Waiting Game: The Reason Luke 13:1-9

malaysia-airlinesWhen we get in over our heads, we should head straight for Jesus.  The crowd asks Jesus about current events, so let’s ask him about the disappearance of the Malaysian Airline.  Jesus, what about these persons who range from age two to seventy six, why did they disappeared?  They were engineers, artists, religious pilgrims, vacationers and commuters; also they were fathers, mothers, children, soul mates and the dearest of friends.  We can’t imagine the good or God’s reason for this tragedy?

In this text, Jesus answers a question about some Galileans Pontius Pilate killed for not turning over the temple treasury funds to support a public works projects. Pilate not only slaughters the insolent offenders, he mingled their blood with animals in a religious sacrifice.  We’re reminded, Jesus knew of Pilate before he stood at his Judgment Seat. This crowd wants to know whether those killed were worse sinners than those who weren’t. They wonder if God punishes according to the measure of our wickedness.”  Jesus says, “No!  Were those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell were worse sinners than others living in Jerusalem?”Businessman Touching Domino Pieces Arranged in a Line

We too easily jump to God punishing sinners after hearing of an atrocity.  Every time a hurricane hits, a mass shooting occurs, or a plane flies off the radar, someone assigns blame.  We’re more reluctant to accept it was a random event, a sick person went on a rampage, or terrorists are evil.  Every tragedy and disaster that happens doesn’t need to be explained by a direct spiritual cause and effect of God punishing sinners.

Neither is it a matter of degrees of sin whether God loves some people more than others.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Galilean, Jerusalemite, Methodist, Episcopalian or Jewish.  Jesus’ point-It happens.  He says, “God makes the sun to rise on the evil and good and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike”.  We must turn off our tit for tat mind that divides things into categories we can easily accept.  The pursuit of rhyme and reason is useless; there’s no explaining or solving some things.

BlameJesus says there’s mystery and that sin has nothing to do with catastrophe. He refuses to connect the bad stuff that happens to God’s punishment or to people who suffer.  This isn’t to say our actions don’t cause stuff to happen.  Blaming victims is useless; they can’t defend themselves.  Blaming God is futile for God isn’t eager to justify such tragedies.  Figuring out whom to blame will make us insane; we won’t get it right.  Bad things that happen are mysterious; often there’s no obvious correlation to our stuff.

Our best example that bad things happen to good people is the person who the crowd asks their question-Jesus. Jesus doesn’t pass the buck when Roman officers arrest him.  He doesn’t assign the blame to other persons when he stood trial.  He makes no claims about the cause and effect of his demise.  He could not change what other people were willing to do in order to sentence him to an unjust death, so he doesn’t utter a mumbling word.

Instead, Jesus deals with this horrific experience with compassion for those who begged for and carried out his execution.  His acceptance of their bloodthirsty ways is heard, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, even though they clearly knew what they were doing.  He trusts this irrational experience will be the seedbed of God’s saving work.forgive them

Jesus uses the word repent twice to answer the crowd.  It may seem strange for Jesus to use tragedies as a call for repentance.  However, the stuff that happens to us can be seen as tests that are built into the fabric of our existence.  They’re the places we learn life’s lessons if we accept these test as common to all persons.  These mysteries are the fodder for spiritual growth.  Our repentance involves looking at them as opportunities of growth.  We are called to think differently about God, the way things are, and the way they should be when Jesus says repent or change your mind.  We make sense of the stuff that happens by letting these present tests stir up the growth needed so we can begin to live differently right now.

Repentance isn’t God threatening us but God wanting greater things for us.  He’s asking us to repent of our preoccupation with cause and effect and our incessant need to find meaning in madness by parsing the crime to explain punishment.  That’s not the way the world or God works.  We will find after we repent, we‘re able to use the mystery in our lives as a path that draws us closer to God. Lent is the season of turning around so we might experience a greater joy on Easter morning.

fig-fruitJesus tells a parable of a fig tree that is three years dormant.  The owner of the vineyard is impatient and wants to cut it down because it isn’t producing fruit.  Some interpretations of the parable make God the impatient vineyard owner and Jesus, the gardener. Jesus intercedes for us, the fig tree, to have one more year while he works on us.  God agrees and backs off; we get a reprieve, a one-year suspended sentence according to that version.

Allow me to cut down that interpretation and throw it into the fire.  The impatient vineyard owner is a false God.  If we follow that God, we are no different than the crowd that thought God is looking for ways to zap and punish us. Jesus tells the parable to demonstrate God’s patience and forgiveness.  When the gardener says, Sir, let it alone for one more year, the word for let it alone is the same word in Greek for forgive.  Forgive the tree for being fruitless up until now. Let me work on it, the gardener says.

The parable speaks of God’s deepest desire, which is none should perish but all should come to be at one with God.  It speaks of God doing any and everything possible to get our attention so we live a life that bears fruit and is worth living. The unconditional love of God is good news and does not need the help of preachers filtering it through the screen of judgment aimed at those who tend to wander astray. Good news that places judgment above love conjures up a bipolar God whose mood can’t be trusted.Good News

Children can think they’ll never please parents who apply overdone scrutiny and excessive strictness.  The child is confused when they come to Sunday School and hear Jesus loves the little children.  They are convinced they aren’t on God’s A-list.  Eventually, they give up on God and the church. Sometimes, they wander back to church as adults wondering if it is true what their Sunday School teacher told them. Hopefully, they hear God is more interested in the perfection of love than in the love of perfection.

The show Hoarders is about people whose lives are out of control because they can’t throw things away.  They have little living space, for their houses are full of junk.  The series usually shows how hoarding is often triggered by tragedies and they overcome their tendency to hoard when others help them see their response to their pain is killing them. Gradually, hoarders who repent, let go their stuff, experience the power of a new life.

letting-goThe world is fragile and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.  Our family, friends, faith and life are precious.  God wants us to know an abundance of joy in all those moments.  So, repent; be born again today; God patiently waits for us to bear fruit.  Let us bind ourselves to one other, helping each other deal with the stuff of our lives.  Let us walk with each; pointing out how the stuff that happens is the stuff that can helps us bear new fruit.  Let us spur one another to turn loose of the stuff that weighs us down, so we may place trust in God who gives each day, despite the stuff it brings. Let us breathe each breath as a gift from God; living our precious and sometimes wild life.

St. Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s Christians differ, not in the ills that befall them, but in what they do with the ills that befall them.

May they write the same epitaph about you and I!

Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Waiting Game: The Timing-Exodus 24: 12-18

Moses and Jesus Stained GlassOn the Sunday before Lent, we usually read of Jesus and three of his disciples going to the Mount of Transfiguration before turning to Jerusalem.  It’s a moment of God’s confirming presence at a time when Jesus needed it; and his disciples too, though they didn’t know it.  Jesus’ story is rooted in this Exodus story. We grasp what happened to Jesus and the disciples if we know what happened when God’s presence falls on Moses like a cloud falls on Mt. Sinai.  This six-day experience taught Moses to wait in the clouds with trust though not understanding why God’s presence enveloped him.  He learns it’s after a waiting time that God’s Sabbath voice speaks.post-it-note_pay-attention

God isn’t waiting for Moses to do something.  This isn’t a story of Moses climbing the mountain in search of God.  This is a story of Moses being drawn to the mountain and waiting for six days with nothing but silence embracing him.  Moses can’t control God’s Sabbath voice; it comes as a gift, pure and simple that none of us can engineer.  God’s comes to us not by our own doing, but often in ways we least expect.  All of us can tell of times when God has spoken sometimes: via a person at work, through a friend, or in a tragedy; we could list numerous others ways.

The number one rule of the spiritual life is to pay attention to the voice of God on all days in all ways.  The art of waiting involves divinely tuning our lives.  It means listening with sensitive ears and seeing with open eyes what God is doing around us and saying to us, even while we wait.

Cloud on a MountainThe people at the mountain’s foot see a cloud billowing smoke and think Moses is consumed by the fire; confirming their fear of God.  Moses had stood before a burning bush that wasn’t consumed.  He knew you enter into God’s fiery presence not with fear, but with awe of being drawn near.

God is always near, even when we’re in the cloud waiting and it feels like we’re about to be consumed.  We wait assured God is warming and enlightening us on the cloudy days of waiting, even it feels like a firestorm threatens.  Anxiety during waiting days is unbecoming.  Wallowing in pity, which is a choice, deafens spiritual ears and blinds transcendent eyes.  A winsome faith sits still in the cloud that has surrounded and settled in on us; trusting God will speak in due time because God is always near.IMG_0014

We visit the Miraculous Staircase at the Loretta Chapel in Santa Fe recently.  The construction of the staircase is wrapped in mystery.  It is a mystery who built the staircase, since a carpenter showed up, worked in secrecy and left town without asking to be paid.  The materials used to build the staircase is a mystery, since none of the wood in the staircase can be found for 1000’s miles around and the local lumber yard knew nothing of it’s origin.  It is mystery how the spiral staircase stands since there is no center support, it is not attached to the wall and it was put together without nails.  As reasonable as we might want to be, sometimes we must suspend reason and trust that a miracle can happen, if we will wait on God in due time.

It’s a sight to behold (pardon the pun) to see blind skiers ski.  They can’t see the terrain.  They’re not alone; a guide leads them, telling them where and when to turn.  The blind skier is a parable of waiting on God’s timing.  There are times we too are blind and we need a guide to tell us when and where to turn.  We know we can’t go at it alone; so we turn to someone to walk with us until we can see again the hand of God and hear God’s voice.

Blind SkierSome of us learned we needed a guide the hard way.  We realized after we have spent a good portion of life telling God, “I got this”.  We came to our spiritual senses after falling head over heals because we could not manage that big bump or sharp curve alone.  Most of us learned the value of a guide the slow way.  We spiritually awoke after realizing we’re hopelessly lost and tangled in a jungle of responsibilities and vines of obligations.  There was nothing we could do to help ourselves, so we tried to soothe ourselves with a little TV or big snack.  Those things settled us for a while.  The only thing that did for us was exchange a gnawing anxiety for a dulled sensibility that at allowed us to sleep another night.

We all share such an under life, and it is almost bearable.  Whether we learned our lesson the hard way or the slow way, we eventually come to a place where we know that going at it alone simply doesn’t work nor does it change anything.  We can thank God that we arrived at the place where we longed for a guide, keenly aware of our limitations and blind spots.inbetweenwaitingwebecome

A waiting time is a becoming time-a time to wait on the voice and activity of God, who can shape us…if we can just wait.   This is why guides are needed companions, they helps us see life isn’t a search for a cloudless sky.  They show us life is a wonderful and majestic tromp, as they walk with us until we come to a clearing in the midst of the clouds.  We join our guide in pursuing these clearings in our celestial chase to catch a glimpse of the glory of God or to draw closer to the love of God.  A guide is indispensible during a time of waiting for a clearing to come into our life.

Sometimes, a clearing helps us get our bearings- we experience peace, rest, shelter, quiet, or healing.  Sometimes, a clearing allows us inspect the damage; fill out an estimate report and make needed repairs.  Sometimes, a clearing gives us the space to make mid course corrections or to completely start over.  Usually after the clearings, we see and hear things we couldn’t see or hear before we passed through the clearing.  Clearings aren’t optional; they are required stops.  If we don’t seek them, they will seek us in the form of heart attacks, serious illnesses, nervous breakdowns, addictive behavior, extreme loneliness, or even worse.

tour_guideI have encouraged you to seek a guide and be a guide in this Lenten season.  They may have different names: spouse, minister, friend, mystic, book, mentor, counselor, parent, or neighbor.  Let him or her help you or you help someone else embrace the waiting by showing each other how to stay in conversation with God, no matter how cloudy the sky.  Guides keep the dialogue going until we understand how we’re being shaped by what God is doing in our life.  Sustaining a conversation is the key to waiting; it readies us to hear the fresh word God speaks upon arriving at the clearing.

The work of the guide includes holding us accountable to intentional times of solitude and prayer-the training grounds that teach us to wait.  Guides are companions who help us stay strong so we won’t turn our back on hard times; knowing they also teach us to wait.  Guides keep us from making all moments good for something; insisting we do some holy nothing; simply listening to God while we wait.  Who will guide you to a clearing in life?

A fellow proposed saying, “Will you have a conversation with me for the rest of our lives?”  The best marriages carry on life-long conversations.  They fritter away hours, relishing in the goodness of their lives together.  They may not get much done on some days and some may think they are wasting time; but staying in the conversation sustains their union.marriage-proposal

Our union with God can be seen as a life-long conversation.  At times, it is a lively exchange in which we can never get enough of each other.  At other times, it’s marked by periods of silence; the heavens seem to be pausing in thought.  God is always near, interjecting heavenly words into our earthly conversations.  Whether we’re waiting to arrive at clearing or relishing in a time of crystal clear insight, we must stay in the conversation.  Staying in the conversation sustains and strengthens our union with God.

Do you remember going into a phone booth and shutting the door so the light would come on.  Imagine a person leaning out the door underneath the light; looking like an awkward gymnast.  They are trying to read a number from a phone book because they didn’t know about the light coming on when you close the door.  I know some of you have no idea what phone booth or phone book is.  Finally someone comes by and says if you close the door the light will come on.

If you close the door the light will come on.

Phonebooth Lit

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dealing with Me

WeAreWhatWeEatI tell our children, particularly when they eat the bread and share the cup they’re not to forget who they are.  They’re a child of God; loved in unending ways by God.  I fear fundamental truth escapes them because they’re told so many other contradictory messages.  They need to know that God who loved them so much, they were created by ‘The Breath of Life’ to be in relationship with all that is divine.  They need know they are sustained by the love of God at every turn of their life.  They need to know they will return to loving arms of God and live in a never-ending joy when this good life is done.

I’m convinced religion’s job is one primary thing: We’re to be constantly reminded in an objective fashion, who we are and whom we belong to.  Wesley insisted we eat the elements of the holy meal often.  He wanted us to share in it until we know we are what we eat-created from the dust of the earth and enlivened with God’s breath.boundaries

Parents, pastors, and all sorts of people plant the message God loves us unconditionally by setting boundaries in our lives.  People who offer constructive and positive feedback help us set healthy boundaries early in life. Otherwise, we will spend a great portion of our lives demanding affirming feedback, or bemoaning the lack of it.

We need boundaries because they provide a place to belong, which is usually called home-the place where we know who we really are.  Any longing to return home is a yearning to know who we are.  This is why it’s best if home is where we learn our boundaries.  We’re better able to we move beyond boundaries without unnecessarily dropping needed boundaries if know healthy ones. It’s within this paradox of knowing our boundaries so we can cross them that we carry the unchanging love of God into new places, where real growth occurs.

Woman Looking at ReflectionGrowth is facilitated if we associate ourselves to persons who mirror honestly who we are becoming in helpful ways because they honestly know who they are. Without these persons, we narcissistically mirror ourselves, seeing life through our own lens. Left to our own point of view, we rarely will muster the courage to break free from egocentric patterns that keep us from finding our way to new paths where growth can happen. When we let go of the unhealthy ego parts, we move beyond ourselves, becoming larger persons in a spiritual sense.

Let me invite you to join me in crossing some boundaries during this Lenten season with the help of a spiritual companion.  Choosing to be in relationship with spiritual companion who will love you warts and all sets the stage for you fall deeper in love with the one who loves you most.  I am engaging a spiritual director over these next few weeks as my commitment to deal with myself in this Lenten journey.  I am going to ask them to take my hand lead me into new spiritual waters.Companion

Who might be the person for you who has an unwavering love of you?  I am speaking of person who will help you sense the ever-benevolent gaze of God because of their fondness for you.  It might be a spouse, friend, grandfather, an aunt, small group or Sunday School class member or even a co-worker.

Mutual fondness with another person puts us in touch with the Jesus who calls us his friends.  I encourage you to seek a person who will help you feel the loving gaze of God is fixed on you, so you may be set free from unnecessary boundaries and unhealthy ego behaviors that hinder your spiritual growth. Rarely, is it other forces that get in the way of us experiencing the love of God.  Usually, it is me who is unwilling to make some personal changes in order open myself up to the force of love that wants to draw us closer to God who is love.  Always, when this breakthrough happens we feel like a child again.

Kori Dirks, Kolton DirksSome will have a hard time finding a person to mirror them.  It is possible that your longing to know more than what you know about yourself and the great need you feel to move beyond the person you know you were created to be, can stir up the amazingly penetrating grace of God.  All of us need to be reminded throughout this Lenten season the length the Holy Spirit will go to convey how much the Eternal God of Heaven loves us.  Let this sign of the cross be your first reminder of who you are (flesh) to whom you belong (heaven).

Published in: on March 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment