Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pancakes and Ashes

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

I have to admit, I needed to "research" a bit about what this day actually means. I have heard of Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, but what in the world does "shrove" mean?

A quick internet search helps a bit:

"'Shrove Tuesday' (also known in Commonwealth countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent...the expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "absolve"."

Of course with food-eating comes party-having and perhaps some other festivities that you can imagine as part of our understanding of "Mardi Gras." Think New Orleans, beads, dancing, costumes...

So, the tradition holds that before you fast for 40 days, you have one last chance to feast before Lent begins.

I understand how much this practice may be, but I am afraid it conveys a God that does not wish for us to have fun and celebrate much. I am afraid this practice may convey a message that the season of Lent is not a joyful time, that we should not look forward to it.

Our season of Lent is derived from the time after he was baptized. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. During this time, Jesus fasted. But this time was far more than simply giving up food. It was a time of self-discovery, for proving himself, claiming his own identity...a time for Jesus to be equipped for ministry in the world. A time set apart to be tempted and tried, but ultimately come away from it with a strong sense of who he was.

OK, maybe the tradition of this day makes a bit more sense to me now. If Lent is to be an intense time of self-discovery, sacrifice, prayer, and a re-commitment to God, maybe one more day of "carelessness" makes sense...

But I believe this tradition marks just who we are as human beings. The way we think of Lent as a transaction (I will sacrifice 40 days as long as I get just 1 day of "carelessness"), points to our need for grace and mercy. We are human beings in need of that; we are in need of a God who offers us this time to be strengthened through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that Christ himself did as well. And Jesus died too, just as we will.

Ash Wednesday points to our humanness, our limitations, and just how much God loves us. We will not live forever in this world in these bodies. We were born from dust, and to dust we will return. We have hope that this life we will be made new one day, that we will be raised up by the power and mercy of God, but Wednesday, and throughout Lent, we ponder our humanness. We contemplate that we are not there yet, that we need a God who comes to us now in our humanness.

So eat your pancakes today, receive your ashes tomorrow. Be reminded of your limitations, your need for grace. We are invited to be strengthened by God during this time in the wilderness of our own lives. May God grant you peace and mercy through this season of Lent.


God of Lent,

As we enter this time of sacrifice, self-discovery, prayer, repentance, of drawing closer to You, grant us peace, grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the road ahead. Strengthen us, mold us, make us new by your grace and mercy. Through Jesus Christ our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

In Christ,


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Saint Valentine's Day

Today is a day reserved for the color pink, candy, flowers, hallmark cards, a special date night, and the sharing of love between 2 people (or if you are a child in school, the obligation to share your candy with the whole class). That is all well and good, but these things do not reveal who Saint Valentine truly was.

What the Hallmark cards won't tell you is that Saint Valentine was a holy troublemaker -- he was imprisoned, beaten, and brutally executed.

Valentine's day wasn't always about candy, flowers, and pink hearts...

Valentine was a priest in Rome in the 3rd century AD. He was known for assisting Christians persecuted under Claudius II. After being caught marrying Christian couples (a big no-no, for they were sought after as "rebels" to Rome) and helping Christians escape the persecution, Valentine was arrested and imprisoned. It is very plausible that it is from these actions that the romantic elements of Valentine's day emerged -- but far more than a romantic, Valentine was a revolutionary.

There are many legends of Valentine -- that he courageously refused to pay homage to the imperial gods, being faithful only to Christ, and that he resisted war, subversively marrying young couples preventing the men from going to war (the emperor Claudius believed unmarried men made better soldiers so married men were spared the horrors of war).

Although Emperor Claudius originally liked Valentine, he was condemned to death when he tried to convert the emperor. Eventually, Valentine was beaten with stones, clubbed, and, finally, beheaded on February 14, 269 (or 273, the year is debated but somehow we all agree on February 14).

In the year 496, February 14 was named as a day of celebration in Valentine’s honor.

But here is one of my favorite stories -- Valentine became friends with the daughter of his captor. Just before he was executed, Valentine healed the blind daughter of the jailer, restoring her vision -- a dazzling act of enemy-love. As the legend goes -- on the day of his execution, he left the jailer's daughter a note signed: "Your Valentine" ... undoubtedly sparking what has become a classic Valentine's tradition around the world -- of sending little notes to people we love (or people we would like to love).

Perhaps even more faithful to Valentine would be to write a note to someone who might be an enemy or who might be a most unlikely, subversive friend. Try that today. And sign it as he did, "Your Valentine" -- I'm sure it will make ole Valentine smile down on you... or blow you a kiss from heaven...for he was a revolutionary lover of people...a holy trouble-maker.

A Prayer for Holiness of Heart
By Howard Thurman
(United Methodist Hymnal, No.401)

Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart.
Here is the citadel of all my desiring,
where my hopes are born
and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings.
In this center, my fears are nourished,
and all my hates are nurtured.
Here my loves are cherished,
and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored
without quivering and without shock.
In my heart, above all else,
let love and integrity envelop me
until my love is perfected and the last vestige
of my desiring is no longer in conflict with Thy Spirit.
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Amen.

(My thanks to Shane Claiborne for providing some information which I have shared here in this post)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Epiphany: Servants of the Lord

"Happy are those (Psalm 119)  who choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19), for we are God's servants (1 Corinthians 3:9). You've heard it said ______, but I say to you_______ (Matthew 5: 21-37)." These are all sayings from our readings this week. Strung together, they point us towards a God who is trying to speak direction into our lives. 

Jesus speaks to those as the interpreter and fulfill-er of Scripture. He has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is demonstrative of the intricacies around interpretation of Scripture. We pit Jesus against the law, without remembering Jesus’ own words, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus himself shows us how the complexity of making sense of faith is inherent to having faith.
We live in a world of black and white, right or wrong, left or right. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you.” But to paraphrase Jesus as saying, “I am right and you are wrong” would be the equivalent of Jesus saying to God, “you were wrong.” Jesus engages in the hard work of the necessity of Scripture to be reinterpreted for new times and places. This is when the words of the Psalmist should come to our lips, “O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” (Psalm 119:5).
The less talked about character in all of these kinds of these right/left, black/white, right/wrong debates is God. We forget that adherence to certain claims, and particular ways of being in the world are not just your opinions, your beliefs, but also reveal who you think God is. When was the last time you connected what you said and what you did with who God is for you? Our actions and our words reveal our theology.
The antitheses are all about choosing life. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists that life is threatened when anger and judgment and insult take hold of your life. Life is threatened when we engage in these certain activities mentioned. Women, for example, Jesus insists, are not culture’s for the taking. Life is threatened when women are consistently reduced, even discarded, based on their capacity to satisfy privileged and patriarchal needs and their capacity to bear children. Life is threatened when you do not follow through with oaths you make.
In other words, Jesus is saying that interpreting the law is far more complex than you make it out to be. And if your interpretations lead to death -- the silence of voices, the discounting of one's sacred worth, the disrespect and demeaning of entire groups of people, the labeling of people -- then you have to think long and hard about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to choose life, to be one of the happy ones.
If “choose life” was the test case for what we did and said, the canonical marker, if you will for disciple-speak, we may pause before we lash out in anger and fear. We might take a moment before we label someone pro-life, pro-choice, pro-abortionist, (or anti all of those things). We might stop and think, is what I am about to say and what I am about to do something that would be recognizable as life-giving, life- upholding, life-empowering?
There is an alternative, and the poet Marilyn Maciel tells me what it is:
those people
wouldn’t it be lovely
if one could
in a constant state
of we?
some of the most
can be some of the biggest
what if there was
no they?
what if there
was only
if words could be seen
as they floated out
of our mouths
would we feel no
as they passed beyond
our lips?
if we were to string
our words
on a communal clothesline
would we feel proud
as our thoughts
flapped in the
What if we chose life? What if we were one of the happy ones? What if we were truly a servant of God? What if we took Jesus' words on the Mount and let them transform our lives?

O God, send your Spirit upon us and light our path
that we may travel the road you have prepared for us
enable our hearts and minds to more fully understand
your goodness and your grace.
Help us break free from ideas that no longer bring life,
that we may embrace the life-giving work of your Spirit.
Challenge us to forsake paths that ask little of us,
and help us resist the evils and temptations of this world,
that we may truly follow the way of kingdom living. Amen.**

*"clothesline," poem by Marilyn Maciel. Published in Patti Digh, "Life Is a Verb: 37 Days To Wake Up, Be Mindful, And Live Intentionally." (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 42.

**posted on the Ministry Matters website. http://www.ministrymatters.com/

In Christ,