The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Let the same mind be in you

28 March 2010
Palm Sunday C
The Passion

In the name of God. Amen.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

That’s what Paul said.

Not, “Strive to live with Christ-like piety.” Not, “Care for the poor and the sick and the oppressed as Jesus cared for them.” He didn’t say, “Upset the established order as Jesus challenged the religious and political authorities of his time.”

Instead, he called us to all of that and more. He said, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

It’s a pretty tall order. It would be any day, but it seems, perhaps, even more so today: the day when we read and hear and consider once again the account of the Passion and death of Jesus.

How can we possibly have that mind in us? What can this emotional telling of the last days and hours of Jesus’ life tell us about his mind? What could have possibly been going through his mind as he stepped closer and closer to a painful and humiliating death? Or as he “breathed his last”? And how could we, in our relative comfort, have that in us?

Earlier this week I was at home working, with the television on in the background, when a documentary came on about the history of the telescope. I’m a sucker for a good documentary, and it didn’t take long for me to get sucked in.

The earliest telescopes were little more than simple magnifying glasses – or perhaps spectacles that had been fashioned into a device for a slightly different use. Their first uses for astronomical observations were a substantial improvement over the naked eye, but still lacked the kind of clarity that we expect from such devices today. The lenses would refract the light that entered them uniformly, but the wavelengths of the various colors of light were different. Therefore, the images were blurred. Clarity could only be attempted by building longer and longer telescopes, but even then it was elusive. Before long, these refracting telescopes became entirely impractical.

Then, in 1672, Isaac Newton invented the reflecting telescope. He discovered that reflecting the light through a curved mirror could help correct much of the blurriness. The clarity he found would forever change the field of astronomy. And it led to countless other scientific discoveries and advancements that we all take for granted today.

Christ is our mirror. Before, we would strive for God, and maybe even get a glimpse. But it was blurred and misshapen by our own shortcomings. Our eyes simply could not compensate for the complexity of the Light.

But through Christ – God reflected in human-form and humanity reflected in God-form – a new clarity could emerge. We were made in the image of God, but it took God, reflected in the image of humanity, for us to see it more clearly.

Those who heckled him on the cross demanded that he bring himself down. They demanded that he show himself to be of God by saving himself.

But Paul said, “Being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

He was very much human – born of a woman. And his humanity demanded his death. Any less and we could not see ourselves in him. Any less and that clarity might have been shattered. Any less and we would have no hope of allowing his mind to be in us.

Elsewhere Paul says, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

The thing about the Newtonian telescope is that, while it did lead to greater clarity, it was not perfect. There were other optical aberrations, though each more manageable than the ones before.

“Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but soon we will see face to face.”

The Passion and death of Christ is not the end of the story. I hope you’ll take this little insert with you when you leave today and read through it again throughout this week. Where is the mind of Christ reflected through this story to you? Where, in the mind of Christ, do you see yourself?

Soon we will see face to face. Amen.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Vocational identity

7 March 2010
Lent 3C
Luke 13:1-9

In the name of God. Amen.

I remember my fear and disappointment when my parents first told me that I would be going to Kindergarten. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to school – both of my parents worked so I had been going to preschool for as long as I could remember. The thing was, to my four-year old mind, Kindergarten sounded like something I wanted no part of.

My father was – I’m pretty sure – born a city boy, but the thing was, he grew up in the country. So while he was always more comfortable once he left that small town of his childhood, there were tools of that lifestyle that he carried with him, even into the cities where I grew up. And while he eagerly left the “country life” for the opportunities of cities, I think there was a piece of him that always tried to have it both ways.

Our suburban houses with small yards always had something of the feeling of a farm – at least in miniature. No matter how small our yard, Dad would insist on having a riding lawn mower. Moreover he would insist that it be referred to as a tractor. One of our first tasks whenever we moved to a new place was to put a shed out back. And that shed would be called the barn. Not long after that a piece of the back yard would be partitioned off. On these ten square feet of earth, my father would put in his “crop”.

The crop was my least favorite part.

It always seemed to require a lot of work, but never seemed to pay off quite enough to make it seem worthwhile for me.

So this was my angst about Kindergarten. It was a big, strange word, but the one part I did recognize was “garden”. I was convinced my parents were sending me for some kind of agricultural training so that I could do more work in the garden at home, and I wanted nothing to do with that!

Though, with all of this talk about trees and bushes in the lessons today, a little agricultural training might just have come in handy.

In the Gospel lesson we hear the parable of the fig tree. It consumes the earth but has nothing to show for it. It doesn’t bear fruit. The owner of the tree, exasperated from three unfruitful seasons, tells his gardener to cut it down. “Why should it be wasting the soil?”

But the gardener intercedes for the tree. Give it one more year. Let me feed it and work with it, and perhaps then it will begin to bear fruit. If not, then we’ll cut it down.

At the other end of the scale we have a bush.

Moses is tending to the flock of his father-in-law in the wilderness. Wandering through the hills and the sparse vegetation he comes upon a peculiar bush. Clearly it is on fire – there are flames leaping from it, yet it is not consumed. It is a vehicle for God’s communication with Moses.

So a dichotomy is set: a tree that sucks the life out of the good earth with nothing to show for it, and a bush – largely useless to Moses on a normal day – but on this day, hosting a flame that speaks the salvation of God’s people, though does not consume.

There was a lot that I didn’t learn in school. To my delight, I didn’t learn very much at all about agriculture; but, I also didn’t learn much about economics. What I do know, however, is that from the vantage point of our consumer-based economy, neither of these stories makes much sense. How can this bush be so productive without being consumed? How can one justify keeping a tree that has shown itself to be of no use for three years? Why waste more time and energy on something so unproductive?

It reminds me of the quote from Gail Godwin’s book, Evensong. She says, “Something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you.”

In our Monday night Lenten series we’ve been exploring the concept of mission in churches and looking at examples of churches that have developed a missional identity. One of the common threads is that churches that are successful at identifying their unique mission in the world are churches that have figured out what keeps making more of themselves. They are churches that have discerned their corporate vocations.

This “making more” in churches usually has a numerical side effect, but the numbers of average Sunday attendance, membership, and pledges are not what the “more” is really about. By coming to know their place in the world – by hearing and responding to God’s call – they are more, not just in their numbers, but of themselves. Their spirits are richer. Their relationships with God and with each other are richer.

There’s a very fine line between the consumer-based economy of the world and the regeneration-based economy of God. While God is calling us to identify those ways of life that make more of ourselves, the world is seducing us into habits of making more for ourselves.

But God’s call is about abundance, not acquisition. Acquisition is the inverse of spiritual abundance.

We are told that more stuff will make us happier – that it will make us more. But that’s a lie. Acquiring more stuff only gives us more stuff. Of course it’s possible to both be happy and to have stuff. But acquisition is nowhere near the principle ingredient in the happiness recipe. It is, at best, a garnish. Abundance is much more central.

When we live our lives, as individuals or as a church, less as consumers and more as a people of regeneration – as vocational people who can’t help but keep making more of ourselves – then there is abundance. There is no need to fear that we will be cut down. There is no need to fear that we will be consumed. Because there is always more. There is always enough. Amen.