Archive | Reflections RSS feed for this section

Holy Week: Standing Things on Their Heads

16 Apr

Lent is a time of conversion, a time for changing ourselves and our actions as we strive to better live into our baptismal vows. Holy Week makes a fitting conclusion to this time of conversion, in that what we celebrate during Holy Week radically challenges the way we see the world, at times standing on its head things we thought we knew.

On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate Christ’s institution of the Eucharist meal, that is, Jesus taking bread and wine him during his last supper with his followers and friends and teaching his disciples about how to remember him. A memorable part of the Holy Thursday service is that the priest washes the feet of people from the congregation, mirroring Jesus’ action of washing the feet of his disciples before the meal. We may be so used to observing this foot washing on Holy Thursday that we forget how radical a thing it represents. In Jesus’ time, when sandal-wearing would have been prevalent, foot washing was part of hospitality. A home owner would provide a bowl of water and offer a servant to wash the feet of those who came to visit. Jesus, the son of God and leader of this group, takes the role of a servant, showing hospitality and waiting on his friends. In so doing, Jesus overturns the servant-master hierarchy, becoming the servant himself. In so doing, Jesus demonstrates that central to being a leader is serving others.

While the master-servant hierarchy crucial to the social order of Jesus’ time may seem far from our experiences, there are other hierarchies that mark relationships between people and groups of people in our time as well. Globally, we can witness a hierarchy between so-called First World nations and those nations of the two-thirds world; we also experience a growing gap between the rich and poor, a hierarchy that fed into the Occupy movements and events. What other hierarchies do you experience in your life and what can you do to reverse them? How can you live out the call to provide hospitality and service to others, particularly those who are in the greatest need?

On Good Friday, the focus of the liturgy is the cross. It is a solemn day; the altar is stripped bare and no organ plays, as people reflect on the meaning of the cross. Many churches practice the veneration of the cross, when people come forward to kneel before and touch or kiss the crucifix. Again, when we step back to reflect on this practice, what a seemingly odd thing it is to kiss an instrument of torture and death. Yet we do so not to glorify violence but to remember the cost of what Jesus did because of his love for all humanity. The cross reminds us that following Jesus is a path that requires sacrifice. Loving God and neighbor in a world of violence and sin may sometimes cost us dearly.

Unlike the earliest followers of Jesus, who were afraid for their lives because of their association with this man, in the U.S. today we can claim our Christian identity without fear of being persecuted for it. Or can we? Truly living our Christian identity in the midst of a consumer culture that propagates values at odds with Christian ideas of justice does necessitate sacrifice and may lead, if not to out and out persecution, to a strain in our relationships with those who feel comfortable standing firmly with the values of the broader society. What sacrifices have you made to follow Jesus and to show your love for God and neighbor?

As if the reversing of hierarchies and the call to follow the road of the cross is not enough to make your brain do flips, then comes Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the promise of new life. Death is not the end; raising Jesus from the dead, God shows us that love is stronger than any other force in the world. In our world, it is hard to believe this Easter message, so bombarded are we with images and stories of illness, death, violence, tragedy, and sinful interactions between people. Perhaps the most “Christian” thing we can do in our lives is to try to live not in sadness, hate, and fearfulness, but with bold joy, love, and hope, trusting that God’s love indeed has the power to do all things.

Intergenerational Learning

16 Apr

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my friend Michelle spent the summer taking care of her ninety-nine-year old grandmother. It was more difficult than she originally imagined. Taking care of her grandmother was similar, in a way, to taking care of a small child. Her grandmother had trouble communicating. She needed to stay on a schedule. Michelle was in charge of all of the meals and didn’t sleep well due to taking care of her grandmother during the night. She struggled feeling isolated and bored at times. But this touching video that Michelle made after her grandmother passed away, also shows the mutual learning and story sharing that happened that summer. They danced, taught each other languages, and laughed. Michelle’s grandmother’s spirit and health improved with Michelle’s presence and patience and care in the house:

Michelle feels lucky to have spent this intentional time with her grandmother. She thought it was important to help so she could continue living in her home. We can see in the video how sacred this shared time was for both women. Not everyone, however, has the time or means to spend this kind of special time with people generations apart from us. Society is no longer set up in a way where younger people have real encounters with older people. Young people are tending to get busier and busier, and older people more and more often are gathering in special living facilities to receive the care they need.

Intergenerational learning is one of the strengths of the church. Where I worship, a ninety-four- year old woman brings homemade cake to the staff once a month to celebrate the birthdays. She also volunteers at the front desk on a regular basis. “I have to get away from people my own age sometimes,” she says. “All they want to talk about is their health.” Kids at the church learn how to make lutefisk and lefse from the older members. While lefse is being rolled, women will tell stories from decades of being members at the church. The kids also volunteer in all the different parts of ministry to see what goes into making the church run smoothly. It puts them in contact with people they normally wouldn’t meet. In celebration of Palm Sunday and to raise funds for our trip to the Boundary Waters this summer, we prepared over 800 cinnamon rolls on Saturday and Sunday for the congregation. It’s pretty special to see an eighth grade boy rolling dough between his dad and a church volunteer or a seventh grade girl pouring a cup of coffee for a lifetime member of the church. We have a lot to learn from each other. I appreciate church as one place where people from born decades apart can come together, share, and broaden our perspectives on the world.

 

Gospel Reflection for April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday

14 Apr

Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found that Jesus was missing. She could not find him and was crying.

Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?Mary supposed the man to be the gardener and responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Mary turned to Jesus and answered, “Rabbouni!”

 John 20.15-16
via flickr user Elvert Barnes

via flickr user Elvert Barnes


Mary Magdalene is the first of all of Jesus’ followers to have a personal experience of the risen Jesus. When Jesus speaks Mary’s name, she recognizes the gardener is her beloved teacher. Like the sheep who knows the shepherd’s voice, Mary hears her name and recognizes Jesus. She hears, turns, and believes.

When has Jesus called you by name?

Female Leadership in Religious Academia

10 Apr

I like to watch trends in female hiring. I asked my brother, who is a stand-up comedian, if he thought there was anything to the fact that women are being asked to host the celebrity award shows. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes just before Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars, all with extremely positive reviews. He said, “I think it shows that Hollywood has now seen (through the hard work of proving it by these women) that you can build strong female leads into a profitable industry. All of this obviously has been predicated by other talented women, but I think this generation has proven women’s humor for men and women can make money. Which I think opens a huge door for networks to take more chances on other female oriented pilots. Not to mention that these women are just good at entertaining.” There is a talent aspect, yes, but I agree with my brother that this too comes down to money. We now, finally, live in a world where women like Tina, Amy and Ellen can make money in a very male-dominated industry to the point where it is financially advisable to hire them for big award shows.

Being a woman who likes following trends in female hiring, then, my interest was also piqued when I got a note from my undergrad and graduate institutions that they both appointed female presidents. On August 21, my post Female Leadership in the Church discussed Rev. Elizabeth Eaton being named presiding bishop of the ELCA church. Her appointment made her the first ever female presiding bishop of the ELCA church. The post says:

She believes Jesus meant it when he said that all people can serve.  She speaks about asking young people, “What are you longing for?  What brings you joy?  What keeps you up at night?  Well, let me tell you a story.”  Her election to the position of presiding bishop is noteworthy.  It is an interesting time in the Lutheran church.

Now, ELCA Lutheran academic institutions seem to be following suit. On July 1, Rebecca M. Bergman will start serving as the first female president of Gustavus Adolphus College, my alma mater. Bergman shifts to Gustavus after a successful career as a chemical engineer. Also on July 1, Paula J. Carlson will be Luther College’s tenth president. Previously she was the vice president for mission at St. Olaf College. She, too, will be the first female president at Luther College. Then just in March, Luther Seminary, also my alma mater, announced that Rev. Dr. Robin L. Steinke will take office on June 1 as the first female president of the seminary. She is coming to Luther Seminary after fifteen years at  the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. It continues to be an interesting time in the Lutheran church when women are taking the call to step up into strategic positions of leadership.

It’s not just the Lutherans. On April 3, Le Moyne College appointed Linda LeMura as the school’s fourteenth president. The unanimous appointment made her the first lay woman president at any Jesuit college or university in the world. She joins the group of women making firsts and making news across denominations. Part of me is amazed that it took until 2013 for these institutions to elect female presidents. Women have been at the heart of good education for as long as we can remember. Put the truth is that presidents are responsible, too, for bringing serious money into these institutions, and well, men still have an inordinate amount of power in that sector. Men are still associated with being the face of power in religious institutions. The appointment of women as president in these religious academic institutions is a sign, I believe, that the workforce and access to financial power is shifting slowly toward equity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

We Are Only Human: An Odd Comfort

9 Apr

There are three scenes in this Sunday’s Gospel that give me an odd sort of comfort. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. We are not told this explicitly, but I get the sense that Jesus just needed to get away from it all at this moment, to be alone, to pray to God before facing what he was about to face. Jesus is honest with his disciplines, explaining to them that his “soul is sorrowful even to death.” Addressing God as Father, a term that was unusual for Jews to use during Jesus’ time, which indicates Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus first asks to be spared, but then in the next breath reaffirms his trust in God, indicating his willingness to follow God’s will and not his own.

via flickr user Solle

via flickr user Solle

This is a Jesus that I can relate to; this is a Jesus I know is there. At the times in my life when I have felt deep sorrow, the sort of sorrow that feels as if it will swallow you whole, I have felt the irresistible urge to be in contact with the ground. Prostrate on the floor, I have cried and prayed, prayed and cried, imagining that Jesus, too, once knelt on the ground in Gethsemane, in touch with the dust out of which human beings are formed and into which they will return. Of course, this does not take away the sorrow, but it helps somehow to know that Jesus felt something similar. It helps somehow to know that even for Jesus is was not always easy to follow God’s will. This Jesus gives me permission to ask God if things might be another way, all the while encouraging me to trust in God.

The second scene is a familiar one involving Peter, who is milling about in the courtyard outside the high priests’ chamber, waiting, we can suppose, for the results of Jesus’ trial with the Sanhedrin. Despite his testimony earlier in the evening that he would never deny Jesus, Peter vehemently argues that he does not know Jesus to not just one, but three different groups of people who ask him if he was been with Jesus the Nazarene. (Interestingly, the first two people to whom Peter makes his denial are a servant woman and a girl, who, because of their social and gender status, likely would not have been in a position to do him harm had he affirmed his relationship with Jesus.)

Unfortunately, this is a disciple that I can relate to all too well. Luckily, I live in a time and a place where I do not have to deny having a relationship with Jesus if I am ever asked about it point blank. And yet I wonder how often my actions speak louder than any words ever could a denial of my identity as a Christian. How often do I fail to extend charity to those who need it most? How hard it is for me to include in my busy schedule time to work for justice and peace in my community? There is an odd sort of comfort in knowing that Peter, someone who actually knew and gave his life to follow Jesus, was not always up to following the call. And Peter’s response when the cock crows offers me a clue as to what I need to do when I realize the ways in which I have not lived as a disciple lives: take time to mourn.

The third scene takes place on the cross. As people are gambling for his garments and taunting him to save himself, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Scripture scholars have spent much ink debating about this cry of Jesus on the cross. From my perspective, it is an authentic cry of anguish. Yes, we know that the end of the story is resurrection, but in that moment, Jesus felt abandoned, alone, angry. And in expressing those emotions, in yelling out to God, Jesus gives us permission to do the same. We are allowed to be angry with God, to yell at God when we do not understand. It is okay because God is God, and God can take it. And again, while this does not take away our anguish, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus can commiserate with us because he experienced these very same human emotions. This Jesus is not one who shies away from the hard emotions in life. This is a Jesus who walks with us through the valleys of death.

These three scenes could be seen as dark and depressing. Maybe they are dark and depressing for someone who has never felt deep sorrow, deep anguish, deep doubt, or deep fear. But I have felt all these things, and knowing that Jesus felt them and that some of his closest followers felt them makes me feel less alone on my journey of faith. And perhaps most importantly, these three scenes remind me that it is okay to be human because that is what we are. I do not have to be perfect, and I am not expected to happily and unquestioningly follow God’s will. The journey of faith does not only encompass mountain top moments but also valleys of despair and doubt. And Jesus is not only with us looking out at the amazing vistas; he is with us most especially when we cannot see our way forward.

Gospel Reflection for April 13, 2014, Palm/Passion Sunday

7 Apr

About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud tone, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  This means, “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46


The events of the passion test and manifest Jesus’ love for God, for the world, for his friends, and for the community that still gathers in his name.  Jesus endures not only the pain and shame of crucifixion but one friend’s betrayal, another’s denial, and God’s seeming abandonment.

When have you found Jesus with you in times of betrayal or suffering or seeming abandonment?

 If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

How To Claim Jesus Today

2 Apr

John 18: 1-27 tells the story of Judas betraying Jesus followed by Peter denying Jesus. Three time over, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples denies that he knows Jesus. It was an intense scene that was escalating – Jesus was being questioned by the high priest and started being beaten by the police. To claim to know Jesus was to welcome trouble. Peter decided to avoid conflict by distancing himself from Jesus, the one in the center of the storm. “Nope, I don’t know him.”

I looked at this passage with a group of high school students. The young people identified with Peter.

“It’s way cooler to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus at my school,” one young man admitted. “A lot of the kids who say they are atheist don’t really know what that means. They just don’t want people to think they are religious and go to church.”

Another added, “Yeah, the vocal Christians at our school are homophobic, and that just isn’t cool. I don’t want to be grouped with those kids. It’s easier to pretend to not believe in Jesus at all.” (“Nope, I don’t know him.”)

Our context was public high schools in Minneapolis, but they also saw themes reflected on the national stage.

On March 20, Fred Phelps died. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church is most famous for picketing more than 53,000 events with signs that say things like, “God Hates Fags.” Phelps rose to national notoriety in 1998, when Westboro members picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay. He claimed natural and human-made disasters are God’s punishment for the acceptance of gay people and thought homosexuals should be put to death. His recent death brought his legacy back into the media. People responses were polarizing: silence, anger, sadness and joy.

On March 24th, World Vision announced it would begin to hire people in same-sex marriages. The announcement caused a backlash among conservative donors. On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision. Richard Stearns asked donors who had pulled their funding to “forgive our poor judgment in the original decision. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” The initial decision and the decision to reverse the policy was polarizing. Who is right? Who loses? What would Jesus say? The name calling, divisions and anger from all sides on social media were deafening.

In a recent post, Jon Huckins writes, “I’m not against healthy dialog, disagreement or even conflict. I’m actually quite for it. The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom.”

Today, Christianity is getting press for publicly fighting about gay marriage maybe more than any other thing. The high schoolers feel it. I feel it. And we were all a little sympathetic to Peter, who just wanted to side step the controversy through denying his love for Jesus altogether. What I heard from the students is a desire to exist in a world beyond black and white, beyond right and wrong, bigger than this one issue. They wanted to be able to claim their faith without being put in a constricting box. They want to change the discourse and ask a whole new set of questions that reflect the ministry of Jesus. Where some of their friends have given up, they are hanging on, but often in secret. Our work continues to be creating space for people to read the gospel together and form subversive community that are committed to the truth. To be brave, claim Jesus, and address the areas of brokenness in our world. To seek to know Jesus and be able to say, “Yep, I know him.” For Peter and for us, it’s hard work, it’s a little scary, but it’s also good.

 

Gospel Reflection for April 6, 5th Sunday of Lent

31 Mar

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though they will die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha responded, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the messiah, the son of God: he who is to come into the world.”

John 11.25-27


Lazarus died before Jesus arrived to see him. When Martha and Mary meet Jesus, they each say, “Lord if you had been here, my brother never would have died.”  The repetition tells us this statement is important. Martha and Mary raise a question in the life of the early Christian community in which many expected Jesus to return in glory within their lifetimes.

Jesus’ delay in the story provides the reason for his dialog with Martha, who speaks the faith of the community that experienced this delay in history. Her brother’s death tests and transforms Martha’s faith.

Before what graves have you stood and asked as Martha and Mary do, “Why didn’t you save the one we love?”

 If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Rest that Unites

26 Mar

All over the world, Orthodox and other observant Jews are inviting their Jewish brothers and sisters to join them in Shabbat. Here’s an example from South Africa:

The video gives me goosebumps. People choosing to turn their phones off, walk out in the street, make bread together, eat together, pray together and come together over religious observance. It is stunning. I am struck by how the project brought about unity. The religious observance of rest, of Shabbat, brought people together across Jewish denominational lines.

Currently, I work six days a week. This helps me take Sabbath seriously. On the day I don’t work, I try to really not work. I try to be stringent about no screen time and no sense of efficient productivity. If I don’t rest fully, I start my next work week tired and uninspired. But it’s hard, especially because I’m resting alone. My time off doesn’t coordinate with time off of my friends and family. I’m jealous of the people in the video who all chose to rest together in community. I have to hold myself accountable to rest. It’s easy to just keep working while others are at work. Our society values it. There’s always more to do. In a world that requires us to blur the lines between work and rest more and more, how can we ardently protect a time of rest each week as a way to honor God?

How do you find the rest of Sabbath in your week? What would a world-wide Christian Sabbath Project look like? How can we unite over our religious observance of Sabbath? How can we rest in community?

Gospel Reflection for March 30, 2014, 4th Sunday of Lent

24 Mar
Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. The Pharisees questioned the man as to who could perform this miracle. The man said he did not know, but the person capable of such things must come from God. This outraged the Pharisees. Jesus heard about this and went to the man born blind.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man answered, “Tell me who he is, so I can believe in him.”
Jesus responded, “You have already seen him. He is speaking to you now.”
“I believe, Jesus,” said the man.


John 9.35-38

Sunday’s gospel begins as a miracle but continues as a faith drama, a series of scenes in which a man born blind explains to neighbors and teachers how he got his sight and who this person is who gave him his sight. As the man tells his story, he sees with increasing clarity who Jesus is.

How have your eyes been opened? How did you receive your sight?

 

 If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,279 other followers

%d bloggers like this: