Who Do You Say That I Am: Teacher

“Sermon on the Mount”
Carl Bloch, 19th century

Scripture Passage: Matthew 22: 36-40
“Teacher, which commandment im the law is the greatest?”  He said to him. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a secon is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I don’t think any of us dispute that Jesus was a teacher.  He was steeped in Scripture and rich with story.  Our canon depicts him as one that people literally followed around to hear and then stayed and hung on every word, sometimes, apparently, even forgetting to bring food to eat!  And yet it wasn’t like Jesus was toting around numerous commentaries or dragging a white board around with him.  I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t need my trusty little Sunday-morning tote bag crammed full of everything that I will need for the morning along with numerous books with little sticky notes in them where I’m supposed to read somewhat profound thoughts.  And think about it, did Jesus EVER ask the Disciples to memorize something?  The notion of Jesus as teacher was, it seems to me, more engaged.  I don’t envision Jesus as a lecturer.  I think he probably wanted to hear what people had to say.  In fact, I think Jesus was craving knowledge himself.  Surely he wasn’t plunked down on this earth, Holy Spirit aside, with a full knowledge of everything that was needed to be known.  I mean, really, how boring!  I don’t think God meant for Jesus to walk this earth to spout knowledge at us; I think that Jesus came to show us what it meant to be a disciple, to be a learner, to be a student.

Ruins of Synogogue
Sepphoris (Tzippori) Israel

So, what do you think Jesus was doing with those famous missing years?  What sort of life did he have between the manger and the Jordan, between birth and baptism?  Perhaps he was learning, perhaps even going through the somewhat arduous training to be a rabbi, to be a teacher, to be an authority on the Torah and what it means for one’s life.  Perhaps this training began early, early in his life.  In fact, one of the capital cities of first-century Galilee was Sepphoris, the “jewel” of Galilee.  Nazareth, which didn’t have much at all (remember, nothing good comes from Nazareth) was just three or four miles away.  And in the ruins of that city, guess what’s there?  This thriving Jewish-Roman city was the site of a rabbinical school.  Can’t you just see young Jesus sitting at the feet of the master teachers soaking in everything he could?  (So much, in fact, that the famous visit to Jerusalem as a child seemed only natural for him to stay behind and hang on every word that the rabbis had to offer.)

Jesus did not come to set us straight or to fill us with knowledge.  Jesus came to show us how to be a disciple, to show us how to thirst for knowledge and understanding, to show us how to thirst for God.  I’m pretty sure that Jesus taught sans lesson plans.  Instead, he engaged with those around him that they might know what it means to thirst for the Divine, to want so badly to know God that they would become a disciple, a learner, a student of the Divine.  William Arthur Ward once said that “the mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; and the great teacher inspires.”  So, Jesus, the master teacher inspired us to be disciples.  Go and be filled…

On this thirty-first day of Lenten observance, be inspired by the master teacher.  Become a learner.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

LENT 2B: Safe Travels

Lectionary Passage: Mark 8: 31-34 (35-38):
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

We want to be safe.  We want everything to turn out alright.  We want some minimal guarantee of what is going to happen in our life.  We want safe travels on this journey.  But that was never part of the promise.

We’re just like Peter.  Sure, Peter got that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew the words.  He had been taught the meaning probably from his childhood.  He knew that that was what they had been expecting all along—someone to be in control, someone to fix things, someone to make it all turn out like they wanted it to turn out.    And now Jesus was telling them that the way they had thought it would all turn out was not to be, that instead this Messiah, this one who was supposed to make everything right, was to be rejected and would endure great suffering.  “No, this can’t be,” yelled Peter.  This cannot happen.  We have things to accomplish.  We are not done.  This ministry is important. (To whom?)  It cannot go away.  You have to fix this. You have to fix this now! 

Now, contrary to the way our version of the Scriptures interprets it, I don’t think Jesus was accusing Peter of being evil or Satan or anything like that.  I doubt that Jesus would have employed our semi-modern notion of an anthropomorphic view of evil.  More than likely, this was Jesus’ way of reprimanding Peter for getting hung up on the values of this world, getting hung up on our very human desire to save ourselves and the way we envision our lives to be, to fix things.  But what God had in store was something more than playing it safe.  I think that Peter, like us, intellectually knew that.  We know that God is bigger and more incredible than anything that we can imagine.  And yet, that’s hard to take.  We still sort of want God to fix things.  We still sort of want God to lead us to victory, to lead us to being the winning team.  Face it, we sort of still want Super Jesus.  And, of course, Peter loved Jesus.  He didn’t even want to think about the possibility of Jesus suffering, of Jesus dying.

Safety can be a good thing.  I would advocate that we all wear seat belts.  I think having regulations for how children are to ride in vehicles is a prudent practice. (In fact, I’m not real impressed when I see an unrestrained dog in the back of a pick-up!)  And I lock my doors at night.  But our need to be safe can also paralyze us.  It can prevent us from moving forward on this journey as we settle for taking cover from the darkness rather than journeying toward the light.  And in our search for safety, for someone to save us, what do we do with a crucified Savior?  What do we do with the cross?  Well, let’s be honest, most of us clean it up, put it in the front of the sanctuary, and, sadly, go on with the security of our lives.  So, what does it mean “take up your cross and follow”?  I think it means that sometimes faith is hard; sometimes faith is risky; in fact, sometimes faith is downright dangerous. 

In all probability, none of us will be physically crucified for our faith.  But it doesn’t mean that we should clean it up and put it out for display either.  Sometimes our journey will take us through waters that are a little too deep and torrential; sometimes we will find ourselves bogged down by mud; and sometimes faith takes us to the edge of a cliff where we are forced to precariously balance ourselves until we find the way down.  The promise was not that it would be safe; the promise was that there was something more than we could ever imagine and that we would never journey alone.  And along the way, we encounter a Savior that will save us from ourselves.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this ninth day of Lent, give up that thing in your life that is keeping you safe and secure on this journey of faith.  Begin to move forward into what God has promised for you. 

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

EASTER 2A: But…

This Week’s Lectionary Text:  Acts 2:14a, 22-32
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

According to the writings of Acts, it seems that those who had been with Jesus did get on task pretty quickly and suddenly turned into witnesses rather than limiting themselves to being followers.  This passage is part of Peter’s “Pentecost Proclamation”.  You can hear the excitement in the voice of the writer.  There really is a desire to get everyone on board, to let everyone see what the witnesses have seen, what the witnesses now know.  The problem is that with most of us humans, there’s always a “but”, an excuse, a really, really, really good reason why we can’t fully commit to what God is calling us to do.

At first reading, it seems that there exists a strong belief here in the notion of Jesus’ death being “pre-ordained” by God.   I’m not so sure about that though.  If God did “pre-ordain” Jesus’ crucifixion, does that also mean that God “pre-ordained”  the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the terrorist act of September 11, 2001?  I mean, where does it stop?  Whatever happened to free will?  Are we just pawns in some great divine chess game waiting for God to move us to the next place?  I have to tell you, that’s not my image of God. 

As the Scripture says, I think God actually DID intend to hand this God Incarnate over to us, to give up a piece of Divine control, to invite us to respond to this incredible act of God literally walking in our midst.  Think about it…you know how you take that favorite jacket to the dry cleaners?  Life is not designed such that you can stand there and watch them check it in, go through the dry cleaning process, and hang it back in its environmentally-unfriendly plastic bag (yes, that was a little bit of a dig!), all the while making sure that it is properly tagged and identified and gets to where it needs to go.  No, the truth is, you hand it over to the cleaner.  Now, at the risk of comparing the Son of God to a really cute jacket, God handed over the human part of God to us.  God relinquished control.  It was up to us.  But…but we messed up.  No excuses this time!  We royally messed up.  We didn’t like change; we didn’t like being told that the way that we had figured out how to live was not the right way; and we didn’t like the idea that we could no longer control our own destiny.  So, we killed God.  We lost the Divine in our midst, if only for a moment.

BUT…”God raised him up”.  BUT God stepped in and found what was lost, redeemed what was gone, and made alive what was once dead.  THAT is what we are called to witness–not that something awful that God had supposedly “pre-ordained” happened, but that God had “pre-ordained” handing the very Godself over to us.  And when we didn’t respond the way we should have, God stepped in yet again–not to punish, not to “undo”, but to take the worst of humanity and recreate it into the best of God.  Now, my friends, THAT is a good story.  THAT is something to which we can witness!

This is the season when God shows us how to be more than followers, how to be witnesses and doers, how to BE Christ in the world…no “buts”…we really are supposed to do it!

Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen indeed!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Next

The Region of Galilee
Taken February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now what?  What do we do next? What do we do now that the holy and the sacred, the very Divine, has spilled into our world?  What do we do now that death has been vanquished and life has been recreated into something we couldn’t have even imagined before?  It seemed easier before, when we were being called to follow, being called to look to Jesus for our teachings, for our way of becoming what we should be.  But now, we are not being told to follow.  We are being told to “Go”.  Go?  Go where?  If Lent is our formative season, Eastertide is our becoming. It is the season when we become what we’re meant to be–disciples–all of us.  The disciplines we’ve learned and the teachings we’ve heard are now ours to embody.  It is our turn, our turn to become the Word incarnate, to become the Spirit of Christ here on this earth.  (And you thought Lent was hard!)

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
                             (from “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, hymn by Charles Wesley, 1739)

So, go forth into the world, into your life. Go forth and become the Living Christ, the embodiment of the One who has Risen. But, remember, you are never alone. The very Divine has spilled into our world.
 
Christ the Lord is Risen!  The Lord has risen indeed!
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Shelli 

So, really, what IS next?  Well, I’m going to try my best to keep this blog going, maybe “semi”-daily.  This has been a wonderful discipline for me and it really has given me life.  So, maybe they’ll be a little shorter, maybe a little more sporadic.  And maybe in a few weeks, I’ll try a book study through it or something.  We’ll just see where it goes.  In the meantime, for those of you who are having this emailed to you, if you want to continue getting them, just do nothing and they will show up just like always.  If you’d rather not get them, just let me know by dropping me an email.  And if you know someone else that wants emails, they can do the same thing.  If you just click on this link, you should be able to email me through St. Paul’s website:  http://stpaulshouston.org/form/online_form.aspx?formid=37

Thanks for journeying with me!  Shelli

LENT 3A: On The Outside Looking In

Lectionary Text:  John 4: 5-26 (27-42)
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

What was she even doing there, this woman of Samaria?  Here she was walking the streets alone, coming to the well in the heat of the day hoping that she wouldn’t run into any of the regulars.  She was tired of being taunted, tired of having to try so hard to ignore the cutting remarks and the cold stares.  And so she comes to draw water hoping against hope that no one would be there, to draw water from this old well steeped in history.  She was surprised when this man appeared.  He was a Jew.  What was he doing here in her city?  She put her head down, hoping that he would just pass by and be on his way.  She didn’t want any trouble.

The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

But this is not what Jesus saw in the woman.  He asked her for a drink and began a relationship that cut through 1,000 years of prejudice and hatred and outsiders.  Jesus saw her not as a Samaritan and not even as a lowly woman but as a fellow human, a sister, a child of God.  And somewhere in the conversation, the woman saw who Jesus was too.  He was no longer a Jew; she was no longer a Samaritan.  He was no longer the insider looking out; she was no longer the outsider looking in.  They were instead part of a shared humanity with a shared vision of what the world looked like.  The woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ identity.

Now I don’t think that Jesus had some grand evangelism plan.  He was not trying to add numbers to his membership.  If you read the whole lectionary passage (I cheated and shortened it a bit!), the woman does not convert to Christianity (which wasn’t really invented yet!).  She doesn’t even convert to Judaism.  She is still a Samaritan.  In fact, it says that she drew other Samaritans into who Jesus was.  The point is that Jesus was not trying to build a flock of followers; he was trying to show people how to see that which illumined the Way to God.  The fact that they saw it was enough.  Perhaps the woman and her friends left after this and went to Mt. Gerizim to pray.  Thanks be to God!  Making disciples of Jesus Christ is not about increasing our church’s membersip.  It is not about forming people to look just like us or expecting them to change so that they can join our partying and praying clan.  Jesus didn’t expect the woman to change.  In fact, he didn’t even expect her to join him.  He just showed her what God’s love poured out into the world really looked like.  And from the outside looking in, she saw him.  And then she went to tell others.  Isn’t that what it’s about?  Maybe our problem is that we’re on the inside looking out.  Jesus is here, come to give each of us life.  Maybe when we’ve finished counting the offering and figuring out how many people were here today, we’ll finally look and see the One who offers us life, the One who brings all of the world into God.

So in this season of wandering and wondering, just learn how to see.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Extra-Ordinary Time

This is the LONGEST Epiphany Season. Ordinary Time seems to drone on and on and on.  Well, it is not your imagination.  The way the calendar falls, this is truly the longest Epiphany season we could ever have.  The cavern between the “high holy” seasons this year is indeed deep and wide, a veritable ocean of ordinary time.  The Lectionary has us reading the Sermon on the Mount.  You know, for the first time, I’ve noticed how much the word “you” is used in that discourse.  Oh, surely he means “you” as in those around him–the disciples, the religious elite, and the passers-by–you know, those to whom he was speaking.  Well, one thing about long seasons is that you have more time to ponder meaning.  And this pondering has become a bit uncomfortable.  Because if we truly enter the story the way we’re called to do.  If the Holy Scriptures become the Word, the very essence of God, rather than merely a dusty narrative composed over a couple of thousand years, then, sadly and uncomfortably, we become “you”.

Jesus is speaking to us or the Scriptures mean nothing; Jesus is wanting us to listen and to hear or he wouldn’t have bothered saying it at all.  So in this ordinary time, we become the passersby, perhaps turn into the religious elite, and if all goes well, if we really bother to stop and listen and hear, then we, too, become the disciples.  You see, Jesus over and over again uses the ordinary, the every day, and the expected to frame what he wants to say.  He uses the rules that we societies have created and the roles that its members play.  And then he goes beyond where we are, calling us to a greater and greater existence, calling us to be better than even we could have imagined, calling us to live fully into that image of God in which we have been created.  And this time between times, this ordinary season, becomes something extra [ordinary].  Yes, this is the LONGEST Epiphany Season…call it the most Extraordinary Time ever.

So finally listen and hear the call to be extra-ordinary…

Shelli                                                                                 

It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful.  The lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things. 

                                                                       (St. Francis of Assisi)

Grace and Peace,

Expectations

Lectionary Passage:  Matthew 5: 21-37 (Epiphany 6A)
    “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

     You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
     “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (NRSV) 

And yet another week of reading the Sermon on the Mount…So are you getting the sense that we’re actually supposed to be listening to it? This is not an easy discourse full of pretty little stories interspersed with a few light-hearted jokes to keep our attention. You see, we really ARE supposed to do this. Jesus, like any good teacher, begins where we are. He acknowledges the usual view of what righteousness was (and perhaps is)—that a murderer will be judged; that those who leave offerings will be rewarded; that adulterers will be punished…the list goes on. But the whole point is that it’s not enough. Jesus doesn’t frame his words as prohibitions or a list of rules to be followed. That would, in fact, be far too simplistic. After all, why would we really need faith to follow a list of rules? It’s not about rules; it’s about expectations. And there IS something more that is expected of us who dare to realize that we are children of God. The rules are there. They will stay there. They help us order our society and give us boundaries for our lives. But we are expected to go beyond them, to be better than the society we have ordered and the boundaries we have drawn. And here, it is not just about behaviors; it also applies to attitudes and emotions. Indeed, it is about every aspect of our being. It’s a pretty radical way of looking at things. But, really, it’s Jesus. Did you expect anything less?

This week’s reading reminds us yet again that God came in Jesus Christ not to enforce the rules, but to reorder the world itself. God does not have a checklist or a lucky-number scorecard. Rather, God became flesh, dwelt among us, and showed us what it meant to live with an ever-present God in our midst. So, what is it that you expect from God? More than you can possibly imagine. And what is it that you expect from yourself? Expect more. Expectations are funny things. They may not always turn out the way we envisioned, but if you don’t expect something, nothing happens at all. So envision what life would look like if it really was the way Jesus depicted it. And who knows? You might be surprised.

Most people see what they want to, or at least what they expect to.

                                                                                             (Martha Grimes)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli