“Save Us” (Palm Sunday worship 4/1/12)

Save Us Mark 11: 1-11   What if Palm Sunday were the end of the gospel story? Cloaks and branches thrown down on the ground in front of the new king, everyone bubbling over with praise and shouts of “hosanna” as Jesus passes by?  This is the question I ran across this week in my reading:  What if Palm Sunday were the end?  Isn’t it kind of like a little Easter?  Everyone recognizes that Jesus is the messiah and there’s a spontaneous party in the street.  Isn’t that enough?  Isn’t that a good place to end? The people are shouting “hosanna.”  The best translation we’ve been able to come up with for this word is “save us now.”  But the same commentary that asked about Palm Sunday being the end of the story points out that if today were the end there’d be no salvation (http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/viewArticle.php?aID=282).  Only the cry for salvation and a parade.  “Save us now!”  And scene. I have to admit that part of me feels uneasy with Palm Sunday.  There is the pitiful, embarrassed waving of branches, like it’s hard to get as excited as we are supposed to.  We know the story, we’re grownups, and this processional is too slow and staged.  Let’s get on with it and have Easter already. I used to think this uneasiness and our lame branch-waving was about not really knowing how to full-out praise God.  In public.  In church.  With part of a tree.  That may still be some of it but, remember, the crowds are not just praising Jesus.  They are shouting “hosanna.” What if, in our heretofore...

Welcome to the Wilderness (2/26/12)

Welcome to the Wilderness Mark 1: 9-15   It’s been a while now that I’ve made time to do it, but I love to camp and go backpacking.  When I finished seminary, I celebrated by going backpacking in the Smoky Mountains for 5 days.  There were three of us, a friend graduating with me and another friend who had finished his Master of Divinity degree a few years earlier.  We called it the “MDiv Backpacking Trip”.   From the time I first heard of organizations like NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School – and “leave no trace” wilderness ethics, I was mesmerized.  You can sign up to go into the backcountry in the Rockies or Alaska for several weeks, learning how to scavenge for food and eventually spending 24 hours solo as part of the trip.  The whole time your goal is to leave no trace in the places you visit, with some campers going so far as to fluff the grass and re-scatter the leaves when they take up their tents.   When I found out about backcountry “chalets” in national parks out west – places you have to backpack to and where they haul in food and supplies on pack animals, rustic hotels with chefs – I wanted to pack up and go.  When we get a good rainstorm here I often long to be snuggled in my sleeping bag, hearing those drops lull me to sleep as they hit the tent roof.  And, though I’ve never tried it and think I probably won’t, when I read or see something about building snow caves for extreme...

Vision (Sunday 2/19/12)

Vision Mark 9: 2-9   I keep wondering what a Transfiguration card from Hallmark would be like…You go for a walk with Jesus and–you get a light show!  Happy Transfiguration…You think you know someone and then–he’s chatting it up with dead prophets…Whatever you do on the mountain—don’t start babbling about huts.  Have a great and babble-free Transfiguration…Maybe Hallmark does make these.  I didn’t look.   But I’ve been wondering.  Mostly because Transfiguration Sunday has always seemed like a weird appendage to me in our liturgical year.  Protestants celebrate it here, on the last Sunday before Lent begins; Roman Catholics celebrate it on the 2nd Sunday of Lent; and some churches, like the Eastern Orthodox celebrate it on August 6th.  So, within the Christian family, it’s a wandering holy day.  But even within our own part of the tradition, it seems we don’t always know what to do or say about this day.  Maybe I was an especially bad listener growing up, but I don’t recall hearing a single sermon on the Transfiguration until I was in college.  A few years ago when I was editing a church newsletter and I asked one of the staff members to write something on the Transfiguration, she said with a certain amount of surprise that she had never been asked to write or talk about it – even in seminary.   Sometimes I wonder if it’s the sheer outlandishness of the vision that stumps us and calls us up short.  Like when your favorite uncle or teacher falls in love and acts like it, silly and happy and completely undignified – and you...

Healing and Hunting (Worship 2/5/12)

Healing and Hunting Mark 1: 29-39   We are kind of set up for “presto” healings, aren’t we?  Jesus walks into the temple and demons start calling his name before he even starts healing and then Jesus says, “Come out of him!” and the man is healed (Mark 1: 25).  Presto!   New man!  Voila! That was in last week’s reading.  This week Jesus enters the house, heads for the bedroom of Simon’s mother-in-law, holds her hand, lifts her up, and the fever is gone (v. 31).  Presto!  Ta-da! Spoiler for next week:  a leper says, “If you choose you can make me clean” and Jesus reaches out his hand and says, “I do choose.  Be made clean!” (vv. 40-41).  Presto!   Of course Jesus never says Presto or Open Sesame or anything like that.  He mostly says things like “Your faith has made you well,” “Go and sin no more,” or “Be made clean.”   But reading these stories at such a remove, they seem easy, don’t they?  They seem uncomplicated, quick, maybe even magical.  Expelliarmus!   What about when it’s complicated?  What’s it like when the healings take longer?  What about the people who need to be healed of something less obvious than demon possession or being in bed with a fever?  Like a broken heart or jealousy or a mean spirit?  I wonder what those healings would look like.   I guess we do have the story of the rich young man, who you could say needs to be healed of his greed or idolatry of money (Mark 10: 17-22).  I mention this story because I always wonder...

Authority (Sunday Worship 1/29/12)

Authority Mark 1: 21-28     When I lived in Atlanta I went to a massage therapist.  The first time I showed up at her home office, I noticed that she had her massage therapist certification framed on the wall – and it was from Boulder!  Colorado.  Even though I was in an extra room in a ranch house in suburban Atlanta, I knew I had come to the right person.   There was the certification in Boulder:  what better place for a massage therapist to hail from than crunchy, hippie Boulder?  Then there was her name:  Zora.  Sounds made up, I know, but she came by it honestly, from Eastern European parents, I think.  There was the Tibetan singing bowl on its satin pillow.  Everything about the place made me simultaneously alert and relaxed, eagerly taking in the exotic surroundings and ready to melt into the massage table while she played cool instrumental and nature CDs.   Zora’s practice, after giving a massage, was to come back in once you were dressed again and then sit with you and tell you about anything she noticed about injuries or knots of tension.  She also talked about anything else she picked up on – grief, anxiety, depression.  As she worked on someone she noticed more than just what she could feel with her hands.  I remember her talking to me after one early session about 3-legged stools and balance in life.  She seemed to know – in some deep part of herself – things an ordinary massage therapist wouldn’t have picked up on.   Obviously, I ceded her a great...

My Soul Magnifies the Lord (Worship 12/11/11)

My Soul Magnifies the Lord Luke 1: 46b-55   My soul magnifies the Lord (v. 46b). Mary is minding her own business and an angel pops into the room with the craziest announcement.  Either of these things alone would have been enough to be crazy – and angel or a virgin birth.  Mary is startled, maybe even terrified.  But she says only, “How is this possible?” and then, “Yes, here I am, let it be so” (Luke 1: 34, 38).  Then she visits her cousin Elizabeth and utters this:  My soul magnifies the Lord. I’m passing around a magnifying glass in case anyone has forgotten what they do (and how fun they are).  Please take a look and keep passing it around to one another.  When you look at something through a magnifying glass, the object in question looks larger in relation to the other things surrounding it.  The magnifying glass makes the object more prominent, easier to see for what it is. Mary’s song is called the Magnificat, for the first word of this statement in Latin.  The roots for “magnificent” and “magnify” both trace to this word.  To announce the grandeur and splendor of, to enlarge and make more prominent.  Mary is saying – singing – that her soul praises God and makes God easier to see than before.  My soul magnifies the Lord. It’s as if, when the Spirit comes upon her to impregnate her, Mary breathes It in and lets the Spirit expand her soul – so that whatever her soul focuses on enlarges, too.  Like the magnifying glass.  My soul magnifies the Lord. Who...
Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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