2006

Flying the Coop

Since we're so far away from home these days, my Mom sends me pictures of family events we can't attend. I see these kids, 2-3 generations away from me, sons and daughters, in the same images and stories I've heard before. These are pictures of cousins leaping off the top of our chicken coop to ride the bag swing. Apparently the roof of the barn was not good enough. They moved the ladder to the coop, step off onto the refrigerator and swing away. Didn't Uncle Paul once try this once with an umbrella? I've seen U. Marvin, A. Bess, and A. Carol, swinging their blackened feet out of the hay mow -- 12+ feet above the ground.

We often reject ritual out-of-hand as meaningless or insignificant. Yet like any gift of grace, it is not so much a matter of what we are able to bring to it as it is discovering what is already and always there. These stories of flying off windmills and falling off tractors should be a part of these 4th and 5th generation sons and daughters as much as they are to our ancestors. They should not experience failing memories on our account.

The accomplishments and "relative" happiness of my family is not by accident. It is reinforced through the annual rituals of pinatas, name eggs, familiar photos, John Deere tractors, juicy watermelons.

Either our family is not afraid of heights or we find ourselves doing what families do best -- reliving and renewing the rituals and traditions that have shaped our lives for years, centuries, millenia. We are grounded in these things. They are what allow us to take the leaps of faith and ambition we need to fly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lines Written Over Dogs Barking Next Door

What are the sounds that move us from where we are to
where we would like to be, from here to who we want to be?
The sounds of honking horns and the only-in-a-city hums
remind us when we leave the city behind for something
not so city that there is such a thing as silence. Listen to
the click of a turned knob, the drip of water to drain.
The sounds of the wind in the winter and spring keep us
up on the memories and hope for the gentler, warmer,
a summer and early fall breeze.

The dogs next door bark at night, the sound of sirens, the cat
and dog breathing at the foot of the bed. They are all reminders
of life. Now awake thinking about the sounds of life, hear it,
the baby cries in church, and not everyone hears the real liturgy.
Some complain, disturbed and distracted, those also
bothered by other naturalnesses of children. That is not
the real sound heard. The baby cries again (sacramental)
during Word spoken from prophet, all of heaven rejoices,
I whisper, “Thanks be to God.”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hands and Feet

John 20:19-31
It was a crazy idea. That these very tiny little things -- invisible, in fact -- are the building blocks of the universe. Atoms! So tiny that they are indivisible. This would explain so many things, and yet because they are invisible there’s no way to prove it!

Believe it or not, this is what a crazy Greek man named Democritus conceived over 2400 years ago. Amazing that this man with no microscopes, no particle accelerators, no nano-technology, should come up with such an unbelievable idea. It would take 2000 years for such an idea to actually take hold in the minds of scientists and philosophers. But we believe it today . . . not so much because we’ve seen the atom ourselves, but because we’ve been told enough times and with the sufficient evidence to know that they exist.

Split one and we can cause the universe to collapse in on itself.

Evidence is really a hard thing. Evan and I love watching CSI – all three of them – Las Vegas, Miami, and New York. They pull little hairs out of carpet with tweezers, test white substances, boil bones. Juries convict on this stuff. It seems that the modern age does not require so much of a logical argument as much as it does good solid physical evidence. Stuff that we can see and touch and taste.

And we find our CSI’s at work here in this passage. For Thomas gives us a pretty understandable response when confronted with the suddenly fearless testimony of some previously very fearful disciples. Jesus had appeared to a shivering group of weary bleary followers. He showed them His hands and his side. He let them touch them. It still seemed like a dream. So when Thomas arrived, having missed the whole thing, you could understand his skepticism, right?

But now, poor Thomas, has been singled out. He sits right above Judas in the hierarchy of good disciples. We forget the disciples who were there were shown the same thing that Thomas demanded to see. Did they really ever have a faith any different than doubting Thomas?

Perhaps John is trying to tell us something here. Something besides a Jerry McGuire, “Show me the money!” kind of belief. A faith vomited up out of fear – fear of the Jews, fear of what is on the other side of the door, fear of death. They were all fearful. Thomas just said it out loud.

But Jesus’ response to Thomas, indeed to all the “believers,” was to let them poke into his side, and to stick their fingers into the holes and right out the other side. Jesus had the evidence that He was alive for those very people who had seen him die. Whether they should have needed it or not. It was His body itself, risen and glorified, that proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God and redemption of all creation. They needed to see that because the world that is upside down had been turned right side up again.

Of course, Thomas’ response was the one of faith. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

And Jesus does not deny him the recognition or the understanding.

An understanding not so much about what it was he was seeing but what it meant to see it.

For if Thomas hadn’t believed Jesus had been raised from the dead, how would he have believed the redemption fulfilled in this resurrection?

The commentator writes, “But belief itself comes from another source than evidence. It is a gift of God.”

Indeed, even our faith is something we can make up and work or will to ourselves. It is a gift we must receive only with fear and trembling. It is only formed in the moments we realize there is nothing else we can do to conjure it up, to squeeze it out. Only after enemies have left us defeated, and our efforts have left us worn out. When there nothing to have faith in . . .

I confess I am a doubter. Sometimes it’s not enough just to be told my God is faithful. That He does what He says He will do. I see His faithfulness in the lives of others – dreams fulfilled, plans carried out, redemption gained – I’m not always encouraged.

I read John’s words about why he wrote this story, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name,” and I sense the struggle in these people.

I was not there on the hillside when Jesus fed the five thousand. I was not there when he calmed the storm. I was not there as he died on the cross. I did not wrap his body in strips of cloth. I did not hide in a dark room eluding the Jews. What evidence do I have that Jesus was and is who he says He is – the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?

I wonder where is this belief in my life? Where is God’s faithfulness? What is there to understand? Slogging through indecision, indifference, mediocrity, I’m looking for hands and feet, holes and marks and scars.

Science tells us that patterns of past behavior do not predict future behavior. Can this be true of God as well?

John writes to his beloved community and to us about what to do when we’re not seeing what we’re supposed to be believing.

And Jesus’ reproachful statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” is perhaps the beginning of that gift.

Our psalm concludes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”

And in this Easter story we see certainly see fear. Fear of the Jews had lingered for days in the dark corners of their hiding places. They did not know what to believe. Jesus had told them what would happen, yet they still dreaded the knock on the door.

Jesus did not knock, but stood among them – literally breathing upon them his very presence. To touch his wounds meant no more fear and no more dealing. And doubting Thomas would be the first to proclaim what that presence meant – God with us.

He should be the one to remind us that it is the poor in spirit who inherit the Kingdom of God. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who hunger who will be filled. Those who doubt will be met with scarred hands and wounded side.

What is understanding? Nothing that is not a gift of God. Do we come with faith to this Table? Should we, full of ourselves and our confident, nuanced, sophisticated faith? As if our faith is our backstage pass, our special clearance into these special rites and privileges.

Or may we come as Thomases with our eyes wide open in disbelief but our stomachs pained and growling ready to eat until we are filled?

I hope that we are not already there, that we might admit that we actually need Christ’s living breathing Spirit in our life and not our own hot air. Funny thing, Jesus knew then as He knows now, that we do need to get a grip on things sometimes. Let Him breathe upon us.

And today I invite you to this Table, to touch his broken body, and live again.

Julia, Word & Table Homily

Friday, April 21, 2006

Land Run of 1889

Today, I was trying to think of my favorite school memory. This is a difficult thing for me as I attended a great number of schools. It is not a spectacular memory, nor is it particularly favorable in any normal sense of the word. Perhaps favorite is not the word for it. Perhaps a better word is memorable. Anyway, there are two. In the third grade I was tossing my pencil end over end up into the air (while the teacher wasn't looking). The very last time I ever attempted this, ever, I caught the pencil with my left hand. Well, sort of. I actually caught it with my left ring finger. Okay, I caught it in my left ring finger. The tip of my pencil stuck gloriously into the tip of my left ring finger. To this day there is graphite still in that finger.

The other memorable moment of my school years was in the fifth grade, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. I remember our school turned on the newly purchased room televisions and we watched the footage. It was disturbing. I remember feeling infinitely sorry for the students of the teacher who was on board.

There you have it. My most memorable moments in school . . . That is until today. While I am not in primary school now, I can say that I experienced the very best of my primary school moments today. It was the 5th grade project on the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. President Benjamin Harrison declared 2 million acres of government land open when Illinois rep. William Springer amended the Indian Appropriations Bill. Suddenly, those folks who wanted 150 acres of free land lined up and at noon (although, some were litigiously confused whether it was high noon or meridian noon) on April 22, 1889, the gun fired and they were off.

Much like this historical moment so many years ago, the 5th grade students, with on looking parents, grandparents, teachers, and a children's pastor, lined up their make-shift covered wagons and supplies. When the powder musket fired, the kids ran, wagon in tow, for a pre-placed stake of land. Once they had staked their "family" name on their land, they had to put up a tent, gather food and water, and then return to "town" for the deeds to their land.

I spoke with a few parents of the children involve who were both excited for the run and relieved that they no longer had to help with the building, cooking, and creation of things for the run. One parent, who had participated when she was in 5th grade said, "This was my favorite school memory." I turned to her and said, "It's mine too, now."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


It was a hot night and Jesus had just done the unthinkable. He had washed the feet of his disciples. Now, understand that Jesus’, God with us, King of Glory, washed his own servant’s feet. I barely want to touch my own feet, much less anyone else’s feet. Yet, Jesus washes his disciples dirty, nasty feet on this hot night in the upper room. When he finished he said a few things about someone who would take some bread and betrayal. But who would betray Jesus? They’d all seen who Jesus really was.

Judas son of Simon Iscariot betrayed Christ. We’ve all heard the story. We’ve heard it from Sunday school teachers, in sermons, read it, and to some extent, we glaze right over it. We’ve heard the stories of Judas and his repulsion of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. “Master, that stuff’s worth a fortune. We could sell it and give the money to the poor.” Hear Judas thinking, “I’m poor, after all. I sure could use the cash.” “Judas, don’t you get it.” Jesus said, “There’s always going to be poor folk and you’re always going to be poor. I won’t always be with you.” Judas’ hated to be publicly humiliated like that, especially in front of that whore, Mary.

We’ve heard the story of this night too. It was Judas who would betray his Lord. Jesus was upset and everyone there could see it in his face. It was pure pain, the weight-of-the-world-on-his-back kind of pain, to say it out loud. After all, Judas means “praised.” He was one of the twelve, not the new and improved twelve (Now With Mathias!), but the original formula, classic disciples. Jesus looked around at the twelve and said, rather laconically, “One of you is going to betray me.”

Instantly the whispered chatter spread around the room, Peter talking to Bartholomew, John and James exchanging the knowing and silent language of brotherhood, Mathew and Thaddeus exchanging questioning gestures with Phillip and Thomas. Judas, shifty eyed, looked at everyone and refused eye contact with anyone. The chatter, though, was broken by the Word of God, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Hmm, that’s funny that Jesus would still offer himself, as if giving the betrayer a second chance. There’s Jesus always the redeemer. Jesus dipped the bread into the wine and gave it to Judas. Judas took the wine soaked bread in his hand and the shadow of decision passed behind the pupils of his eyes.

Jesus said, “Whatever you are going to do, do it. Do it and get it over with. Quit putting off whatever decision you were going to make.” In that moment, I think of Joshua standing before the Israelites. If you are going to serve God, then serve him. If you are going to serve Baal, serve him, but choose already. Quit bouncing back and forth at your whim. Not one of the disciples around the table knew why Jesus said this to Judas. Some of them even thought he’d just needed to buy stuff they needed for the Passover feast, or that he needed to help some poor folk. Judas stood up, with the dripping, now soggy, piece of bread, and left. He made his choice. It was dark out.

But that is not the end of our scripture on this Holy Wednesday. It doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop with this dark and lonely moment in that upper room. After Judas had left, he spoke again, “Now you know who I am, who I really am. Now you know who God is. God’s glory will be on display for everyone to see.” He went on, “Listen. I am not going to be with you for much longer. You’re going to look for me, but I’m going places that you can’t go.”

And here it is. This is Christ’s answer to the betrayer. This is how God answers those who would act the part of supporter, friend, confidant and then turn around and hand him over to his enemies. This is how the Christ responds to the one who should have spoken for him, but instead took a measly penance of a bribe to have him killed. Jesus said, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. No matter what happens. No matter who stands against you. No matter what others say about you. No matter which of your friends, spouses, children, bosses, co-workers speaks out against you. You are to love one another. Love each other just like I showed you how, just like I modeled it for you. You asked what love looks like? It is the washing of the feet, the laying down of one’s life.” Jesus looked at each one of the remaining disciples and said, “You know why I want you to love one another? Because when you love one another, like I love you, without expecting it in return, shameless love, scandalous love, when you do that everyone will know exactly whom you follow. They’ll know me when they see the love you have for each other.

As we look toward Good Friday, horribly, terribly Good Friday, I want you to remember to love one another. It’s not an easy thing, but it is the thing that marks you as whole and holy citizens of the Kingdom of God.

[this is based on the lectionary Gospel reading for Holy Wednesday, John 13:21-35]