Dallas people, this Sunday Journey is thrilled to have our friends from the Void Collective in Waco come to lead a special gathering. The entire evening will be different than normal–a provocative experience engaging the paradox that God is now here and God is nowhere. So come on out and bring some friends! We begin at 5:10pm Sunday night at 13154 Coit Road, Suite 101.
by danielle on April 29, 2013
I’ll be discussing and answering questions about The Boundary Breaking God with the good people at Baptist Women in Ministry on May 6th at 11:30 CST. You can find out all the information below, including the conference call in number. So wherever you are, feel free to join in!
|Baptist Women in Ministry exists to be a catalyst in Baptist life, drawing together women and men, in partnership with God, to illuminate, advocate and nurture the gifts and graces of women.|
by danielle on April 12, 2013
I’ve been making my way through Edwin Friedman’s fabulous book A Failure of Nerve and I cannot recommend it more highly. Actually, if you haven’t ever read anything by Friedman, you should just go online and order all of his books right now, or at least make it a mind-altering trifecta with Generation to Generation and Friedman’s Fables. (And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon is so smart they have one of those “buy 3 together and save” with this very combination.)
In his chapter on imaginative gridlock, he uses the Age of Exploration as a metaphor for the kind of adventurous boundary breaking that is needed in our time. Because we are all kinds of stuck. Congress is stuck. All of Washington is stuck. Family systems are stuck. The Church is stuck. Businesses are stuck. Our national debates on gun control and marriage equality are stuck. I could do this all day…you get the point.
Friedman says the reason we are stuck is that we lack imaginative guts. We want to reform- and only what we absolutely must, and with as few apples falling off the apple cart as possible. We do not want to get rid of the apple cart entirely. And that’s a very typical and understandable human response. It’s just also wrong. And it won’t get us anywhere past these problems that encircle us like hawks.
What we need to do to break our emotional barriers and to free up our imaginative gridlock is to risk. To risk it all, if we must. To engage the world with a deep sense of adventure and to let go of our need to be right, to be certain, to be safe. Friedman says that anxiety and a quest for certainty always ends up in a failure of nerve. We falter because we psych ourselves out about what is at stake. I hear this in conversations about the future of the Church all the time. What if we spend all this money and then it doesn’t work and then we also don’t have any more money? What if the young people don’t come back? etc. But then the problem looms so large in the room that you can almost feel a sense of paralyzation wash over people. What would it be like if we just stared that question in the face and shrugged our shoulders instead? What if more of us could just say, yes, that could happen. Yes, the young people could never come back. Yep, it’s always possible the Church as we know it will just crumble away. But let’s create anyway. Let’s do something new anyway. Let’s trust anyway. As an anonymous person once said, “The safest place for ships is in the harbor, but that’s not why ships were built.”
Friedman writes, “The acceptance and even cherishing of uncertainty is critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (p.46)
I feel like we should put that on sticky notes in our bathrooms and on billboards across the entire United States until it really sinks in.
The problem is not intellectual. It’s emotional. We are afraid and anxious and too worried about being right. And it is creating brick walls that are locking us into an increasingly claustrophobia-inducing space. It’s time to let go.
Explorers in the Age of Discovery had to get over their fears about sailing to the end of the world and falling off. They had to get over their anxiety about crossing the equator. But they did it. And if you think about it, that was one HUGE mental barrier to hurdle. Roger Bannister broke the barrier of the 4-minute mile. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier- by GUNNING IT when the plane started shaking when everyone else hit the brakes, no less.
I know, it’s Eastertide, and I am overly excitable about discussing boundary breaking, because this story is about that if it’s about anything at all- about a perceived ending being a new beginning, much to everyone’s great surprise and shock. It’s a truth meant not just to be proclaimed but practiced. What would it mean for us to ratchet up our sense of adventure and let go of the weight of certainty?
Maybe we wouldn’t die. Maybe we would experience resurrection.
by danielle on April 5, 2013
The Dallas Morning News has assembled a diverse group of religious voices to respond to weekly questions regarding current affairs, religion, and culture. Each Tuesday, some of those responses are highlighted on the Texas Faith blog. I’m honored to be part of that wonderfully diverse group, and look forward to responding in weeks to come.
This week’s question was about different kinds of belief. What does it mean that we may believe differently about certain issues, particularly about ultimate questions? Not differently in the sense of disagreeing, but differently in the sense that we believe in gravity versus believing in Jesus’ resurrection. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I’m working on my next project. You can see my answer on the blog.
by danielle on March 28, 2013
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Lent Sermon, Week 6 Year C
Here we are again, y’all. It’s Palm Sunday. What is Palm Sunday? you ask. Well, let me tell you.
Palm Sunday is the last week of Lent, the first day of Holy Week as we near the day of Easter.
Palm Sunday is also called Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s a day of celebration where people lined the streets, overflowing with eagerness and anticipation about who Jesus was and what he was going to do. It is a day of declaration that Jesus is King. The crowds chant, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Luke says “the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully for all the deeds of power they had seen.” So some churches have this tradition of processing into the sanctuary on Palm Sunday with joy and waving palm branches above their heads like some kind of Christian version of a New Orleans jazz parade, equal parts chaos and jovial frivolity. And that’s true. Palm Sunday is like that.
But it’s also nothing like that. Because let’s not forget that the people gathered along the street that day were looking and hoping for a kind of king they didn’t end up getting. So Palm Sunday is also an irony parade.
Palm Sunday is a declaration of the kind of King Jesus is. He is one who rides into town on a donkey, for one thing, rather than a chariot or a warrior horse. As the crowds say, he ushers in peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. He’s unarmed. He has no bodyguards or security detail. Jesus doesn’t have “handlers.” All of which is rather terrifying. It’s like shuttling the Mona Lisa around in a shopping cart and just leaving it in the middle of the parking lot.
Palm Sunday is a reminder that the disciples are, as per usual, veritable dimwits who don’t seem to have any clue about what’s really going on. I could be wrong about this. I know the focus of the story is on Jesus here. But to me, they’re like little chess pieces in this story. Go here, Jesus says. Get me that donkey, Jesus says. Tell the owners the Lord needs it. And they nod and shuffle along and go over there and get the donkey and tell the owners the Lord needs it without any sign from Luke that they a) had any clue about what was happening or b) had any idea that this was the beginning of the end. Even though Jesus had told them, I don’t know, about one zillion times.
Palm Sunday is a reminder of the importance of preparation, because I assume there was some back story conversation between Jesus and the donkey owners before all of this went down, maybe the last time he swung through town. Something like, “Jesus, is there anything we can do for you?” And Jesus says, “Well, yes, actually, one day soon I might need to borrow your donkey.” So you Type A planner people can rejoice. Jesus thinks ahead.
Palm Sunday is a significant shift in Jesus’ operating procedures. The messiah who loves to hide, the one who shushes people when they want to tell others about who he is and what he’s done, all of a sudden allows himself to be the center of attention in one of the most public and loud ways possible- with a PARADE. With a parade, you guys. And not just any parade, but a parade where the crowd had religious leaders in it who were bold enough to tell Jesus to shut it down, to which Jesus replies in zinger esoteric fashion, “If they were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Palm Sunday is an ecological tale about how we really underestimate stones. That all this time we have had it all backward when asking ourselves the inane philosophical question about “if a tree falls in the woods when nobody is there to hear it does it make a sound” when the trees are apparently just waiting for us to leave again so they can get on with their conversation.
Palm Sunday is an example of mob mentality, group think, tribalism. It proves that we were picking teams and rooting for them long before the NFL came along. And somehow it seems worse when what’s at stake actually matters. Exhibit A: every nation’s foreign policy.
Palm Sunday is depressing, because it’s such a stark contrast to what will happen a few days from now…indeed, what is already in the process of happening. It’s a parade with a really bad ending. It’s like in Chutes and Ladders when you get to the top of the game and you land on a chute that sends you all the way down to the first row again. It is the worst parade let-down in the history of everything. I get depressed just talking about it. All these people cheering and yipping who will become all these people shouting and yelling “Crucify him.”
Palm Sunday is like a Where’s Waldo book- it’s busy and crowded and overwhelming and everything kind of looks the same but everything is in fact not the same at all and there are endless things you can find there if you decide you’re looking for it. It is the reason why there are endless pages of commentary about Palm Sunday, because you can find just about anything in it if you decide it’s what you’re looking for. Where’s Jesus? we ask. And we know what he looks like and we know he’s in there but it takes us forever to find him because there is so. much. other. stuff. in our way, cluttering our eyesight.
Where is Jesus? we ask. And we know he’s right there in the middle of everything, the guy on the donkey, the one you could see if the tall lady in front of you would put her palms down for one blasted second and let you get a good look, for Pete’s sake.
But the bigger question is- what are you looking for? A king? A political leader? A hero? A winner? Do you want him to avenge your honor? To justify your beliefs? Do you want him to restore order in order to maintain the status quo? Do you want him to make his disciples stop with all the racket? Do you just want the parade to be over so you can get your donkey back, or your coat back? Do you want him to turn around and leave town? Do you want him to keep going?
Palm Sunday is a gut check. Because we do look for those things. We do want those things, at one point or another. Maybe not all at the same time, maybe not to the same degree. But we are a confused people lining the streets for reasons we don’t really know. Where is Jesus? I don’t know, which Jesus are you looking for?
Kaitlin Hammond told me one time that she was on an airplane getting settled in for a long flight home and there was a little boy, about 5 or 6, sitting in the row in front of her. The boy’s mom was on the same row but across the aisle, and so he kept leaning into the aisle to ask her for things. And she kept saying, “No, not right now, honey.” “The drinks don’t come until later, sweetheart.” “We have to wait until we get up in the air for you to have your DS.” “Yes, you do have to buckle your seatbelt.” “Yes, the whole time.” “No, you’re not allowed to get up and go to the bathroom right now. You have to wait until the seatbelt sign goes off.” “Yes, then you DO have to put your seatbelt back on.” “Yes, for the rest of the flight.” And after a barrage of these gut-wrenching setbacks, the boy just hit a wall. He couldn’t take it any more. So he leaned his head back, and started singing:
“You can’t always get what you waaaant
you can’t always get what you waaaaaaaaant
you can’t always get what you waaant
but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you NEEEEEEEEEED.”
Palm Sunday is like that, too. All of Holy Week, in fact, is like that. We don’t get what we want. We don’t get disciples who exhibit bravery and valor, or really much of anything at all that could be considered virtuous. Judas doesn’t come to his senses in time, or change his mind. And when he does, he tells these religious leaders who tell him they don’t care, and then he kills himself. Jesus prays for the cup to be passed and God doesn’t answer yes. Peter denies he will deny Jesus and then goes on to deny him three times. There is no dramatic Jesus jail breakout. We don’t see justice served in the court system. Pilate doesn’t heed his wife’s warning not to harm Jesus. In what would seem like a sure bet, Jesus ends up losing the get out of crucifixion free card to who Matthew calls a “notorious prisoner” named Barrabbus. And by “notorious” we can assume people are pretty aware of the bad things Barrabbus did- “notorious” things. Barrabbus is, at the very least, another coward to add to the growing list, which will come to include every last one of Jesus’ disciples. Nobody in the crowd- seriously, in all of those people, not ONE person is recorded as trying to stop the humiliation or the beating. Nobody seemed to speak up for Jesus, or protest, or stomp away and try to make a scene. Even Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross. It’s not like he offered. We have no idea what he felt about the matter. None of the soldiers showed restraint. None of the stones cried out.
We can’t always get what we want. We don’t even know what we want. We can’t even say what we want. But this time, we will find, we get what we need.
I know I’ve already quoted a song tonight, and I know if I were to quote a Leonard Cohen song that you would rather me quote Halleluia,which is all of a sudden everyone in the world’s favorite song, but it’s Lent and I’m not technically supposed to have said that word. So instead I want to share with you the lyrics to his song Anthem.
The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government –
signs for all to see.
I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
and they’re going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring …
You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is the day when we must finally, once and for all forget our perfect offering. WE DON’T HAVE IT. we don’t have it. It doesn’t exist. We may have our shining moments from time to time, but Holy Week isn’t it. Holy Week is the week where we don’t get anything we want because we can’t even fathom the kind of Savior we need. We have no perfect offering. I heard a rabbi say once that when God made the world, God made it good and not perfect, and that was on purpose. Forget the perfect offering. We are a confused and half-hearted people most of the time. We are people who throw parades without even knowing what for. There is a crack in everything, in every last one of us. But that’s how the light gets in.
Palm Sunday is a day of salvation and not satisfaction. We gather, clueless, confused, misguided, with unclear intentions and unvirtuous motives for Jesus to be what we want him to be for us. We don’t get no satisfaction in our desires. What we get instead is salvation.
Hosanna, we cry, waving our palm branches like the idiots we are, gunning for the mud pies instead of the holiday at the sea. Wishing for revenge instead of redemption, power instead of true peace. Hosanna, we sing loudly, while confining Jesus’ life to little more than a political rally and a popularity contest. Hosanna!!
But the joke is on us. Because hosanna means save us. And that is exactly what Jesus does. Amen.
by danielle on March 27, 2013
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Lent Sermon, Week 5 Year C
So Jesus and his friends have come to Bethany on their way into Jerusalem. They will celebrate the Passover in 6 days. The time is drawing near. When they arrive in Bethany, Jesus and his friends go to the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha for dinner. As far as we know, it’s the first time they have all been together since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, which didn’t happen very long ago. Around the dining table are the disciples, Jesus, and a recently raised-from-the-dead Lazarus. Martha was serving, which means she probably was doing what my grandmother does when she hosts people for dinner- shuttling between kitchen and table, doing anything but sitting. It’s unclear whether they are still at the dinner table or they have moved to sitting around the room, but at some point Mary goes to retrieve this bottle of perfumed oil, and, sitting at the feet of Jesus as she’s been known to do, she opens the vial and pours the oil onto Jesus’ feet. I imagine her having thick, black hair that was swept up out of her face, and I imagine her unclasping the clip and letting her hair cascade down onto Jesus’ feet, wiping up the excess oil into her hair. And the smell began to waft through the house. The house, John says, fills with its fragrance.
I wonder what the smell triggered for people. Smells do that, you know. We smell things and can remember the times we have smelled them before. Was it a common fragrance? Was it one associated with special occasions, or solemn ones like the death of a loved one?
We know at least what it made Judas think about. That oil for Judas smelled only of money. Judas, who I envision as one of those overly serious, scowl-prone kinds of people, you know, the kind that always ruins a good dinner party, pipes up and says, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold so that the money could be given to the poor?” Which, we have to admit, is a perfectly fair question. If Jesus has been about anything at all, he’s been about caring for the poor.
But John inserts his own little comment about this (because clearly he had to sit next to Judas at a dinner party and he’s still pretty upset about it) and he says, “By the way, dear reader, in case you don’t know Judas, don’t buy into what he’s saying for one second. He didn’t really care about the poor. He stole from the common purse all the time, and probably he’s just mad that he didn’t get a cut from this expensive oil.” This moment isn’t to be sidetracked by Judas’ manipulations. And it doesn’t remove Jesus’ deep and abiding concern for the poor, either. It’s just that this moment- this one, precious moment, this utterly unique moment when Jesus is about to enter into Jerusalem and face down the worst of everything humanity can throw at him- this moment isn’t about poverty but about being present.
So Jesus responds to Judas and says, “Leave her alone! She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
But…this isn’t the day of his burial. If that’s what she bought it for, why is she using it now?
And the bittersweet truth of the matter is that she is not keeping it for the day of his burial. She is anointing him for burial. She is preparing him for burial. Of course, that’s not a thing. You anoint people AT their burial, but never before. But then again, none of what Mary does in this exchange is normal. There’s no ritual precedence for pouring oil all over someone’s feet. Someone’s head, maybe, but never the feet. And I highly doubt it was normal for a woman to take her hair down like that in mixed company, much less use the hair to wipe off the oil she had just poured all over his feet. But this is a unique moment- an unrepeated, unrepeatable moment- and it calls for a unique response. Mary is anointing Jesus for his burial. She is, with deep love and compassion, preparing him for what is to come.
In this moment Mary is a hospice nurse to Jesus, taking up the holy duty of caring for one who will not be with us much longer. And all there is left to do is to give as much beauty to those final days as possible. They are days for extravagance.
I don’t know if Mary knew this was what she was doing. I don’t know what caused her to get up and get the jar of oil and pour it out. Maybe she only understood what her instincts already knew much later. Although if I were to place my bets, I’d say she came with oil in hand because she saw the truth in Jesus’ face, could sense that the clouds were gathering. As many times as Jesus had tried to tell his disciples that he would die, as many times as he attempted to prepare them for what was to come, they never seemed to understand what he was saying. But Mary did, without so much as a word. Of course she couldn’t have known all that would happen. But I bet she could feel that the tide was changing.
I imagine Mary to be a contemplative, though they didn’t have that word back then. Mary was probably one of those people you like to be around, because she always made you want to be a better person- not in a condemning sort of way but an inspiring sort of way. She probably wasn’t the most reliable person- she obviously wasn’t very domestic. So she might be late when you meet her for lunch, but when she got there, you would have her full attention, and you would leave feeling like it was a conversation that fed your soul. And I imagine she is a contemplative because she seems able to see what others miss, observe not just what’s going on but what it means. So perhaps as she watched her brother Lazarus and her sister Martha and the disciples and Jesus all gathered in her house that night, she felt it- felt it like when your hair on your arms stands on end and you get goosebumps. Maybe she saw it in Jesus’ face, too. The time was drawing near.
The crowds were already gathering in search of Lazarus. Word had spread, as you can imagine, about his being raised from the dead, and John tells us the chief priests were planning to kill Lazarus, too. Maybe when Jesus said to that room, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial” it confirmed what she already worried was true. This room, just freed from the stench and sadness of death, wasn’t clear of it yet. Intermingled with the joy of Lazarus’ resurrected life and the fellowship of all of these dear friends being together and feasting together, a crowd plots just outside the door. The time is drawing near.
And Mary, like all good prophets, responds in a completely new and unexpected way. She puts a visual to the reality of the moment, awakens us not only to what is happening but to what it means. She pours the oil, and herself, out onto the feet of Jesus- as nurse, as friend, as follower. She is preparing everyone, including herself, for what is to come. And the fragrance of the oil fills the house.
The poet Rilke says, “Love . . .consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.” And I’m struck by these two solitudes: Mary, overshadowed by her sister, underestimated by everyone, and Jesus, who, in the weeks to come will be always surrounded but utterly alone; in this moment, they know one another’s solitudes. They commune with one another’s solitudes. Jesus sees that Mary is already bracing for the very thing she least wants to happen, pouring out her love because she knows full well she cannot stop what is coming. And Mary sees something that even Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t notice. Jesus is preparing to die, and it isn’t easy.
You see, the real cost here is not the oil. It is the cost of being present to one another in times of need. It is the most costly thing. So in this season of Lent we must ask ourselves: what will it cost us to be present?
When I worked at Meadow Lakes, the retirement community in New Jersey, there was a woman with Alzheimer’s who had twin sons. They lived upstate and came to visit often, but they weren’t able to come and see her on a weekly basis. So every week, they sent her flowers. They took turns, week after week, sending her a beautiful bouquet that all but covered up her dresser in her small shared room. I’m not talking about carnations and baby breath, either. They were roses and tulips and Gerber daisies and lilies. Really nice flowers. Most days, she did not know why they were there, or who sent them. I would come in to see her and I would say, “Oh look at the lovely flowers!” And she would smile and say, “Yes, I don’t know who would go to the trouble to send them to me. But aren’t they beautiful?!”
I remember asking my chaplain friend Robin how long they had been sending her flowers like that, and she said, “Oh, for years now. At least 4 years.” And I thought how expensive it must be for each son to send a big, beautiful bouquet twice a month for 4 years straight. And I suppose we could be justified in asking why this money was not given instead to the poor. My friend could not usually remember that her sons were sending her flowers. Sometimes the details were lost on her. But the sentiment wasn’t. The intention wasn’t. Because every time she got flowers, she couldn’t believe her luck. Week after week, Monday after Monday, her eyes lit up as she saw the nurse bring in this beautiful bouquet and place it on her dresser. She would say, “Well, who would do such a nice thing? I can’t imagine who it’s from!” And the nurse would say, “Your sons sent it to you. They love you so much!” And for a moment she would smile, and she would feel absolutely loved and cherished and honored.
The flowers, you see, were to remind her that she wasn’t alone, even when her sons weren’t with her.
Jesus was making his way into Jerusalem for the last time. And who is to say that Mary’s act of worship did not serve to feed Jesus’ very soul in the days ahead when his most devoted followers and even his Father would forsake him? Perhaps he would remember this moment and find the strength and hope to go on. Perhaps the smell of the oils so invaded his nostrils that it became pressed into his memory.
When Jesus hung upon the cross, abandoned by even his closest disciples, humiliated by a crowd of faces, taunted and beaten by soldiers, who is to say that he did not close his eyes and beckon forth the recollection of that smell as it wafted over his feet and through the house that evening, and find consolation that he was not alone?
It’s an odd thing- Mary pouring herself out for Jesus, so that Jesus could pour himself out for us. Mary, reminding Jesus that he is not alone in his time of need, so that Jesus could face death and enter into resurrection so that we too might know we are not alone in our time of need. Mary, in this extravagant way, showing Jesus that she would still be with him, no matter what may come, so that Jesus, in this extravagant way, can show us that he will always be with us, forever be with us, no matter what may come.
What will it cost us to be present? Sometimes the price is high. But the reward is beyond measure. For if there is one thing we were made to do, made to be, it is present to each other. May God help us become people who do not count the cost. Amen.
by danielle on March 26, 2013
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
Lent Sermon, Week 4 Year C
Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried is the story of a company of army men in the Vietnam War, written from the perspective of a narrator who is a former soldier and now a writer, reflecting on his experiences in the war. He writes,
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were p-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum…and two or three canteens of water…
They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing–these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.
They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.
In the fifth chapter of Joshua we find God’s people in the process of entering into the land of Canaan. They have spent forty years wandering in the wilderness- forty years of setting up and taking down tents, and altars, forty years of shuffling things around in bags, hefted on shoulders, hoisted on beasts of burden, packing and unpacking, setting up and taking down. They have carried their lives like this- bundled, disheveled, like an overnight bag stretched to bear the weight of a trip around the world- for forty long years, forty years that has been both space and non-space, both place and non-place, both home and not home. They have been stuck in between what was and what will be for forty long years, and above all what they have carried is the weight of a hope long delayed.
And now Joshua has led them across the River Jordan and into the land of Canaan, just as Moses once led them across the Sea of Reeds and out of Egypt. They have made their first steps into this new land, but they are not yet settled. There are things to be done, things that will help them transition from a wandering people to a settled people. Two things, in particular: the boys are to be circumcised, and everyone is to celebrate the feast of Passover.
It is, perhaps, an odd request, and yet both actions speak of belonging- one of belonging to a tribe, and the other of belonging to a story. Circumcision places these boys in the same company as their forefathers- marked by God, set apart. And Passover reminds everyone who has traveled through the wilderness about the story of how they got there, and who got them there, and who got them through. Both actions speak of belonging- one to a tribe, and one to a story. And sandwiched in between is a declaration by God: “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
Because God knows we cannot move forward with all the things we are carrying. God knows we have become ourselves beasts of burden, saddled and yoked with the weight of our pasts, heavy-laden with regret and sorrow and missed opportunity. And if we are to be people who can truly come to settle in a new promised land, the things we carry must be set down. And yet, we cling to them. We clutch them like tattered and beloved wallet photographs, as if these failures were our friends, or worse, as if these failures were our worst enemies who demand in masochistic fashion that we keep them near our chests lest we forget what kind of people we are. And we believe them.
But God comes to us now as God came to them then and says, “I have rolled away from you the disgrace.” Because God knows disgrace has this way of not staying in one place but seeping into all these other crevices of our lives. It follows us even after we cross a dry riverbed in miraculous fashion. It nips at our heels even as we gather manna in the morning. It nags at our conscience, even as we try to take steps forward, to make choices different and better than the ones we made before. Disgrace rolls over us like low hanging cloud cover, rolls in like an ominous thunderstorm, stretching across our skies as far as we can see. It can suffocate us, if we aren’t careful. It can diminish our view ahead. It can mock us with cackles of inferiority until we feel we cannot move anywhere, until we begin to believe we are stuck being who we are and where we are, forever.
So God comes to us in this place of disgrace and says, I have rolled it away. You belong to my tribe. You belong to my story. You belong to me. And when you belong to me, you stand as one without disgrace.
And so we must ask ourselves: If God has rolled away our disgrace, why are we still carrying it?
Jesus tells the story of a son who asked his father for his rightful inheritance, left home and squandered it all within months. And then a famine hit. One day, hungry, as he was feeding pigs, which was now his livelihood, he realized he was worse off than the hired hands who worked for his father. And he thought to himself, I could go home and put myself at my father’s mercy and ask to be hired as help. And so he did. But when he was still a ways off, his father saw him coming, and ran to him. And the son said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and you, and I’m no longer fit to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.” But the father called for his servants to bring his son a robe, and a ring, and sandals, and then they took a fatted calf and killed it for a celebratory feast in the son’s honor.
Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace.
Psalm 103 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
God knows. God remembers. God knows that the Israelites were weighed down in slavery, their cries and prayers for deliverance rising like panic smoke signals from the crash site of their despair. God remembers their fear as they outran Roman soldiers across the dry passage through the Red Sea. God knows they grumbled when they got the very freedom they had asked for, whined when they were given all the food they needed morning after morning, complained that it tasted bland and wished to return to the food of their captivity. God knows they quarreled amongst themselves, defied their tired leaders, rejected the law, gave up on the promise. And God said, Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt, all those things you carried from slavery into the wilderness, and all those things you are trying to carry from the wilderness to the promised land. I have rolled them away. I have set it down. You are free, and unburdened.
The prodigal son’s father said to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on (my son). Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast.”
And Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If God has rolled away our disgrace, why are we still carrying it?
Joshua 5 says that the day after they celebrated the passover, where they remember how the angel of death rolled through the streets of Egypt and yet passed over their doors leaving them unharmed, the day after this passover feast the manna from heaven ceased to appear, and they ate instead the produce of the promised land. They ate the food of promise the first day they were free of their disgrace. The feast of promise was set out before them. They were welcomed home, welcomed in.
I don’t know the things you’re carrying tonight. But what I do know is that God has rolled away your disgrace, and you are forgiven. If God has rolled away your disgrace, why are you still carrying it?
As we near the feast of Easter, we remember that God has rolled away even the disgrace of death from us. We are free. And we are God’s. So let us put down those things we are carrying, that we might also feast on the food of promise. Amen.
by danielle on March 6, 2013
My dear friend Troy Bronsink has written a lovely book about creativity that strikes a harmony between deep theological reflection and practice, process and application. He describes the arc of God’s creativity as a way of drawing us into our own creative process and encourages us to build a life that does not have creativity tacked on as some strange or outside task but as one that’s integrated into who we are and what we are most passionate about in this world. I love reading books on the creative process, but many of them err on the side of narrow definition, for one thing, and even narrower application for another.
What I love about Troy’s book is that it encompasses such a broad space (and you know how I love that- I mean, Moltmann’s autobiography shares this title!). There’s all this wonderful room in the process, but it’s not chaos- it still goes somewhere, it still has a rhythm. But it’s a rhythm and not a chart. I also love how he gives these little ideas at the end of each chapter on how we can integrate this idea and put it into practice. In so many books these end-of-chapter additions strike me as an afterthought or something sort of haphazardly thrown together, but it’s evident that Troy really spent time here. And not only time- it’s evident he has a big hefty amount of actual experience here. He does this in his own life. And it shows. And we are all the richer for him sharing it with us.
I hope Troy’s book finds a wide audience of readers because I think so many people would benefit from what he’s shared with us. And, Paraclete Press is offering a special on the book March 6-8th ONLY where you can get it for $7. (It would be a great book for small groups.)
Danielle is the pastor of Journey Church in Dallas and author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise. She speaks often on issues of theology, church leadership and emerging communities of faith.
Follow @DGShroyer on Twitter
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