Thanks to workingpreacher.org for this reminder about my friend Deanna Thompson's lovely essay about talking about things we don't know how to talk about. Even those of us who do love words confront times when words fail us. It's a great connection to this Sunday's second lesson from 2 Timothy.
One of the great blessings of the internet has been its power to help some very fine writers in the midst of personal crisis to share their story more or less as it happens. Some of them write books as well, but I'm grateful for sites like caringbridge that allow people to reflect on illness and grief without having to go through years of editing and publishing details first. As someone who knows how hard it can be to speak in such times, the ability to write to many loved ones at once is a blessing.
This coming Sunday's text has reminded me again of the astonishing fact that very little has changed in two thousand years. We can still see Lazarus at the gate, only now he's the homeless guy (or woman) with the cardbaord sign at the freeway exit.
I'm fascinated by this Boston project started by some art students to spruce up those cardboard signs. The first step in solving homelessness, they argue, is recognizing the humanity of those who use signs to get our attention, and nothing humanizes better than art (and, I would argue, the stories they tell on this website).
Credits: Karoline Lewis for the alternate parable title: Garret Keizer's wonderful book Help: the Original Human Dilemma; Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies. Bible translation from Eugene Peterson's The Message.
goes again, answering a simple question with a story. At least this one seems
to have a clear enough point to it. It’s no accident that we have Good
Samaritan laws and not Unjust Steward laws. Good Samaritan Hospitals, and not
Rich Fool Hospitals.
it’s so familiar and so evidently simple, that’s just the problem with it.
Like so many
parables, Jesus gives us just enough details
to make it seem real – the dangerous road, the officials in a hurry, the
robbers lurking nearby, the wine poured into open wounds and a donkey hauling a
broken man to shelter. It’s so vivid, it’s
no wonder the story has become synonymous in our culture with what it means to
help a stranger in distress.
are so many details left out; so many complications of helping real people in
the real world, that make it seem easier than it really is.
all know that helping others is actually a pretty complicated affair:
Keizer describes this with bracing clarity in his book Help
“I want to tell it again in different
versions. . . I wnt the Samaritan. . . to take the phone from the saddlbad and hear
the voice of his wife, his sister-in-law, the police telling him that someone
he dearly loves is “at it again.” I want the man by the side of the road to be
his father, his little brother, or his only begotten son, and I want him to be
drunk as a skunk and stripped,
beaten, and left for dead. I want this to be the third time in as many months
that this has happened. . .
“I want the Samaritan – very much I
want this – to get into a big argument over putting the victim on his animal. .
. I want to hear him scream “Just get on the [stupid] donkey.. . .
“I want the Samaritan, on his return
visit to the inn, to learn that the wounded man has recovered enough to trash
his room, harass several guests.. .
“In short, I want to see it get
complicated. And along with that, I want to see it take time, all kinds of
If any part
of you is laughing ruefully after this litany it’s because you know how very
very vulnerable we make ourselves when we help others, and how easy it is to
delude ourselves that we are in fact helping, when maybe we might just be interfering
and making things worse – worse for those we
love if not also for ourselves and our supposed beneficiaries.
I want it to get complicated.
another complication, a metaphor for just how difficult it can be to even
encounter our neighbors: You can no longer take this road. The road from
Jerusalem to Jericho is now blocked by an enormous wall, separating Israel from Palestinian territory; you cannot
simply walk from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Jew and the Samaritan simply wouldn’t end up on that road together
parable is designed to tell us HOW to be
help our neighbors, this story is way too simple, way to quick, lacking in all
the messy details that make the job hard.
You can’t get there from here.
is, most of us would never find ourselves on such a road in the first place.
We’ve built our entire security society out of the assumption that people
should help themselves, and if the world is not safe enough they should pay for
a better security system, a better handgun, an armed guard to accompany us in
the dangerous places. We pay for the health club and the statins best
healthcare we can possibly afford and wonder what that person who had the heart
attack did wrong. We invest everything we can in helping our kids be
responsible and studious and successful so they’ll go to the right schools and
get a good job and never ever have to ask for a handout.
Which is why
when the bad stuff does happen, as it so often does, even now, the person in
the ditch is so often incredibly alone.
suffering of the one in the ditch is not just about theft and violence and
wounds. The suffering of the person in the ditch is that of being passed by.
that is the pain that I hear, over and over again, of those who find themselves
thrown off the fast track of life.
What’s surprising is not that bad stuff happened. If you live long
enough you expect that. What’s surprising and so saddening, again and again, is
how utterly isolating it can be, when you are the one who lost the job, you are
the one with cancer, you are the one whose spouse is slowly drifting away on
the ship of Alzheimers. What so many people tell me hurts the most is that the
rest of the world keeps on racing by, and hardly anyone stops to say, “are you
story is supposed to tell us how to help our neighbor, it’s finally not that
helpful, in a world designed to keep us away from unfamiliar neighbors. But
that’s not actually the question the
religious man asked, not what Jesus was trying to answer.
is WHO is my neighbor
Samaritan,” the man answers Jesus, grudgingly, because in his religious mind the Samaritans
are the ones that have it all wrong. They worship in the wrong place in a weird
way. Their religion took a strange left turn several centuries ago and ever
since then it’s been much easier to live separate lives, keep to ourselves and
not expect anything from one another.
answer, finally, for the lawyer and for us,
is that the neighbor is finally that unlikely character that offers YOU
help – the one you would be least likely to talk to on the road, the one you
might even cross the road to avoid. The Samaritan, that most unlikely neighbor,
is not necessarily the person you would point at and say, now there goes a good man. THERE goes
someone who observes the law and walks upright.
And in that
sense, you could say that when we are the ones lying in the ditch by the side
of the road, and we cry out for help, we might end up relying on someone like
Jesus – someone none of the religious authorities in his day thought was right.
Someone who had no place to lay his head, who was called a glutton and a
drunkard. Someone who ate with all the wrong people.
Jesus may be
revered in some circles still but for many of us it’s still maybe a little bit
embarrassing to call on him for help, or even admit that we need that kind of help.
Anne Lamott ,
in her memoir Traveling Mercies,
describes her own conversion as exactly such a reaction. She was sick, strung
out, broke, and utterly alone. She reached rock bottom, was lying alone in her
room and sensed the presence of someone there. She sensed that it was Jesus,
and writes that her first thought was “Anyone but him.”
But that is
how grace works.
ourselves beaten down, tired, stripped of all our pretensions of being really
good people. We find ourselves in the ditch, the one place we swore we would
never be, looking so pathetic we can’t blame anyone else for passing us by.
ourselves utterly unable to walk the road alone anymore.
Then it is
Jesus, the last one we want to turn to but the only one who is still around,
who picks us up. Who gives us wine to drink and anoints us with oil. Who walks
alongside us because we can no longer travel by ourselves, who gives everything
he can and says, “I’ll come back for you.”
Who is my
neighbor? Like it or not, in all kinds of guises we might not expect. it’s
winter. . . .still winter, we might say. 4th Sunday of Easter and
the scene outside seems stuck on constant loop, and the lectionary has bumped
us all the way back to Hanukkah. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ description of
Narnia under the witch’s reign – always winter, never Christmas.
The Feast of
the Dedication, or Hanukkah, that’s the context of this scene. Jesus is walking
in the portico of Solomon during the feast, the commemoration of the time when
the Jews had been banned from worshipping God for over three years, and finally
after the Maccabean revolt had an opportunity to re-dedicate their temple.
winter, they are remembering one rededication, but doing so rather carefully
because even as they are celebrating the freedom they gained in the past the
Jews look outside their window and see history stuck in a loop. . . another
empire, another foreign ruler watching over their shoulders and making sure
that their demands for freedom don’t go too far.
The porch of
Solomon was a site of memory but also a place of slaughter. It was a place that
had been rededicated but only after too much blood had been shed, too many
children had died. In Jewish lore of the time there was speculation about
where, when the anointed one, the Messiah came, the new age would begin. Where
would the anointed one declare that the reign of God was at hand that the new
age of God’s people worshipping without fear would begin? Some people thought
it would be at Rachel’s tomb, since Rachel was the mother of all the exiles,
the one whose weeping would not be silenced. And some thought it was here, at
Solomon’s Porch, at the place where the innocent had been slaughtered and God’s
people had not given up on longing for God’s reign.
And in this
place, Jesus uses language that evokes the kingship of David, where he speaks
of being a shepherd, the kind of leader who will gather the scattered and
protect the vulnerable.
vulnerable is what they are – and it does not matter where they are
massive temple is not safe, and it too will some day in the not too distant
future be destroyed. Even this place of celebration can be in a moment marred
by violence. Even this holy place can be desecrated.
Back Bay turned into a scene of bloodshed
a passenger plane used as a weapon
an elementary school attacked.
most sacred places can be violated. . . and our most revered heroes fall
verse, by the way, is that people took up stones to stone Jesus for what he said
And the next
story is that his dear friend Lazarus is dead.
Death is all
too close, all the time. Illness and violence strike randomly, even to Jesus
What makes a
shepherd a shepherd is not that he leads us away from every danger, but that he
leads us through.
It is not
mere protection Jesus offers, but assurance, the knowledge of being known, of
never being alone. Of being unsnatchable.
We tend to
imagine that the important word is FOR. That what God does FOR me makes me a
Christian and what I do FOR God and neighbor is what it’s all about. So we ask
what our church life does for us; and what our church does for their
neighborhood. We occupy ourselves with doing more and more of the right kind of
service for the world and build communities intent on telling people what the
church can do for them.
argues that the heart of the Gospel is instead the little word WITH, as in when
the angel says to Mary, this child shall be Emmanuel, God WITH us, and when
Jesus says, Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth.
WITH me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
shepherd does for the sheep is first and foremost simply being with them,
through good and bad.
after all, don’t cause the grass to grow or the waters to be still. They do not
make wolves and lions go away; they cannot make sheep more perfectly sensible
and independent. But they are with
their flocks, and in that with-ness, the flock is assured.
And so, as Jesus is standing on this porch of
Solomon, talking about being a shepherd,
he emphasizes that he is a shepherd because he is WITH his Father, and in his
communion with God he offers us communion with him. He is a good shepherd
because about to enter into the ultimate with-ness of humanity, entering into
the suffering and death which is always part of the human experience.
My Sheep are
with me. And no one will snatch them out of my hand
that mean, if you lived as if you were unsnatchable? What might it mean to give
witness to all God’s sheep being unsnatchable.
How would we
If it did
not matter whether you look good enough, or work hard enough, or are liked by
everybody? If you believed that even the scariest events of our time could not
separate you from God’s love?
it mean to live knowing that goodness and mercy will pursue us, like sheepdogs
nipping at our heels, all our lives? That even when the scene outside our doors
or inside our hearts seems stuck on a constant loop, a Groundhog Day blizzard
over and over again, even then goodness and mercy will keep invading our lives,
keep running into the chaos, into the bloodshed, into the hurt with Words of
strength and acts of compassion.
it mean to be a church that knows that being with God means being with our
brothers and sisters, and that no one, not even the most unloved by the world,
is considered lost by our good shepherd?
witness does not run from the places of darkness. Such a witness is not
paralyzed when it seems like there is nothing we can do for the hurting or the wounded. Such a witness says simply, let us
be wth God’s world because God is
popular to say this week that we are all Bostonians or all Texans, but wise
voices from outside this country reminded us that we ought to remember how
often violence invades the lives of people throughout the world, sometimes at
the hands of our own government.
So yes, said
one journalist at Britain’s the Guardian, "I'm all up for us all being Bostonians, today.
But can we all be Yemenis tomorrow, and
Pakistanis the next day?" Can we be with one another even then?
with us because God has chosen to be with us. And when we pray with one
another, when we hurt with one another, when we enter into this life WITH one another, we give witness to that God who
has said, YOU are unsnatchable.
received that promise at our baptism . . . You belong to Christ
And we are
commissioned in that same moment to witness to that reality to the world – we are
anointed, chosen. We who count ourselves one with Christ, we are anointed to be
one with God’s world.
to Christ. We invite you to hear these words, to receive a sign of that
anointing, and to live it
Reformation Sunday, Confirmation Sunday October
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Being the parent of grade schoolers, I sometimes get
sucked in to games of “Would you rather?”
I remember this kind of conversation from my childhood, but now, like so
many things, it has become an actual commercial product, a packet of cards you
can purchase that poses questions like,
“Would you rather
be boiled in hot oil, or chopped into pieces?”
“Would you rather lose both your legs below the knee, or
both your opposable thumbs?”
For some reason, my kids enjoy posing all these worst-case
scenarios against one another, no matter how gruesome the options. But we never make it far into the game before
at least one (usually a grown-up) member of the family points out that the
choices are ridiculous. If you were in such a situation, your hope would be to
get out of the choice, not to make the choice.
But occasionally it is enlightening to see where our priorities
would lie, and so I’d like to try a game of “Would you rather?” with you. You
don’t have to speak your answer or raise a hand. Just ask yourself:
Would you rather seek out God in your own terms, or have
to accept what other people are telling you about when and how God is present ?
Would you rather ask God what you can do, or ask God to
do something for you?
Would you rather be loved by Jesus, or be called by
Would you rather have lots of things, and willingly give
them all away; Or have one thing, and
throw that aside in desperation for something better
Would you rather be a rich upright citizen, or a blind
Most of us don't
like these choices, because of course we’d rather not have to choose between
extremes. After all, everyone in this election season is on the side of the
middle class, right? Whether you make 10 dollars an hour or $200,000 a year, we all want to be middle
But if we are looking to find ourselves amongst all the
people Jesus encounters in the gospels—they
don't really give us that option. Jesus doesn’t generally encounter middle-class
people, middle of the road people, people who take a moderate approach to following him. He
encounters the poor and the sick and the lame. And he encounters the powerful, the rich and the respected. Especially in these chapters of Mark, there isn’t much
middle. Specifically Mark seems to hold
up these two men who could not be more opposite.
A rich young man comes running up to Jesus, and asks what
must I do to inherit eternal life?
While a blind beggar can only shout from the sidelines
because he has heard that Jesus is passing by.
The rich man says, “I’ve obeyed the commandments! What
else can I do?”
The blind man can only say “Jesus, son of David, have
mercy on me.
The rich man, Jesus loves.
But to the blind man, he says “what do you want me to do
for you?” And then he does it.
The rich man, goes away sad, because he has many
The blind man throws off the one thing he has, his beggar’s
cloak, and asks for his sight. He receives it and then follows Jesus on the
The beggar is the only person Jesus heals in the whole
Bible who is named, named twice. “Bartimaeus
and ‘son of Timaeus’ mean exactly the same thing. He is named, and he is the only one whom
Jesus heals whom we are told follows
I'm not sure it's helpful, finally to ask would you
rather be. We all know exactly where we'd rather be, and dependent and
desperate and poor are not our lists. We’d rather be the one who is loved by
Jesus, who is upright, who is rich, who is called by Jesus, healed by him, AND who
follows him– but that one does not appear in the Gospel. But this is not about our choices.
But thanks be to God that this is not about what we
choose to be. No matter where life takes us, Jesus will be there – challenging us
to let go when we think we have grasped our salvation, and calling us to follow
and giving us the sight to do so even
when we think we have nothing to offer.
This day we celebrate as these confirmands affirm the
promises of their baptisms, and I think it's fair to say that they are all
above average! We look into their
apparently bright futures, and we would never wish for them a moment of
desperation. But let us be clear -- our
faith is not about them standing alone, upright, righteous and able to seek God
on their own. Jesus calls us when we can't even see him ourselves.
Jesus called these young people when they were helpless, and unable to walk to
the font themselves. Jesus called them when they couldn’t see anything except
maybe the eyes of their parents or grandparents holding them and gazing at them.
Jesus called them when the only thing
they could articulate was a cry.
And truth be told, though we celebrate that they can now
stand on their own, and affirm the promises of their baptism; though we can
look at their projects and see how they have come to seek God and try and understand
God; though we celebrate that they might even want to do something for God, we
know that there will be other times
There will be times when they cannot see the path in
front of them
Times when they have nothing to give and cannot imagine
doing anything FOR God.
There will be times – times after a diagnosis, or after a
rejection, times of doubt and desperation and grief. There will be times when
the only words that come out in prayer are cries for help.
There will be times when they understand, not just in
their heads but in their hearts, Martin Luther’s dying words, “we are all
beggars, that is true.”
But in those moments we are not alone. In the body of
Christ we stand in a throng, a whole great company, as Jeremiah puts it, of
people too ill to travel on their own, too vulnerable to make their way without
We stand, or maybe just sit, in that crowd, and we rely
on the witness of the saints before us and the on the company of those around
us, who say, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.”
And then he Jesus calls us, and sees us, and gives us
sight to follow. Thanks be to God.
We're about through our "bread of life" marathon in John 6. It works out rather well that this falls in the summer, I think, since the varied schedules of both staff and parishioners means that each Sunday we truly have a different congregation in the pews, so it's hard to feel like we're repeating ourselves, even if Jesus is.
This piece from the New York Times on special diets and hospitality didn't exactly make it into my sermons this month, but it did get me thinking about the ways that changing one's diet can be a way of expressing a new identity:
Today’s restricted eaters are prone to identity-driven pronouncements along the lines of “I’m gluten free.” (It’s worth nothing that, back in the aughts, no one declared “I’m Atkins!” Except, quite possibly, Dr. Robert Atkins himself.)
Consumers seem to be building self through sustenance, adjusting their appetites to reflect independence and moral character. In numerous interviews with restricted-diet adherents and those who study and feed them, control and identity were two common themes on everyone’s lips.
“It’s an alternative way of finding an identity in a place where identity is increasingly uncertain,” said Richard Wilk, the director of Indiana University’s doctoral program in food studies. “So much of our lives are completely out of our control. You can go to college and not get a job. You can do an internship and not get a job. The economy takes some new tack every 15 minutes.”
We often say to those who have communed at ECLC "You are the Body of Christ." What would it mean to take that identity as seriously as "gluten-free."?
I have returned from an 8 day sojourn with our sister congregation in El Salvador. Many of the stories of the week (by me and others in the group) can be found on our ECLC in El Salvador Blog.
I include this one here since it is relevant to today's lectionary.
This morning's Gospel lesson from Mark brought me back to the morning we spent with the Salvadoran church leaders at Concordia, singing, celebrating and sharing the lectionary texts for the week. Bishop Medardo Gomez presided over the gathering and offered a reflection on the two healing stories of the Gospel text.
I have heard and preached many a sermon about the contrasts between these two supplicants to Jesus: Jairus, a rich man who sends for help for his ailing daughter, without encountering Jesus face to face; and the woman with a hemorrhage, whose only plea is to reach out and touch him, believing even that might bring her healing. But something about encountering these texts with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters, who know all too well the gap between the rich and poor, who struggle to give witness to healing in a nation still suffering daily violence -- there is no substitute for that kind of face-to-face encounter with the Gospel.
That same power of face-to-face happened on Thursday afternoon, when at our last stop of the day we gathered around the subversive cross in Resurrection Lutheran Church in San Salvador. I already had seen pictures, already had heard the story of this cross, which is marked with the confession of the sins of the Salvadoran nation. During some of the most harrowing days of the civil war, it was literally taken prisoner as evidence of the church's subversive activity, traveling from prison to the President's house before it was returned to the church.
It's a remarkable story, but we were privileged to hear it directly from Bishop Gomez, who stopped what he was doing that afternoon to sit with us. (Tim Muth told us he had never, in his 10 years of work in El Salvador, heard the bishop tell the tale directly). Medardo Gomez spoke of the danger to his own life in those days in 1989 when six Jesuit priests were slaughtered, of his exile for many weeks until he could be escorted home by a group of international bishops, and of his request to the President to have the cross returned.
Probably the words we heard the most often in our six days of visiting were "hermanos y hermanas" -- brothers and sisters. We heard them so often referring to our unity in Christ that we occasionally misunderstood when people were talking about actual blood relatives. But the welcome we received in every congregation, in every home, in every meeting, matched this testimony that we are indeed brothers and sisters in Christ. We are in relationship -- not because we are North Americans and in a position to "help", but because we are one, because we need one another, and because our witness to Christ is incomplete unless we know one another and share our joys and sorrows together. My brothers and sisters in Christ in El Salvador have been the face of Christ to me. We have touched his garment and are healed.
It’s Easter, and I have to say I’m going to miss Holy Week. Though I love the joyful music and the heady scent of lilies, there’s something about our typical Easter celebrations that can get strangely disembodied, at least compared to the fleshiness of waving palms and washing feet and placing hands on foreheads of every shape and size. Why is it that the celebration of Christ’s resurrected body can be so lacking in touch, compared with Holy Week?
Someone – I can’t recall whom – asked in the midst of this week’s commentaries: ‘Why is it that those who most decry the church’s nervousness about human sexuality are those who also get most nervous talking about Jesus’ resurrected body?’ Even more, one might ask, why is it that those who are most likely to fill the bellies of others at a soup kitchen, or advocate for affordable housing and health care; those who are most likely to give to mosquito nets or clean water halfway around the world; those who are most likely to write letters about prenatal care and meaningful sex education -- why is it that we who so willingly stand up for the real embodied needs of our neighbors and try to heal the wounds of those who are most vulnerable in our world are so nervous talking about a physical resurrection?
Maybe, just maybe, it's because we share with Thomas a commitment to reality, and we worry that a declaration of resurrection somehow diminishes the reality of others' suffering, as if we're pasting a happy ending on a story that most certainly isn't over yet. This is where the faith of Thomas is so important to me -- because Thomas is not about to let us forget what happened to Jesus' body.
In John 20, when Thomas declares that he won’t believe until he has seen Jesus in the flesh, he is not just asking about Jesus’ body in general. It’s not a question of whether Jesus is just solid or not. He is asking, quite specifically, about his wounds, the signs of his mortality, the evidence that Jesus suffered a horrible and humiliating death.
It is this wounded one Thomas calls Lord, because no body that wasn’t wounded in this way would be worthy of the name. Thomas needs to know that the way Jesus went was real, that when he went to Jerusalem and his death, it was no joke. And he needs to know – perhaps for the sake of his twin whom we never meet in John– that it is this wounded Jesus that will meet him on the other side of the grave.
In this sense he enacts the central statement of John 1: The Word became flesh –and we have seen his glory.
Jesus' appearance to Thomas is a gift to us as well. He not only offers his wounds to Thomas, he blesses the rest of us who are still not in the room. Those who have not seen, and yet believe.
Perhaps that is why it is so important for us to gather in person. It is why no church worthy of the name of Jesus can ever be totally virtual. Because all the stories in the world over a phone or Internet line don’t compare with the flesh and blood of others. It’s one thing to say Christ is risen in theory. It’s quite another to say it and hear it said standing next to a person who has come close to tasting death themselves. To say it in the presence of those whose loved ones’ flesh is now enclosed in a columbarium; to say it in the presence of bodies that are about to give birth and survived wars and carried heavy loads and undergone chemotherapy. Bodies with stretch marks and wrinkles and acne and limbs bursting with energy.
We dare to say, in the midst of this company, that Christ is indeed risen. That the empty bellies and malaria ridden communities and groaning creation of our world are where we can meet him, wounded yet living, like us, and calling us forward into a new reality where peace reigns and a word of forgiveness can create a whole new reality
This year, feeling a bit burnt out on the Gospel of John, and really excited about the opportunities this late Easter provides for preparation for the Three Days, we decided to depart from the lectionary on lenten Sundays. The jury is still out, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot to learn from our actual execution of the idea, but it has been enormously energizing to use this time to focus on the “big stories” of Easter Vigil in our Sunday morning worship. How often do you get to preach on Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego? (Answer, if you never stray from the RCL: never.)
There are four elements to the plan:
1. On Sundays, we read or tell the “big story” – always a Hebrew Bible story – as part of the children’s sermon. This gives us license to use a children’s Bible, or give people speaking parts on the fly, or add motions, all as means of preventing the zone-out that so often happens with long readings.
2. We’ve been intentional about trying to have the Sunday School kids also prepare in this season for Vigil. They are learning songs that will be used during Vigil for each story, and one week we had an guest speaker (the incomparable Earl Schwartz) talk to older youth and adults about the Passover during education hour.
3. In sermons, we try to give adults some elements to grab onto that go beyond the knowledge of the story itself. So many people get hung up on the historicity of the Bible these days, and miss the richness of the literature itself. These stories of deliverance are so full of human nature they almost have their own scent – and that’s a great place to start preaching deliverance with adults.
4. Each week on Monday we publish (on the website, and link in our e-newsletter) a “page-turner” devotion designed to get people thinking about the text ahead of time.
Liturgically we’ve made a few other adjustments. We read a psalm instead of a New Testament lesson as the 2nd reading. We rewrote the Eucharistic prayer so that these stories are reflected as part of salvation history. Some weeks, due to the length of the service, we have shortened up hymns or other elements in the interest of time. (But seriously, those John lessons were LONG anyway!)
So here it is folks, in all its complicated and messy glory. Though I miss the connection to what other congregations are doing with the common lectionary, I think the opportunity for drawing the paschal season together as a whole, especially in this year when most families will not be on spring break over Holy Week, is too good to pass up. As Vigil gets closer I'll post again about our thoughts for making that event truly the liturgical highlight of the year.
(Note: we switched around the chronological order of Noah and the Exodus because we had a guest speaker who could only come on Lent 1. This also worked great for still reading the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness – but you could easily switch Lent 1 and 2 and work in biblical order).
Lent 1: The crossing of the Red Sea (I used the Spark picture Bible from Augsburg Fortress, which has a nice recitation of the plagues with a refrain that kids can join in).
Lent 2: Noah (Genesis 6, 7, 8)
Lent 3: Daniel 3; the Three Men and the Fiery Furnace
(This story is remarkably absent from many Children’s Bibles, including Spark. However it makes a great participatory reading, if you hand out “instruments” and have people join in each time you say “Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego”. Try reading it with a tone of Dr. Seuss.)
Song of the Three (Benedicite Omnia Opera)
Lent 4: Jonah
Lent 5: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (which happens to also be the RCL assigned first lesson)
songs from Justin Roberts’ Why Not Sea Monsters? CD of Songs from the Hebrew Bible. Justin has great theological instincts and kid-friendly melodies.
Paul Andress (one of ECLC’s musicians) has a lovely rendition of Isaiah 43: “Fear Not for I have Redeemed You”) Contact ECLC for permissions information.
David’s Lose’s offered Confession from www.workingpreacher.org for Lent 1 works very well with all of these texts, as we seek to move from fear to freedom.
I love checklists, but I shudder at how easily we can turn faith into a self-help program that creates a litmus test for those who are "in."
With the beatitudes, two weeks ago, the challenge was to imagine the blessings as just that: blessings, not a list of virtues to strive for.
This week it is Jesus' own attempt to move past checklists that can still lead us down that road. He sets the bar high enough that it would be pretty difficult to let ourselves off the hook. But as soon as we get to a concrete matter like divorce, that little voice creeps in. How many people will hear the first two paragraphs, but forget them entirely once they've heard Jesus compare their remarriage with adultery?
We would love, as pastors, for these texts to become the "start of conversation" about a life that honors other human beings, that refuses to let old grudges fester in our hearts, that refuses to treat others as objects. But how many people will only hear the exclusions in this text?
It doesn't help that our translators give us "hell" for "Gehenna," which was an identifiable smoldering garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Can bitterness, lust, or rage smolder like a stinky pile of refuse? You bet. No need for the afterlife to explain that one.
How do we speak honestly about the ways that sin can fester in our lives without resorting to a list which consigns some people to the realm of "sinners" more than others?