REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Started to Become

WaterScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Looking back from our journey, we remember, we remember the day that we started to become.  At this point, we remember that day in the Jordan, all of Creation dripping from the sacred waters. And, yet, that whole idea of Jesus being baptized is sometimes odd for us.  After all, part of what we associate with baptism is forgiveness.  How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven?  But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

I think the Baptism account from the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite.  Only in this version do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened for a time as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos, similar to what God’s Creation ordered.). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A brand new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.  This is when we started to become.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It is more than being showered or sprinkled with remnants of God’s forgiveness.  It is our beginning, our very “becoming”, as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. Just as God swept over the waters when Creation came to be, God swept across the waters so that we would become.  And it calls us to do something with our life.  But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.  And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.  It means remembering not just how the journey began but that in its very beginning we became part of it.  And now this same journey takes us to the cross.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come, you, me. So we remember now how we still stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. It is up to us to further the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.  This is the journey for which we live; this is the journey for which we were created; this is the journey that gives us Life.  And, in this moment, we remember when we started to Become.

Your life is shaped by the end you live for.  You are made in the image of what you desire. (Thomas Merton)

On this Lenten journey, we continue to gather our past into our Lives and we remember what made us, remember when we became who we are, when we began this journey.  What does it mean to you to “Remember your Baptism”?  What does it mean to wade into the waters where God awaits?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

When We Started to Become

WaterScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Looking back from our journey, we remember, we remember the day that we started to become.  At this point, we remember that day in the Jordan, all of Creation dripping from the sacred waters. And, yet, that whole idea of Jesus being baptized is sometimes odd for us.  After all, part of what we associate with baptism is forgiveness.  How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven?  But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

I think the Baptism account from the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite.  Only in this version do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened for a time as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos, similar to what God’s Creation ordered.). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A brand new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.  This is when we started to become.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It is more than being showered or sprinkled with remnants of God’s forgiveness.  It is our beginning, our very “becoming”, as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. Just as God swept over the waters when Creation came to be, God swept across the waters so that we would become.  And it calls us to do something with our life.  But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.  And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.  It means remembering not just how the journey began but that in its very beginning we became part of it.  And now this same journey takes us to the cross.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come, you, me. So we remember now how we still stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. It is up to us to further the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.  This is the journey for which we live; this is the journey for which we were created; this is the journey that gives us Life.  And, in this moment, we remember when we started to Become. 

Your life is shaped by the end you live for.  You are made in the image of what you desire. (Thomas Merton)

On this Lenten journey, we continue to gather our past into our Lives and we remember what made us, remember when we became who we are, when we began this journey.  What does it mean to you to “Remember your Baptism”?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Bending Rules

Bending tree2This Week’s Lectionary Text: Luke 7:36-8:3

I am for the most part a rule-follower (so I’m trying to get back to posting some blogs!).  Part of it is due to what could probably be considered my meticulous, “Type A” personality, but my guess is that most of it is due to my small-town, Protestant upbringing.  Rules are good.  They create boundaries; they can provide protection; they serve as a foundation on which to stand and from which to grow as we are guided by the remnants of the past.  Our society and our lives are built on rules.  So what happens when the rules are not followed?  Does it always result in chaotic anarchy?  Or are there some rules that it’s alright to stretch just a bit? Do you think that there are possibly some rules that need to be bent?

We all know enough about religion to know that it was based on rules from the very beginning.  My own denomination’s generally-accepted beliefs and consensual polity are encapsulated in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  This is not a new publication.  It’s been around for about as long as Methodism has been in the United States.  I have a small collection of antique Disciplines and the oldest one that I have is dated 1828.  I also have one that I found in my great-grandfather’s attic.  It’s from 1900.  When you look through it, there are some similarities to our current one.  It has the Articles of Religion and the General Rules.  But it’s also got some rules that we would probably consider just downright odd.  They seemed to be very concerned with how people dressed and intent on insuring that people did not come to church wearing too much jewelry.  There are very few of us that would fit into that mold of what we’re supposed to look like when we come to church.  The point is that sometime rules change.  Sometimes they need to be edited or added to and I think sometimes they need to be thrown out altogether.       

In the Gospel passage that we read, we are given lots of rules.  It starts at the beginning when it tells us that Jesus “took his place at the table.”  He took his place as if there was a designated place where he was supposed to sit.  It was probably, you could surmise, toward the head of the table to the right of the host.  Isn’t that what the rules of etiquette usually tell us?  And then this woman enters—a woman already defined by the community and now by Scripture as a “sinner”.  Somewhere along the way she had apparently broken some rule of conduct and violated what would be considered an acceptable way of living and being. (People have often designated her a prostitute.  Go there if you want, but it never really tells us, so…maybe that’s not a great “rule of thumb”!)  And now she is apparently interrupting what is probably a perfectly-choreographed evening in the home of one of the most respected religious leaders.  She desires to anoint Jesus’ head with oil.  (Boy, I hope she doesn’t get that all over the imported tablecloth!) But standing nearer Jesus’ feet, she is suddenly overcome with emotion and begins to weep.  She begins to wash his feet with her tears, takes down her hair to dry them and then kisses them and pours the anointing oil on them.  What a spectacle that must have been!  And right here in the home of this respected Pharisee!

And so the Pharisee not only pronounces judgment on the woman, but also on Jesus.  After all, they had both broken the rules!  Woman of questionable reputation did not act like this, with weeping and flying hair and all, and if Jesus was really who he claimed to be, he would have known better.  But Jesus’ response is not the apology that the Pharisee and his “respectable” guests probably expected.  Instead Jesus challenges Simon’s pronouncement of both of them by launching into a parable about forgiveness.  And woven through the parable are reminders of what the woman did.  She openly and generously gave of herself, more than anyone else at the table had done.

Jesus is trying to make them realize that there is something more than rules, there is something more than religion, and there is something more than doing the “right thing”.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the faith that stands on authority is not faith”.  I think that is what Jesus is trying to get across.  Faith is not about rules.  The woman’s intense act of love beyond all reasonable expectations and all acceptable actions becomes a means of grace.  It leads us to God.  It shakes us out of our comfort zones of what is normal and expected and even acceptable because, when you think about it, Jesus was very seldom normal and expected and even acceptable.  Instead he showed us how to step out of our boxes and live a life of faith—real faith that is untamed and uncontrolled and virtually undefined, a faith that rips open our carefully-sewn-together lives just enough to let God’s presence spill into them.     

 In a 2006 article in the “National Catholic Reporter”, editor Tom Roberts said that “we live in an age of expanding religion and a diminishing God.”  Those words probably make several of us squirm.  After all, have we become so sure of who we think God is and what we think God wants from us that we are willing to sacrifice the new and expanding ways that God interacts with our lives?  Religion and faith are not the same thing. Religion is about what we believe and why we believe.  It is about tradition, the institution, the system, and, yes, the rules.  When you think about it, our religion has been constructed over centuries.  It has given us creeds and liturgy and definitions of God.  It gathers us and grounds us and reminds us of a world to come.  It gives us commandments and rules that guide the way we live so that we can become what we seek, so that we can journey toward a oneness with God.  It is meant to lead us to God, not pave the way (as in make it easier) or drive us there. 

Somewhere in the midst of those rules we, like Jesus, have to do a little bending.  We have to at some point move beyond and transcend the rules and rituals.  We have to look beyond where we are to that place to which God calls us.  That is where faith comes in.  That is where God, greater than any religion, meets us.

In her book, Called to Question, Joan Chittister says that “in order to find the God of life in all of life, maybe we have to be willing to open ourselves to the part of it that lies outside the circles of our tiny little worlds.”  She goes on to tell a Sufi tale of disciples who, when the death of their master was clearly imminent, became totally bereft.  “If you leave us, Master,” they pleaded, “how will we know what to do?”  And the Master replied, “I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon.  Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.”  The meaning is clear:  It is God that religion must be about, not itself.  When religion [or rules] makes itself God, it ceases to be religion.  But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility.”[i]  Chittister maintains that “religion ends where spirituality begins.”  From that standpoint, these rules, these dogmas, all of these things that make up our religion are not our faith journey, but they lead us through it.  They are, from that standpoint, a means of grace.

And as we change, as our journey changes, as our context changes, perhaps we are sometimes called to the act of bending rules.  It doesn’t mean that we’re dismissing them or ignoring them.  It means that we are allowing the conversation about God to continue.  But more important than that, it means that we are becoming part of the conversation.  We are becoming part of the journey.  And so, perhaps we really are called to a spiritual discipline of bending the rules sometimes.  It is part of the ongoing conversation, the ongoing faith journey of which we are a part.  Sometimes that bending means we just understand it better after we’ve questioned and explored.  Sometimes it means that we need to add something to make it clearer for us and for those who walk this journey with us.  And sometimes it means that we need to get rid of things that no longer augment or serve to depict our understanding of who God is and how God enters and is revealed in our lives.   Hugh E. Brown said that “Christianity is not being destroyed by the confusions and concussions of the time; it is being discovered.”  That is the point.  We don’t discover how God is revealed to us without continuing to think about it, continuing to look and re-address how we have understood God. 

That’s what Jesus was doing that day at the Pharisee’s house.  He wasn’t shunning the rules that had been a part of the faith tradition for as long as anyone could remember.  He was just bending them a bit, making them a bit more pliable, a bit more nimble, a little bit more transcendent, a little bit closer to what God had in mind.  The rules are meant to be foundations on which we can stand and through which God is revealed.  But when they become boundaries that control who is welcome and who is accepted, or who is invited to live out their own calling or who is not, that is not what God is about.  So, Jesus didn’t really follow the rules.  In fact, Jesus often got himself in trouble with those rule-followers.  Jesus just loved God and wanted to reveal that love for us and everyone else.  And here was this woman—a sinful woman, the Scriptures say—shunned by the rule-followers and welcomed by God.  Because you see this woman did what we are called to do—love generously and extravagantly, love the way that God loves.  G.K. Chesterton said that we should “let our religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”  There are really very few rules—except to love the way God loves and be open to doing perhaps a little bending.

So, go do a little rule-bending of your own!
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Shelli
 
(To see notes on all of the Lectionary texts for this week, go to http://journeytopenuel.wordpress.com/)


[i] Joan Chittister, Called to Question:  A Spiritual Memoir, (Lanham, MD:  Sheed & Ward, 2004), 19-20.

LENT 5B: Re-Ordering

Lectionary Passage:  Hebrews 5: 5-10
So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The order of who?  Melchizedek is mentionted twice in the Old Testament Scriptures–once in Genesis and then again in Psalm 110.  He was a priest of the Most High in the time of Abraham.  The name means “righteous king” or “King of Righteousness.”  Some have claimed that these passages refer to a literal human; others claim that it is a priestly order superior to even the Levitical priests.  But it’s not an apostolic designation that is handed down through the church.  It is an eternal one.

Essentially, here, it probably refers not to a “priestly” order of the world but rather an ongoing continuation of God’s relationship in humanity.  In Genesis, Melchizedek came to the side of Abraham when Abraham needed help the most.  And Abraham is blessed and offered bread and wine.  This is God’s plan.  God desires to be in relationship with humanity. And as part of that relationship, we, too, are brought into this ongoing priesthood.  We, too, are blessed and offered bread and wine.  And as priests of this highest order, we serve each other.  We enter relationship with humanity just as God has entered humanity in the form of Christ.  This is the order into which we are born, into which God brings us to be.  And this is the order that we fully enter, relinquish our perceived self, and emerge new and recreated.  This is the highest order of the priesthood.  And this is the one to which we are all invited.

Iraneus (2nd century bishop in Gaul) is supposed to have claimed that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive.”  What does that mean?  What does that mean to be “fully alive”?  I think it means that we embrace everything that God has given us to make our lives be what they are called to be.  That means that we all have gifts, that God calls us all, that we all have a part in building and being the Kingdom of God.  Our only hope of becoming “fully alive” is a humanity, a whole humanity, “fully alive.”

But this is dreadfully hard for us.  Face it–we are a hierarchical people.  We want whatever is due us.  We operate based on tenure rather than gifts, youth rather than wisdom, and power rather than calling.  But, despite what we try to project onto the Creative force that is God, God is not hierarchical.  There are not levels of God’s love or classes in God’s Kingdom.  And, Dante notwithstanding, I don’t even think that there’s an “either / or”.   (What if we someday find that Judas and Brutus are right there with the rest of us?)

The thing is, this “order of Melchizedek” is not hierarchical.  It is an order of those who are called.  It is an order of all of us.  We are all moving to perfection in Christ.  And perhaps the goal is not to reach the height of it all, but to reach the point at which we are fully alive, the point at which we realize that we are part of a whole and the whole is the Kingdom of God.  It is a new order, something we’ve never seen before.  So open your minds and open your hearts and quit trying to get ahead!

So on this twenty-fifth day of Lenten observance, think about what it means to be “fully alive”.  What is is that “gives you life”?  And what is it that gives your neighbor life?  Do something to bring life!

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli