Saturday, March 29, 2008

Making Sense

I am back to blogging from my Life Journal this week after taking some time off for Holy Week.

I was reading this morning in 1 Corinthians 14 and was struck by how important St. Paul believed that the language we used in worship needed to be understandable to the seekers among us. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is primarily speaking about the use of the spiritual gift of tongues. He is making a contrast between prophecy (which is in the language of the speaker and the hearers) and speaking in tongues (the meaning of which is unknown even to the speaker). But in this discussion he lays down some principles to which Christ Followers should pay attention.

He says, in verse 11, "If I do not know the speaker's language, his words will be gibberish to me, and mine to him." In verse 19, "but in the congregation I would rather speak five intelligible words, for the benefit of others as well as myself, than thousands of words in the language of ecstasy."

Apart from the conversation regarding spiritual gifts, the principle of being intelligible in worship to the outsider is very clear here. Every group of people develops its own language, code words and insider understandings. In the church we have things like Hymns and Carols; we have funky words like Narthex and Sanctuary; in a lot of places we have doxologies and Gloria Patris; all good and historic language of Christian worship and worship space but not immediately understandable to the seekers among us. Paul is suggesting that what we do in public needs to be understood by the broader public.

Or, and here I tweak my own nose, how about preacher talk. We get caught up in theological language and understandings. A good sermon on "sanctification" or "justification" or even "stewardship" is routine for many of us. But, for someone who does not know our insider language, these words are barriers to their understanding.

How do we make sure that we are being open to the seekers among us, not only in being warm, friendly and hospitable, but also in what we say, how we say it, and in what language?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Resurrection Day is Here

March 23 is Easter Sunday this year. It is the earliest Easter in my lifetime and is early because Easter is set on a lunar calender (rather than the solar one we usually use). Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the first day of Spring. By various celestial coincidences Thursday was the first day of Spring, Friday was the full moon and so Sunday is Easter. (That's probably TMI but there you go.)

At my church we have taken a lot of time and energy this past week to live through and remember the last week of Jesus earthly life. We celebrated with the crowds on Palm Sunday, we felt the pain of betrayal on Wednesday, we gathered and recalled the Last Supper on Thursday and through walking the Stations of the Cross, Tennebrae and a service of Reconciliation we remembered the events of Jesus crucifixion, death and burial on Good Friday.

All of those events are preliminaries. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday would be meaningless without Easter. In fact, without Resurrection Day, we would not remember the events of those other days. Palm Sunday would be just another "false deliverer" event. Holy Thursday just another bad night for a group of friends. Good Friday would have been just another Roman execution. Life was cheap and in those days the Romans crucified hundreds if not thousands of people.

I am convinced that without the resurrection we would never have heard of nor never known about Jesus. But something happened that turned a band of broken, disheartened and despairing group of Jesus followers into a group of heroic and courageous leaders. Something happened that left these men and women so convinced that Jesus was alive that most of them, but reliable historical accounts, were martyred rather than deny that Jesus was their Lord. That something was Easter. That something was the dead and buried Jesus rising from the dead!

There is one more thing, it is a bit personal but here goes. I believe the resurrection is the central historical FACT of Jesus life because I have met Jesus. I know him as I might know any other living being. It is not that I know about him, like I might know about Helen of Troy or Francis of Assisi, but that we actually have a relationship. This relationship is dynamic, growing, and life changing. I believe in the resurrection because Jesus is alive and strong and seeks to bring life, healing and hope to any and all who will call upon him.

Have a most blessed Resurrection Day. Those of us who know Jesus rejoice in remembering that he was dead and is now alive. Those of us who do not know Jesus, Easter is a great day to begin!

Be blessed,

Dr. BJ

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Thursday of Holy Week is usually called "Holy Thursday" and sometimes called "Maundy Thursday". Maundy comes from the Latin for for mandate and is used to recall the mandate Jesus gives his followers at the Last Supper to "do this in remembrance of me." Personally, I don't like the mandate language and, since there was much more to Thursday of Holy Week than the Last Supper I prefer to older "Holy Thursday" title.

Holy Thursday is a busy day. It begins with Jesus sending two of his followers into Jerusalem to make preparations for the Seder (the Jewish ceremonial Passover meal). The Seder recalls and remembers the Exodus experience of the children of Israel as they are delivered from Pharaoh by the plagues that culminate in the angel of death. This angel "passes over" the Israelites (hence the title Passover).

It is at this meal that Jesus takes the the broken unleavened bread and says "this is my body broken for you". It is at this meal that Jesus takes the cup of blessing and offers it to his friends and says "this is my blood poured out for you."

But here is so much more going on. The betrayer is at table with Jesus. There is conversation about "who's the greatest?" there is conversation about everyone denying Jesus when times get tough.

Then there is the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prays for help, but submits to his Father's will. Then comes Judas and the soldiers and Jesus is arrested and taken to the religious authorities for trial. They determine that Jesus should die and that he should die at the hands of the Romans (by crucifixion rather than stoning). Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows. This is all part of a long dark night leading into Good Friday.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spy Wednesday

In many Christian circles today, Wednesday of Holy Week, is known as "Spy Wednesday". It gets its name because many believe that today is the day that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests in Jerusalem and asked "what will you give me to betray him to you." They gave him thirty (30) pieces of silver. The Bible tells us "from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him (Matthew 26:16)." Hence, he began to "spy" out ways to turn Jesus over to the religions and secular authorities in Jerusalem.

It is a matter of great debate and conjecture as to why Judas did what he did. Some point to information that suggests that he was a thief and simply did it for the money. Others point to Judas response to Jesus being condemned to death (he tried to return the money and "buy Jesus back") and suggest that he had something else in mind. Some have suggested that Judas believed in a political messiah and betrayed Jesus to force his hand. He may have believed that when the soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus would take up the call to arms and run the Romans out. It is an interesting debate with no clear answers.

What intrigues me is the whole matter of betrayal. When I read the story I am reminded (these are much easier to call to mind) of the times in my life I have been betrayed by others, especially by those I trusted. It has happened, my guess is it has happened to all of us at some time or another. This allows me to think I am a little like Jesus and allow the righteous indignation to rise within me -- that sense of overwhelming "I'm right to feel hurt". What comes to me a little slower are the memories of all the times I played the Judas role. Those times when I betrayed a friend, those times when I betrayed Jesus.

Spy Wednesday is not a comfortable day. I find myself asking the profoundly uncomfortable question "how many times and for how much have I sold out my Lord Jesus." Then I am reminded of a quote from the distant past (where does it come from?) that says for 30 pieces of silver Judas sold not just his Lord but his self. What is my price? What is yours?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday and into Holy Week

The eight days from Palm Sunday through Easter tell the story and recount the events that are the core of the Christian Faith. It is important for the deepening of our faith to make the effort to walk with Jesus through this week. When we take this walk we are reminded every year that the story of Jesus, his betrayal, crucifixion, death and resurrection did not happen in the imagination of the distant past, nor was it conceived in the realm of myth and legend. When we walk with Jesus this week we are reminded that these events happened in a real place, to real people in real time.

Palm Sunday begins the week. Jesus, the King of Kings, rides a donkey into Jerusalem. He does not ride the horse of a conquering warrior, rather, he rides the donkey of a King come in peace. An oppressed populace welcomes him shouting "Hosanna -- Save Us" waving the palm branch substitute flag of an occupied people. This is the beginning and it is also the end.

The uproar not only angers the religious leaders in Jerusalem (some of them tell Jesus to make his followers stop) it also gets the attention of the Roman Governor (Pontius Pilate). The religious leaders are protecting their Tradition and traditions. The Romans hated riots and civil unrest over anything else. The religious leaders sought to discredit this upstart Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth so the people would not chase after him to do this they chose to question and debate with him and seek someone who would betray him quietly. The Romans would choose to treat him as a usurper, an insurrectionist and would choose to crucify him.

Curiously, from the uproar and tumult of Palm Sunday it takes 3 days for anything else to happen. Jesus calmly walks from Bethany to Jerusalem on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and well into Thursday before there is trouble. Three days of plotting, planning by the opposition. Three more days of Jesus sitting on the teacher's steps and telling the people of Jerusalem about God's unconditional, unimaginable and undeniable love.

Religious people never seem to get this. People in power who are primarily concerned with maintaining control cannot get this.

Walk with Jesus this week . . . and, just maybe, you'll get it.

Dr. BJ

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Letter of Freedom

The spirit of Religion is an enemy of the Spirit of Jesus. Religion is all about my comfort, my needs, me, me, me! Religion is about doing what I need to do to appease or even control the the good will and favor of God. We don't go to religion serve but to be served. We do good and avoid bad because there is punishment or some other disfavor attached. We go through the rituals and the rites because, somewhere deep in side of us, we believe that we are earning brownie points and God's favor. Most of the spirit of religion is expressed in rules, laws, etc.

Christianity, the religion that developed, around the life, death and teachings of Jesus easily falls into this same trap. As a follower of Jesus, I need to be reminded that there is nothing I can do to make me more acceptable to God; there is nothing I can do to make God love me more. Following Jesus is not about what I have to do to appease God or to make myself acceptable to God -- following Jesus is about living into what God has already done for me. Jesus paid the price for salvation, Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead to make a way for all of us to be able to live life in a love relationship with our creator. That's pretty cool.

In Galatians, St. Paul is doing his best to convey this message to the early Christians. They are struggling because most of them have come out of an environment where the spirit of religion prevails. This is true, whether they came out of the religious culture of the ancient Hebrews or whether they came out of the polytheistic cultures of ancient Greece, Babylon or Rome.

The core truth of Galatians, for me, is in Chapter 3:19b-20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Because Jesus Christ gave his life for the Sin of world and because I have surrendered my life to him, I am now free to live a life free of sin and a life that makes a difference in this world for his sake.

Free thoughts worth thinking.
Dr. BJ

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deuteronomic ramblings

Hi everyone:

In our Life Journal for the past week we have been reading in the last of the books of Moses (also called the Torah and the Pentateuch) called Deuteronomy. This book reads a lot like Moses last will and testament. One of my friends refered to it as the longest sermon she had ever read. It is preachy and legalistic and is loaded with regulations and reminders on the regulations -- it even repeats the 10 commandments that were given back in Exodus 20). But there are some things to which we ought to pay attention. Here are a few:
Following the admonition to provide appropriate treatment for "strangers and foreigners living among you" is a recurring phrase: "remember you were once foreigners in Egypt. I keep thinking about the immigration debate within the United States and I wonder . . . hey, unless I'm a Native American (and even they came here from somewhere else at some point in the distant past) we are all immigrants. Maybe we should think differently about those who are trying to make a start in this land knowing that our own forebearers made similar starts. I am also interested in the Deuteronomic understanding of one law for everyone. This is especially clear when the Judges are told to not be partial to anyone -- not to the rich nor to the poor. They are even told, rather pointedly not to take bribes and not to feel sorry for the poor. The judges are to be unbiased and impartial in their dealings. Sounds like a pretty good idea -- Dr. BJ