Archive for February, 2013

Ripped from the Headlines

// February 27th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

The lectionary passage this week, Luke 13:1-9, begins with two cryptic news headlines.  The first, an apparent murder of Galileans worshiping in the Jerusalem Temple by Roman occupiers.  The second, a tragic accident that claimed the lives of eighteen people.  The question, then, is a question that we have run into a lot in Luke.  Perhaps that is because it bedevils human beings of all stripes: why is there suffering?  As I talk to my peers, fellow pastors, it seems dealing with this question constitutes 90% of ministry.  Why is my child addicted to drugs?  Why do I have cancer?  Why did a tornado destroy my home?  Or my neighbor’s home instead of mine?  In Jesus’ typical fashion, he provides an answer that only opens up more questions.

A common view, and perhaps the view that pervaded the culture of the elite and powerful and trickled down to the powerless, was that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  Do good, get good; do bad, get bad.  Jesus disagrees, but qualifies his response in two ways.

First, although he says that those people did not die because of their sin, he also says that people should repent or they will also perish.  This seems confusing and contradictory.  If they did not die because of their sin, why repent?

Second, perhaps to explain the former, he tells a story about a fig tree that has failed to produce.  The owner of the vineyard tells the gardener to cut it down, but the gardener asks for a reprieve.  One more year.  One more year to treat it right, to clear out around the roots and add some fertilizer.  One more year to nurture it and give it what it needs.  Then we’ll see.

It would seem that asking why there is evil is beside the point.  Yes, certainly we must interrogate the sources of evil, dig around the roots a bit.  When Pilate murders people worshiping in the Temple, or a priest is shot by Salvadoran soldiers while serving communion, it should be rebuked.  When a tower falls or a bridge collapses or a tornado hits and ordinary people going about their daily routine suffer loss beyond compare, it should be mourned.  But the real question for those who survive is: what are you going to do with your reprieve?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the nature of evil, the dreams of God, and what we are to do in response.

Grace & Peace,

The Mountain Top and the Ever After

// February 23rd, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We have two stories from Luke this week: the Transfiguration and Jesus’ Lament for Jerusalem.  The Catholic Lectionary in the Second Sunday of Lent always has the story of the Transfiguration.  This year is Luke’s year, so we get 9:29-36.  Jesus takes Peter and James and John to a mountain top to pray.  The disciples just had a lot of information thrown at them: Peter named Jesus as the Anointed One of God; Jesus predicted his death and resurrection for the first time; and they are given a harsh understanding of discipleship, taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life.  Walking up a mountain has a tendency to put me in a contemplative mood, but I seldom start the journey with that kind of baggage.

When they get to the top, the disciples are very sleepy – “weighed down with sleep,” the NRSV tells us.  Through their half-closed eyelids, they glimpse the divine.  Jesus is transformed, flashing with light, and talks with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets personified.  What do you do with that?  Peter suggests what many of us would: he wants to move in, stay on that mountain top and never leave.  Jesus has other ideas.

Jesus gets on with the mission, but the Transfiguration was a turning point.  Up to now, his ministry hovered around the Sea of Galilee, but now he is heading toward Jerusalem and his final destiny.  It is on that road that we come to our passage from the Revised Common Lectionary used by Protestants, Luke 13:31-35.

Jesus is teaching and preaching as he nears Jerusalem.  Some Pharisees tell him to move along because Herod is going to kill him.  Some say this is a warning, but others say it is a taunt.  In any case, Jesus responds, “Herod knows where to find me.  I have work to do.”  Or something like that.  Jesus has gone from the mountain top to the dark depths of the ocean, where the politics of power and the sting of loss and death hold sway.  This is the journey we all have to make at some point.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the experience of the mountain top and what to do with it.

Grace & Peace,

Family Fun Night

This is a great opportunity for us to show our appreciation to Whitney and the other childcare providers. Also to support Janalee and Project Transformation.
Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Location: Elmwood Methodist Church
Time: Prep begins around 5:30 with food service at 6:30. We should be all done with clean up and out no later than 8:00
FAMILY FUN NIGHT- After-School Program Twice a semester, we invite the children and families of our programs to our after school sites for dinner. Volunteers always have a blast! We invite volunteer groups to provide the meals and participate in the fun.Dinner will be served buffet style at 6:30 pm at your assigned site location. Please arrive around 5:30 for sign-in and set-up.
Prepare dinner and drinks for the children and their families plus the number of volunteers that will be providing the meal. (50 people usually attend not counting volunteers. Many are children.

Volunteers are invited and encouraged to eat with the families to learn about their experiences in Project Transformation.
The interns at the site usually pick a theme for the night and decorate
and plan activities around the theme.

Please let me know if you are able to participate.Sara Kitto

The Great Reversal: Birds, Lilies, and Climate Anxiety (Luke 12.22-34)

// February 8th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This weekend, houses of worship around the country will participate in the annual “Preach-In” on climate change hosted by Interfaith Power and Light.  IPL started as a “religious response to global warming” fifteen years ago when a coalition of Episcopal congregations in California joined together to purchase renewable energy. Since then, they’ve broadened their focus and partnered with a wide array of faith traditions in state and local chapters to help connect the moral and spiritual dots around climate change issues.  We’re even trying to get one going here in Dallas.
Church in the Cliff is going to join the conversation on Sunday. This year, the focus of the Preach-In is on the ways climate change effects the poor – pretty timely given our current focus on Luke’s view of the Christian gospel.  Here in the U.S. and around the world, the challenges posed by the extremes of a changing climate hit those who don’t have the cushion of a comfortable lifestyle the hardest, something that pokes uncomfortably into our day-to-day worlds.
In Luke Chapter 12, Jesus gets to the uncomfortable heart of the matter, as often is his way. He flat out tells people that worrying about material security is pointless, that takes our focus away from things that matter (note: his message here isn’t to the poor, who don’t have these things.  It’s to those who already have those basic needs met).  I don’t claim to hold a candle to Jesus’ words, but I will say that the painful effects of our collective material worries are having some real effects.  “Affluenza” takes away more than a spiritual sense of having an abundant life, filled with meaning and spiritual insight.  It’s raising our sea levels, lowering our water tables, melting our ice fields, raging in wildfires, and creating climate refugees around the world.
The really painful part of this is that, conspiracy theories aside, no evil mastermind really meant for this to happen.  We can critique the oil companies, coal companies, and big agricultural corporations all day (and perhaps we should), but the reason they’re so successful is looking back at me in the mirror.  I really like this comfortable life – it got created with many good intentions, to make people’s lives easier and better.  But, the crazy bandwagon of the material rat race is now a runaway train, and it’s a system that is pretty challenging – if not almost impossible – to step out of.  Talk about anxiety.
Join us Sunday morning at Kidd Springs Recreation Center, 11AM, to talk about living faithfully in this brave new world.  It’s a hard problem, and I have a feeling we’re going to need each other if we’re going to resist the temptation to look out for number 1.  I think there may be some good news in this, but it’s going to require something from us, too.  I love how one of the people I interviewed for my dissertation put it: “To love one another, we have to be sustaining.  To be sustaining, we have to look around and see what’s happening.”

The Bosom of Abraham

// February 2nd, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This is one of those weeks where I’m not quite sure what to do.  For the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the “Great Reversal” in Luke.  This week we’re looking at another paradigmatic example of that, the story of Lazarus.  Note this is not the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead found in John 11, but the story in Luke 16:19-31 of a desperately impoverished man who can do nothing but waste away, begging at the gate of a rich man.  Lazarus and the rich man both die, but their fates in the afterlife are quite different.

The rich man is tormented in Hades.  As he is roasting in the flames, he sees Lazarus sitting in Abraham’s lap, comforted.  He begs for a simple drop of water, but is denied.  It’s a disturbing scene, but perhaps I’m more disturbed by the reasoning.

Abraham cites two reasons that the rich man will not – cannot! – be helped.  First, Lazarus’ life was unrelenting suffering.  In the spirit of the Great Reversal, he is now comforted.  But the rich man had everything, every comfort in life.  Now he suffers in agony.  This is retribution.  Second, there is a great chasm between the place of torment and the place of comfort.  No one can cross from one side to the other.  This is permanent.  It gets worse.

The rich man, seeing that he cannot be helped, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to the land of the living to warn the rich man’s brothers of the fate that awaits them.  Again, Abraham refuses.  He says that they have the warnings of Moses and the prophets and do not listen.  He says they won’t even listen to one who has been raised from the dead.  Their fate is inevitable.  They cannot change.  Nothing can be done.

Luke is a great gospel for social justice.  It is very clear about good and evil.  However, if you like Richard Rohr; or think of your faith as one of reconciliation, redemption, and transformation; or just like being rich or even comfortable, Luke is problematic.  Since I fit a lot of those categories – I’m a lot more like the rich man than I am like Lazarus – I don’t like it, but there it is in my Bible.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, and help me read this text into something I like.  Or maybe help me live with the discomfort.

Grace and Peace,