Monday, February 20, 2006

When Jesus doesn't fit my head

This last week at the Young Adult Bible Study that meets at my house on Friday evenings, we were reading in the book of John as Jesus tells his disciples that he now considers them friends. I have always loved that passage and felt a closer connection to a savior that was willing to “lay his life down for Friends” rather than begrudgingly doing his duty. But as we read the passages in context we were all struck by the repeated passages that state “If you love me you will do what I say” and “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
It seemed so formula driven to us and uncharacteristic of Jesus who has been the image of forgiveness through out John’s gospel. It smacked of being merely a system of rules. As we talked about the idea’s of grace and accountability I found myself trying to make Jesus what I wanted him to be. I would head down a road of thought that I liked trying to make Jesus’ words fit a structure or belief I liked. But it didn’t fit, so frustrated we would “try something else” and see if we could fit Jesus into our thought process or philosophical structurein another direction. After sharing thoughts and ideas for about an hour, our stomachs were all grumbling so we decided we should stop and get dinner. We would just have to wrestle with the idea of free grace, merited grace and accountability on our own for a week.
There have been plenty of times in our gatherings where we have stopped and asked “wha????” as we read the scriptures together. We have often had to cross reference scriptures, and pull into the discussion other theologian’s ideas, but usually we would leave at least mostly satisfied that we had found something we connected with. This evening was different - I think we all felt a little frustrated - not because this was so earth shattering, or that we couldn’t reconcile Jesus words with the over all theme of the Gospel as John records it. What I think was frustrating for us, was that unwittingly we spent an hour trying to make Jesus something we wanted him to be, (Something we are usually very careful to avoid.) Part of our time together is to specifically hear what God is saying to us through scripture, not apply our thoughts and comforts onto the scriptures we read. Sometimes the things God reveals to us in scripture, in fact shine a very unflattering light on us and our world views, and can be a bit uncomfortable, but that is a good thing for us I think.
As the frustration of that evening wore away I found myself asking how many other times to I try to make Jesus into what I want him to be, to justify my behavior or world view. Not only in the academic setting, or in study groups, but in the coffee shop, or in the line at the DMV (The 4th level of hell as I lovingly refer to it) or with friends, or with those that are not so friendly.
I don’t want my life to be a series of second guesses, but I also want to take Jesus more seriously than bumper stickers and t-shirts. There are parts of Jesus message that I readily jump on and wave like a banner and others that I tend to ignore because they don’t fit well into my check book, or gas tank, or dinner plate. I hope we are challenged to consider what discipleship means and reminded that we are disciples of the one true christ - Jesus, the incarnate God, the word made flesh, the savior of the world - not people who merely use Jesus as supporting arguments.

Always challenged by a life in Christ

Pastor Mark

Bread and Grape Juice

A friend of mine and I were having one of those conversations in a pub over a plate of cajun tater tots that unpacks a whole can of worms metaphorically speaking not to eat with the tots. (I assume the tots taste better than worms... but then again I've never tried worms)

The conversation began around the fact that the congregation I serve ( would be taking communion that Sunday. We talked a little about the method by which we distribute the elements, whether we use wine or grape juice. We discussed the big ol' italian loaves in DaVinci's last supper painting as contrasted with the unleavened bread they really ate and how My favorite communion bread all-be-it historically inaccurate is the Hawaiian sweet bread we used in the little church I attended while in Seminary in KY. All those incredibly meaningless things that Pastor's find them selves spending a lot of time dealing with, and congregations get their shorts in a bind over.

At one point in the conversation, it struck me as odd this ritual we share and participate in. What if James and John and Peter walked into the sanctuary at 11000 NE 4th Plain Rd in Vancouver , Washington that Sunday, just as we were all forming two lines to get a chunk of bread and dip it in the cup. Would they immediately recall Jesus' words of "do this in remembrance of me.." and know exactly what we were doing or would that look at us and say "What the hell ??......" After we made them feel appropriately uncomfortable for coming to church and being dressed far to casually and being unfamiliar with our liturgy (Just kidding - we're kinda a jeans, guitar and jimbay drum congregation) we would explain the principle of this liturgy of holy communion and its symbolism, and for those of us in the Wesleyan tradition we would throw the whole "means of grace" statements in that we carefully crafted for our ordination papers in the mix as well.

Would they then say "oh I get it!" or would we be met with statements like "how did the seder meal and the cup of Elijah turn into Hawaiian sweet bread and Welches grape juice?"

Not that I have anything against communion. I really believed the stuff about "means of Grace" that I put in my ordination papers (as well as the other stuff i said "yes" to when asked by the Bishop on behalf of our Conference) In fact it reassures me that God is able to use the Holy Spirit to impart grace and hope to us even if we maybe lost some of the original "flavor" of the celebration and tradition Jesus was building on with his friends in that upper room. Who would have thunk it???!!! God's grace and spirit could reach us even in the midst of our traditions and culture (Even the culture our church has created!).

I was at a seminar once where the presenter a very well respected theologian in our tradition spoke up because the liturgist leading communion at one of the worship services mis spoke the words and skipped a part of the liturgy and suggested we should do it again - kinda a do over so that God got a fair chance to bless the elements and impart grace (The irony isn't lost on me by the way). I was tempted to insist that we should also share the seder together if we were gonna' get nit picky (but I'm a scardy cat wuss so I didn't)

Although I have a very high view of communion and its place and meaning, I'm afraid I'm not ready to say that its sacredness is some how compromised by the liturgy or lack of it. In the same way I'm not ready to say that God's presence in our lives or gatherings is dependent on the correct ritual or liturgy. In fact the Hawaiian sweet bread and welches reminds me that God is at work today in my life and I believe even in our culture and communities, maybe in a whole new way to impart ageless truth, grace and hope. Maybe James John and Peter would lift a glass to that too


Saturday, February 18, 2006

New Digs

Well for those of you that found your way to my new place, I hope to have some posts up soon