Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Month: February 2012

Beginning Lent: Paying Attention

Hard to believe that it’s Lent already!  Approximately 30 people of all ages came out on Wednesday evening to mark the beginning of Lent at our Ash Wednesday Worship.  We made our first exploration of this year’s Lenten Theme, which I’ve called ” Paying Attention”.  Traditionally Lent is a time for reflection on self, soul, and life in the world and with God.  In many traditions there is a strong emphasis on ‘repentance’, fasting, and ‘giving things up’, all of which – at their best – are tools to help ‘pay attention’ to our choices in life: do we choose the way of Life in Christ, or something else?  Until quite recently, denominations like the United Church tended to shy away from ‘all that Lent sadness’,  but in recent years we have begun to ‘pay attention’ to these ancient spiritual practices, and others like them, and are finding in them rich resources for people to ‘mark this time’ of Lent as a time to grow in faith.

For this reason we at Cedar Park this year, will ‘pay attention’ to various dimensions of the Lenten Season, and how these dimensions can add richness to our journey of faith.  We’ve created a “Lenten Activity Calendar”  and booklet, suitable for all ages, which we’ll be handing out to the KidZone at Church on Sunday. Each week of Lent ‘pays attention’ to a different theme: family, self, creation, others, our spiritual wellbeing, God’s Blessings, and finally to the journey of Jesus.  If you don’t want to be left out of this tool for paying attention, you can download a copy here.





Lent 1: Singing in the Wilderness

Short post to include the paraphrase of Psalm 25:1-10 read in worship at Cedar Park for the First Sunday in Lent.  This psalm was likely written in the time of the Babylonian captivity, or shortly thereafter.  While not obvious in English, this psalm is an acrostic psalm, meaning that each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  We all know this is a helpful way to remember a long list, or a set of instructions, so we assume that it served a similar purpose with this psalm too.  One other feature of Psalms is their ‘doublets’ (not Shakespearean style costumes), or ‘echoes’.  Not content with saying something once, the psalm repeats an idea with slightly different phrasing: this is still obvious in the psalm, and this paraphrase makes it even more obvious. Enjoy!

  Psalm 25: 1-10
To you, Holy One, I lift up my soul.               
In my God, in you I trust,
I trust you to keep me safe from shame, 
and from the triumph of those who would do me harm.
                 Yes, keep me safe from falsifiers, those who can’t be trusted.
Set my feet on the right path,  Holy One,
                Yes, teach me which way to go.
 Lead me forward towards wholeness and truth,
                Teach me the paths,  O God of my salvation.
I put my trust in you, and wait the days long.
Don’t remember all the ways I’ve mis-stepped,
                God, forget the waywardness of my youth,
Instead, for the sake of your goodness, remember me.
                Because you are steadfast, remember me, not my faults.
Be teacher and Guide to me, all the days of my life,
                Lead me in the way that is good from this day to life’s end.
For all your paths are paved with steadfast love and faithfulness.
                Your covenant is the ground upon which we walk.

Transfiguration (Feb 19th)

Not a word that we use that often is it?!  In the Lectionary Cycle, “Transfiguration Sunday” is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. It wraps up the Epiphany Season of “Light and revelation” with this spectacle of Jesus on a mountaintop, glowing brighter than bleach (not flippant, but a reasonable translation of the Greek,honestly!)  (Read Mark 9:2-10: )

African TransfigurationBack in the day, my New Testament professor bluntly proclaimed to us aspiring preachers of Good News,  “Have at this one. It didn’t happen, y’know.”  In all likelihood, the events as Mark describes them probably didn’t. When you start looking carefully at this text, filled as it is with tiny clues only Poirot could decipher, you can see allusions to the books of Daniel, 2 Kings, Deuteronomy, Malachi, and more. To original hearers/readers of the Markan text, many would have seen/heard the echoes/shadows of other ‘theophanies’ – manifestations of the holy in the ordinary world, and particularly that of Elijah’s fireball bright entry to heaven in 2 Kings 2.  So we have to ask, “What was Mark up to?”

In a nutshell, Mark is telling us – again – that Jesus Christ is Son of God (Mark 1:1),  or put another way, Jesus  is an anointed one of God,  a “messiah”, and that what he proclaimed is nothing less than the dream of God, here and now.  After telling this mountaintop story where earth and heaven touch in conversation, Mark drags us unwillingly down the mountain,  down the painful pathway to betrayal, trial and brutal execution.  But before we get there, Mark wants us to understand that while Jesus of Nazareth was one among thousands who were victim to this excruciating penalty for crossing swords or words with the Roman empire, he is much is more than ‘one among many’, according to Mark.  His way of walking his talk, to death and beyond if necessary, was unique, and Mark needs his readers to ‘get it’ that Jesus has God’s blessing for his message and his ‘way of life’. In Mark’s words “Jesus, the Messiah, child of God.”

And his way of showing us that is in this tale of ‘transfiguration’ – a long latinate word which means the complete transformation from an ordinary to a more beautiful state.  You could read Mark 9: 1-16 and paraphrase it (VERY loosely!) as  Mark saying to us, “You may think this Nazarene rabbi, all ratty hair, worn sandals, and calloused hands, is ordinary, or if not ordinary, just vaguely special. Well let me show you what God thinks of him…,tada!! …….Transfigured. See him for a moment in this dazzling state and realize who he is.  Wonder-full.

But does it have anything to do with us, today?  Desmond Tutu says of Transfiguration that it happens all the time, and in the strangest of places: from the ‘transfiguration’ of winter brown grass into lush bright green of spring grass,  to the ‘transfiguration’  of a white defender of ‘apartheid’ into a ‘brother whom God loves just as much as God loves me’.   I was deeply moved by Tutu’s capacity (in God has a Dream,  3-9) to take this long word, from a weird story, and turn it into a word that is promise filled, and salted with hope.

Take a moment or two this week to look at something ordinary (or ugly) and imagine what God perceives it to be, transfigured into something glorious and beautiful and hopeful.

Let us know what you discover by posting a comment below.

Naaman the Mighty Warrior!

First, thanks to the Healing Pathway ministry team for a spectacular dramatic reading yesterday in worship!   We will have to reprise this one day for the children of KidZone.

Now, to the text at hand. It comes from 2 Kings 5: 1-15.  This was a period in the life of the people of God when all their attempts to ‘be like everyone else in the region’ were falling flat.  Larger powers with more might, more soldiers, more firepower, were threatening on all sides. Among those threats, to the North, was Aram.  At first blush the story seems inconsequential, personal, a side-plot, and to some degree it is, unless we see it as one way to establish the ‘authority’ of the new prophet Elisha, who had (literally) assumed the mantle of that great prophet of the age, Elijah.

As so ably portrayed in our dramatic reading yesterday, it’s a mighty strange way to show Elisha’s authority. He says and does next to nothing in the story. Sends a couple of messages, but that’s about it.  But oh, what those messages do!!  The first is typically Old Testament prophetic; he tells the feckless King of Israel to stop throwing a hissy fit over something that he can’t do anything about!  “Power to heal doesn’t rest with you, Majesty, but with God!”  In similar fashion he takes Naaman down a few pegs too.  Naaman – the Mighty Warrior was used to people jumping to attention when he so much as coughed, so to be virtually ignored by this “man of God” doesn’t sit well with the leprous legionary.  Nevertheless, in two text messages, Elisha manages to lift the story into the realm of the mysterious Creator-Redeemer God, whose influence isn’t bounded by politics or geography, or by human notions of ‘power’.   The drip of water from healed hands signals the infinited capacity of God to mend, restore, heal, make new.

That’s worthy of our attention, don’t you think?


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