Monday, March 31, 2008

Peace Be With You

The story we read at CWM last evening (John 20:19-29) is a familiar passage. While the lectionary reading puts a week of events together, we most often like to focus our attention on one event, on one person. When we hear this story what stands out to us the most? What do we remember? For most of us it is Thomas…good ole, Doubting Thomas. It’s a story that captivates our imagination; perhaps because of the gory detail and gruesome scene that unfolds, or perhaps simply because we relate to Thomas. We too want to see Jesus. And so we quickly move past the fearful disciples, skip over Jesus’ first appearance and go straight to Thomas’ doubt.

Yet, I’m not convinced that this is actually the most amazing part of the story we just read.

The story begins just hours after Mary Magdalene has returned to the upper room having claimed to have seen the risen Christ. The frightened disciples are holed up in a room behind locked doors. Shocked, grieving, terrified the disciples have not just lost a friend, a teacher, a leader, but now their greatest hopes and dreams lie shattered in pieces, broken as surely as Jesus’ body. Sitting and waiting like that I imagine all of the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve-s play back as if on continuous loop in the memories of the disciples…what if, what if, what if…And now, now here comes this woman making the most incredible claim, a claim that if true that would change absolutely everything. The disciples find themselves stuck between belief and disbelief of two realities that seem equally terrifying.

If what Mary is saying is not true (and really how can it be?), the disciples find themselves facing an even graver situation than before. Not only are they left in the sorrow and disappointment of Christ’s broken promises, but now they must also deal with the fact that someone has actually stolen the body. I mean who goes about stealing corpses unless you want to punish others. If they would steal Jesus’ body, what would they do to those who followed him? Will they come for us? Are we next? Who’s at the door?

If, on the other hand, what Mary says is true (but really how could it be?), the disciples were in for an equally terrifying reality. If Jesus really was the Christ, the Messiah and is still somehow miraculously alive, if the promise for the kin-dom is still on, well, something big is about to happen. If this is all true, and the Messiah is coming with vengeance on a world of injustice and oppression, to judge between the righteous and the sinner, to throw into the fires of hell the unworthy and faithless, to set about an age of weeping and gnashing of teeth as we have heard foretold, what in the world will Jesus say to us? We who failed to be faithful, who doubted, who ran, who tried to save ourselves above all else? I have to wonder if any of the disciples actually wanted to confront Jesus, to have to stand face to face with their own disappointment, shame and guilt.

To believe or not to believe seems equally terrifying and so the disciples remain closeted in their own fears, shut up in a small stuffy room, windows shut, doors locked, waiting, waiting, waiting.

Suddenly in the very midst of their terror, shame and sorrow, Jesus appears.


Imagine for a moment how you would feel to stand face to face with this Jesus, the one who you loved, but ultimately disappointed? Dead now alive, Jesus stands before you and you brace yourself for the worst.

But the worst has already come and gone. “Peace be with you,” says Jesus. “Peace be with you.” No fear. No scolding. No turmoil. No anger. Peace.

In the middle of the darkest days these disciples had known Jesus comes and offers them peace. Peace comes not on the other side of fear and trauma, grief and shame, but right there, right in the very middle of it. “Peace be with you,” says Jesus. “Peace be with you.”

Jesus then goes on, almost in the very same breath to shake the disciples from their paralyzing fear and send them forth. “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so now I send you.” It was their commissioning to go out and be the peace and be the love and be the justice for the world. In the midst of the disciples’ fear and grief they are sent forth. No time to dwell in pain…there is work to be done.

But Christ does not send the disciples out into the broken world empty handed. Even as the women and men are commissioned, Christ breathes upon and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this breath we notice the echo of Genesis and God's breathing life into all creation. Here in Easter, as in the beginning, we are re-created through resurrection.

Having breathed new life upon the disciples, Jesus commissions them to be Christ for the world. In empowering them with the authority to forgive sins, Jesus in essence is handing down to the disciples the powers of the kin-dom., the very power to be Christ for the world.

This is no He-Man-I-have-the-power-messiah. Here, Jesus is passing along the powers of the kin-dom to be shared among disciples. This is not a god who hoards power, but a God who gives away power time and time again. The power and spirit and presence of the Christ is now handed down to the living, breathing body that is the disciples, the nascent, emerging church. Christ’s presence can no longer be found in the death-laden, decaying flesh and bone body of Jesus of Nazareth. It has been resurrected and dwells here on earth, in the lives and concrete actions of those who seek to follow.

It is the Holy Spirit, this real presence of love, joy and peace that Christ gives to the disciples then and now. The message is clear. “As God has sent me, now I send you.” We cannot keep the Spirit to ourselves. We are gifted with it for the sake of others. God gives the church the spiritual gift of resurrection life so that the church will bring it to bear on the world. This is no personal Jesus kind of religion. This is a radical redistribution of divine power handed over to those who would allow the power of the Holy Spirit to move in and through them.

So, when we read this passage and only focus on Thomas, I think we miss it. Thomas is not there to make us feel bad about our own doubts. Thomas is there as a foil, to help us understand there is no need to see the wounded body to believe. Rather we are called to see, to know, the resurrected body which is no longer shut up in some stuffy closet of fear 2000 years ago, but here among us, living, and moving and breathing right now.

If it's true that we are indeed recreated through Christ's resurrection, then we confess that Easter does not happen just one morning but every morning of our lives. In moments both small and large we witness resurrection life all around us and testify to the living presence of the Christ in us: Christ’s body on earth.

The problem is in order to be the presence of the Christ we have to first allow the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit to permeate our lives. Theologian and pastor William Sloane Coffin, once said: "As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight...You can't think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If your heart's a stone, you can't have decent thoughts – either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind."

In order to claim the love, joy and peace of the resurrection promise, we have to risk letting go of all the fear, resentment, disappointment and grief we hold on to. We must venture outside the safety of our own blanket of fears to experience the peace of Christ waiting to enfold us. It doesn’t mean that all that fear and baggage will magically disappear. Remember, Easter joy comes right up into the middle of disappointment and despair. No, it will not magically go away, but it will become easier to bear.

Kate Huey summarizes it best: "Whenever we're afraid and hiding out, all locked up, God comes to us in the midst of our fear and says, "Peace be with you." Whatever doubts churn in our minds, whatever troubles our consciences, whatever pain and worry bind us up, whatever walls we have put up or doors we have locked securely, God comes to us and says, "Peace be with you." No matter what hunger and need we feel deep in our souls, God calls us to the table, feeds us well, and sends us out into the world to be justice and peace, salt and light, hope for the world. We can do it, if we keep our eyes open, our minds limber, and our hearts soft and willing to love. "

Gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are Christ for the world. As God sent Jesus, God sends us, this day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Emerging and Progressive?

Stephen Lingwood has recently asked an important question over at his blog, Reignite.

Is it possible to be both emergent and progressive? While Stephen asks the question from a British Unitarian perspective, I think the question is just a poignant for us in the United Methodist Church here in North America.

Here is a snippet of Stephen's post:
Is it possible to be both progressive and emerging? In other words is it possible to be radical in content as well as in style?

Look at someone like John Shelby Spong: pretty radical in what he says, yet he still wears the dog-collar and purple shirt of a bishop. He looks entirely like a bishop...

But go to the congregation where the preacher is in jeans and a T shirt, where there is a jolly informality, or even where there are people with nose-rings and green hair, then the theology, the message is usually conservative... The emerging church, for all its radicalism, is still orthodox in its theology.

Is it possible then to be radical in both form and content? Is it possible to have a christology influenced by Marcus Borg and a ecclesiology influenced by Dan Kimball?
What do you think?

Pendulum Swinger

The Easter season is a season in which we proclaim life in the midst of death, joy mingling with sorrow, hope springing from the very depths of despair.

Yet, we confess the proclamation loses something from pulpit to pew as we struggle with the reality of claiming the love, peace and joy Christ has given us while mired in a world of Good Fridays.

Claiming Easter joy takes practice. We must hone our senses so that we not only learn to recognize such joy in the world around us, but learn to cultivate it through radical acts of resistance, naming and claiming that joy in the face of those who would deny us.

One of the places in which I witness this, is in the Indigo Girls song Pendulum Swinger. The song gives voice to the hope of a better world even as "the ticker of our nation breaks down like a bad clock." This hope comes embodied in the pendulum swinger, both the Spirit of love and the concrete hands and feet of those who seek to make a difference.

She is.
She is.
She is.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another Great Post at the RMN GC Blog

Antony Hebblethwaite just posted another wonderful reflection on the RMN General Conference website.

How can I walk beside still waters?

I know that I am supposed to find God on Sunday mornings and feel bad about how difficult that is for me, like somehow I am betraying my faith and my faith family by feeling oppressed instead of worshipful there.

I walk into my Methodist Church with my partner Derrick and sit in that beautiful space. As we celebrate God's love in song, I am reminded that my human experience of love can’t be celebrated there. I wonder if my inability to know God's love relates to the exile of my own love from this place. I remember attending Broadway UMC when Greg Dell was suspended from ministry for marrying a gay couple in a Methodist sanctuary. I think about Jimmy Creech and Beth Stroud who refused to place limits on the human experience of love and were defrocked by the Methodist Church. My mind is drifting again and I can’t focus on the hymn.

The pastor steps up to the pulpit to deliver the Sermon. I am reminded that it is authenticity about my sexual orientation that prevents me from standing there. I embraced authenticity and a dark summer of depression in 1994 after I graduated from Seminary. I have never been allowed to pursue God’s call on my life. As I listen to the Sermon, my mind drifts through 14 years of economic hardship as I tried to piece together a career with a theology degree. Things got especially hard for me five years ago when the economy stalled and I had to leave Chicago and take a job as a Starbucks Barista in Bloomington, IN. I am reminded of the cost of authenticity with every letter I fold at Reconciling Ministries Network asking the delegates for justice. When I am introduced as the Executive Assistant to people with successful careers in the ministry built on keeping their love for another human being closeted, the loss is hard to bear. I missed most of the Sermon.

It is not that I judge closeted clergy. Look at my degradation. Maybe choosing authenticity over my call to the ministry lacked basic wisdom. The Sermon is over.

I sit at my desk at Reconciling Ministries Network overwhelmed. I read an email from my parents who held me in their arms as a baby while a Methodist Pastor dabbed my forehead with water and baptized me. My parents write:

Papa and I realize that you have many talents and skills the Lord has given you and that you have worked hard to develop these. I wish we could celebrate with you, but we can’t. We can’t support the agenda you are proposing at the Methodist conference. We are deeply grieved that you would use all these God given gifts to propagate something that, according to Scripture is morally wrong. We will continue to pray that you come to understand the truth and the truth will set you and Derek free, knowing that God is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love, mercy and faithfulness.

I told my parents I was gay 14 years ago. I’m distracted by anger. My parents started their faith journey in the Methodist Church and baptized me into injustice. They are the very kind of people I will face in Fort Worth with their established explanations that render them morally pretentious and blind to their own ethical obtuseness.

I glance over at my job description taped to the filing cabinet: “Ongoing United Methodist connection to community/congregation preferred.” I am wondering how I can do this? Instead of providing the still waters I need to experience God, attending a Methodist Church creates the dissonance of memories – of shunning and subsequent hardship for an unchangeable quality of being.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Renewal or Ruin?

As General Conference approaches take time to watch this video on the tactics and policies of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Delegates and interested observers alike will notice that many of the petitions submitted to this year's General Conference were crafted and sponsored by IRD staff members, John Lomperis and Mark Tooley. (To see which ones are IRD sponsored, simply look through the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate available through Cokesbury. The names of the sponsors are listed following each petition in the DCA.)

Below is a brief description of the film, Renewal or Ruin?, written by the producer, Steve Martin.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church

Since its beginning in 1982, the Institute on Religion and Democracy has continuously undermined the United Methodist Church and other mainline Protestant denominations by attacking the character of church leaders. This organization, funded by some of the world's most powerful foundations, undermines the witness of the church by fueling controversy to its own benefit.

"Renewal or Ruin?" looks into the IRD's claim that it exists to renew the spiritual life of the church. Researchers, church leaders, and others talk about their findings and experiences with this Washington, DC organization that foments dissension in the body of Christ.

"Renewal or Ruin?" from Steven D. Martin on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Joy

Ashes to ashes dust to dust: so says our liturgy. This year as our Ash Wednesday services were coming to a close in the United States, a small private funeral for a young man began across the globe on the shoreline of Australia. As we metaphorically remembered our own mortality, Heath Ledger’s family confronted the stark reality of death as they bid farewell to their son, their sibling, their lover, their friend.

Ledger was a gifted and talented young actor. At 28 years of age he had touched millions of moviegoers in films like the Patriot, Monster’s Ball and what many consider his finest work, portraying Ennis Del Mar, in Brokeback Mountain. Following his tragic death, messages from friends and fans poured out across the pages of the internet, on home-made poster boards outside the New York apartment where he died and even broadcast worldwide at award banquets as people struggled to find meaning in what seemed a tragic and senseless loss.

Early on the morning of the funeral paparazzi began leaking photos of a family in mourning, dressed in black and somberly processing from hotel to chapel. These photos were no different than any others taken of a grieving family. But then, later that day something amazing happened. The early photos of a somber and grief-stricken family were replaced with photos of joyous celebration: mourners frolicking in the ocean, some in their skivvies, others still in full funeral garb while Heath’s father watched from the shore and shouted, "Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!" giving two thumbs up in the air. There they were, mourners turned celebrants, laughing through tears, jumping and splashing, embracing and dancing in the waves; their faces radiant with nothing less than sheer joy.

"It's exactly what Heath would have wanted," one mourner told reporters. And indeed it probably was. Ledger was a person who enjoyed life. He once told reporters: “I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future.”

This image of joy in the midst of sorrow seems unusual at first and yet I think each of us resonates with the urge to seek life in the face of death. After all, that is the Easter message, isn’t it? This is what resurrection life is all about. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Life in the midst of death.

Easter Sunday is a day of joy. Just as Jesus promised in the farewell discourse (John 13 - 17) weeping and mourning has ended and life has triumphed over death...God’s joy is made complete this day.

Easter joy is not a negation of the suffering world, but rather a celebration of life despite of or even in spite of the death dealing forces of the world. The easy joy of a gospel of prosperity is no Easter joy. True Easter joy can only come on the other side of suffering and sorrow. It can only arise up out of the death dealing forces of the world as resistance to oppression and death.

This message of Easter joy, however, is not always welcome. I think that we at times are hesitant to accept and live into the Easter joy that God offers us. Sometimes we cut ourselves off from any hint of joy because we can’t imagine that’s what God wants for us. After all, Christianity is about pain, and suffering and sacrifice. Pick up your cross for God’s sake and suffer with me! Right? You’ve heard me preach it a thousand times, “...and this is no easy task.” How can we take joy in the hard life of being a disciple?

Sometimes we resist joy for fear of what we perceive as the inevitable disappointment, pain and suffering to come. It is as if we are living our lives always waiting for that next shoe to drop. “If I take pleasure in this, won’t I only be disappointed when it ends? Surely this joy cannot last.”

Other times we are hesitant to take joy in life because we think we don’t deserve it. At times we can be led to believe that there is something so shameful and bad about who we are that we just can’t be joyful. Instead we push and punish ourselves for what we believe are our inherent transgressions…we work, we study, we exercise, we starve, we deny, we sacrifice, we deprive, we cut ourselves off from joy and barricade ourselves in tombs of our own making.

Still other times we refuse joy out of a sense of guilt. How can I be joyous when the world around me suffers? In comparison to what is happening around us, how can we possibly take joy….war, violence, poverty, discrimination, injustice? And so, we tell ourselves for the sake of solidarity, we too will live lives of suffering and sorrow.

For one reason or another, we find ourselves, like Mary, so lost in our own pain and suffering that we miss the dramatic displays of Divine joy all around us.

But to dwell forever in a world of Good Fridays negates God’s proclamation that life and love are always more powerful than the forces of death and destruction. To allow ourselves to be swallowed alive by our own pain and the pain of the world is to deny the power of life teeming all around us.

Alice Walker depicts such a rejection of God’s goodness in her novel, The Color Purple. There is a scene in which two former slaves, Celie and Shug, are talking about God and the world. Celie just can’t make sense anymore of a religion that seems nothing more than a projection of the white master onto some removed, capricious god-head who offers her nothing more than a hope of a hereafter in the midst of a living hell. As they walk through a field pondering these things, Shug tries to help Celie see an alternative to the kyriarchical religion of the church that paints god as an oppressor. She tells Celie to get that white man god off her eyes and look around. God is no white man shut up in some stuffy church building…God’s everywhere. Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” To walk through life without ever recognizing the joy that is infused throughout creation is an offense to God and creation. Look around, there is a lot of joy in this broken world in which we live.

Joy is a natural response to the gifts of God’s creation and a comfort in a world of Good Fridays. Some of my most cherished pastoral moments are those sitting vigil at deathbeds, for there in the very valley of the shadow of death, family and friends gather to remember and share together the most tender and beautiful moments of life.

To acknowledge and celebrate that joy is not to deny the suffering and pain that exists. Rather, it is a way to manage, to cope and to find our way through, for Easter joy not only comforts us in the face of suffering, but also confronts the agents of our pain as an act of radical subversion. Celebrating life in the face of death is a radical act of resistance, defiance and subversion.

In Nicaragua during the Spanish occupation, indigenous folks created a dance called El Gueguense. While on the surface it seems a quaint expression of popular culture, it’s point was to ridicule, condemn and resist the colonial powers. Through satire and parody, the indigenous pinoleros resisted the oppressive forces of the Empire that sought to suppress and exterminate their very being.

In the same way, in our own community we use camp as a form of survival and resistance. Think about the art of drag for a moment. Drag not only provides space for laughter in the midst of an oppressed community, but also acts as a form of resistance to the wider hetero-normative powers of oppression and injustice. Through drag heteronormativity is unmasked and ridiculed.

To take joy, is not to negate the powers of oppression but to confront them with something they cannot take away. To have joy in the face of one’s oppressors is great power…it is the power to claim life and peace and joy no matter what the powers that be do to stifle it. God’s abundant life cannot and will not be silenced by human cruelty. There is no sorrow, no pain, no death dealing forces that can keep out God’s power of love and life; for joy bubbles up into the middle of places of hopelessness to bring love and peace and hope.

You see, Easter joy is not just meant for the sweet hereafter, it is meant for the here and now. Easter joy is the living resurrection that we experience in our lifetimes, in this world. There is no need to deny ourselves joy in order to wait for some eternal reward on the other side of death. No, God invites us to resurrection life right here, right now.

Joy is all around us bubbling up through the cracks of despair so that we might know the power of resurrection in this life.

Why are you weeping? There is joy to be had in this world: in the fresh buds of spring, the small still light of dawn, in the smile of a child, in the giggly-gurgle of an infant; joy is sprouting up in the very midst of this broken world so that we might the glimpse the kin-dom of God in our midst.

Weeping may linger for a night but joy, joy shall come in the morning.

Why are you weeping?

Live in the now, not in the past, not in the future. Live in the joy that is Easter now!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

A Word of Forgiveness
Luke 22:27-30; 32-34

As they led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed them, including women who mourned and wailed for Jesus. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” Two others, both criminals, were also led out with Jesus to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha, there Jesus was crucified, along with the criminals–one on the right, the other on the left. 34Jesus said, “God, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

A Word of Promise
Luke 23:39-43

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Jesus. They said, “Jesus saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked Jesus. They offered Jesus wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above Jesus, which read THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Jesus: “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal said: “Don't you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this person has done nothing wrong.” Then the criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

A Word of Compassion
John 19:25-27

Near the cross of Jesus stood Jesus’ mother and mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the Beloved disciple standing nearby, Jesus said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your child,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took Jesus’ mother in as family.

A Word of Despair
Mark 15:33-34

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, Jesus’ calling Elijah.” One person ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave Jesus alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down,” they said.

A Word of Suffering
John 19:28

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

A Word of Acceptance
John 19:29-30

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. Jesus had received the drink and said, “It is finished.”

A Word of Release
Luke 23:46

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “My God, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When Jesus had said this, he breathed his last.

  • Take time to read the verses.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • What word or phrase stands out to you?
  • Read the verses again.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • Ask yourself once again, what word or phrase stands out to you this time.
  • Feel free to leave a comment on the blog with the insights, questions or thoughts that came to you as you read the scripture.

Holy Thursday

John 16: 20ff

Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn to joy....So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

  • Take time to read the verse.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • What word or phrase stands out to you?
  • Read the verse again.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • Ask yourself once again, what word or phrase stands out to you this time.
  • Feel free to leave a comment on the blog with the insights, questions or thoughts that came to you as you read the scripture.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Wednesday

Matthew 25:34-45

Then the Anointed One will say, ‘Come, you that are blessed by God, inherit the commonwealth prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer, ‘Teacher, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the Anointed One will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then the Anointed One will say to others, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Teacher, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then the One will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

  • Take time to read the verse.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • What word or phrase stands out to you?
  • Read the verse again.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • Ask yourself once again, what word or phrase stands out to you this time.
  • Feel free to leave a comment on the blog with the insights, questions or thoughts that came to you as you read the scripture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Tuesday

Matthew 23: 11-12

Jesus said, "The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
  • Take time to read the verse.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • What word or phrase stands out to you?
  • Read the verse again.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • Ask yourself once again, what word or phrase stands out to you this time.
  • Feel free to leave a comment on the blog with the insights, questions or thoughts that came to you as you read the scripture.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Monday

During Holy Week, CWM is practicing the spiritual discipline of searching the scriptures. Each day on the website you will find a verse from Matthew chapter 22-26 which details the in-between time from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
  • Take time to read the verse.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • What word or phrase stands out to you?
  • Read the verse again.
  • Sit in silence for a few moments to contemplate what you have read.
  • Ask yourself once again, what word or phrase stands out to you this time.
  • Feel free to leave a comment on the blog with the insights, questions or thoughts that came to you as you read the scripture.
Matthew 22: 36-40

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is greatest?"

Jesus said, "'You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm/Passion Sunday

Today, the sixth Sunday of Lent, is known in the Church as Palm/Passion Sunday. The “palm” part we get. It is called Palm Sunday because it marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the people gathered along the streets to hail this new prophet with a royal red(green)-carpet of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna.” The “passion” part is a little harder to fit into this particular Sunday. After all the passion, the suffering, persecution and ultimate death of Jesus, comes during Holy Week itself on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Why would the church want to celebrate it a whole week in advance?

Palm/Passion Sunday has derived in response to congregational life. Liturgists, scholars and pastors alike began noticing that the majority of mainline Protestant Christians never went to Holy Week services. In light of lingering anti-Catholic sentiments (we can’t do that…it’s too Catholic!), a general decline in church attendance and a elitist resistance to mar with any hint of defeat the victorious, hegemonic sense of Christendom, most mainline Protestants go straight from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter Sunday without ever truly contemplating the passion, the cross, the suffering, defeat and death of the one they claim to be their Messiah, their Savior. However, we interpret this theologically and practically complicated event, we confess it is central to how we understand our faith. No death. No resurrection. No Christianity.

So, to help the average North American Jane and Joe, liturgical scholars and church bureaucrats cobbled together Palm/Passion Sunday in which we are to move from praise to persecution in an hour. To be fair, most scholars agree you can have it all and so they suggest either celebrating Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Yet, separating them out this way is never entirely satisfactory.

The fact of the matter is that just as the resurrection is inextricably linked with Jesus’ death, so also is the persecution inextricably linked to the choirs of praise we read about this evening. The joyful shouts of hosanna are intimately connected to the cruel cries for condemnation. The question we must address is indeed how these two events are does the joyful crowd turn so quickly to an angry mob?

When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, his reputation has already preceded him. After three years of ministry throughout the Judean countryside, people have begun to talk. Rumors of healings and miracles swirl around this person Jesus. Whispers of raising the dead and feeding the masses begin to circulate. Tales of confrontation with the powers that be and promises of coming reign of God have been heard by almost everyone. The buzz is this guy’s the Messiah, the one for whom Israel has been longing.

The notion of the messiah was part and parcel of the Jewish faith tradition. The prophecies of the Hebrew Testament that some Christians like to interpret as direct references to Jesus are really references to this Jewish hope of a savior who would come to rescue Israel once and for all from the generations of suffering and persecution.

When the crowds shout “hosanna” they are acknowledging Jesus’ messiah-ship for hosanna literally means “save us.” The royal path of palm branches and the shouts of praise are all signs that the people of Jerusalem identified the prophet Jesus with the hoped for Messiah.

But what the crowds expected and what they got were very different.

The traditional messianic hope was for a mighty, vengeful warrior to come from on high to reap violent recompense for the past pain and suffering of the people. This One was to overthrow the colonial power and in its place give all authority and control to Israel. The deliverance from oppression was to be a violent revolution in which the poor and outcast trade places with the rich and powerful.

But, the inextricable connection between this triumphal entry and Jesus’ shameful death, gives us a hint that the "kingship" of this Christ was not exactly what the masses expected.

Instead of a dramatic entrance on a war horse, Jesus enters on a humble beast of burden (two in the case of Matthew) and instead of simply replacing one political regime with another, Jesus sets about completely overturning popular expectations of politics, hierarchy and power. The Reign of God which Jesus initiates is no imitation of human systems of power in which one rules while the other is subject.

The very first thing that Jesus does upon entering the city is to literally turn over the tables in the temple. Straight from the streets of adoration, Jesus marches right into the temple to denounce the perverted values and disingenuous piety of contemporary religious practice. “This is a house of prayer, not a den of robbers!” For some, money and power had become more important than God and neighbor. Rather than provide for the poor as God commands, money was being changed for profits’ sake. (And, let's be clear this charge against the Israelites was nothing new...try reading Jeremiah or Ezekiel or Isaiah.)

After destroying the market, the Jerusalem Wall Street of sorts, Jesus continues down this path of condemnation and socio-political destruction or perhaps better said, reconstruction. Jesus confronts the Pharisees, challenging their authority and cursing them to an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple, the symbol of God’s presence among the people, and decrees tax collectors and prostitutes, the lowest of the low, to be the heirs of this new kin-dom. From chapter 21 to 26 in Matthew, Jesus turns the socio-religious world order on its head with some less than kind words. Here are just a few snippets of the things he had to say about those in power between the palm and the passion…

“Woe to you hypocrites!”

“You snakes, you brood of vipers!”

“There will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now!”

“You will be tortured and put to death!”

This is no warm and fuzzy Jesus. This is no triumphalistic king who will get even with the world for the suffering of Zion. No, this is not at all what the people expected…at least not the people in power.

To fully comprehend Jesus’ actions in this in-between week we must remember that Jesus was not entering a foreign city, nor entering the city of 'the Jews'. Jesus was Jewish. As such Jesus entered the city which symbolized God's promise to Israel in order to confront his own faith and tradition. And we know there is nothing more painful than that.

When we skip from Palm Sunday to Easter we run the risk of misinterpreting the entire Christian message. The issues at stake are not ultimate control or power. William Loader says to interpret it as such would only reinforce the worldly views that might is right and right is might. He goes on to write, "The true signs of messiahship have less to do with palms and crowns, and more to do with acts of healing and compassion. Without them the entry story is ambiguous, a potential disaster, which realizes itself in every generation in the name of piety. A radically subverted model of power exercised in compassion challenges the temple system and Rome in its day and their equivalents in our own, around us and within us."

You see the good news Jesus initiates, the good news we proclaim, is not always perceived as good news for everyone. The good news for the poor, is quite bad news for the rich who have to give up their wealth to enter the kin-dom. The good news for the outcast is bad news for the powerful, for they will have to give up their control to enter the kin-dom. The radical reversal of fortune that Jesus initiates will not be welcomed by all people…not all in society and certainly not all in the church.

The Gospel is uncomfortable business.

Just as Jesus confronted and challenged the faith and tradition of his own community, so also must we, who seek to follow Jesus, also confront and challenge the faith and traditions of our own communities, ever calling them back to the faithfulness of compassion, mercy, welcome and justice.

Not only are we called to confront our communities, our faith, our traditions, we are also called to confront ourselves. We are called to confront those places of resistance and hesitancy, that we each carry; those things that hold us back from embracing the complete joy of Easter. For some of us it might be the attachments we carry to worldly values or ideas about money, power, success or prosperity. For others it might be the wounds of past pain, disappointment, grief or loss, that keep us from experiencing the radical joy and hope of something new.

As we enter holy week we must prepare ourselves to receive the Easter proclamation of a new world order. That means we must prepare ourselves not just for the mixed reactions of the world, that might not take too kindly to our turning their lives upside down, but also prepare ourselves to confront our own places of resistance.

It is into this uncomfortable business that we too are called as faithful followers of the Christ…we are the ones called forward into this week to confront and challenge, knowing that in the end no power of injustice, evil or death can ever fully eclipse the power of Christ’s kin-dom which is known fully in compassion, mercy, peace, forgiveness, justice and a love so strong that not even death can contain it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

General Conference Blog

There is a new blog up and running about the upcoming General Conference in 2008.

Filled with reflections, poetry and comments, it is a great place to prepare oneself for the coming conference. Many of our own CWMers regularly post on the blog.

Meditate On That

Sit here, wait

to see what comes

What comes when I meditate on General Conference

meditate on general conference

I decide

“meditate” & “General Conference”

do not belong in the same sentence....

Read more, here.

Love the Dog

I love dogs. I love their loud lapping at water bowls, their incessant enthusiasm, and their unabashed enjoyment of belly scratches. (I also love underdogs and hot dogs, but I think that’s a different topic!).

Read more, here.


The theme for this General Conference is "A Future with Hope." However, if you have been following the articles in the official UM media, and the language coming from many of the bishops and general agencies, the real buzzword of GC 2008, is unity.

Read more, here.

Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again

As General Conference approaches, I find myself going to my bookshelf and taking out A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King. The Reconciling movement is asking the General Conference to remove all discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We are bringing the truth about ourselves to the United Methodist Church, the truth that we are the beloved creation of God and that God celebrates our lives, our love and wants to use us to bring reconciliation to the world. We have brought our truth with great vulnerability streaming YouTube videos that give the world an intimate look inside our movement.

Read more, here.

Transgender Intro: The UMC & Gender

Decades of debate about the place of gay and lesbian people in the UMC means that most United Methodists are aware of a range of sexual orientations: gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual. But as our church prepares to gather for General Conference, we’ll likely be talking about a kind of diversity that is much less familiar: gender diversity. It may seem pretty commonsensical that people are either male or female, so some may be wondering: What’s all this talk about “transgender” people?

Read more, here.

Why I Stay. . .

As I prepare for General Conference, I am confronted with a question from many of my friends. "Why do you stay in the United Methodist Church?" As a young(ish) (31) gay man who is not called to ordained ministry, it seems easy enough to walk away from this church that keeps telling me through both its actions and words that I am unwelcome and unwanted. If I am completely honest, this is a question that I am continuously trying to answer for myself. My list changes almost daily, but these are the big reasons why I stay.

Read more, here.

Doing my homework

I’m a General Conference delegate who is under thirty years old. “Under thirty years old” isn’t one of the first ways I usually categorize myself, but it seems to be appropriate in this context. I’ll turn twenty-eight during General Conference. You don’t need to get me anything; just don’t make it illegal for me to be a member of your church, that’s really all I want.

Read more, here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Young Adult Video Testimonies

MoSAIC, Methodist Students for an All Inclusive Church, has posted more video stories to You Tube.

Don't forget to also check out their blog and the RMN GC blog.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Reconciling Ministries Network Video and Blog

Check out the new Reconciling Ministries video and blog. The video below is also posted on YouTube and the RMN General Conference blog.

Don't forget to check out all the blog entries as well. Right now you can read Will Green's latest entry, "Doing My Homework."

Take time to read and comment on all the blog entries.