Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Month: November 2011

On your Mark, Advent.

November 27th and Advent is already upon us. As I said at Church on Sunday, you’d think with all the ‘warning’ that comes into the inbox of a clergyperson advertizing this or that resource or product guaranteed to make Advent more meaningful this year,  I’d feel more ready than I do.  The world “out there” is also heralding the “Holiday Season” with its lights, tinsel, decorations, music, so why the unreadiness, and ambivalence?

This year one of my excuses is the Lectionary. Year B is particularly tough on the preacher who wants to tread gently and softly into the Advent Season. Unlike the years when we get to read Matthew or Luke, this year we have the Gospel of Mark. If you take a look at the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, you’ll find no angels, no Mary and Joseph, no pregnant trip to Bethlehem, no Wise Men  or  field-abiding Shepherds. Instead we leap straight into the life and mission of the adult Jesus.  How do we do Advent without an infant Jesus?

But take another look at the very first verse of Mark again.

“The beginning of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, Son of God.”  It took my rather curmudgeonly New Testament Professor to make me (and my classmates) slow down enough to take notice of that verse. It seemed so… ordinary, unimaginative, formulaic, unecessary even… rather like saying “Okay, here we go” or “Once upon a time.”  But as my professor pointed out,  Mark never wastes a word for the rest of his Gospel, so why would he throw in something insignificant at the beginning?  Reading through Mark’s Gospel in a sitting (it’s not that long, possible over a grande latte, or a double double), you discover that’s true; it’s a lean, fast paced Gospel that has an even more startling ending….. (clue, the original ending is at 16:8a).  And both together help the reader to see what Mark is getting at.  The book he wrote about Jesus is just the beginning.  The “Good News of Jesus Christ” is still being lived out in those of us who are alive today.

Mark has a mighty strange way of launching us, headfirst into the deep end of Advent.  By simply telling us “This is the beginning”, and by implication, the rest is ours to tell.

On Mark’s beginning, welcome to Advent.

It’s almost over! (Reign of Christ Sunday)

A little known fact, even among Christians is that we work from a different calendar than the typical 12 month one. For Christians the “year” begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and runs through until “Reign of Christ Sunday.”  Which is this week, so yes, our Christian Year is almost over.   Perhaps it’s fitting then that the Gospel text for this Sunday is Matthew’s vision of Christ in Judgment at the end of time.   The end of a year is a popular time to ‘judge’ the year just passed,  but when we associate the word “judgment” with Christian religion, it takes on a much more ‘scary’ tone.

This passage (Matthew 25:31-46 has inspired artists to paint it in all is glory and horror (just do a google image search and you’ll see.   What I find even more frightening however, is the way that this text has been used within the Christian tradition to generate fear, to browbeat and guilt-trip people into submission in a way that runs completely counter to the original intent of this passage, which was to portray in vivid terms the Dream of God, which is the reconciliation of all creation to Godself.

Matthew doesn’t make this easy for us to see however, because he has a tendency to overdrawJesus’ teaching about judgment.  We have to remember that this particular Gospel was written in a climate of persecution and fear in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in CE 70. Matthew’s community was predictably defensive, and wary of both Rome and the Jewish communities which attacked them for their allegiance to “the Way” of Jesus of Nazareth. They were sensitive to the judgments of others, and desperate to show that their “Way” was in accordance with the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus is likely the originator of this vivid portrait, precisely because he is steeped in the Old Testament prophetic understanding of God’s Kingdom, where justice, the practice of mercy, and the protection of the poor are benchmarks of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, and of the people’s faithfulness to God. As God has done for us, so God calls us to do for others.

Portrait is a good word to describe this text.  Unlike what most of us have been led to believe, this text is not a description, nor a prescription, nor yet a prediction of “what will happen.”  It is a parable. Yes. Let me repeat that. It is a parable. A word picture using vivid extremes to fuel our imaginations about what the Kingdom of God come among us looks like. The kingdom come among us is when not only God, but we are busy feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the prisoner and tending the sick. Those who are citizens of this God-Dream-Come-True are doing what God has been doing for us all along.  By contrast, the second half of the parable describes what the opposite will look like, and it is so ridiculously awful that no-one would choose to go there.

And that’s the point of a parable. Opening an imaginative window of possibilities that allow us to imagine ourselves in God’s Dream, and then to change or reorient our lives to make that dream come true.  Jesus tells the parable so that we have the opportunity to imagine and to choose to weave dreams with God and to build the kingdom of peace with justice, of compassionate love, along with Jesus and the company of the ‘blessed.”  This is a GOOD NEWS picture, if only we can jettison all that fearmongering that has encrusted it for so long.







Never was a truer word spoken….

Last week I posted a quote from Henri Nouwen (see post below this one). I was preparing a sermon called “Blessed” in which I proposed a) that “Blessed” can simply mean “to be touched by God”, and God is most likely to be found among those who are in most need of God’s touch – the mourners, the lost, last, least, left behind.  And b) that the “Blesseds” in the Beatitudes were not values to aspire to;  after all, I said as an aside,”Who wishes to aspire to mourning?”

As a family we weren’t to know that 48 hours later, we would be the ones in mourning, reeling at the news of Norman’s father’s sudden death. In the hours since,  we have been “Blessed” – touched by God   through this Community of Faith at Cedar Park. Outpouring of condolences, cards, emails, hugs, cups of tea,tears for us, practical helpers offering rides to airports, marshalling helpers to pick up the worship responsibilities for Sunday so that I can be with Norman and the family for the funeral in Devon, UK.   I look at that quote from Nouwen, and I am so, so, deeply grateful that these are now no longer mere words on a page, but truths we are experiencing among you.  This is  what “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” means.  God touches us where we most need God’s touch, where our hearts are near breaking point. God’s healing touch is made tangible through the gift of community.

Thank you. I thank God for you.

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