Friday, February 29, 2008

Lent 6 - I am a broken dish

Sixth Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11;
Matthew 26:14—27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion)

There is no story more important to Christians than the Passion. There are no more central Messianic prophecies than the “suffering servant” songs of Isaiah. And there is no better summary of Christ’s role than the Christ-hymn of Philippians.

With so much going on in these great texts, we might easily miss what God is saying as we pray this Psalm, in the midst of these proclamations of Christ.

For the Passion, the suffering servant, the Philippians hymn, all describe one who is an outcast. Insults, bullying, gossip, layoffs, illness, divorce, aging, scandal, rejection. There are so many ways to be out, not in. Everyone I know has been in this position, though it is one we would all rather flee.

Yet this Sunday, this Holy Week, in fact every Sunday and every week, God directs us again and again to attend to the one who is suffering. In the Passion, we look to Jesus as his life becomes this Psalm: “My enemies insult me. Neighbors are even worse, and I disgust my friends. People meet me on the street, and they turn and run. I am completely forgotten, like someone dead. I am merely a broken dish” (Ps 31:11-12, CEV).

Plain of Ĺ ahr-e Qumis (Hecatompylos), covered with millions of potsherds

The most ubiquitous ancient artifact in Biblical lands, found in uncounted billions, is the potsherd, broken pieces of the clay vessels that were used in every home and palace. When a dish broke, there were no super adhesives, so from the dawn of civilization, broken dishes were thrown away, the broken pieces of pottery littering ancient cities.

At several points, scripture refers to us as earthen vessels. No matter how good the clay or how talented the potter, sooner or later, pottery breaks.

In looking to Jesus, perhaps we may also attend to our own experience of suffering. “Have pity, LORD! I am hurting...” (Ps 31:9, CEV). Like broken dishes, the pieces of our lives are scattered, as are the fractured parts of our families, towns, churches, nations.

This week we will hear how Jesus is broken. His Passion is not only the violence wrought upon his body. He suffered also in the way his friends turned and ran, the way even God seemed to abandon him to his fate.

Yet in his Passion and the days which follow, listen too for the Word, which we’ll hear again and again, how God in Christ gathers up the broken pieces.

Jesus had been gathering broken people into a community of hope. Better than holy super glue, his life creates a new community, bringing outcasts together, repaired by love. And in his kingdom, in the church, in the presence of God, and with our neighbors, suffering need not be magnified by isolation.

Available with additional content at the American Bible Society's Bible Resource Center.

Illustrations added March, 2011. Photo of Hecatompylos is © Jona Lendering for Livius.Org, 2005

Lent 5 - I Felt the Lord's Power

Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 9, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Perhaps you’ve heard people refer to Lent as a “downer.” Probe a little, and I expect you will often find that this is a reaction against the notion of Lent as a fast or time of deprivation (so seldom observed), against a somber or even dreary quality in some of the music and worship, or against a focus on our sinfulness which may seem extreme.

Yet the story of Lent, as we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and his Passion, is essentially forward-looking. There is a direction to the story. Even as we remember Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and death, we are hearing the story from the other side.

These stories, though, reach out to where we are. We do not always live in the land of resurrection. These places of dry bones, these decaying bodies, these sealed tombs are real to us. Sometimes our sin brings destruction upon us. Sometimes the sin of others crashes into our lives. And the result is dry bones.

A young girl displays the bones of Cambodian genocide victims.

The prophet Ezekiel is taken to a valley full of bones. These could have been the bleached remains of a battle or massacre. In Darfur there are the bones of burned villages. In our own land we still find the burial grounds of slaves and Native Americans. But we don’t have to look across the world or back in time to see bones in a sea of troubles.

A modern Ezekiel might be taken to a small town on the prairie, where the local businesses are dried up and the next generation is exiled to another land.

Downtown Cairo, Illinois.

He or she might walk down the streets in certain neighborhoods, looking at foreclosure properties, houses without people. The prophet might be transported by bus to the furthest corners of our states, where prison fortresses keep some folks’ bones out of sight and far from home.

Faced with places and problems like these, we may be too daunted to believe that even God can make a difference. “LORD God, only you can tell [if these bones can live]” (Ezekiel 37:3) could be a faithful answer – it is certainly a cautious one.

But the church tells these stories because we have felt the Lord’s power. As a people we have seen with our own eyes and known in our lives that God is a God of deliverance.

God’s work does not stop when humans have done our worst. Ask relief workers, ask the descendants of slaves and other survivors of genocide, get a reality check from those in prison ministries. “Can these bones live?” If you can’t wait for Easter, ask Lazarus.

Shanghai earthquake, May, 2008

Available with additional content at the American Bible Society's Bible Resource Center.

Illustrations added March, 2011.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prayer Corner – February, 2008

A Simple Prayer for Lent

Sometimes there’s nothing better than to turn to prayers tested by time and experience. The “Jesus Prayer” is one which you might wish to try this Lent. While it has ancient roots, it is probably best known in the West from a 19th century Russian book, The Way of a Pilgrim. The pilgrim uses the Jesus Prayer in his spiritual journey, attempting to pray without ceasing by repeating this prayer.

The words are simple: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There is some scholarly debate on whether the prayer originated with calling upon the name of “Jesus,” or with the experience of remorse for sin. Either way, the prayer reflects an expression of faith from our liturgy, “Lord, have mercy,” the Kyrie. It also evokes an ancient practice (known in Judaism as sheviti) of putting the name of God, the object of your prayer, in front of you.

It seems especially suited to Lent. Despite its depth, it is a simple prayer which addresses some of our most basic needs. A frequent method of praying it is to let the words of the prayer ride your breath. Breathe in the Lord, by inhaling on “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and let go of what binds you by exhaling on “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

As you enter the prayer, you will find your own rhythm, and discover where it – and Jesus – are leading you. Trusting in the name of Jesus, you can be sure the journey will be blessed. A Monk of the Eastern Church, writing about this prayer, says that “The name of Jesus, once it has become the center of our life, brings everything together” (The Jesus Prayer, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997, p.96).

Wishing you a holy Lent, as we journey with Jesus in prayer and in life.

Lent 4 - Things Done In the Dark

Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 2, 2008

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Of course, “darkness” is used as a metaphor. Nowadays we don’t often spend much time in the real dark. If we’re out at night there are streetlights or headlights to illumine the way. At home there’s the comfort of light bulbs and the glow of TVs. Even adventurous cave explorers take light with them.

Yet darkness is unfortunately not that strange to us. At times it can be dark indeed.

Circumstances can seem hopeless. We can sink into depths of depression. We wander in the gloom of ignorance and sin. Sometimes we cower in the moral darkness of things concealed and secrets hidden from sight. Truth be told, we never stand very far from the dark of the grave. The journey of Lent began with the dark of ashes: “Remember that you are dust...”

God’s light shines into each kind of darkness.

The story of the man born blind (John 9) works on a number of levels. The very mud of creation, the same earth to which we will one day return, Jesus uses to bring sight. The man’s eyes gradually open to sight. Yet, with his eyes now open, the man also learns to see. His new eyes see prejudice and ignorance. He sees the darkness of false judgment.

He begins to see that he has been brought into a new vision of the world. And his own learning process has brought him into a new relationship with his healer, the One Who Is Sent.

When we live into our healing, we discover what God is leading us toward. “The light will show what these things are really like” (Ephesians 5:13, CEV).

Yes, we already know quite enough about darkness. The problem is when we walk in darkness, when we’re accustomed to it, we need the light to show us the way out. God’s light shines, and gives us the power to be more than the darkness, more than the dust from which we have come. “Now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, CEV). When the Lord has touched us, formed us with holy hands, the darkness is no longer part of us, because we now shine.

Available with additional content at the American Bible Society's Bible Resource Center.

Illustrations added March, 2011.


Greetings, and welcome to my blog. Occasionally I write something I think is worth sharing. I hope you agree. The first thing I'll be putting up are some reflections for the remaining Sundays of Lent.