Godforsaken

Godforsaken.

The battlefield of parched bones we hear about from Ezekiel is a lonelier view than a person would usually see wandering in the wilderness. It is a vision of destruction—the evidence of the failure that that led to bondage and exile. Ezekiel wrote, six centuries before Jesus, about the crushing defeat of the people of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians. Continue reading

Living Water

I’d like to speak about boundaries.

On one side of the boundary is US and our tribe, those like US. On the other side of the boundary are NOT US, and not our tribe: those who are not like US. We’ve been talking about the boundaries in our Lenten Series: Blessed are the Poor–about the boundary between those who have enough and those who do not. I’d like to talk about another boundary: the boundary between Christians and Jews. Continue reading

Lent Madness meets Sacred Story

Anne and bracket

The Rev. Anne Emry distributing Lent Madness brackets at the Hingham train station

I never thought I would go to the train station fully vested, but anything can happen around here.  I work at what has become ground zero for Lent Madness–the brainchild of my boss, the Rev. Tim Schenck.  About three years ago he came up with this crazy mix-up of Lent and March Madness which pits saints against each other in rounds decided by online voting.  It began on his blog: Clergy Family Confidential, and has now gone viral, and has been featured in major media outlets.  Now Lent Madness has it’s own website, and is affiliated with Forward Movement. Not only have I been passing out brackets at the Hingham train station (can’t tell the players without a scorecard!), but I have created the first official Lent Madness Lenten Series Curriculum.  You will find it on this blog, with it’s own page for easy access. The first contest this Lent is between Jonathan Daniels, a modern civil rights martyr and Macrina the younger, a fourth century theologian and monastic. Let the madness begin!

Where We See Jesus

Canterbury Cathedral

Sir, we wish to see Jesus,

said the Greek visitors in the Gospel of John.  We all do, says the Very Reverend Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury Cathedral.  The request made to the disciples seems so essential to our faith, that Canterbury Cathedral adopted the mission statement: “To show people Jesus.”

Just as we are seeing who Jesus is, and how he is related to the God he calls Father, we realize he is saying farewell and taking his leave of us.  So we are left to follow and seek, with no certain understanding of when he will return.  We wonder when we will see Jesus again.

Like visitors to Canterbury Cathedral, when we visit a church we are likely to see fine architecture, stained glass windows, and other ecclesiastical finery which reflect traditions that have evolved over the centuries.  But what speaks of Jesus may be less visible at first.  It is the prayer that has soaked into the place for however long it has been a place of worship.  The site of Canterbury Cathedral has the location of a Christian church–at least since the arrival of Augustine from Rome in 597.  But not one stone remains upon another from that period.  There is no carving, no piece of furniture, no stone altar that survives the sacks and fires that have destroyed the successive buildings.  Only the prayer of the people, offered faithfully to God over the centuries, remains unchanged.

Steps worn by pilgrim feet

When I went on pilgrimage to Canterbury several years ago, I was struck by the stones beneath my feet.  Steps were worn down by the feet and knees of people who came to Canterbury on pilgrimage.  In the deep faith of those pilgrims, I saw their yearning for Jesus, and I saw Jesus himself.

The voice of God from the sky, named Jesus as his glorified son. Not everybody heard it. Some heard thunder, and some heard an angel.  So perhaps the best way to know who Jesus is, is to see him in his followers as we daily make the path and wear it a little more so those who come after us can follow it more easily and find Jesus–like the Greek visitors, who followed the disciples path hoping to see Jesus.

Children’s activities: click here for some activities related to Following Jesus

Blessings,

Mother Anne+

 

John 3:16 in Context: Nicodemus at Night

Yup, Tim Tebow

Yup, Tim Tebow

If you were going to come up with texts that are among the Bible’s greatest hits, you would certainly include:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

It is a beautiful sentence that speaks of God’s nurture for creation, God’s self-giving, and the promise of life after life.  But there is no single sentence that is wide and deep enough to hold the Christian story.  So this sentence does not exist alone, it is part of a story that begins in the dark.  The Gospel begins: Jesus said to Nicodemus…  Who? Let’s go back a bit, to the beginning of the chapter. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of a reforming group of Jewish leaders who often sparred with Jesus but who shared many of the same goals–to bring people to holy living, to further the cause of justice.  Pharisees sound like the villains in the story because the worst fights are between brothers.  The text says:

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.


Nicodemus came by night, when the crowds of people had gone and it was possible to talk.  And they had a wonderful conversation about life and salvation, rich in metaphor.  Jesus told Nicodemus that life is constantly renewed by the Holy Spirit, and that there was always hope, and vitality for those in God’s kingdom.  Jesus told Nicodemus that:

No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

which has led to the use of the phrase “born again” to describe some forms of Christianity.  The whole conversation, including Nicodemus’ question:

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

is wonderful dialogue, completely consistent with Rabbinical debate.  Here are two Rabbis testing each other, matching wits, and coming to mutual understanding.

And what was it that Nicodemus wanted to know?  In his learned, probing way Nicodemus was asking Jesus who he was. And maybe because it was late, and they were alone, and Jesus thought that here was someone who might really understand, he told him.

Jesus described himself using the title Son of Man, which sounds like a way to say human being.  But that term connects with imagery in the book of Daniel that describes a vision of God (the Ancient of Days) and his anointing and commissioning of a younger divine being…”one like the Son of Man.”  So Jesus was pointing to the scriptures and opening them up to a seeker who was skilled in interpreting them.

We don’t know if they met again in daylight. Nicodemus is quoted in a debate with the Pharisees who wanted to arrest Jesus:

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

All we know is that after Jesus was lifted up on the cross and died, Nicodemus was there again on that day darker than any night, to lift him down from the cross, and prepare his body to be laid in the tomb.  Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, to be a companion, friend, and savior.  And we hear this story, and all of the others, and know we are beloved, and that though we go through darkness and death, life leads to life.

Children’s activity: The wind blows where it chooses…is one way Jesus described the actions of the Spirit.  Make wind socks.  Provide students with construction paper, instructing them to print this Bible verse on it:

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Roll the construction paper into a cylinder, securing it with staples, tape or glue.  Decorate the bottom of the wind sock with strips of tissue paper.  Attach string to the top for hanging.  Talk about how the Spirit is like the wind.

Blessings,

Mother Anne+

God Has Been Watching: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

The Jerusalem Temple, Construction begun by Herod the Great in 20 B.C.E., completed under Agrippa II in 64 C.E.

For people who think of Jesus as meek and mild, his upending of the economic center of the Temple is a challenging image.  In John 2:13-22, this event is almost the first account of Jesus’ ministry–and his first public appearance.  (It appears later in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.)  The Temple was central to the worship of God by the people of Israel.  The first Temple was built during the reign of Solomon, approximately 1000 B.C.E., and was a much larger structure and complex than the second one.  The first Temple was destroyed around 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians, whose conquest carried many of the Israelites into exile (mostly the educated and skilled people).  The book of Ezekiel (chapter 40) envisions the rebuilding of the Temple.  When Cyrus the great of Persia conquered the Babylonians, he gave permission, money, and safe passage to those who wanted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and worship the God of Abraham and Sarah.  He also returned the holy vessels of the Temple which had been taken by the Babylonians.   The Temple buildings were reconstructed and richly adorned by Herod the Great. This was the Temple standing in Jesus’ time.  It was the central shrine and sanctuary for the entire nation, and the only place according to the legal codes in Deuteronomy (12-26), where sacrificial worship could be offered to God.

The Temple was a center of pilgrimage, where people faithful to God would come and offer sacrifices.  There was a currency exchange, so that people from other countries could conveniently change their money and pay the half-shekel Temple tax, and purchase unblemished animals suitable for sacrifice.  It was an orderly and accepted practice that benefitted those who came to worship.  So why was Jesus so angry that he grabbed a handful of cords and used them as a whip to break up the market?  The coins rang across the stones, pigeons flew into the sky, and people fled. Jesus shouted that they were profaning God’s house.  When Temple authorities protested–demanding to know on who’s authority Jesus was doing this–Jesus responded prophetically, demonstrating that he was cleansing the Temple on his own authority.  Jesus was enraged to the point of violence by the disconnect between God’s justice, and the oppression and exploitation that was condoned by the power structure of empire and Temple.  The context of this protest is the Passover, the week-long Spring festival commemorating the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  Passover is associated with liberation from oppression, and divine salvation.  In an earlier critique of the Temple, the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.  ” ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Jesus and the Money Changers by Giotto

Jesus was pointing out that what began as a benign arrangement to provide services for travelers had turned into a racket.  And he foreshadowed the Crucifixion and Resurrection to come, challenging his hearers to destroy the Temple and he would raise it in three days.  The essential meaning of the story to the original hearers of John’s Gospel would be that Jesus had authority over the Temple.  And possibly, that his presence effectively replaced the Temple as the center of God’s presence among the people.

[The Temple finally was destroyed in the Jewish uprising against Rome in 70 C.E.  It has not been rebuilt, and the site is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock mosque.  Only the Western Wall (called the Wailing Wall) remains, it is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Temple’s courtyard.]

Questions to think about:

  • Have you ever been overcharged for something basic, like a bottle of water (in an airport, or a sports arena)?
  • A famous movie quote (from Blazing Saddles, parodying the Treasure of the Sierra Madre): when questioned about his authority, the character replies, “Badges! I don’t need to show you no stinkin’ badges!”  Do you see any similarities with this Bible passage?
  • Are there rooms in your spiritual life that need cleansing?  For example: your living room (area of recreation) or your closet (where your hang-ups live)?

Blessings,

Mother Anne+

Jesus Faces Death: taking up the cross

firefighter-by-snapshots-northcoastnowdotcom1What does it take to change the world? You may hear: “you can’t fight city hall.” Or, “what can I do? I’m only one person?” Or, more hopefully, “can one person make a difference?”  The well-known anthropologist Margaret Mead has a response to all of these questions: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Every day, firefighters and police officers make the decision to put themselves in danger, risking their lives to save another person.  They measure their lives not by length, but by depth and quality.  Death has no power to limit their lives.  They walk a path of freedom, toward a higher goal than personal comfort and safety.

Firefighters don’t want someone standing beside them saying that studies show the respiratory equipment isn’t powerful enough to beat the smoke.  Police officers don’t need to hear tremulous whispers that the bullets for sale on the street will pierce their body armor. So Jesus rebuked Peter for trying to prevent him from facing what was coming.

Jesus changed the world, and the cost was his life.  In the reading for today from Mark’s gospel, Jesus explains to his disciples that he is walking a road leading to suffering and death.  He was fearless, and knew that going up against the powers that be–the Roman Empire and the established religious leaders–was only going to end one way.  Jesus measured his life by his commitment to bringing God’s kingdom to the world, not by the number of years he lived in it.

Jesus prepared to take up his cross and said to his friends, once again, “Follow me.”  When we take up our cross, we are not forced into meaningless suffering.  As Bishop Barbara Harris said, “Your cross is the burden you carry for Jesus, and for the Gospel.  It is your choice, and you can always put it down if it is too heavy for you.” It is the work of love to lift that burden, not a punishment. It is the work of trying to change the world.

Questions to think about:

  • Have you ever given up something, or been injured, because you were trying to help someone? (Gotten bruised catching someone who was falling, for example).  Would you willingly do the same thing again?
  •  What can you do to bring justice, healing and peace to the world?

Possible children’s activities: Here are some activities focusing on Peace:

Blessings, Mother Anne+

Time in the Wilderness: Jesus after his Baptism

Labyrinth in the woods

The people of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, to prepare them to enter the promised land. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to prepare him for his ministry. This week’s reading from Mark recounts three swift moves: Jesus’ Baptism, his time in the wilderness, and his arrival in Galilee proclaiming God’s kingdom.  That is fast, even for Mark!

When Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, he encountered Satan, wild beasts, and angels.  It sounds like a spiritual journey, and it makes me think of walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a spiritual tool; it is not the same thing as a maze, which tricks the walker with false starts and dead ends. A maze has many paths, a labyrinth only one. When you walk a labyrinth, you walk slowly, and pray or observe what happens within yourself.  Labyrinths are a way to journey to the inner self, observe or realize spiritual reality, and then return to ordinary life.

Pattern of Chartres Labyrinth

The Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, built in the early 13th century, is a clear visual example of the path. The actual labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, they can be smaller. A labyrinth can be used as a meditative tool even if you only have a picture and follow it with your finger.

My own experience walking the labyrinth involves lessons of trust and patience, and usually yields insight into some issue that is current in my life.  I start off a few steps heading directly to the goal, and suddenly veer off in another direction that folds back on itself taking me further from my destination. I can’t find a rhythm because the turns come irregularly, and even when I go for a distance without turning, I am moving in a direction I cannot forsee.  I grapple with impatience, a desire to break out, despair and certainty that I will never get “there.”  And then I am surprised to have found the way to my center.  I rest and consider my new understanding of journey, of preparation and persistence.  I wonder if I missed something along the way.  I center myself and make ready to walk out.  As I retrace my path, I wonder why it seemed such an unattainably long journey in.  I reflect and follow my thoughts to see what else I can connect with this experience, what insight I can gain.

My wilderness experience of walking the labyrinth seems a good modern-day way to connect with the spiritual journey Jesus made in the wilderness.  We can picture his time in prayer, his need to face the wild beasts that snapped at his heels, the temptation of Satan, and finally receiving the blessing of the ministry of angels.  When Jesus came out of the wilderness, he spoke from his spiritual center; he called people to become aware of the presence of the Kingdom of God, as he was.  His time in the wilderness–a time of testing, reflecting and wrestling–prepared him to walk fearlessly through the trials that were to come.

Questions to think about:

  • Have you ever been changed by a travel experience or journey?
  • Do you ever pray when you walk?

Activities with children: print out this Labyrinth, and invite children follow the path with finger, pen or crayon.  Encourage them to do it slowly.  Read a prayer or a psalm (23? 91?) or ask them to recite the Lord’s prayer.  Ask them if it is easier to quiet their minds to pray while they are moving on the labyrinth. Explore this.

As age appropriate, think about seeking out a labyrinth locally. This Labyrinth locator may be helpful.

Blessings,

Mother Anne+