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Compassion

“Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constituted a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon  his concern against the entire numbness of his social context”

-from the Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Jesus move us to have a revolutionary compassion that criticizes and confronts structures of our society that hurt and deny humanness. Amen.

Stripping The Altar

Stripping-the-Altar

What a strange practice that after Holy Thursday we strip the altar and the sanctuary bare. The colors of purple that hints toward an interesting combination of the royalty of a king or the darkness of lamenting. The candles, the brass, and colorful things that point to light and life. One by one these things are taken out of our worship space or covered up. What a strange thing to do, but this is an ancient practice that helps us dramatically connect with the story of Holy Week. After the great meal of love that we participate in on Thursday, after God in the flesh kneels in love to wash feet, after the singing of hymns, Jesus walks out in the garden to pray. While we struggle to stay awake, Jesus steps into the night alone and prays about the dark hours ahead. Then he is lifted on the cross.  I am surprised the wood could bear the weight of God. I am surprised the wood didn’t struggle to hold the weight of humanities brokenness and dark resistance to love. Then as life breathed its last and darkness washed over the day I wonder what the world thought. I suspect most struggled to stay aware that something peculiar had happened in the cosmos as unexpected things shook and tore. The striping of the altar helps draw us into the reality of our story.

Maybe there is more to this stripping of the altar. Maybe it is a way of reminding us that these signs and symbols are just that: signs and symbols that point to something greater. These ornaments of our worship are the instruments to help us in worship and not the objects of our worship. Maybe taking out these things remind us that even in the darkness, even in death, even when it all seems void and empty we discover God is there too.  Maybe this is a moment of us stripping down all the things we lift up, the work we do, the attempts we make to gain favor, to win approval, to earn love. Maybe it is taking off all the garments and make-up of our pretending in order to strip down to the truth of who we are. Maybe we strip the altar as a way of stripping away the pride that keeps me from you and you from me. Maybe it is a way of stripping away our need for being the hero. We take out all the pretty brass, colors of gold, white, the pomp, all our efforts to try and convince this God of the cosmos to love us. There in the darkness of the empty sanctuary we discover that nothing we offer changes God’s posture toward humanity. We discover, even without the candles and our best efforts, the light of the Holy Spirit is seeking to draw us into the free gift of God’s love to restore us all.

Because on the day of resurrection the signs and symbols are restored to simply point beyond themselves to the love of God that redeems and heals us. Because on the day of resurrection we can find ourselves dressed, not in the thick masks of favor gaining efforts, but in the grace of God so that our lives point beyond themselves to the love of God that draws us closer to each other in love.  It does seem strange that a beautiful space of worship would be stripped of all this ornamentation, but maybe as we enter these last holy days it is just what I need.

Father God, as we enter into these strange mysterious days of encountering the loving work of Jesus, may your Holy Spirit strip us bare of all that keeps us from you, inhibits our loving each other, and stops us from loving ourselves. Clothe us into your love so that our lives point beyond themselves to you. Amen.

Drinks On The House

The host shouts “Drinks on the house” and the guests cheer. The party moves and sways as joy and laughter swell. Mysteriously the joy of the wine never spills over into inebriation or disorder. This gathering seems very different than others. Through the windows, doors and every seam of the house the sounds and smells of revelry can’t be contained. They flow freely into the surrounding area drawing any who pass by to come closer. The host even sends a few out into the dark streets because there is more wine and plenty of room. Somehow the warmth of the wine and the sounds of the party were so thick and real that the invitation carriers are kept warm even out in the cold night air. While they are out she passes by, drawn to the smells and sounds of perfect joy, but approaching the door she can’t believe the door is open. She clearly thinks to herself, “this can’t be for me” despite seeing the sign by the door saying
“No Shirt, No Shoes – No Problem”. Sign - NoProblemOver the roar of joy, she hears the host resound, “Drinks on the house!” A few from the party recognize her from the night as she peaks through the door, and without hesitation she is brought in to taste the wine and enjoy community. Then a few members of the party forget that they didn’t pay for their drinks bring a small disruption to the flow of joy. They were there first at the party and resented this strange woman coming in to share in the festivities. Then as more strangers from unexpected places came through the door, all who were there, even those singing out of tune, couldn’t help but see the host break some bread and hold up a cup saying, “Drinks on the house!”

baby_frog_2_by_jay_k_pics-d3nwm43A typical second grade boy cannot be expected to understand when a parent says “Just a few minutes.” He was in the garage dressed in his nice jeans with his button up shirt tucked in, and hair all combed ready to go to the church dinner on a Wednesday night. Mom sticks her head through the door and says, “We will be leaving in just a few minutes.” The door shuts as Mom goes back in to finish getting ready. The 2nd grader thinks that “Just a few minutes” gives him permission because it is enough time for a small adventure despite knowing that she most likely intended for him to stay there to be ready. Behind the houses across the street there is a canal which has been the source of many previous adventures. Despite knowing better he found himself leaving the garage. The canal slopes down on each side dropping around 10 feet below street level and always have at the minimum of about a foot of water flowing slowly even on the driest days.  On this particular day walking along the edge of the canal near a drain pipe emptying a trickle of water into the canal provides an amazing discovery. Hundred upon hundreds of baby frogs scatter with every step. This of course requires further investigation. So closer to the edge of the water the 2nd grader discovers hundreds of these creatures are transitioning from tadpole to frog. Many are still in the water with both legs and a tail. He has just a few minutes so off go the shoes and socks and he rolls up his jeans and the slimy clay-like earth squish between his toes as he enters into the water to catch these amazing creatures. The adventure takes him deeper when above the rim of the canal he hears a familiar voice drift down to the muddy water which awakens him from his fascination. He looks down to realize how deep he is. He realizes how there is sediment, clay, and mud all over him and his clothes. Awareness of his situation and all of his choices fill him with some remorse as he quickly grabs his socks and shoes and rises over the top of the canal dripping with him the stale smell of the neighborhood’s drainage system. He begins to move in the direction of his Mom’s voice.

Mom was filled with great emotions as her beloved son who had disappeared from the garage had now returned. The boy begins to tear up and apologize, but Mom interrupts saying, “shhh, baby…I love you. Take my hand. Let’s go get you cleaned up.” Mom graciously took her sons dirty hand and gently ushers him into the garage and shuts the outer door. She instructs her child to strip down out of those once nice church clothes. As the shirt comes off little frogs begin appearing jumping out of every pocket, nook, cranny, and crevice and scattering all over the garage for safety from the dirty little boy. Some of the little frogs didn’t survive. His wet and muddy jeans end up bunched around his ankles. No matter how hard he struggles, twists, and pulls the jeans won’t come off. He is filled with a mix of guilt and gratitude as Mom reaches down and helps him out of those smelly wet jeans as the last few frogs are released to safety as she empties the pockets. Mom brings her son inside straight to the shower. The water starts off cold and shocking, but warms up as the soap and water begin doing their wonderful transforming work. As if Mom has some magical powers, when he get’s out of the shower he sees that a new set of clean church clothes mysteriously appeared on the counter-top next to the sink. Moments later that 2nd grade boy is clean and dressed in these fresh garments. He is hungry and looking forward to eating dinner with his Mom. His Mom is smiling as he gets in the car. They get to the Wednesday night church dinner right on time instead of arriving very early as planned because it all took just a few minutes.

  • I wonder where you see yourself in this story?
  • I wonder where you see God in this story?