Monthly Archives: November 2016

“the centre cannot hold”

emptiness pervades

Jerusalem or D.C.

a sense… “things ain’t right”

go out

out there!

away from here

the traditions

the abuse

the hurt

on the surface

it seems so well

another campaign

another vision

another slogan

empty words

empty people

go out

out there!

he seems so different

the hair

the clothes

the passion

it’s not concocted

he’s free

like Elijah

like Abel

uncontrollable

he’s human

that’s what I want to be…

 

be still…

i am coming

needless noise

consumerist drivel

pulling away

be still…

overstimulation

who, what, where, when, why

all day everyday

go, go, go

be still…

it keeps going

must produce, need worth

it must be earned

it can’t be given

be still…

but the world passes by

I must do something

a tweet, a post!

or oblivion?

be still…

a voice

from nowhere

out there, in here

i am coming

i love you

i am God

 

 

Here is Our President…

Not with the best and the brightest on his left and his right but with the worst and the darkest.

A veritable public relations disaster.

Here is Our President…

Not exacting revenge on his enemies with a demotion or a drone strike or a Tweet.

A request for forgiveness from his Father in Heaven.

Here is Our President…

Taunted, tested, challenged, given opportunities to prove himself with great wonders and miracles…

but he’s been down this road before…in the wilderness, with Satan.

Here is Our President…

The world has had no shortage of kings to look to, no shortage of presidents who gave them hope, no shortage of revolutionaries to inspire.

Where are they now?

Here is Our President…

A poor photo op. On a skull, not in an oval. Nailed to a Cross.

His throne.

Here is Our President…

He thirsts, he pants, he brings to paradise, in the midst of darkness, he gives up his spirit.

A life lost to love.

Here is Our President…

In about two months Donald Trump will ascend to Capitol Hill and there he will be sworn in as the president of the United States of America.  Trump aside, this is what happens every four years: a man ascends the Hill only to descend from it the most powerful man in the free world, or so we are told.

In the midst of the politically volatile time wherein many are afraid and many are anxious for a myriad of reasons we celebrate Christ the King Sunday this weekend.  At least for me, this year the Kingship of Jesus seems to be a familiar theme with all that has gone on in the last week or so. I’ve read Facebook statuses and Tweets from pastors reminding people that no matter what happens or has happened Jesus is King.  I found the said statuses and Tweets to be a bit off-putting if only for the reason that they more often came from white men such as myself who hold positions of power and influence in their communities.

So, then, what about Christ the King?

Many believe that Mark’s crucifixion scene is a parody of the main coronation and celebration of the Roman Empire’s new emperor.  At the beginning of this ceremony the soon to be emperor would be surrounded by soldiers, clothed in a purple robe and have a laurel wreath placed on his head.  These same soldiers would then loudly proclaim him as Lord while bowing down before him.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

After doing this the soldiers would lead the emperor on a procession through the streets of Rome to the highest hill in the city.  This procession was followed by a slave carrying an axe and a bull that would be sacrificed.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).

When they reached their destination (the top of the hill) there they would sacrifice the bull.  What’s more, his second and third in command would come to his right and left side as he officially took the emperor’s throne.  This would then be followed by the cheers of the crowds as their eyes were now set upon their new emperor.  Of course, this would then be followed by some type of sign from the gods that showed their approval.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah,[g] the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

Notice the eerie parallels.  The contrast between worldly kingship and godly kingship.  Jesus’ throne would not be found on the highest hill in Rome nor at the top of Capitol Hill. Not at the center of power.  Instead it would be found on an ugly hill that looked like a skull, near a garbage dump, outside of the great holy city of Jerusalem.

Behold! Here is our King!

Descending to Ascend.

 

 

 

 

This past Sunday I preached on the Lukan Beatitudes.  As usual with Luke I was left quite touched, convicted and comforted.  Blessedness in the Kingdom of God is much different than the blessedness of the world.  See here:

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

Jesus spoke these blessings to a community of disciples that were battered, bruised and beaten up.  They were poor because they had been rejected by their families for following Jesus which meant that they lost their inheritance and their security.  They wept because their lives continued on without their loved ones, the people they had known from birth.  They were hungry because they had left behind their wealth and were ostracized.  And of course, they were hated, reviled and excluded because they followed a peasant Jew who hung on a cursed tree, rose from the dead, and called into question many of the things that the world values.  Yet, despite of all this Jesus says that they are blessed.

Have you ever witnessed someone post something like the following with a hashtag?

My family hates me.#Blessed 

I am poor.#Blessed 

My church is dying.#Blessed

Just gave birth to a premature child.#Blessed

Probably never, right?

Rather, talk of blessing usually comes with good things like buying a home, having a healthy child, getting a job promotion, growing a church.  In Western Christianity, it’s really not a huge leap from conservative theology to the prosperity gospel.

So what can the blessedness of the Lukan disciple community teach us today, 2,000 years later? Maybe that blessedness is not to be found in the center of society but on the margins and amongst the seemingly unsuccessful.  Remember that the woes come to the rich, the full, the happy, those who are spoken well of.  On the surface such things don’t seem bad.  After all, who doesn’t like a good laugh?  But on a deeper level these are all things that can encourage less dependency upon God.

There’s a mystery when it comes to blessedness but on another level there is something that is quite clear about those whom Jesus says are blessed. Because of their predicament they go to God.  While being a beggar is not glorious, it forces one into a very specific relation to the Creator.  That’s the mystery of blessedness, it’s often not what it seems.  The “unsuccessful” are often forced to go to God because they have no one else to go to. “The successful” have the resources, the people, the influence.  They have won friends and influenced people.

Strangely blessing comes in the midst of pain, loss and tragedy.  In such places we are the least likely to think we or others are blessed.  In the mystery of this thing we call life, though, that’s where transformation is more likely to take place.  The Cross was a cursed place in the mind of any normal Jew or Roman but we now know it as a blessed place 2,000 years removed.  But this was a horrible place for anyone to go.  In fact, it would probably be best if we spent time contemplating just what happened there: execution, death, torture, mockery, abuse, nudity.  Clearly, this is where the bad people ended up, at least that’s where the terrorists of the day went and for good reason.  It was considered cursed for good reason.

And that’s where Jesus ended up too. #Blessed

I distinctly remember being disappointed when the New York Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez in the 2003 offseason.  I was pretty much alone in that opinion.  I can recall all the fellow Yankee fans that I knew at the time celebrating and looking forward to the 2004 season.  In 2003 the Yankees had made it to the World Series but had lost to the Florida Marlins and hadn’t won a World Series since 2000.  Yankee fans, having gotten used to winning a lot in the late 1990s with 4 World Series titles in 5 years, grew more impatient at every passing year in which we didn’t win it all.  As if we, by right or fiat, we were entitled to the World Series or something.

Then the worst happened in the postseason of 2004.  Despite acquiring Alex Rodriquez, the Yankees gave up a 3-0 series lead to Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox.  Having accomplished one of the greatest comebacks in sports history they went on to win the World Series.

How did the Yankees respond to such tragedy?

Instead of taking a step back and rebuilding from the ground up, which is what led to their success in the 1990s, they went out and acquired more superstars like Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano.  In 2005,  they got off to a horrible start, made it to the playoffs but did not win the World Series.

When Theo Epstein took over as General Manager in 2011 one of the first messages he had for Cubs fans was that it was going to get worse before it was going to get better.  Here was Theo Epstein taking on the role of healer for the tragedy laced organization known as the Chicago Cubs.  Rather than seeking a quick fix like throwing money at big name super stars and high profile players with the hopes that they’d bring home a championship Theo decided to go down further before going back up.  There would have to be total and complete death before there would be resurrection.  In other words, through the use of analytics he would dig down to the rock, to the firm foundation before actually building the house.   This took patience, skill and simple hard work.  When the storm came, that of being down 3 games to one in the World Series this past week, the house stayed firm and did not blow over.  In fact, it came back and won.

One of the genius of Theo Epstein and the likes of Billy Beane, who is mostly responsible for bringing analytics into the game of baseball, is that they went against conventional baseball wisdom and tried something new.  They didn’t immediately go for the big names but for those who would contribute greatly to the greater cause of attaining wins and, hopefully, a championship.  That meant putting together a team that could work well together and it also meant not always going after the big name or big superstar.  Interestingly, they were looked down upon as being foolish and maybe even childish in their thinking.  Fascinatingly enough, the old model had clearly not worked for organizations like the Red Sox and the Cubs who had no shortage of money and ability to acquire the big names.  Rather like a child exploring, playing and trying things for the first time they set out to do something new and different not being inhibited by the traditions, laws and standards of the past.

Coming full circle, one of the ironic things about the Yankees is that they’ve only won one World Series since 2000.  That was in 2009.  Yet the spending and the acquisitions have not stopped and generally speaking they are able to put up good teams and good numbers.  But what has been lost on many Yankee fans is that it was thoughtfulness and patience that built the Yankee dynasty of the late 90s.  Bear in mind that the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Petite all came from the Yankee system.  What’s more, the acquisition of the likes of Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, David Cone and others were deeply thought out.  Interestingly, it was while George Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball that the digging down to the bedrock of what would become the Yankee dynasty had been done by General Manager Gene Michaels.

I write this because I couldn’t help but see all of the gospel themes permeating throughout the Cubs journey to finally winning the World Series.  It took doing away with the old and trying new things and seeing things in a new light.  Players formerly seen as valueless because they didn’t hit too many homeruns are now seen as valuable because of their on base percentage.  Rather than going after the easy fix which is a continual message that saturates our consumerist culture Theo Epstein took his time.  He did the hard work and dug through the rough rocky soil, he pruned the branches so that they would bear good fruit.  And indeed they did.  With the Cubs there was death and, boy, there was Resurrection.

Congrats Cubs fans!!

Oh…and Indian fans, I’m pulling for you next year!