Friday, March 29, 2013

A Promise of Paradise - My Good Friday Meditation

Lincoln City 2013

Luke 23:39-43: "One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’"
Two condemned criminals are dying alongside Jesus. Sometimes, in our own suffering, we are like the cruel criminal, mocking others, striking out in our pain. Sometimes we are the one who yearns for God, praying for a way out of our darkness.

In the midst of their punishment, one of them recognizes Jesus. “Jesus,” he says. He speaks his name with familiarity, with intimacy. Not “teacher”, or “Rabbi” or “my Lord”, but “Jesus.”

And he makes a request. He takes a chance. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The criminal knows he is not perfect, far from it.  He believes he deserves crucifixion. But he is bold and asks for a place in the kingdom.

What does he imagine that Jesus can do? This criminal had great hope. Jesus on the cross does not look like the triumphant leader expected in the Palm Sunday procession. The people mocked Jesus as the Messiah, but the criminal believed.

In the midst of his agony, this wrongdoer speaks to Jesus with boldness, with faith, and with hope.

And Jesus responds the promise of paradise: a promise of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, relationship with God.

We carry our own burdens of suffering and guilt. We long for connection, reassurance, and release. We may hurt others in our own turmoil. But we may dare to believe God offers us a new beginning, even in our pain and loss; that God is with us in our suffering.

May we be bold in our hope, take a chance on God, and ask Jesus to remember us. God says yes. The criminal called Jesus by name, and God calls us by name with compassion and mercy.

God says yes and pulls us into a closer relationship, a loving connection from which nothing can separate us, not even death. This is the promise to the criminal on the cross, and the promise to us today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rally in Red

Rally for Marriage Equality, Portland, 3/27/2013
1 John 4:7-8  "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

I thank God regularly for June 10, 2012. On that day, I went to a barbecue in Portland. I didn't know anyone there when I walked in the door... but I was met with hospitality and humor... I gained friendships that will last forever... I was embraced with love.

Before that fateful barbecue, I definitely believed in marriage equality and justice for the LGBT community. But since that day, I have been so incredibly blessed by new friends and connections in the Portland gay community. You are my family. You have laughed and danced with me. You love and support me, even in my depression and anxiety. You show me beauty, faith and compassion. My life is so rich and full of joy for knowing you. I thank God for you (often!).

I went to the courthouse today in Portland with a sign that said "Another Christian for Marriage Equality."  I rallied with friends and strangers. I held up my sign and yelled "woohoo!" as cars drove by honking and waving in support. (I thought I was going to lose my voice!)

I stood up today because there are over 1000 federal rights that my friends have been denied because they love someone of the same gender. The same people who have shown me so much friendship, and in whose relationships I see such deep caring and love, are being denied basic rights that many of us take for granted.

I identified myself as a Christian on my sign because my religion has been used as an excuse to deny these rights, and I want to scream "No more!"  As I also mention in my Open Letter Regarding the Traditional Prom, I do not believe the bible justifies making lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people into second-class citizens or calling them sinners.

In the bible verse above, we are admonished to love one another, and reminded that God is love. When I look at my friends, I see love. I see love for their partners, love for their family and friends, love for this community of Portland. To deny the validity of this love is short-sighted and cruel. To stand up for marriage equality is the Christian thing to do. Jesus would have joined us in front of the courthouse. God calls our LGBT sisters and brothers beloved.

I rallied in red today because my heart and my life have been deeply touched and I cannot stand by and be silent any more. 

Will you join me?

God of love, thank you for the love that is abundant in our friendships and relationships. Guide us with wisdom and grace as we work for justice. Keep us mindful that your love extends to all, even those who don't agree with us.  Hold us all in your caring embrace. Thanks. and Amen.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Drawn Into Relationship - Week 2

Holden Village, 2010. View from a Hike
Luke 22:24-27 "A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves.'"
A quick synopsis of last week's class on my thesis....

Jesus shows us again that God turns our expectations upside down - our expectations of who is the greatest and what the kingdom of God looks like. By arguing about who is most awesome, the disciples are clearly missing the point... again. Jesus had just described his body broken and blood poured out in a gift of self-sacrifice, yet the disciples value the one who is “regarded as the greatest.” 

The image of a servant leader would have been striking at the table, where Jesus had literally served them bread and wine. The dining area is a place where hierarchy and status were strongly enforced at the time. To get more insight on the impact of Jesus' words, we look to Luke 14:1-24. There Jesus is also at a table, telling a parable about the kingdom of God. The story is about a wealthy man who is going to throw a great banquet to impress people who could reciprocate with favors and banquets (14:16) (See Willi Braun's analysis). His friends snub him for financial and economic reasons, so he invites two groups of social outcasts instead. The tale ends with the host renouncing his former social connections as he shares the dining table with the outcast (14:24). This is not paternalistic benevolence, but joining a new community - a conversion.

Our culture needs encouragement to reject the social pressure to seek status and wealth and choose the alternative way of inclusion and justice. Jesus calls us to this new way. In these verses, we also see a God who chooses to be with those who are not powerful. God does not participate in the hierarchies we create to demonstrate our faulty view of human worth. (That also means that our worth doesn't come from whether we succeed in these hierarchies!)

In Luke 22:24-27, Jesus announces that he works contrary to our expectations of greatness. We may look for God to come in power to overthrow systems that oppress and establish an earthly kingdom in which we, perhaps, may have a seat of honor. We make gods out of that which we idolize: money, religion, beauty, fame… and sanction them with the blessing or name of God. Yet God is not these idols. Jesus came as one who serves. God is at work through service for the kingdom of God, for the freedom of humanity from idolatry, poverty and exclusion.

God of service, It is so easy to want to be the best, and to want to climb the ladders of success in this world. Help us not forget those who are on the outside. Convert our hearts so all may dine together at your table. Remind us that we are precious to you, no matter what the world says.  Thanks, and Amen.