Friday, April 27, 2007

Hope in Revelation

Shared in chapel at Luther College today
Text: Revelation 6:1-7:4

When I was a student here at Luther and lived in Larsen, I had a sticker posted beside my desk, chosen because of its earth-friendly scripture verse, “Hurt not the earth or the sea or the trees.” Revelation 7:3a – a very tiny portion of the reading for today.

You might almost miss this verse in the larger reading describing death and destruction. In fact, you could make an argument that this phrase is taken completely out of context since all around it, the vision is exposing harm and hurt. As John describes the reality of the Roman empire’s brutal impact on the communities he loves, he describes, almost like a newscaster, how they have come conquering and to conquer, removed peace from the earth so that people slaughter one another, live in brutal financial arrangements that starve people, kill in numerous ways… in John’s vision, even the earth is experiencing havoc—earthquakes and stars falling like a fruit tree that drops its fruit when shaken by a gale.

Really, it kind of sounds like our news. We hear at least daily of efforts in Iraq to conquer and of those lost in that effort. This morning in the Des Moines Register, I read John Carlson’s reflections on hearing an early morning report of 9 dead and 20 wounded from the 82nd Airbourne—and his dreadful waiting for a knock, a call because as he writes, “my family has someone in Iraq.”
We reel from the stories of killing at Virginia Tech: survivor Erin Sheehan in Norris room 207 said she doesn’t know how she wasn’t shot. As she lay motionless, people lay in every direction from her, and she could hear the sounds of their dying [NPR Morning Edition].
We heard the witness last night at the Hunger Banquet in Peace Dining Room of the brutal economics in our world—the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough food and resources to go around—it’s unfair and inadequate distribution that is starving children, not to mention mothers, to death.
And I heard this week, it a report from peach farmers throughout Alabama who experienced an unseasonable 20 degree cold snap, their grief at losing their entire fruit crop. “You look out and all the fruit is on the ground. There’s not one thing left on the tree. It makes you want to cry.” [NPR Morning Edition]

If we can relate to John’s revealing vision—it’s because the deep pain and need of our world is all around us—and as far as I can tell, this isn’t because we’re living in the “end times”—this is because empire-building, violent grasping for power, abuse of the earth, greed…because all of this sin and brokenness is present in our world today.

The good news is that there is an alternative to selling our souls to empire. We do not have to be paralyzed in the face of all this because there is another, truer, deeper story woven through the book of Revelation – through this vision of John – a story of hope that reminds us of God’s call and God’s promise. Like this little seed within the destruction - “Hurt not the earth or the sea or the trees” - we are bordered front and back by violence and death. But the violence described in chapter 6 is also bordered/bracketed/bookended – it is surrounded on every side by the power of the Lamb.

In the Easter texts of Revelation 5, we hear - “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!”

And we are moving on to the text that comes this next Sunday in chapter 7, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“Lamb power,”*as this power is described in Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing’s book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, is a very different kind of power—power in vulnerability, power in sacrifice, power in singing, power in worship—this is the power that is given by the Holy Spirit who calls and gathers, enlightens and sanctifies God’s people… for a purpose.

The hope and promise that permeates Revelation is not for some far-off day when we die and thus escape the realities of the world—no way! The hope and promise is to give us a glimpse of God’s vision, God’s reality, God’s way… and the part that each of us can play in bringing that vision to life in our daily work and living.
It’s a little like that piece of wisdom that is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther, “If I was told that world was going to end tomorrow—today, I would plant a tree.” Why? Well not because he was an eccentric man out of touch with reality… but because of his continued faith in God’s work of healing, renewal and reconciliation on earth.

We are called to be a part of this vision of hope—through who we are & what we say & do. Another name for that is vocation. I know, I know… if you’ve heard that word once in this chapel, you’ve heard it a thousand times.

But I think why we’re so obsessed with it is all of us know how hard it is in the crazy busyness, demands and pain of every day life to have a vision of the whole—God’s vision, my vision, the world’s deep need, my deep joy, how these intersect and come together. We need the reminder in our vocation as students, teachers and staff; as sons and daughters, parents, friends, or whatever our role in this place and time. There is a part for us to play in bringing hope into the world.
And whatever vocation God is calling us toward, there will be a part for us to play in bringing hope into the world.

Not unlike the jazz that surrounds this word in chapel this morning, we come together: trumpet, saxophone, drum, piano, trombone, voice… we come together to practice the way our songs together will flow. The melody is shared around. Solos are backed up and supported by the group. We improvise. There is give and take. Together, we make music that permeates the room, that will be in us throughout the day, maybe longer.

Today, God is calling you and me to be the change we want to see in the world, the jazz musicians, spirit-filled act-ors, proclaimers of hope … like the tree of life found at the end of the story in Revelation 22, whose branches hold 12 kinds of fruit and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, we are called to bear fruit and bring healing, we are nourished by living waters… we freed by the power of the Holy Spirit to set others free. Freed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be and become the people God is creating us to be. God is not done with us yet…God is not just leaving us to destruction… instead, we are like the seed, in fertile ground, and the Spirit whispers, “Grow, grow, grow.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

Keep in mind

Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for you and has risen from the dead.
Today we sang these words in worship and it reminded me of the first time I heard this canticle. I was traveling for a month through Europe and it was New Year's Eve. We didn't have any supper that night, we were both sick and my best friend sang this song. Kind of like comfort food that fills you up and makes you feel good and satisfied, this canticle has always been a comfort to me since that day. It's also a reminder of what to keep in mind.
Thomas was not one of the first witnesses of the resurrection. He missed out when Jesus first appeared to the gathered community and thought everyone must have lost their collective mind when they said they had seen Jesus. But Jesus came around again, Thomas got a second chance. He got just what he asked for--the opportunity to put his fingers in the wounds in Jesus' hands and his hands in Jesus' side. When he said, "Show me," Jesus obliged. Jesus responded to Thomas' doubt and fear. Jesus also commends those who believe even without seeing. And in doing both, Jesus reaches out to all of us: trusting and cynical, naive and worldly, doubters and faithful.
Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for you and has risen from the dead. He is the saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.
Whether we find ourselves believing or not believing this Easter season, Jesus is present, believing in us. Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to rest and work with God in mind. Jesus saves us and gives us something to keep in mind... and brings joy.
In hope of resurrection,
Pastor Joy

Monday, April 09, 2007

Day of Arising

Day of arising, Christ on the roadway, unknown companion walks with his own. When they invite him, as fades the first day, and bread is broken, Christ is made known.

When we are walking, doubtful and dreading, blinded by sadness, slowness of heart, yet Christ walks with us, ever awaiting our invitation: Stay, do not part.

Lo, I am with you, Jesus has spoken. This is Christ's promise, this is Christ's sign: when the church gathers, when bread is broken, there Christ is with us in bread and wine.

Christ, our companion, hope for the journey, bread of compassion, open our eyes. Grant us your vision, set all hearts burning that all creation with you may rise.

"Day of Arising," by Susan Palo Cherwien, ELW 374

In resurrection hope and vision,
Pastor Joy

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Holy Saturday


So now, as we take the next steps into the wilderness into which God is sending us now; as the human creature has moved from being the hunter/gatherer to the land-worker to the city-dweller to the trveller in the skies, we must move on to a way of life where we are so much God's one people that warfare is no longer even a possibility. It is that, or dis-aster, and we must not let Satan, the great separator, win.
The phrase, "the butterfly effect," comes from the language of physics. It is equally the language of poetry, and of theology. For the Christian, the butterfly has long been a symbol of resurrection.
The butterfly emerges from the cocoon, its wings, wet with rebirth, slowly opening, and then this creature of fragile loveliness flies across the blue vault of sky.
Butterflies and angels, seraphim and cherubim, call us earthbound creatrues to lift up our mortal dust and sing with them, to God's delight.
Holy. Holy. Holy!

From Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

On this night of fire, journey through our storied past, baptismal waters and finally... resurrection!
Pastor Joy

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday


Here it was August, but I found myself thinking of Holy Week. Lonely week. The most painful part of the story. Jesus, at the end of his earthly mission, facing failure, abandonment, death.
What kept Jesus going? What keeps us going when we're in the middle of the worst of it? The knowledge that we are loved by our Creator. Everybody else left Jesus. The disciples, those he had counted on to be with him to the end, all left him in the Garden. No one understood who he was, what he was about, what he had come for. How many times in our lives have we faced that utter and absolute abandonment? Jesus knew that his mission had been high, and it was in ruins about his feet.
He stood in front of Pontius Pilate and he held to his mission and his position because of love, God's love, which did not fail, not even when he questioned it on the cross.
What has happened during the centuries to that God of sustaining, enduring, total love? How can we survive without it?
I cannot.

From Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

In God's love, which does not fail but sustains even through failure, abandonment and death,
Pastor Joy

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Heaven is not a place name. Heaven is wherever God's will is being done. When, occasionally, it is done on earth, then there is heaven. It is the most difficult thing in the world for most of us to give up directing our own story and turn to the Author. This has to be done over and over again. Time and again I know exactly how a certain situation should be handled, and in no uncertain terms I tell God how to handle it. Then I stop, stock-still, and (sometimes with reluctance) end by saying, "However, God, do it your way. Now my way, your way. Please."

In Dayspring all our fragments: body, mind
And spirit join, unite
Healed by your love, corruption and decay
Are turned, and whole, we greet the light of day.

From Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

On this day of forgiveness and feet,
sharing the meal of remembrance and being stripped of all illusions,
Pastor Joy

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wednesday in Holy Week

Whether I kneel or stand or sit in prayer
I am not caught in time nor held in space,
But, thrust beyond this posture, I am where
Time and eternity are face to face;
Infinity and space meet in this place
Where crossbar and upright hold the One
In agony and in all Love's embrace.
The power in helplessness which was begun
When all the brilliance of the flaming sun
Contained itself in the small confines of a child
Now comes to me in this strange action done
In mystery. Break time, break space, O wild
and lovely power. Break me: thus am I dead,
Am resurrected now in wine and bread.

From Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

In the mystery of Love's embrace,
Pastor Joy

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday of Holy Week

All I have to know is that I do not have to know in limited, finite terms of provable fact that which I believe. Infallibility has led to schisms in the Church, to atheism, to deep misery. All I have to know is that God is love, and that love will not let us go, not any of us. When I say that I believe in the resurrection of the body, and I do, I am saying what I believe to be true, not literal, but true. Literalism and infallibility go hand in hand, but mercy and truth have kissed each other. To be human is to be falliable, but it is also to be capable of love and to be able to retain that childlike openness which enables us to go bravely into the darkness and towards that life of love and truth which will set us free.

From Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

As we go bravely into darkness and toward the life of love,
Pastor Joy

Monday, April 02, 2007

Monday of Holy Week

If I can learn a little how to die,
To die while body, mind and spirit still
Move in their triune dance of unity,
To die while living, dying I'll fulfill
The purpose of the finite in infinity.
If God will help me learn to die today,
Today in time I'll touch eternity,
And dying, thus will live within God's Way.
If I can free myself from self's iron bands,
Free from myself not by myself, but through
Christ's presence in this simple room, in hands
Outstretched in holy friendship, then, born new
In death, truth will outlive the deathly lie,
And in love's light I will be taught to die.

Words from Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L'Engle

In holy friendship,
Pastor Joy