Sunday, July 15, 2012

love wins

There’s more to the story…. love wins.
Amos 7 and Mark 6
July 15, 2012

It would be totally legitimate today, I think, at the end of this excerpted story from Mark to say, instead of “Thanks be to God,” a response that I learned in the Black church… Well? Well seemed to have a whole host of meanings… a healthy skepticism, a good questioning, a wondering, a self-searching—what does this mean for me? For us? It seems right to bring that whole group of questions to these stories of God’s prophets and what happens to them when they speak God’s living word.

Amos was an ordinary shepherd, a tree caretaker—it seems like that kind of profession would give a person a lot of time for reflection. I remembering reading at the Chicago arboretum a few years back that it took over 6,000 hours to do the kind of hand-pruning that was needed each year to keep the Japanese gardens in shape. So if being a “dresser of sycamore trees” was anything like that, this was a man who had plenty of hours to listen for the voice of God, to find the center of things—and in that encounter, when God spoke, what did God ask Amos to say?

Oh, that the king will die and that God will destroy both the religious and secular infrastructure of the whole kingdom. Insurrection. Sedition. That’s popular. Yet, Amos spoke this dangerous word because he knew God’s bigger story—that when the poor are not cared for, the kingdom falls. He spoke the truth not because it was safe but because God’s living word came to him in such a compelling way that he couldn’t simply be a follower of herds anymore, he had to go right to the house of God and speak.

According to Mark, Jesus, too, was taking followers and transforming them, turning them loose as leaders. He gave them authority over spirits and forces that oppressed people, he told them to take nothing with them—as they went out, they had to learn a radical kind of trust… They had to receive hospitality from others, making themselves vulnerable in a new way (instead of self-sufficient). They went out with the message that God was turning the whole world around (from upside down to right-side up) and as they went, they healed people, pouring oil over their heads, a kind of royal treatment.

When Herod heard about this movement, he recognized it. He had killed John in a gruesome way… but this was the same kind of thing all over again. It was as if that holy man was raised from the dead. They thought they had killed the prophet, silenced the voice of dissent, but there was far more to the story.

Brutality, judgment and punishment are not the end of either of these stories. God is a God of justice… but that’s not all. Unlike Herod, who makes a rash promise and cruelly keeps it, God continually works to over-turn and win people through a seemingly unending ability to forgive. Again and again, God keeps forgiving people, giving us another chance, taking our missed opportunities and creating new starts. God shows us not only how to keep promises but an example of a holy, risky change of mind. God is a God of justice but finally, love wins.

So in view of that story, what about us? What do we see? What do we hear?
We need the voice of Amos—the south-to-north missionary—to remind us how real God’s presence is. God is not simply going to let injustice and harm go on forever, particularly injustice that’s given out by God’s own people.

We can look around, and we don’t have to look too far to see events and systems and ways of being all around us… and even in us… where if God were measuring with a plumb line, we would all be measured and found wanting.
We see evidence of random, senseless violence daily. Some of us live very close to that reality. Others live more protected lives… but none of us really escapes the ways that in just a blink of an eye, it gets personal. None of escapes the deeper problems: suffering and death, fear, distrust, frantic busyness, lack of a center, hopelessness… 
From time to time, God opens our eyes to the way that in the dominant stories all around us, people are not loved, valued, cared for as whole people. If we stop for even a moment to take it in, life can feel overwhelmingly full of random violence, meaninglessness, deep suffering, and despair.

But that’s not all there is. Much as we need to look outward and inward with a prophet’s brutal honesty… we need to look even further.
There is more to the story.

God never gives up listening to our cries. Jesus keeps sending people out, not as lonely prophets but two by two… and when senseless death seems to have the last word, even those stories point to the One who brings more to the story—Jesus Christ, the One whose broken body was also lovingly laid in the tomb, the one who died and was raised to give us new life.

Because of Jesus, we know that:
Exile will not last forever.  War will not last forever.
Cruelty will not last forever.          Brokenness will not last forever.
Abuse will not last forever.           Systemic injustice will not last forever.
Racism, nor any –ism, will not last forever. Pain will not last forever.
Homelessness will not last forever.       Illness will not last forever.
Addiction will not last forever. Despair, depression will not last forever.
Loneliness will not last forever.

Just like the ancient prophets… today, too, God longs to speak this living word through us—just ordinary people, people who wouldn’t consider ourselves prophets but who are gardeners, caretakers, workers, administrators, teachers, parents, volunteers, friends. God  keeps creating more to the story… new life in the face of death, hope replacing despair.

And we practice that more-to-the-story here, each time we take a hand, look into each others eyes and say those powerful words of blessing that Jesus shared over and over in the face of terror, fear and death… Peace be with you.
We’ll practice it today. Peace be with you.

That’s God’s vision for us—that we carry in our bodies a strong counter-story to the story of death all around us today—that we, like the prophets, might be the ordinary people through whom God can work. That we might be like those disciples, who through knowing Jesus, are empowered to go out… to proclaim a new and different way of being in the world together, to be about healing, to treat one another with the deepest of love and respect.

And when we fail or when we can’t, even then… we can still trust that there is more to the story—because according to the One who was, and is and is to come, love wins.
This is the good news, the gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray…
God, you call us, ordinary people, to a life that is uncertain. We can’t see what the end will be. Sometimes we’re not even sure we’re on the right path because although some things are familiar, we haven’t ever gone exactly this way before. In light of all that, it’s easy to feel afraid and anxious. Take that fear away and replace it with trust in you. Give us faith to go out today with courage, not knowing where we are headed but knowing that you are with us through the journey. Your hand is stretched out to us. Your love surrounds and fills us, making love for others possible, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sunday, July 08, 2012

After a long break, I've decided to begin blogging again at Blessed to be a witness. Although my context has changed, there are still so many ways to witness (experience and tell about) God working daily. Now, I am a Transition Pastor at St. Paul-Reformation. So... a new place and a new attempt to be about that work of witnessing to God at work in daily life, in transitions, in discernment.

This week, I've been reading Life and Livelihood: A Handbook for Spirituality at Work. Author Whitney Wherrett Roberson draws together ideas and stories from a whole variety of faith traditions to imagine how in our work days we can more fully experience abundant life. There are two things that stand out to me about how this book is written, modeling for readers (and workers) how to shape the work day. Each section begins with an opportunity to center. Breathe deeply. Check in... Each section ends with these words, "Bless: Offer the person on your left a word of hope or blessing for the coming week."

This is meant to be used as a resource for small, Christian or interfaith groups that get together in their workplace. I am thinking about how it might be used here at St. Paul-Reformation in the various groups that gather. I am also wondering how many people have the opportunity to gather in the middle of their work days with others for these kinds of conversations. Wouldn't that be an amazing thing to begin if it is not happening, yet if there is opportunity?