Friday, October 27, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Spirit Stretch

9[Jesus] left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and [the religious leaders] asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.


So, who are you in this story?

Are you Jesus?
Are you the one healing someone else?

Are you the religious leaders?
Are you the one making sure what we’ve always done continues to be done despite the need for reform?

Are you the man?
Are you the one who is in need of healing?

Isn’t it interesting the man healed didn’t ask for it?

Isn’t it fascinating to see how religious folks were more interested in ‘church attendance and participation’ that they neglected to see the need to heal this man?

Isn’t it comforting to know Jesus recognizes how worthy we are to not only be healed but to be touched?

This text has me wondering how I spend my energies and where.

Am I like the pastor’s in this story, trying to trip people up with the Book of Order and how we should do things? Am I focusing too much on the negative in the world? 

Or am I like Jesus, willing to accept criticism from the community because of my actions to do justice?

Here’s the thing, friends:  we can’t be afraid of what others will think of us as we preach the radically inclusive gospel of Jesus.

The religious folks were trying to trip Jesus up. Trying to catch him in an act they could exploit and eventually ruin his ministry with.

Yet Jesus knew Torah and knew how the teachings of God are meant to build-up the family of faith, not divide it.

There’s one more piece of this text I want to hold up as we head into the weekend.

Do not be afraid to stretch out your hand to be healed, okay? Name where you need to be healed. Pray for healing. Look to see how you can heal others. Recognize where you attempt to box people out from God’s healing love….and stop doing it!

If there’s anything to take away from this reflection, I hope you consider this:
Jesus comes to offer forgiveness, to extend mercy, and to embrace us with compassion.
                                                Accept it.

                                                                                    Receive it.

Believe the good words that God in Christ Jesus reaches out in loving compassion to feed our souls and bodies with Christ’s presence and relieve our bruises both physical and mental with Christ’s touch.

May you accept God’s healing in your life.

May we trust in the Wounded Healer’s promise to never leave us in the pit of our brokenness.

May we believe in the Spirit’s movement through us to heal the world.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Suit Pants & My Big Hips

This past Sunday was a fun Sunday at church, wasn’t it?

For anyone who wasn’t able to attendyou missed out!

We had balloons, a beautiful tablecloth purchased from the dollar store, and a little confetti to go along with our *party*. Indeed, we had fun.

Mixed in with the fun, however, was an invitation. The invitation was a response to the Gospel lesson of the day: Jesus telling a parable about a king who had a wedding banquet and all his buddies, who didn’t show up. So the king sent out folks from the party to grab anyone, the good AND the bad, and he sat them around the great feast. There was a lot of laughter in the great hall, along with jokes as good as the ones your pastor tells. The amount of joy filling that room was comparable to what Chicago felt after the Cubs won the World Series last year.

Everyone in attendance was having a good time.

But you know things got a bit weird and uncomfortable. The king was walking around doing what kings do, and he noticed someone didn’t have their wedding garb on. So this ol’boy well let’s just say he had to leave and hang out in a dark alley to experience the party through the crack of the backdoor.

The story ends with Jesus saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

What a party. What a wait, wait, wait.

Let me get this straight. Dude throws a party. Those who received the ‘Save the Date’ cards didn’t show up. So he sends folks out and brings in anybody off the street. Again—not to be overly dramatic about it—the guests included the good and the bad. The Good. And the bad. The people you like! And those you can’t stand,
         sitting next to one another
                        at a supper table
                           that NONE of you were ACTUALLY invited to.

At just about the time we can accept the radical hospitality of the king—a symbol for how God welcomes everyone—we might become a bit troubled by what happens to the guy who received the “Y'all come in” invitation but who refused to put on the wedding garb.

Let me help us out. Back then, when folks threw weddings, guests had to put on a wedding garb. Not to take away from the rich history of Judaism, but it would be like showing up today to a birthday party and refusing to wear a party hat. Now, I hope you wouldn’t get hogtied and thrown out beside the dumpster to party with the opossums and raccoons if you were too cool to wear one of those annoying hats.

So here’s the thing about this confusing parable that presents a king as easily angered and overly vindictive, who gets peeved if you don’t show up to the party looking like everyone else: we dare not worship such a king nor imitate his behavior.

Nope; we are supposed to reflect God’s reign—a reign where hospitality is not limited to the “best people” (let's be honest, often those “best people” think they have better things to do than following God’s way). And we also don’t want to limit that hospitality because of our own pride. That person who didn’t put on the wedding garb—by saying, “No”—closed the door to the fullness of divine generosity. Sad.

Oh, notice one more thing about this problematic parable: the person who refused to put on the wedding garb (or that annoying party hat), though they were excused and found themselves in an awkward place, they were never pushed beyond the grace of God. So there is still good news!

Unfortunately, consequences to our actions or pride are real, but God’s deep love always makes its way to us, guiding us back to a place of wholeness, especially for those of us who refuse to believe we are worthy of God’s love time after time.

Thanks be to God, friends that the realm of God must always be a place of second and third chances. [[And thank God that even the backdoor is still a doorway back in. And thank God that even the opossums and raccoons are also creatures of God’s making.]]

On Sunday, I invited those who were at our party to come down and receive an envelope, which contained an invitation. They had the option of actually asking someone they know (or don’t know! what a strange idea evangelism can be) to church with the invitation. I hope Lincoln and Logan County are filled with lots of “See Y'all there” responses.

Also—and this might have been lost near worship’s end by my weak attempt to explain it—I invited everyone to receive God’s love, peace, hope, and joy.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6? The invitation he extended to us?

“Hey, beloved child. Do not worry. Do not worry if you are enough—do not worry about if you’ll fit in. Do not worry about the latest fashion trends or keeping up with technology—trying to stay relevant. Do not worry about the crows feet around your eyes and the stretch marks on your belly. Don’t worry about these things because what mattersis you.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Here’s the thing, friends, the disciples didn’t get this right away either, so Jesus repeated it in Matthew 10:

“Child of Love, have no fear of those who ridicule you or make fun of you or persecute you because you stand on the side of justice because you preach a message of peace, or because you identify as something that isn’t *normal*.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Mother. And even the hairs on your head are all counted.”

Listen up—God is throwing a party. God welcomes you to attend. God invites you to show up. Some days, you’ll know what to wear to the party, and you’ll come in right on time. Other times, you might feel like those suit pants make your hips look big, you might wear sweatpants to the black tie affair, or you might lose your “save the date” card and miss the party altogether.

But the thing you must remember is this: it is okay if you do. Whether you show up or not, God loves you. But when you do show up, and when you do receive the invitation to dwell in the presence of God and one another, the party is better—way better—and so much more complete with you.

You are needed. Don’t worry if you’ll fit in or if you have the right attire. Just show up. Be yourself. Because as one great writer once said:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.”

I invite you to receive God’s claim on you. I invite you to sit at the feet of Jesus and allow him to heal your wounds. And I invite you to let the Holy Spirit use your gifts to make the church and this world a better place.

Friends, the party just isn’t the same without you.

I’ll be here we’ll be here waiting at the table with and for you,