Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I looked back at recent posts and realized a lot of my writing lately has been about rhythm. Each morning since Jasper arrived, our chaos is held together by a singular goal - we've got to get out of here on time. Each evening we burst back through the door, my arms filled with baby, groceries, purse and mail. Usually I'm holding something in my teeth or Jasper holds the keys. Today I realized that I've always lived in this rhythm at work, which is why it seems so familiar at home.
Being the pastor in a small urban congregation means I ride two currents each day. I urge my people out the door - go serve, go share, go invite! This place is for a quick rest before heading back into the world. Grab some gospel and get out there!
All the while, I'm inviting strangers inside - come see, come taste, come receive! I know our doors are heavy and our liturgy is high, but there is something here for you. And you have something to share here, too.
Today I attended the Ending Homelessness Together Annual Luncheon downtown. One of our members is a community builder and invited me to sit at her table. We heard stories about Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, projects we've supported and projects just getting started. Half the folks around our table were from St. John's, celebrating their call to go outside our walls and make a difference. It was an hour of my brain and heart celebrating with YES YES YES!
Late this afternoon the phone rang. It was a woman wondering about our worship services and Sunday school. She's looking for a church and lives in the neighborhood. Then, she admitted, she was standing right outside at the bus stop reading our sign. Come inside! It hadn't dawned on her, but her son did need to use the restroom and she was right here. We wandered around the building talking about church and her life and my life and every once in awhile her son would chime in with a comment about this funny building. Soon they left feeling welcome and eager to come back inside on a Sunday morning. It was fifteen minutes of my brain and heart celebrating the other current with YES YES YES!
That's what I do all day, most days. I do my best to inspire movement. I cheerlead. I point to God's commission. I connect people and try to relate with them. I remind myself and others that God is already working in rooms before we enter. I pray for the great shuffle out and in, out and in. And every once in awhile, when it clicks for a moment and I get to watch, I celebrate with YES YES YES!
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
the secular world speaks stewardship...
...sometimes even better than the church
the way jasper tugs at the ears on his monkey hat,
causing it to slide further down his face
walking by the river
every sunny day is a gift
scarves, tights, boots, sweaters
apples, sweet potatoes, squash
the earth smells sleepy
my birthday - and this year i felt really special
so much going on at church
coming home to the smell of a hard working crock pot
watching jasper discover wind and crisp air
holding matt's hand and leaning into him for warmth
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Sunday, October 16 ~ Matthew 22:15-22
Ugh. For several chapters now, Jesus has been slamming religious piety and pretentiousness while teaching in the temple and people are getting pissed off. The Pharisees send some of their religious students together with the far more political Herodians into the crowd armed with cheap flattery and an impossible question. You see, there’s no way Jesus could answer their riddle without committing major heresy against the temple or the empire – and they don’t care which way Jesus falls off the fence. They just want to be there when he does.
But Jesus is no fool. He can smell their charade from a mile away. It would be like answering a knock at your door to find John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi standing there hand in hand, smiling and saying, “Well, that’s a great color on you. And you smell so nice! Say, we just have a quick question for you since we care so deeply about the way we represent you personally…”
Gross. Jesus knows they’re hoping he’ll make a huge public gaff and suggest a tax rebellion against Caesar, but he’s not about to fall for it. So just as quickly as their question tries to divide our life into categories of allegiance and importance, Jesus blows their question out of the water with a radical word of unity. And they never see it coming.
The crowd gathered at this scene is not unlike crowds gathering today, anxious and polarized by leaders and issues. The Jews were feeling misrepresented and nervous about their relationship with the Roman Empire because a mortal leader playing god right in front of Yahweh, the one true God. It was a delicate balance everyday – nodding and smiling at the Roman Empire just enough to keep their basic rights to Jewish worship and culture. And everyday they wondered whether they were compromising or selling out.
I wonder if God had these kinds of moments in mind when the Israelites begged for a king of their own back in the book of Judges. God so desperately wanted the people to live set apart, operating differently and experiencing authority in a more radical way than their neighboring nations. But Israel pleaded and nagged God, convinced that having a king would mean more freedom and that it wouldn’t affect their loyalty to God.
The Pharisee and Herodians sound self-righteous, convinced that the answer should be black or white, but even they are living in the grey. One presents a coin with Caesar’s face on it - something no one should possess inside the temple walls and a Pharisee shouldn't have at all. When they show Jesus the denarius, they prove that being faithful isn’t easy – and it isn’t black and white.
And so at first, Jesus’ answer seems simple. Give the emperor what he is due and God what God is due. And if we take his answer at face value, it doesn’t seem very radical at all.
But the gospel says the crowd heard and they went away amazed. And for that reason, we have to take another look. Therefore, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Without any further explanation of what belongs to either party, Jesus leaves us to consider all the grey stuff about authority and allegiance ourselves. He doesn’t give us the answers or draw a line in the sand. He doesn’t fall off the fence onto one side or another. In fact, he doesn’t divide at all.
Maybe the crowd is amazed because, while the seal of Caesar on coins and doors and decrees and armor, they realize that God’s face is plastered all over creation – on everyone and everything – a testament to God's uniting power in this world.
Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus didn’t shun the empire or deem it evil. Sure, this empire will put him to death, but it will also fund new roads, thwart piracy and (accidentally) make it easier for the gospel to travel all over the world for generations to come.
Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus had the guts to name the grey places no one else was naming, the tricky space in between that wrestles for our time, our priorities, our checkbooks and our values. In the face of black and white, Jesus’ simple answer points to daily living that isn’t simple – the choices we make about what belongs to God and what that means for our lives.
And maybe that’s I should stop typing because Jesus didn’t lay it all out for the crowd – instead, he entrusted them to worship and life in the Body of Christ where, together, they would find out what belonging to God looks like day after day, week after week. Together, they would form one body with countless expressions of discipleship in the grey, each person experiencing giving to God in a different way and adding to the Great Story that never ends.
You have the face of God all over you – you’re marked with Christ, sealed by the Spirit and the gospel is causing unity in the face of all that divides you. And that's good news! May God bless you in the grey places of this week, guiding your recognition of all that belongs to God.
Monday, October 10, 2011
But there was a catch. I could not act excited about it. She would not face me while she played and I could not clap when she finished. I remembered my own shyness about success and praise at that age and understood. We headed to the basement where Carrie could accompany her on the piano and I learned a great lesson.