Thursday, January 31, 2013

Living Christ's Love

In John's Gospel, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment at the Last Supper.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 
- John 13:34

Christians every since have struggled with the question: how do I love as Christ loved?  It's not easy. Because of sin we never get it right. It becomes a spiritual disciple for us to even try.  Because it is Christ's command we are moved to just do it.

Thanks to the Lombard Menonnite Peace Center, my work in Bowen Theory, the colaborative work with the Shepherds Minsitry in my congregation, and the feedback of many people I journey through this life of loving Christ and living faith, I have come up with some steps we can take to do the work of living Christ's love. 

To live Christ's love means navigating within the reality that God made each and everyone of us as unique individuals called to live in community with other unique people.  How do we remain true to our self and live among others who are different?  So much of what we encounter in human relationships falls right here:

Being an individual child of God in community with others.

Living freely in the light of grace I can:
  1. Be true to myself. I am created in the image of God and one with Jesus through baptism.
  2. Be in community. I am created by God to live among other people as the body of Christ.
  3. Accept disagreements. Conflict is a normal part of human relationships.
  4. Affirm hope. God will use disagreements as an opportunity to grow.
  5. Commit to prayer. God invited me to lift up my needs and the needs of others in prayer.
  6. Humbly go directly to others. I can own my own part in a disagreement while communicating directly with the other.
  7. Listen. I can seek to understand the other who is free to have a different opinion.
  8. Be slow to judge. Having a different opinion on one issue does not make the other my opponent.
  9. Negotiate. I can work through disagreements constructively, celebrating the possibility of reconciliation.  
  10. Trust the community. Neutral people from the community can help mediate solutions.
  11. Love, even when it's difficult. I can live the golden rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
  12. Stay connected. I don't need to cut off from or insincerely give in to those I disagree with. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

All Showered and Ready to Go

Curtis blew it.  Things have been tense in his marriage for a while and  Samantha warned him to be ready by 6:30.  Their only daughter, Hannah, is four years old and has been deaf since birth.  Tonight was their sign-language class with her and they couldn't be late.  Curtis had every intention of being good and ready.  He didn't want to let Hannah or Sam down.  But Curtis blew it.

Curtis works for ComEd and things got really hectic out on the lines.  The rain was just not letting up and he had to get those repairs done.  By the end of the day he was pooped... and he stank... and he pulled into the driveway... at 6:22!  He completely forgot the class.  Sam said "get in the car."  But Curtis stank bad.  He wanted to get a quick shower.  Between apologizing to Sam, he begged her to let him get a quick shower.  But no... they had to go.  With his head down, dejected, Curtis got in passenger seat and off the three of them went.

There were about fifty others at the class that night... all sitting in rows... listening closely to the instructor before they would break up into the groups to practice the signs with their kids.  Curtis was the only one with mud all over his shoes.  Curtis was the only one who smelled like that.  He felt shame, and anger at Sam... then a little more shame and finally sadness for Hannah as he looked into her sweet eyes.  Curtis blew it.

If only Curtis would have gotten home a little sooner.  I mean how long does a quick shower take?  For a guy... three minutes tops... and dried off and dressed and ready to go in less than ten.  Curtis needed a shower bad.  Thankfully, someone took a bath for him a long time ago: Jesus.

The most famous bath in the history of the world occurred when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan.  The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove.  A voice claimed Jesus as his own: "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22)."  Curtis was baptized too, when he was a baby.  Now a good shower would have been quite a gift for him that day before the sign-language class, but his most important bath actually occurred that day he was baptized.  He was given the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was when he was baptized. Curtis was claimed as God's child as well.  "I have called you by name. You are mine (Isaiah 43:1)."

Curtis learned the hard way just how important a shower can be.  When you make time for a quick shower you are then ready for anything.  All that dirt and grim go right down the drain.  The stink disappears.  Those who live by faith and live daily in the reality of their baptism are ready for anything too.  It's been called living wet: living the reality that because we are baptized God has forgiven our sin and has prepared us to live this day... this moment... in righteousness and purity.

When we forget the grace of our baptism the stick of sin remains with us and grips us like the dirt on Curtis' shoes.  It's a real tragedy too, because remembering your baptism is so easy.  Being centered in prayer or in the Word and "bang" you're there: you remember that amazing grace.  Your sins are forgiven so you may arise and live now before God in righteousness and purity.

That night at the school Curtis wasn't ready to arise and stand before anyone: not the other parents and kids, not the instructor and certainly not in front of Sam and Hannah.  Yes it was a long day... and he had excellent excuses... but in the end the feelings of anger, shame and sadness were what he was left with.  We're talking more than dirt and body odor here... when we start talking about anger and shame we are getting to the filth that sticks to us deep in our soul.  Think about it this way: when Curtis, or any one of us, gets so busy that we forget about grace and the love and forgiveness given in baptism, the stink of sin holds on to us.  Because we blow it, over and over again, we need to remember our baptism.

In baptism you are one with Jesus and receive the same gifts our Lord received in the Jordan.  "I have called you by name. You are mine."  You belong to the Lord.  The stink of sin has been washed away.  Feelings of shame, anger and sadness don't control you any more.  In Christ you are all showered and ready to go.  Now live "wet" before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Star Shines on a New Kingdom

Tomorrow is the Epiphany of Our Lord.  We celebrate the festival in which wise men are led by a star to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king for a new kingdom.  With the birth of Jesus, God turns the powers of the world upside-down.  Previously ultimate power was held by those with military strength and great wealth.  Now, power is expressed through love, humility, service and justice.  When the wise men visit King Herod, who represents old kingdom power, they quote Micah 5:2 that describes this new Kingdom of God: 

"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 
for from you shall come a ruler 
who is to shepherd my people Israel."

At Christmas I compared the shepherds of the Christmas story to the TV show Duck Dynasty.  In Jesus, God becomes one with us and meets us right where we are at.  Not only may be approach God, fully human, but we should approach our Lord, just as we are.  We don't need to wear our Sunday best, instead we can let our hair down.

For Epiphany, the light is shining on a new kingdom.  God's Kingdom will be established through Jesus who will shepherd his people in the ways of peace.  Out with the old and in with the new.  For me that sounds a whole lot like the TV show Downton Abbey.  It just so happens that the third season of Downton Abbey will be premiering Epiphany night on PBS.  The general tone of the show is of a age on its last legs: an age where people knew their place.  At the head of the manor is Lord Grantham, Robert Crawley and his mother the Dowager Countess of Grantham.  Then everyone else in the Crawley family comes next.  Even among the servants there is a hierarchy.  Mr. Carson runs the house followed by Mrs. Hughes and then a whole list of various people who know their place, with poor little Daisy, the lowly kitchen maid at the bottom of the heap.  Downton Abbey depicts a time less than 100 years ago... the world of King George V and the great British Empire.  They used to say that the sun never sets on the British Empire... well, all of that is long gone.

While not described as such in the Matthew 2 text, the wise men have traditionally been described as kings or magi.  For centuries Christians have sung of the humble gifts the three kings present to the new king: Jesus.  In many respects in passing to Christ the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh... the "kings" are passing on the baton or the torch.  There are still monarchs.  Some respectable, like Elizabeth II, some tyrants like King Herod... but their age is ending.  Jesus never rules using any of their gifts.  He will not rule with gold.  He will not rule with the sword.  Jesus' instead rules with a shepherd's crook, leading his sheep to spiritual truth in him.  Jesus rules on the cross, meeting us humans at our worst. 

The star is the symbol of this reign of God.  It's light of truth breaks through the darkness and leads us in the way of peace.  They say that wise men still seek him.  From rich to poor.... from lowly Daisy, the kitchen maid to Lord Grantham... to King George himself... All will bow to this ruler: who is Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Twelfth Night

Tonight is Twelfth Night.  The Christmas season is twelve days long, as anyone who listened to even an hour of a 24/7 Christmas music radio station last month knows.  "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and its various variations, gets played over and over again.  Well... tonight is the twelfth night of Christmas.  In my family it's the night that we pray for God's blessings upon our house. 

We have claimed as our own an eastern European tradition of doing a yearly house blessing either at the time of Twelfth Night or Epiphany, which is January 6.  On Epiphany we celebrate the arrival of the wise men from the east to Bethlehem as it is described in Matthew 2.  They follow the star and after a conversation with King Herod they go to the house where Mary and the child Jesus are staying.  They give this new king gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Tradition says that these wise men were kings by the names of Casper, Melchior and Balthasar.  The blessing that is done over the main doorway of the home reflects this by using the first letter of each of their names: C M B.  In Latin the letters "C M B" also stand for words of blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat meaning "Christ bless this home."

Standing on a stool at the doorway this blessing is done, using chalk: 
The magi of old, known as
C   Caspar,
M   Melchior, and
B   Balthasar
followed the star of God's Son who came to dwell among us
20   two thousand
13   and thirteen years ago.
+   Christ, bless this house,
+   and remain with us throughout the new year.

in the end the blessing looks like this:
20 + C M B + 13

Afterwards, using a small branch from an evergreen tree, possibly the Christmas tree, you sprinkle water in each room, asking for God's blessings to be upon the whole household.

Its a beautiful blessing to do with children and those letters and numbers in chalk remind you throughout the year that Christ does bless your home and blesses you.  God is with you always.

What a nice tradition to end the Christmas season with.