Monday, March 04, 2013

March Monday

March in River City is hard to describe. It sort of feels like spring--Daylight Savings Time, Lent--but also like winter--snow, cold, snow. It is a betwixt and between sort of time, and that is where I am and the church too...

But all in good ways, I hasten to say! The church where we have shared ministry (the congregation I serve leases the space) has reluctantly decided to close the building...they are tentatively planning to share space with another congregation of their denomination. As they made this decision and explored their alternatives, they made it clear to their prospective partners that our congregation was part of the deal...we had to be welcome wherever they went, an affirmation of the work we do that was a real blessing. A couple of weeks ago, we visited our possible new home, and were delighted, both with the space and the people--they were warm and genuinely welcoming. We have already begun to form connections with them, and actually had some we weren't aware of.So now begins the discussions and work of figuring all the details out. Keep us in prayer as we work through details of contracts, timelines and logistics!

Personally... I am in a new (six months) relationship, and we continue to work out the ways in which we will be together. We are better together--at least I know I am better with her--and we both want this to work, very much. We are doing the work we need to do.

I don't know if I've mentioned--probably not, I have been terrible about blogging the last couple of years--but I adopted a cat in the spring, almost a year ago now. Bobcat is a sweet tuxedo boy from the local humane society. From either an accident early in his life or an encounter with some kind of machinery, he has only a four-inch tail. Hence the name... He is very loving and playful, likes the sun in the bathroom window, and is nuts over catnip.

About a year and a half ago, I was appointed to the board of directors of a community organisation to fill the term of someone who has resigned, and then became president (I had served on this board several years ago and been involved with the organisation from its beginning). At the last general meeting, I was re-elected to the board and again named president.  Frankly, this position is a mixed bag! The organisation in the midst of transitioning from a hands-on board, where the board was pretty much simply the people most active, to a supervising board working through committees to get the actual work of the organisation done. So there are some rough patches here too, as we (the Board) educate and re-train ourselves as well as re-organise the organisation and re-educate the community... The good news here is that the Board as a whole recognises the changes coming and is working hard to change.

Back in early January, I received the all-clear from the local cancer centre! This is indeed good news! It means they are no longer following me, and I have been released back to my family doctor's care.

Also in January, we (the church) celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary! That may not seem like much--I have served churches celebrating their 150th and 40th anniversaries--but for this congregation, it is indeed a milestone, as precarious as its position has been from time to time over the years. We celebrated with a big gala dinner at a downtown hotel on the river, and a huge worship celebration the next morning, both graced by the presence of the founder of our denomination, now retired. It was one of the highlights of my life, I have to say. Not only did everything happen without any hitches (a miracle in itself), but the feeling and spirit all weekend was one of unity, caring, love--in other words, grace. Just a wonderful wonderful weekend, from the dinner on Friday night with the founder and the church board (and spouses) to the gala dinner attended by many friends from other local churches and the community to the worship service on Sunday...just amazing. We had good press coverage too, both TV and radio, with stories and interviews.

A couple weeks ago, looking back over the last few months and year, I have realised I need to stop and take stock again--where am I, where do I need to go, how do I get there, and what do I need in order to get there? How do I feel about all this? I did go on a brief retreat back in the summer, but it was too short, sandwiched in among many other activities, and at a new site, that, while, welcoming and pleasant, didn't give me the quiet and detachment I needed. So I booked a five-day retreat in April at my favourite retreat centre...I am so looking forward to it. Just everything about it fits my needs--far enough away that I am definitely gone, but not so far that I spend a lot of time or money getting there; isolated (the centre itself as well as the cabins, both geographically and in terms of telecommunications--no internet, but cell service if I need/want it), affordable, quiet, with everything I need--chapel, library, mediation loft, walking trails, gardens (which should be just beginning to bloom when I am there)... It is my little bit of heaven on earth, and I am, in case you hadn't noticed, looking forward to my time there very much!

To deal with the stress of the leadership of this board as well as pastoring (two leadership roles in a reletively small community), I have had to look at my life and some changes. One of those is my eating habits... I have a family history of diabetes, and my weight and diet are not helping to keep me from developing diabetes myself. So I am cutting down on the carbs, watching the sugar, reducing the fat, increasing the fruits and veggies, trying to add more fish...making choices for chicken or turkey over beef when I am eating out, etc. Feeling better physically will certainly help.

Another change I am contemplating is adding yoga to my routine. Once upon a time way back in high school, I was a practitioner for a brief time. I would like to go back to it, for many reasons. One is to try to regain some of the flexibility I had when I was younger, to help the arthritis that is beginning to make itself known. another is stress relief (see above), which, I hope, will also help with weight loss--I tend to eat comfort food (i.e. high fat and carbo stuff) to relax and destress, and my plan is to use yoga to help with destressing instead. I'm looking into two different studios here in River City--one has a class schedule that fits better into my routine, while the other is within walking distance (just barely, but walking distance) of my home. So do I go for convenience or a bit more exercise? I plan to attend a class at each and see which feels better.

To further help with the stress relief, I've made a list of my favourite (healthy) destress activities (walking by the river, coffee with a friend, browing in the public library, etc.) and plan to refer to it as needed.

If this all sounds a little planned and contrived, well...I need some structure to help me begin these changes. My hope/plan is that before long they will simply be a part of my life.

Have any of you made changes in your life like this? What worked for you and what didn't work? Any words of advice?

"Journey with Jesus: Discussions and Debates" Lent 3, March 3, 2013

Isaiah 55:1-13
If you are thirsty, come and drink water!
If you don’t have any money, come, eat what you want!
Drink wine and milk without paying a cent.
Why waste your money on what really isn’t food?
Why work hard for something that doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and you will enjoy the very best foods.
Pay close attention! Come to me and live.
I will promise you the eternal love and loyalty that I promised David.
I made him the leader and ruler of the nations; he was my witness to them.
You will call out to nations you have never known.
And they have never known you, but they will come running because I am the holy One, God of Israel, and I have honoured you.
Turn to God, who can still be found.
Call out to God, who is near.
Give up your crooked ways and your evil thoughts.
Return to the Holy One, our God.
The Eternal One will be merciful and forgive your sins.
God says: “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours.
“Rain and snow fall from the sky.
But they don’t return without watering the earth that produces seeds to plant and grain to eat.
That’s how it is with my words.
They don’t return to me without doing everything I send them to do.”
When you are set free, you will celebrate and travel home in peace.
Mountains and hills will sing as you pass by, and trees will clap.
Cypress and myrtle trees will grow in fields once covered by thorns.
And then those trees will stand as a lasting witness to the glory of our God.

Mark 11: 25 –12:27
Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that God in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” Again they came to Jerusalem.
As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.”
They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Then Jesus began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another servant to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: 

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was God’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Holy One our God is one; you shall love the Holy One your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'God is one, and besides God there is no other'; and 'to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,'-- this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the realm of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the child of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet."' David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?" And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
As he taught, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”


Will you pray with me? Creating God, teach us to see you in each other; remind us that to you alone belongs all that is. Give us the courage and wisdom and grace to care for one another as we care for ourselves. In all your many names, amen.

Wow, long readings today! But I didn't want to leave any of those sections out--they all offer an angle on the main idea of Mark's gospel--we do not own anything, all we are and have belongs to God, and when we recognize that and live according to that understanding, then we are indeed living in God's realm.

I am not going to go through each section in detail, bit I want to bring out the main ideas in each and show how I think they are connected.

Remember that as we go through Lent this year, we are walking with Jesus in that last week of his earthly life. Today we are looking at the events of Tuesday, in the structure used by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan in their book "The Last Week." Jesus is in the Temple again, having created some havoc there the day before, turning over tables and saying that the religious authorities were misusing their power. However, all seems calm enough today as Jesus engages in debate with several people.

This was a frequent method of teaching in the days. Someone in the group of disciples or onlookers would pose a question and the teacher would respond, explaining the answer in terms of their teachings. We see this very often in the gospels, and we can see traces of it in Paul's letters, when he is clearly answering a question that has been asked.

So here we have several questions about how to live life--who is in charge of our lives, what does God want most from us, and so on. Early on, Jesus tells a parable, which actually answers many of the questions he is later asked.

The parable about the tenants and the vineyard is often called the parable of the wicked tenants, but it would be more accurate to call them greedy tenants. The tendency over the centuries has been, as it was with the account of the fig tree and the Temple last week, to understand this as about the Jews, who did not admit to Jesus being the Messiah. But that is to put too much weight on the concept of the vineyard owner's son. The point is that the tenants were trusted with the prized possession of another, and did not care for it properly. Looked at in this way, the pointing finger swings away from others and points to ourselves--and no one likes to face their own shortcomings.

That vineyard is the world, which belongs to God, and we are the tenants who are to care for it and give what it produces to the owner--to God.

The coin that Jesus asks to see has the face of Caesar on it--so it belongs to Caesar. But everything else--and by extension, the coin, too--belongs to God, for God is, as devout Jews then and today say, and as we Christians too believe--God is one god, and there is no other; and that we should do to others what we would have done to us, and that therefore human divisions are meaningless to God, whether they are divisions of race, age, nation, gender, or anything else.

The widow who gave all she had was closer to the realm of God than those who thought they were important-- not because she was poor, but because she did not give just a little, but everything--when no one would have blamed her for giving just a little, just the tithe that she was supposed to give. In contrast, the "important people," who had comfortable incomes, gave exactly their tithe, because that was what religious law called for.

The question about marriage after death--Jesus, in effect, says that the question is irrelevant. God is not concerned with what happens after you die, but what you while you are living. It can also be understood as meaning that your ancestors--Jacob, Moses, David-- are irrelevant; what matters is your own behaviour in the here and now. We are the living, and God is concerned with us, not with what our ancestors did or didn't do, or what exactly happens when we die--because we can't understand that yet anyway.

And so on--as I said, I won't go through all of them, but they reinforce ea h other and come to the same conclusion.

Taken together, all these discussions tell us that the realm of God, the kingdom of God, in the traditional phrase--is about God's people caring for each other, not recognizing human divisions, not keeping good things for themselves, but sharing God's good gifts with all their brothers and sisters in the world. It isn't easy, and the human world is not really well set-up to make that happen, or make it easy for people to do that. But it is what Jesus is calling for here. The person who asks him about the greatest commandment sees those goals clearly--but has not lived them out. And so Jesus says, "You are near to the realm of God."

As we continue to journey through Lent, this is our next challenge--how do we need to change our lives so that we are good stewards of what we have been given by God? How do we treat the people around us--friends, family, partners, co-workers? How do we treat the gifts we have been given by God? How do we treat this wonderful world? And--how do we treat ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our spirits? Do we care for all those--other people, the world, ourselves---as good stewards for God or as selfish tenants taking everything we can get without regard for others?

Recognizing that we are stewards is the first step. But not until we put that understanding into action do we approach God's realm.

In the week to come, I encourage us all examine our lives and recognize the ways in which we are not good stewards of the world, our neighbours, ourselves. What do we need to change to come closer to the realm of God?

In all God's many names, amen.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

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