Tag Archive | Lent

On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead

This is the last in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

5 Lent week 5 TEXT

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead
David R. Weiss

Luke 18:35-43 (NRSV) – Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar Near Jericho – As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

*       *       *

 In just four more days Jesus reaches Jerusalem where he’ll make a triumphant entry on Palm Sunday … followed five days later by a crucifixion. He’s getting close to the end of his journey.

We’re still only at the beginning of ours.

But first, about the miracle in our text tonight—

I’m not going to weigh in on whether this man’s blindness was caused by psychic trauma, illness, or injury. And I’m not going to speculate on whether Jesus restored his sight by somehow healing the trauma, marshaling his own energy to overcome the illness, or breaking outright the laws of nature to make a brand new eye.

Luke isn’t concerned with those things either. But he does mention several things that should matter to us. First, the crowd tries to silence the beggar. They don’t view blindness as anything Jesus is concerned about—at least not the blindness of beggars. Second, he doesn’t let that stop him; he shouts all the louder until he’s heard. Third, Jesus tells him that his sight has been restored by his faith: he is “seeing by faith.” And, fourth, he responds by glorifying God.

Luke’s message is pretty clear: Don’t be deterred by the voices around you. Turning to Jesus in faith lets you see. In fact, this message is made all the more clear by the episodes he places on either side of this passage.

Right before this text (and for the third time on his journey) Jesus tells his disciples that in Jerusalem he will be handed over, mistreated, flogged, and killed. He also tells them that he will be raised again on the third day, but they can’t imagine any of this—least of all the killing—so they are hardly comforted by the promise of rising. Luke sums up their response emphatically, in three distinct phrases in the verse right before our text begins: “The disciples understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

Lacking faith, they could not see the way forward. All the voices of expectation in their minds (and in their culture) said that if Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, then only success could await him. Only victory. They could not imagine that being in the company of Jesus might mean being vulnerable. They were blind.

Right after our text Luke offers the well-known story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector who desperately wanted to see Jesus, but could not because he was too short. After he climbed a tree to get a better view, Jesus calls him down and dines in his house. The crowds grumble—maybe the same crowds who thought Jesus had no time for blind beggars?—because Jesus should have known that Zacchaeus was wealthy only because he cheated people out of their taxes. But Jesus knows something more, because after they dine Zacchaeus is able to see far more than just Jesus. He sees, perhaps for the first time in his life, the poor. He pledges out loud to repay anyone he cheated—fourfold—and to give half of his possessions to the poor. Is not this as amazing a miracle as restoring a beggar’s sight?!

In both passages Luke uses the same Greek word to describe what happens. Jesus says to the blind beggar, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole—or has saved you—or has healed you.” When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ declaration based on his newfound moral clarity—his own restored sight, if you will—Jesus says, “Today salvation—or healing—or wholeness has come to this household.”

So what we really have here is a three-step set of intertwined passages that tell us something together:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what Jesus is saying, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

Luke isn’t simply recording events. He’s crafting a story. He’s arranging these tales to help us see by faith.

*         *         *

So now for us.

We’ve been accompanying Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem these past five weeks. Some of us in here have been accompanying him on that journey for five decades—or longer. We know where that journey leads; both to the cross … and to the empty tomb.

But this other journey we’re on today, this mis-adventure on a changing planet, we’re only just beginning this journey, and we don’t know yet where it will take us.

I told you two weeks ago that all 16 of the warmest years on record have occurred in less than the span of my daughter’s 20 years on the planet. (She turned 20 today – so Happy Birthday, Susanna.) And I mentioned that 2016 is starting out even warmer.

Consider this. Not unlike Jesus’ words predicting what would happen to him when they reached Jerusalem, the data coming in on 2016 is alarming. Just Monday—just two days ago, right smack in the middle of Lent—NASA released its latest report: January 2016 was a full 2 degrees warmer than the global average established over a 30-year baseline period (1951-1980). It was a new record. It was the first time in modern global temperature tracking (that is, since 1880) that any month had been warmer than the average by 2 full degrees.

Until February. You see, February, rather than dropping back a bit … or rather than simply remaining as warm as record-setting January, well, February set it’s own new record. It rose another half-degree—in a single month—across the entire planet. A planet now 2½ degrees warmer by average than it has ever been in the last 135 years.

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, http://www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Do you recall Luke’s description of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ words? “They understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

This is our predicament. Amid the expectations of our culture, we cannot imagine a tomorrow in which the planet itself—human society for sure, and a multitude of animals and eco-systems—experiences a veritable crucifixion. But recall Luke’s three-step story:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what’s being said, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you do manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

What does it mean to “see by faith” on a now rapidly warming planet? I can’t spell it all out. I don’t know myself. But I’ll offer three strong convictions, based on our confession of a Trinitarian God:

Seeing by faith means confessing that all of God’s creation deserves our respect and care.

Seeing by faith means recognizing that God—both before and after Jesus, but especially in Jesus—enters history to keep us company. And that God’s company leads us into not away from vulnerability.

Seeing by faith means that, as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit (think: “saved,” “made whole”), we respond here and now by acting with justice for a hurting planet. By changing those behaviors that threaten to cheat future generations out of their planet. By using the wealth that is ours—the science, technology, and wisdom that we have—to tend to the need of the poor, whether those “poor” be fellow citizens of the world, fellow creatures, or the eco-systems on which we all depend for life.

It’s now just seven months since Pr. Dean first asked me to consider being with you this year—and only seven weeks since I began this journey in earnest myself. Almost every word I’ve shared, every image I’ve offered, every connection I’ve made is as new to me as to you. I’m still only at the beginning of this journey.

I hope it’s a journey on which you’ll join me. Not because I know the way, but because I’m convinced that this is a journey which must be traveled. And a journey on which—if we travel together, and if we travel by faith—we will find ourselves in the company of Jesus. Amen.

*         *         *

WEEK FIVE – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I suggest that, both for Luke and for us, restored sight has to do with a willingness to become vulnerable and to attend to the poor. Was it helpful to see how these passages fit together—and how they speak to us today?
  2. We tend to hear “salvation” as about what happens after we die, but in Greek the word just as likely describes health and wholeness before we die. What difference does this make?
  3. I refer to some pretty scary weather data—and then link it to Jesus’ passion predictions. How did that strike you?
  4. What in my “triune” proposal for “seeing by faith” was insightful, unsettling, or empowering?
  5. What else struck you in tonight’s reflection?
  6. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com

 

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From Kingdom to Kin-dom, From Ego-system to Eco-system

This is the third in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

Green Lent

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

From Kingdom to kin-dom, from ego-system to eco-system
David R. Weiss

Luke 14:12-23 (NRSV) – He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.

*     *     *

Tonight I begin with a quick review. You’ve invited me to be with you each Wednesday during Lent. Let’s be honest, neither of us quite knew what we were getting into. Pastor Dean suggested I offer some reflections on a Christian response to environmental concerns, sort of an invitation to embrace creation with fresh zeal and faith-based insight. I chose to focus in on Climate Change as the most necessary journey before us today. And I selected texts for us to consider, drawn from Jesus’ original “Lenten” journey to Jerusalem.

So now I’m joining with you weekly to reflect on how Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem might inform our own journey in response to Climate Change.

On Week One I offered four bits of wisdom for our journey.

  1. That we’ll need to exercise fierce resolve. Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem and did not let anyone dissuade him from going. We must choose to confront Climate Change—and we must do so knowing that some in the church will think it’s the wrong decision, and urge us not “to go there.” We need fierce resolve.
  2. That we’ll need to remember what we know. Our response to Climate Change may be shaped by many points of view and should be informed by the best science available, but it should also be distinctively Christian—shaped by the stories, images, priorities, and principles that we find in Jesus, in our Scriptures, and elsewhere in our tradition. This is no time to set our Christian faith to the side, but rather to bring it front and center. We need to remember what we know.
  3. That we’ll need to move from temptation to tabernacle. The early Hebrews felt God’s company during their wilderness travels; they saw it in the great canvas tent that traveled with them as symbol of God’s presence. We’ll need to recognize that God is with us … often out ahead of us … as we’re called to think, learn, and live outside our comfort zone. No easy fixes. No guarantees. Just the promise of God’s presence as we move from temptation to tabernacle.
  4. That we’ll need to be all in. Life is busy; we all face competing demands on our time. But it’s time for this journey to get priority because this road, which MUST be traveled, can ONLY be traveled safely and faithfully if we are fully present here and now. We need to be all in.

On Week Two, I added two more bits of wisdom.

First, the explosive urgency of Jesus, who asks us, too, “Can’t you see how short the time is? How can you not read the signs of times?!”

Really. My daughter is not yet 20. But in her lifetime—in fact just since she was a toddler in 1998, she has lived through ALL SIXTEEN of the hottest years on this planet since we began tracking them in 1880. Every one of them has happened during her lifetime. Let me read them off for you, so you can really absorb this: the hottest 16 years since 1880 have been 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. And so far, both January and February of 2016 have now become the warmest January and February on record—ever. This is world I’m leaving to my daughter.

When I suggested that, were he standing here today, Jesus would say, “Can’t you see how short the time is? How can you not read the signs of times?!” I’m speaking with love for my children and my grandchildren. How can we not read—and respond to—the signs of the times?

And second, I added the crucial insight that this same anguished Jesus also says, “Don’t worry. God knows what you need.” But, remember, I said Jesus says this, not to ease the urgency, but to give us the courage to finally face the threat that looms so large for our children and our grandchildren.

*          *          *

Now tonight Jesus talks about table manners … dinner etiquette for the kingdom of God, if you will. But it’s really much more than that. It’s about who we invite, about who we even imagine as “potentially” belonging on the guest list. Two short images sit side-by-side here. In the first one, we’re the ones doing the inviting; in the second one, we’re the ones being invited. Coming at us from both angles, Jesus is trying to undo the way we imagine HONOR works.

I spoke last week about the rich meaning of the phrase so often on Jesus’ lips: “kingdom of God.” That, rather than referring to a static place or time, it really means, “the dynamic activity of God as king.” I suggested that when we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that, FOR GOD, being king means welcoming all of us as kin. And I told you that I often use the phrase, “kin-dom of God,” because it reminds us that God’s kingly activity is making us all kin.

There’s one more thing to emphasize about that tonight. When Jesus employs the metaphor of “kingship” for God, most of us hear him lifting our assumptions about kingship—power, majesty, wealth, luxury—and using them to help us imagine God. I actually think he’s doing the exact opposite. He’s giving us images of God, both in his parables, but also in his healings and table fellowship, that move in the other direction. He is criticizing, in fact, un-making the very notion of ‘king.

He says, in effect, “I know very well, what you THINK kingship is about. I see the palaces and the robes, the weapons and the wealth of Rome. I see the corridors of power today, where presidents and prime ministers, congresses and corporations broker deals that gamble on the future of the planet as though it were a farm commodity. But that isn’t kingship. God defines royalty this way: by welcoming outcasts, by keeping company with those who are broken—and by that very company inviting them to become whole. God’s power rests not in some sort of divine invincibility but in daring vulnerability. In dedicating divine power and energy to lifting up the downtrodden, breaking the chains of oppression, and setting a feast where everyone—EVERYONE —is welcome. Only when you see your kings doing that can you truly call them royal.”

So who belongs at OUR table as we respond to Climate Change? Minimally, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” And not just because Jesus names them, but because, still today, these persons—and others who are pushed to the edges of our society—will be left most vulnerable on a hot planet. And Jesus says that true royalty sees these persons as kin.

Besides the least of these among our human brothers and sisters, the creatures belong at our table. The destiny of the polar bear and the monarch butterfly, the timber wolf and the urban songbird, matter to their creator, and so their destiny matters to us.

Besides these, the plants themselves and the soil, the very ecosystems woven so delicately over eons—and being undone in just centuries and decades by us—these, too, are God’s handiwork. Part and parcel of God’s kin-dom, they belong at our table.

How do I know? Because Genesis (1:27) tells us we are imago Dei. That in some mysterious sacred way we are “in the image of God.” That, at our best, we carry the standard of our king, the reflection of divine royalty in ourselves. In our ability to think, imagine, dream. In our capacity to show compassion, to choose justice, to embody mercy. But even … maybe most especially because we are so oblivious to it, in our embodiment.

Think of it: when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you, he means “the dynamic activity of God making all things kin rests within you.” I have some guests with me tonight to make that point. I can’t exactly introduce you to them, but I can tell you about them. I weigh about 200 pounds. But that’s not all me. There are critters on me and in me, critters that are absolutely necessary not just for me to flourish, but for me to live. I’m talking about microbes. In my mouth alone, there are about 400 species of microbes that help me eat when I sit down at God’s kin-dom banquet. In my entire body—and yours!—there are about 100 trillion microbes that help me be me in my little corner of God’s kin-dom.

This is literally unimaginable. If you were to say “thank you” to each of these microbes inside you, pausing only one second on each microbe, it would take you over 3 million years simply to say thank you to each of the kin within your own body.

If I were to show you a little plot of soft grassy soil on a warm sunny day, and invite you to lie down and have a nice nap, many of you would happily lie down and rest. But if I added, well, actually it’s about 180 pounds of grass and soil, the other 20 pounds is bugs, but they’re small, and you’ll barely notice them, not many of you would be so quick to lie down.

But this is ME: 180 pounds of David and 20 pounds of 100 trillion microbes, the critter-kin that God has already woven into this human being from the humus, into this dirt-creature named David. I am my own eco-system. And you are, too.

If God has already invited so many to share the table with us, how can we not invite the rest? Amen.

 

 

WEEK THREE – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I reviewed things, because we must actually learn these insights and carry them forward. Which have been especially helpful to you?
  2. I suggested that, far from borrowing royal imagery to describe God, Jesus describes God in ways that turn our notion of royalty inside out. How IS God “king”?
  3. So our “table guests” should include people, creatures, plants & ecosystem, but HOW?
  4. Imago Dei and 20# of microbes—is that cool or what?
  5. What else struck you in this reflection?

 

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com

An Explosive Urgency, a Beckoning Calm

This is the second in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

Green Lent

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

An explosive urgency, a beckoning calm
David R. Weiss

Luke 12:49-56 – Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son … and son against father; mother against daughter … and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law … and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Following LENT SUNDAY TWO – Luke 13:31-35 (Herod, that fox; Lament over Jerusalem)

*    *    *

This is all my imagination—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also the truth. I want you to hear the words in this text as they might’ve sounded back then—or today.

You could see the tension building up if you just paid attention. A certain edge crept into the way he told parables. They’d started off almost as invitations. Later, the same parables sounded like pleas. And by now they’d tilted into begging—“can’t you see? The kingdom of God is like this …”—and they teetered on the cusp of threats.

It was the same with the healings. At first, when he beckoned the lame to walk, the demon-possessed to shirk their demons, or the lepers to wrap themselves in fresh skin, he was himself altogether delighted. As though this was as much a wonder to him and to those whom he healed.

But he grew weary. At some point even the healings felt like a task. He wasn’t about to withhold the sheer goodness that moved through him from those who needed it. But he came to realize that they rarely understood their need as well as he did. For Jesus, the healings were never just about healing. They were always about wholeness—about being restored to a rightful healthy place within yourself … and within your community.

The healings were like parables played out in people’s bodies. But … like the parables, the crowds mostly didn’t get them. Heck, most of the time even his own disciples didn’t get them.

By now, through his parables and healings, in his teachings and at his table, Jesus had spent more than a year proclaiming “the kingdom of God.”

You need to know four things about that.

First, “kingdom” wasn’t a reference to a place, as though there was a palace somewhere in a land that was “God’s kingdom.” No, in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word for kingdom is a verb. It means “the activity of God reigning as king.” Not a place, but an activity.

Second, that activity was radical gracious welcome. God’s kingdom included everyone, even those you’d expect to be put outside. Think of it as God’s kin-dom: the activity of God welcoming everyone as family.

Third, Jesus said, “REPENT, because the kingdom—the activity of God making all of us kin—is at hand.” Just around the corner. Close enough to touch.

Fourth, by “repent” Jesus did not mean, “Okay, everybody say you’re sorry.” Plain and simple, repenting means turning around. Moving, acting, living in a different direction.

In Jesus’ day (not unlike our own I might add) people were often played off against each other. There were all kinds of rules, some formal, some unspoken, that were used to determine insiders and outsiders, who had status, and who had nothing. And Jesus’ message challenged that; it was a direct challenge to virtually everything that everyone among his followers had ever known.

So the fact that almost nobody GOT Jesus’ message really just acknowledges how stuck they were in their world as it was, all around them. In the face of all that, seeing from a new perspective—and then actually moving in a new direction was a BIG challenge. You can’t hardly blame them for not getting it right away.

Problem was, Jesus could tell he was operating on borrowed time. He saw his own people getting played against each other. He saw the powerful—whether Roman or Jew—taking advantage of the powerless. He saw people learning to despise themselves. He saw a community fractured in ways that turned it incessantly against itself.

And he knew that his own message, his call to turn around and BE a whole new kind of community, posed a real threat to the powers that be. They would act sooner or later to silence him. You heard that ominous note sounded in Sunday’s lesson, when he’s warned that Herod is looking to kill him. And you heard his lament: wishing that Jerusalem could hear his message and gather around him like chicks running to a mother hen … but they do not.

In tonight’s reading that lament is even more restless, more edgy. See if you can hear it better now. Jesus says, in effect:

People, I’ve been healing your sick. I’ve been telling you parables. I’ve been eating at your tables. And you’ve been content to be healed, but not yet whole. To murmur about the parables, but not actually respond to them. To gossip about my meal companions without daring to welcome outcasts at your own tables. Have you even been listening?!

You only reach the kingdom—the kin-dom, the familyhood of God—if you turn around. Repent. Move in another direction, act in another way. And Herod is on the hunt now. Time is short!

You’re acting like I’m just going to fix everything for you, and everyone’s just gonna be happy and get along. No! I’m talking about re-making the whole way we are a community. I’m casting fire on the status quo. I’m risking my neck! And before it’s over people will be divided because of me and the message I bring.

Can’t you see how short the time is? You know how to watch the weather, to anticipate rain or sun. Why, oh why, can’t you pay as much attention to this present time?

This explosion by Jesus is less anger than anguish.

Jesus’ message, what we refer to so tamely as “Gospel,” good news, is pretty damn stark. He’s saying that the only way forward in which true human flourishing is possible … requires turning the world as it is … inside out. Including outcasts. Loving enemies. Welcoming strangers. Not easy stuff back then——or right now. But Jesus was adamant. It’s this way forward. Or else.

Then there’s this paradox. Because the same man you just heard exclaiming in impatient anguish that he’s eager to cast fire because only real life-turning repentance will actually save us, he also says—and on this same journey to Jerusalem: “Do not worry. Consider the lilies, the ravens, the grass of the field … God knows what you need. (12:22-31).

Yes, I’m asking you to join me in remaking the world. And, yes, I’m probably going to die before we’re done—and probably by a violent death. But, don’t worry.

That “don’t worry” is crucial. But NOT because it’s there to comfort us. Rather, because only by clinging to those words with faith, can we ALSO hear the urgency, which would otherwise overwhelm us. The “don’t worry” doesn’t make it any less urgent, any less necessary. Any less deadly for Jesus. I suspect he sees what’s coming, even if his followers don’t. But still, he says, “don’t worry.” I think so that we muster the courage to hear the whole of what he’s saying.

Now … fast forward 2000 years. What do those words sound like today?

People, I healed sick bodies and minds. I fed hungry bellies. I blessed children. And when I died, I bled real blood. Is there any thing I did to suggest that I didn’t take this incarnation business—this being fully IN THIS WORLD—seriously?

I ate with outcasts. I challenged authority. I really, really wanted to call you into my work of remaking the world. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s desperately needed—for the least of these, my brothers and sisters. For all of us.

Still today, you will only reach the kingdom—the kin-dom, the familyhood of God—if you turn around. Repent. Move in another direction, act in another way. And this world is on the verge of collapse. Time is short!

You’re acting like I’m just going to fix everything for you, and everyone’s just gonna be happy and get along … like the planet will just heal itself. No! I’m talking about re-making the whole way we are a community. About the entire way we live on a finite planet. I’m casting fire on the status quo. I’m risking my neck! And before it’s over people will be divided because of me and the message I bring.

Can’t you see how short the time is? You know how to watch the weather when you’re thinking about the fishing opener or the start of baseball season or the 4th of July parade. You know how to count down the shopping days until Christmas; you even know how to map out the liturgical seasons months in advance.

But when the global temperature is rising and species are going extinct and ice caps are melting before your very eyes and extreme weather is on the increase and your own best science tells you that human activity is driving these things … why, oh why, can’t you pay as much attention—and respond with equal energy—to this present time?

That’s what Jesus would sound like today. Which ought to leave all of us, myself included, squirming uncomfortably.

And then he would add, not to take the edge off his words, but to give us the strength to really hear the edge of his words: And remember, don’t worry. God knows what you need. Amen.

 

QUESTIONS for reflection and conversation:

  1. Did you gain new insight (or feel a fresh challenge) from the four things I noted about the “kingdom of God”—(1) verb/activity (2) radical gracious welcome; (3) repent; and (4) turning around?
  2. What in my message helped you hear the power of Jesus’ anguished words in their original context? Or as addressing our context today? Can you sense the “productive” tension of “don’t worry” in the midst of this urgency?
  3. What else will you take away from tonight’s reflection?

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com

Jesus, Jerusalem, and Climate Change

I’ve been invited by Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire to accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. I do not know where this journey will lead, but it begins with five Lenten reflections (of which this is the first) and will include several public lectures hosted by Grace later in the spring. The texts for each Lenten reflection are of my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

Green Lent

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

What can we ask of Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem—and on ours?
David R. Weiss

Luke 9:51-62 – In which Jesus sets his face for Jerusalem, refuses to carpet bomb a Samaritan village, compares his housing opportunities to foxes and birds, and reminds his followers that the Kingdom of God is a journey that asks everyone to be “all in.” Following LENT SUNDAY ONE – Luke 4:1-13 (Temptation)

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Okay, I’ll be honest—I don’t think Jesus lost any sleep over Global Warming or Climate Change, however you choose to name it. It simply wasn’t part of the forces that threatened human flourishing in his day. And the capacity for humans to impact ecosystems (to threaten nonhuman flourishing) was a fraction of what it is today. And the capacity to harm an entire planet’s ecosystem was unimagined.

So Jesus never addressed what may well be the defining issue of our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say to us about it. Jesus was steeped in a biblical tradition that most of us have only a passing familiarity with.

He knew that God fashioned Adam—the Hebrew word is adam—out of adamah, a Hebrew word for dirt. Because the writer wanted us to hear that God made a dirtling out of the dirt, an earthling out of the earth, a human being out of the humus. However we understand ourselves, we are inescapably kin to the ground under our feet. And Jesus knew that.

He knew that when Adam, that first earthling, named all the creatures in the garden, it wasn’t as an act of mastery over them, but as a persistent search for intimacy with them.

Jesus could have told you that at the end of the tale of Noah and the ark, when God sets the rainbow in the sky as symbol of the covenant to protect Noah—in that story, SIX different times in nine short verses God specifies that the promise is not simply with Noah and his descendants, but with every living creature. Six times! Lest we think it was intended only for us.

And he knew by heart many of the Psalms—as well as passages from the prophets—that borrow freely and generously from nature to image God, to praise God, or to use nature’s health or suffering as a reflection of human morality.

Hebrew thought presumed that creation, Creator, and creature were inescapably interconnected. So while Jesus did not address Climate Change 2000 years ago, there is no question he would take it very seriously were he walking—and warming—among us today.

Beyond the mostly unspoken creation-rich context of his faith, Jesus said plenty.

He addressed the human tendencies to live by fear or denial—and the human propensity to abuse power and to erase people. He decried the damage done by dysfunctional and oppressive social structures—and he offered a healing vision of a human community. He affirmed taking decisive action in critical moments. And he knew the importance of living by faith in God’s deep goodness and grace.

These are among the central features of Jesus’ ministry. They’re part of the message that led him to the cross. And they offer insight, wisdom, even good news to those of us wondering how we—as persons of faith—respond to the challenge of Climate Change.

***

So welcome to Lent, this season in which we intentionally reflect on our own mortality, on our need for repentance—for turning around—and on the journey undertaken by Jesus that culminates in the Cross. This year during Lent we ask, What does it mean to follow Jesus toward the Cross … on a precariously warming planet?

In tonight’s lesson I hear four pieces of wisdom.

First, we read, “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is the wisdom of fierce resolve. We’ll talk next week about how we discern the right moment, but once discerned, it’s critical that we not vacillate. We, too, have a journey to begin. We, too, need to “set our face.”

Soon after beginning his journey Jesus is not welcomed by a Samaritan village. Now there is long and complicated animosity between Jews and Samaritans, including 1000 years of disagreement over the rightful location of the Temple. So it’s irritating, annoying, maybe even disappointing, that these villagers fail to show Jesus and his disciples hospitality on their pilgrimage to the “wrong” Temple—but it’s hardly surprising.

What is surprising, if you’ve been paying attention to Jesus’ ministry—is how James and John respond: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Luke tells us only that “Jesus turned and rebuked them,” which I suspect is polite Greek for telling us, “And Jesus turned to them with rage, saying, have you not heard anything I’ve said so far?!”

This second bit of wisdom is remembering what we know. As we respond to Climate Change there will also be moments of frustration, disappointment, opposition. Like the disciples, we’ll be tempted to lash out at those who appear to be in the way. But the measure of our response should not be the anger or the urgency we feel. It should be the whole of what we know. The overwhelming threat of Climate Change is not a reason to set aside our Christianity but to deepen it.

Third, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests,” but it is not so for the One who chooses faithfulness above all else. This piece of uncomfortable but essential wisdom might be coined: moving from temptation to tabernacle.

Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ temptation. There were other paths that called out to him. Fame and fortune. Miracle and empire. Simple comfort and familiarity. He could have chosen to be a fox with a hole or a bird with a nest. Instead, he chose to be ever restless for the healing and liberation of his people.

He chose to keep the company of a God who found a tabernacle preferable to a Temple. With its canvas walls and tent poles the tabernacle moved through the wilderness with the Israelites on their journey. Its sides billowed with the wind, breathing in and out, as it were, with the presence of a Living God.

We sometimes imagine that Christianity is about finding comfort and security. But this wisdom reminds us it’s actually about venturing into holy insecurity, counting as comfort that we are in the company of Jesus and one another. That was true long before Climate Change arrived on the scene, but it will be especially true in the years ahead.

Finally Jesus says, with what we might mistake as a tone of impatience, “Look, no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Those would be hard words, except that the one who speaks them alsoand already—has a hand to the plow. This fourth wisdom simply says, about that first Lenten journey—and about this Lenten journey—it’s time to be all in. Words offered not as a threat of exclusion, as though “you better be ‘all in’ or else,” but rather as the wise observation of a fellow traveler that this road, which MUST be traveled, can ONLY be traveled safely and faithfully by being fully present here and now. All in.

My friends, Jesus never gave Climate Change a second thought. But we will—many times over. And as we move through Lent this year, there are echoes in his ministry that offer wisdom for us today.

We will need to exercise fierce resolve.

We will need to remember what we know.

We will need to move from temptation to tabernacle.

And we will need to be all in.

The good news is that we can do all these things (and more—we have four more Wednesdays together yet!) in the company of Jesus and one another. And that is truly Gospel. Amen.

 

QUESTIONS for reflection and conversation:

  1. Did anything surprise you or strike you as helpful about what I described as the “creation-rich context” of Jesus faith?
  2. Of the four bits of wisdom lifted up in this evening’s text—(1) fierce resolve; (2) remembering what we know; (3) moving from temptation to tabernacle; and (4) being all in—which did you find most insightful, most comforting, or most challenging?
  3. What else will you take away from tonight’s reflection?

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com