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Posts Tagged ‘reality’

Each of the Gospels takes us to the cemetery on Sunday morning. A scene of some confusion and surprise. The Gospels bring us to this place so we know how much things have changed. In case there were doubts before, what happened in the Jerusalem cemetery suggests the world is different now.

In Mark’s Gospel we arrive at the scene alongside women who intend to perform a ritual for dead bodies. Perhaps it is noteworthy Mark has told us all along how difficult it is to be a disciple. Though readers are told from the start Jesus is the son of God, disciples still ask “Who is this?” One of them even offers Jesus advice on how kings should rule kingdoms. Of course, Jesus replies “Get behind me.” On this Sunday at the cemetery it seems they finally know what to expect from Jesus. After all, he is sealed in a tomb behind an extremely large stone.

Instead, Mark’s Gospel tells us that things have changed. Instead of dead Jesus we find a young man in a white robe and the women run away trembling, astonished, and afraid. Just the day before they thought they understood how things work. But on this Sunday morning we wake to discover the world is different now. And can never be the same again.

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What if we viewed the story of the church as a rebellion? After all, that is the way it has been viewed through much of history. It is only because we have convinced ourselves we are part of the mainstream that we have lost sight of our connection with a historical rebellion.

The fact is, we have been at odds with what goes on around us for a long time. Abraham was an early recipient of information that things were not ok and a different way was necessary. Ever since, we have carried with us a promise of blessing and curse. Moses led a band of rescued slaves into occupied territory and they claimed it as their own. The prophets preached and wrote messages contrary to majority opinion for hundreds of years. John came preaching a challenge to existing kingdoms, announcing that a new king and new kingdom was at hand.

When the rulers of the majority kingdom realized they could not stop this king from his contrary ways, they crucified him. This was supposed to stop the rebellion. Instead, his following continued to grow and his news began spreading everywhere. Followers were often in danger, they sometimes met in secret, they shared their news from prison, and many were put to death. One was ostracized but even there he continued to preach how the ways of God are at odds with the ways of the world.

This story has not stopped and we are part of it. We still carry an old promise, stories of rescued slaves, and the words of prophets. We are participants in an ongoing rebellion that has been alive for centuries. We are recipients of information that things are not ok as they are. We still gather in the presence of a crucified king who sends us out with news of a better way.

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In recent years we have heard an increased use of the phrase (especially by politicians) “wrong side of history.” Whenever I hear it, I cannot help but try to figure out what the speaker intends when it is spoken. Is it supposed to be a statement of hope? Perhaps a statement of confidence that one’s plans will come to pass? Sometimes it sounds like a plea for better behavior or more likely a plea to be in agreement with the speaker about behavior. Other times it sounds overconfident. As if the speaker is convinced that they will be able to steer history in a direction of their choosing. Sometimes it just sounds like the speaker is insulting the listener for not agreeing with the speaker.

We can’t fault the politicians. We all like to project what the future might look like. Perhaps that is part of the fascination with something like Star Wars. I even have predictions of my own. Does anyone else think that fast food and soda pop will become illegal or at least heavily taxed. I do not think debates about things like education, pollution, and taxes are going to be resolved in our lifetime. I am certain that we will continue to struggle to balance things like diet, exercise, work and recreation. I am certain that our inability to do these things will cause anxiety to rise higher and higher. I fear terrorism will be as real in the future as it is today. On a different note, does anyone else think it strange that the future will bring an onslaught of grandmothers named Brittany, Allison, and Lexy? For comparison sake, my grandmothers are Olive and Myrtle.

The fact is we could project many things but we do ourselves a disservice if we pretend to know how history will flow. We are not the captains on that ship. It is our fortune that the biblical text considers the future. We typically talk about this as eschatology. Regardless of what earthly powers are making decisions or who claims to be right about the course of history, the bible contributes to this conversation.

The fact is, if we choose to accept the bible as a reliable voice, we know there is something more important than knowing what future events may come. It is more important that we have confidence in the one we choose to follow and serve. If we accept the bible as reliable, it does not matter who is in the majority or who claims to have executive power. The bible insists that Jesus is King.

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It feels like Winter, finally. And the forecast calls for snow. Makes me want to do something wintry. Maybe I’ll put on a lot of layers. Test the strength of the ice on the lake. Get out the snow shoes. Light a fire. I have been watching the trailer for the movie The Revenant which looks like a winter adventure. Maybe I’ll go check the trap line, fight a bear, and crawl back to camp. Or maybe I’ll just go watch the movie.

I am reminded of the following;

I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are more subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.(Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.29)

Sounds wintry. I am glad I do not have to fight a bear or crawl back to camp in the snow in order to experience some winter adventure.

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We are created for adventure. Our soul longs for it. Yet, it is our tendency to partner with culture and settle for domestication. Somewhere along the way we are convinced to accept an agreement that things are ok as they are. This may leave us somewhat unsettled. That is our soul talking. Our soul rebels against such an agreement. The soul rebels against boredom and all other attempts to tame it.

The soul instead longs for something grand; it desires an adventure that makes us want to say “wow.” The soul longs for an adventure that sparks thought and imagination. We are made for a journey that explores mystery and wonder. We may find a kindred spirit in C. S. Lewis “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The soul desires something different than what is served up by society.

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Luke is a careful investigator. He passes along details learned from eyewitnesses and is a student of history. This is important enough that it is the first thing he tells us in his gospel. He wants us to know that what follows is set in history.

That may be why he goes on to tell us that Caesar Augustus issued a decree and that Quirinius was governor and that a census was taking place. But Luke also wants us to be aware that other things were happening also. Luke wants us to know that the plan of God is in full effect. A new kingdom is on the horizon. The existing powers may continue to act as if they possess some ultimate authority. So Caesar decrees, Quirinius governs, Mary and Joseph try to follow the laws of the land.

Meanwhile a new king is near and with him a new kingdom. Perhaps in effort to emphasize this Luke points out that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David (home of Israel’s greatest king) and that Joseph was related to David (Israel’s greatest king). Perhaps that is why he records the angel’s announcement that the child is born in the town of David. Is Luke hinting that here lies Israel’s next king? Has kingdom come in a manger?

We sometimes read Luke 2 as instructions to set up our nativity scene. Luke wants us to know that something else is going on. God has invaded history. We sometimes try to spiritualize the work of God as if He only works in some spiritual arena. Luke wants us to know that God invades our real time history. God invades time while Caesar is decreeing, while wanna-be-Caesars debate on network television, while planning menus, while Quirinius governs, while balancing the checkbook, while shepherds watch their flocks, while worrying about fuel prices, while a census is taken, while unexpected weather occurs, while looking for room at the inn. Christmas is the message of kingdom come in a manger.

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In an effective marketing move Starbucks introduced a red cup with a statement that the company “wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.” Apparently this has caused a backlash on social media with some stating that Starbucks stole Christmas and others claiming Christians are petty. If this does not make things obvious, please listen carefully; do not go to social media for theology or pastoral counsel.

Christmas is a story about a virgin who came to be with child during the reign of Caesar Augustus. It is about a man who chose to marry her and travel with her to Bethlehem where the child was born and laid in a manger. It is about shepherds who watched their flocks by night and celebrated this birth with angels. It is about Gentile astrologers who traveled afar offering gifts to this child they acknowledged as king. It is about an angry Herod who had children slaughtered in an effort to eliminate this child.

Christmas is a story of scandal and shame and danger and violence and uninvited guests.  It is a story of humility and sacrifice and love for neighbors and enemies. It is a story about God’s invasion of this planet to usher in a new kingdom. It is extremely unfortunate that some have been led to believe this story includes protest of a red cup. Christmas is a story of much greater significance. Seriously, do we need Linus to come onstage with his blanket and remind us what this is about?

It is not the job of Starbucks to tell others about Christmas. I doubt they could tell it well. We minimize the story when we act as if it is the job of marketers or retailers to tell. We minimize the story when we make it about the design of a cup. Christmas may be war on the way things are. It is not war against retailers. Retailers are not called to proclaim good news of great joy. If this is our expectation – we have lost the war. If we wish others “Merry Christmas” as a weapon against them, – we are the problem. These are actions we expect from agents of Caesar and Herod but certainly not from agents of Jesus.

Seriously, what would possess us to berate a barista or boycott a retailer because their employer is not sharing our story? The methods of Caesar and Herod are not our methods. Our methods reflect the characteristics of the one born and laid in a manger. Our methods reflect a kingdom that is under different rule than the kingdoms of Caesar and Herod.

Each year we are given opportunity to share the Christmas story. This year we find an opportunity in a red cup. We have already seen that red cups can become tools to distract us from what is really at stake. We could complain about it because others do not automatically think like we do. Or we could find an opportunity to demonstrate what this is really about.

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