Archive for February, 2014

Leaving Galilee

// February 28th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

On my trip to the Holy Land, the first week was idyllic. We began in Galilee in a hotel perched on a hillside overlooking the sea. Each morning when we awoke and each night before we turned in, we were treated to a feast from the bounty of the land. If I imagine God’s feast table in heaven, this is what I see. We spent our mornings traveling through the pastoral landscape, the green hills and the blue sea our constant companions. Every day we spent in Galilee was filled with laughter and music, smart conversation and deep kindness. I never wanted to leave that place.

When Peter sees Jesus transfigured into a radiant beam of light, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, he does not want to leave. But there’s some back story here. Six days earlier, Jesus told the disciples that it was time to leave Galilee and go to Jerusalem. Worse, Jesus predicted that he would be tortured and killed. For whatever problems there were in Galilee – the poverty, the oppression, the wandering – it doesn’t seem so bad in the face of losing it, of losing the person you love, the one who has defined your life.

Peter was probably looking for a sign. We’ve all said that prayer at some point: “God just give me a sign that you want me to do the thing I’m going to do anyway.” More often than not, we get that sign because anything can be a sign if you really want it to be. But Peter really gets a sign. Jesus goes all Gandalf the White and Moses and Elijah are there with him, as if to say, See, everything is fulfilled. Complete. Perfect. There is no need to do anything else. Let’s build a tent and camp out here.

God had something else in mind. There was still work to be done, powers to be confronted, people to be saved. The life of faith (hopefully!) contains moments of perfection, moments of sublime beauty and perfect peace. Sacred moments. Holy moments. But those do not exist for themselves or even for us. They exist as a call to get about God’s business. They give us the strength to continue on. They are the memory to which we are faithful and the vision toward which we hope. They give our short lives meaning and purpose. Those moments when God lights up our lives are not to be held onto, but shared, passed along to those who need a little light in their lives, too.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we turn our faces toward Jerusalem and share a little light. Also, remember that next Wednesday, March 5, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent marks Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and to death, so each year we walk this path ourselves as pilgrims and disciples. Our Ash Wednesday service will be at the Shirleys’, 221 S. Edgefield Ave at 6:30pm.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Specific, Indiscriminate Love (Genny’s Farewell)

// February 23rd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We are packing up. I’m pretending that we aren’t really leaving, or that this will all be a fantastic adventure, or that this week is just a really fun one in which I get to go to lots of parties and see lots of friends (and since I’m pretty introverted, this is some exhausting fun, though so worth it). In the middle of this, I’ve been sitting with our text this week, holding our departure at the edges of my brain so I can ostensibly think clearly.

It hasn’t worked so well. I’ve had 3 false starts on this darn email, and it’s because I love you all, and am sad I won’t get to see your faces every week. Saying goodbye to you is hard. The things I love in life are particular: in the philosophical sense, love is a wide umbrella. In practice, love happens in very specific relationships in very specific contexts.

Who do you love? What draws your affection? Where are the places your spirit tells you, “This place is home”? I’m asking because, in this week where I’m thinking so much about the love of friends, the lectionary passage is about what I view as Christianity’s most revolutionary teaching: the love of enemies. Love is particular – and so is hatred. For ire to be so real and deep to qualify as hatred, it must be directed towards something specific. So it seems that to engage this world-subverting subject, we have to be willing to do some very specific self-reflection that holds a mirror to our deepest loves and the things we actually hate.

Frederick Buechner says we don’t really talk much about real enemies these days. His hunch is that while we like to think that’s because we’re more “civilized,” it’s actually because we’re a bit cowardly. Rather, he says, “we smolder…when we declare war, it is mostly submarine warfare, and since our attacks are beneath the surface, it may be years before we know fully the damage we have given or sustained.” In other words, to even begin the journey towards loving an enemy, we have to first see them – we have to recognize an ugly response that lives within us, rather than ignoring it. It is a tall order, this transformation. Love, as in, willing all goodness for the abuser, for the prejudiced, for the ones who smugly enjoy our struggles. Somehow, love has to be the response when it is impossible, as well as when it comes naturally. Jesus’ words flip the “eye for an eye” world on its head, dismantling the logic of “take care of our own,” and heralding a revolution.

I hope you’ll join us Sunday at Kidd Springs, 11am. We have lots to talk about. There will be probably be public crying on my part, so be forewarned…

Love,
Genny

The Power of Being Yourself

// February 15th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This is a special week because we are joined by Rev. Robin Lunn, Executive Director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church.  We are privileged to be a part of AWAB and privileged to have Robin join us.  Once again, the lectionary provides us with a lot to think about in Matthew 5.21-37, so I’m glad Robin is along side to help unravel this text’s gospel of inclusion.

Our passage continues Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that presents some challenges, especially for a progressive congregation like Church in the Cliff.  For us, the challenge is in honestly engaging a text that has been used to reinforce heteronormative ideas of family.  When Jesus speaks of adultery and divorce, he assumes that a marriage is between one man and one woman.  Worse, he assumes that the man is in control of whether the marriage might continue and only the woman’s virtue and faithfulness is in question.  The result is a text that can be used to keep women in oppressive situations while requiring little of men.  But that’s a pretty narrow view of the text.

As we have seen in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew is quite careful about what he includes and where it is placed.  Remember, Jesus has just finished talking about the importance of the law as a guide to justice.  Specifically, he says that the righteousness – the practice of justice-making – of the disciples is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, the religious bigwigs of the day.  Now Jesus describes how that works.  For Matthew’s Jesus, increasing one’s righteousness is aligning inner thoughts with outer actions.

The Gospel of Matthew uses the term “hypocrites” thirteen times, far more than any other Gospel.  Each time, his target is the religious elite.  His charge was not that they did not follow the law, but that they didn’t care about the people of God.  They used the law to exclude people from life in God – “for you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven (23.13)” – and kept the law without practicing justice – “for you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, compassion, and faith (23.23).”  The small things consumed them, became their religion, while forgetting that the whole point is to love one another and bring about justice.  There is an inner reality of concern for the well-being of others that becomes an outer reality of justice.

When Jesus says that being angry with a person receives judgment just like murdering a person will and looking at a woman is the same as committing adultery, we probably hear that as something like “all sins are the same” or “even our thoughts are sinful.”  This kind of guilt is precisely what can keep people away from life in God.  We are taught that we are unworthy of love and that weighs us down.  We become bitter and angry and depressed and we transmit that onto others or destroy ourselves.

God’s option, however, is to transform us, to console us in our pain, to quench our thirst for justice, to make us children of God.  We don’t stop feeling angry, but we transform that anger into reconciliation and justice.  Our desire does not stop, but is purified in the fire of judgment – not the judgment of damnation, but discernment that turns us toward the call of justice.  As disciples, we are called to faithfulness.  That faith starts inside, by being the persons that God made us to be.  We become who we have always been in the dreams of God and so can simply let our yes be yes and our no be no.  Faith like that moves mountains.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we continue to talk about the law and the ways we engage it for justice.  And help us welcome Robin as she preaches the gospel of inclusion!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

The Kingdom

// February 2nd, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I’m back.  I have been to the mountain top.  Several, in fact.  I’m having trouble explaining my experience in the Holy Land, but I do feel different: clear, motivated, impatient.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel like Matthew’s Jesus.  Not in perfection or divinity, certainly, but in his absolute confidence that the world of God’s dreams was at hand if we only dare to see it, to allow ourselves to be transformed.  This, for Matthew’s Jesus, is the kingdom of God.

We don’t usually use this language at Church in the Cliff.  It smacks of hierarchy, patriarchy, and privilege.  However, it holds some promise that other terms, such as kindom or family, do not.  Even though we do not live under a monarchy, we do understand it immediately as a way of orienting our lives to a particular order.  More importantly, it is a definitively political term.  God’s dreams for our lives are not just an abstraction about what happens to our disembodied souls, but a concern for how we live our lives now and what kind of society we create to bring about justice.  “Kingdom” is an eschatological word in Matthew: it is about the world toward which we live.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) are a description of what that world looks like.  The kingdom is the birthright of those who are poor in spirit, the gentle, those who make peace, and those who pursue justice no matter the cost.  The kingdom is a place where justice and compassion overflow.  In the kingdom, the grieving find comfort.  In the kingdom, we find our deepest longings made real.  In the end, God’s deepest longing – whether we call it a kingdom, a realm, a kindom, a family, a household, or a dream – is not about a man with a crown, but about the least of the least being lifted up.

The good news is that this not something we have to wait for.  No Second Coming required.  Rather, it is something we participate in.  The time is fulfilled.  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  The dreams of God are made real.  All we have to do is live like it.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss the Beatitudes.  When do we find ourselves blessed?  How do we ensure the rewards to the blessed?

Grace & Peace,
Scott