Tag Archives: Jesus

Interrupted by Art

Garofalo, Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet, Italian, 1481 – 1559, c. 1520/1525, oil on panel, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

Isn’t Peter larger than you would think in the painting above? Of course the artist doesn’t know what any of them looked like any more than we do. I wonder about the choices for Jesus too. Which one is Judas? Which one is Andrew. I’m positive the two who look alike, next to Peter, one in green and one in red, and James and John, brothers and sons of Thunder. It is a beautiful painting: the colors, the faces, the feet, how everything points and swirls around Jesus.

Jacopino del Conte (Florentine, 1510 – 1598), Madonna and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist, c. 1535, oil on panel, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1985.11.1

Both babies are so robust and full of muscles! Was that a thing in 1535? And I love their curly hair. I love the wrinkles in the gowns of Mary and Elisabeth — it’s so amazing to me, how do you paint a wrinkle, a fold? magic? I love the gentle tender look Elizabeth is giving Mary, who looks bewildered and afraid. Of course I wish that Elizabeth was moving little rascal John out of the way of the fire! There are a lot of details (and above too).

Both images are open access Courtesy of the National Galley of Art in Washington, D.C.

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Maundy Thursday. Feet? Really?

So Jesus in the Gospel of John washes his disciple’s feet, and it is played both seriously — to demonstrate the upside-down Kingdom love of Jesus — and for laughs. Peter (as normal) just does not understand and is horrified at first that Jesus would consider setting aside his privilege to do the menial duty of footwashing. Jesus insists. I can imagine him smiling, waving the rag in the air, the basin of water on the floor.

But — did it have to be footwashing? At my church we enact it, those who choose come forward and put their feet into water and a brother or sister dries the feet, and then switch. It is beautiful. It is silent (to be honest, maybe there is music and I’m just always in my head and don’t hear it) and a bit spooky and a bit of joyful tension sort of like a child on Christmas Eve. In the morning it is going to be great, it is going to Christmas. Only the opposite is going to happen. On Good Friday, Jesus will die.

Just as in the story, it is action re-created to show love that is both profound and meaningful and inherently funny and awkward.

We have to wait for Sunday for resurrection. But Jesus has to die, for some reason: for us, for reasons of atonement, for theologies of all sort. It is the science fiction fan in me that is like: God couldn’t find a better way to heal the world of sin than to kill His Son? Couldn’t He just, you know, forgive?

And of course God does forgive, has forgiven, could forgive, has remained steadfast in love with us and all creation, and the clear answer isn’t that Jesus had to die to satisfy some angry God, like a god of a volcano or a dragon with a princess.

Something else….

Maybe just like the footwashing — REALLY feet? It couldn’t be hands? It couldn’t be “wash each other’s faces” — maybe dying on the cross was that important? Maybe Jesus had to die for us, not just wash our smelly, awkward, important feet, so that we could see the upside-down Kingdom love of God with absolutely no questions, no exceptions?

God loves us enough to bleed and die for us.

So let’s love each other, suffer with and for each other, as much as God loves us.

FTGOG!

Interrupted by a Statement of Faith

At the beginning of God’s creating my heart and soul, all those decades ago, Godself came to me after a heartfelt and contrite plea flooded the words of my mouth. Godself wrote a beautiful healing remaking of my very soul, and tumbled me into Christianity eventually, brought me to shore in the Presbyterians knowing I needed ground and stone and reading.  The zapping by God’s amazing love was something golden and rich and warm and truthful and trustworthy and vast and mysterious.

I did not have words then like the above or like: God, Jesus, Bible, Kingdom of Heaven, Grace, Confession. My prayers were more like a wish list to Santa, until that moment.

It was then all I needed and more than I ever dared to dream: a rebirth into forgiveness so rich that the whole world was more beautiful. The grass was greener. The daffodils (it was spring) were yellower.

Yet from there to now. From painful losses and deep down dreary endless gray days and circle back up again to the core question: why am I a Christian? Why do I church?

From that beginning, like layers of onion unpeeling yet growing ever richer and outward like some sort of parable, God is still at work in the making of us all. And my trust is still with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and, sweeter than honey, with the vast complexity of the Word of God. From at first merely (merely!) giving me a shelter from the storm, a rock instead of shifting sand, to very now and right at hand God seeming to pierce my heart or enrich my core, to fill me. Christianity is both contemplative and practical, both fantastical stories and deeply painfully human stories. And laughter! My story has become woven into it. I am Christian now, however good or ill, however poorly or dimly a light I shine. What at first I clung to, now I live into,  knowing I am held but not safe.

And yet words are hardly able to sift and sort the complexities and simplicities of the very ground, as personal as toes in dirt, as mysterious as our unknown hearts. God as a plum line. God as a weaving into and knitting together of allness and healing, and still just words, mere flickering shadows.

And thus I church, because it isn’t do-it-yourself. When I am weak, my sisters will be strong, my brothers will make me laugh, someone will need me. Some beauty will shine, or my ever new-made soul will beauty bring into something newly verbed: created, born, crafted, melded, molded, sown, reaped, uplifted, upheld, healed.

When we are, I am. When Jesus asks a question, like “Who do you say that I am?” I try to answer “Yes.” I try to live the answer “Yes”. I try to reach out to the answer with “Yes.”

So….let me know….is this a statement of faith? Do you find anything that relates to you? Did it shine any light? I haven’t been given any “guidelines” about writing my statement of faith yet from my church as a part of becoming a Deacon. So this is just me “winging it”.

Luke 4:14-21

The hardest part of getting this passage by heart was the quote from Isaiah. My study bible says it is from Isa 61.1-2 and 58.6.

Partly it was hard to get by heart because it echoes all over — is this Mary talking to Elizabeth about how the poor will be lifted up, or Mary responding to the Angel? Is this Jesus responding to the messengers the imprisoned John the Baptism sent to him to ask him if he is truly the one-to-come? It is hard keep straight these exact words. It is also hard because of the repetition of the word “proclaim”.

For one thing, to say this in Nazareth in Galilee — a rather obscure corner of Israel in that time — is that really to proclaim? (Am I wrong about Nazareth being rather obscure at least back then?)

To proclaim something so big — very very big! — in a place so small — what’s going on with that?

Was Jesus feeling that his hometown, those closest to him deserved the chance to hear this good news for the poor first?

Was Jesus wanting the support of those nearest and dearest to him?

Was Jesus just wanting to be physically safe? (That didn’t turn out well. Did he mean it to demonstrate that threats of harm would not stop him?)

In our world right now, today, would we expect an announcement about say some amazing technology breakthrough for energy that won’t pollute the earth in any way to be from New York City or California or would we think it would come from some small city in Liberia? Or Indonesia?

Does where a proclamation come from add or detract to the authority of it?

So, let’s not judge his hometown’s disbelief too harshly. (Although really, they were going to hurl him off a cliff? Over-reaction much? What sort of people would react that way? I take it back, let’s judge them harshly.) However, let’s think it was part of the plan. And let’s mull on why that would be part of the plan.

FTGOG

Luke 4:14-21

Part of the reason I can’t seem to make more progress on learning Genesis 1 by heart is because I have taken a break to get Luke 4:14-21 by heart, as this will be my next lay reading in a couple weeks. This is the story of Jesus early in his ministry going to preach in his hometown, and despite being popular elsewhere, it doesn’t work out so well at home. This reading specifically is the moment just before it goes south. You can imagine Mary his mother being so proud, and his brothers and sisters, and all those who were his teachers and friends. “Look at Joseph’s son, what a fine boy!” That’s not what Jesus’ mission is all about. He will deliberately choose to be provocative.

But in this passage, it ends just before that, with all the eyes of the synagogue upon him. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just a breathless moment as the crowd realizes that he has just claimed to be the one anointed by God, the one to come and release the captives, heal the blind, let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Well, who does he think he is, anyway? Heads are about to turn, eyes are about to slant and roll. In this second of stillness was there just a second of belief? If only…..

If only he could come and do all that.

If only…

But it is foolish to think that Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s son, could do these things. Sure, he’s smart, we’re proud of him, we love him, but he’s just one of us. We can’t do these things. There’s nothing we can do to change how the world works.

Right? If only….

What after all can we do?

It is particularly striking to me that Jesus says, “in your hearing”. Because all the eyes were fixed upon him. Why didn’t he say “in your sight”? For one reason, because however much the folks in the synagogue saw, at that moment they were blind.

For another — and yes we’re going back to Genesis 1 now! — it wasn’t seeing that created the world. It was hearing the “voice of God.”

FTGOG

Mark 12:38-44, next layreading and a call to action

I write this after just finding out the news that a synagogue was attacked by another home-grown hater; after a week of news about pipe bombs in the mail to Democrats. How the mighty are quick to offer “thoughts and prayers”. Mark 12:38-44 says “…the rich “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”

Jesus isn’t letting them back then, or I suspect now, off the hook of action. And, I suspect, Jesus wants them to do more than to stop hurting widows, but to actively work for shalom for all.

When gun violence is the second largest cause of death for children and teens in America — from non-intentional shoots to suicide to actual crimes — what in the name of God is going on?

When places of worship are the sites of violence, isn’t it time for action?

My little mite, my two coins, are not much. I invite everyone to join in with your two small coins of action, to do some action to create a culture of peace. 

 

Genesis 1 and light, life, and love

While this might seem obvious if you grew up in the church, for those of us who did not maybe I am not the only one to find a connection between God and Light and Jesus to be surprising and beautiful. I’m not sure how far to push this connection or story thread.

Genesis starts out with light: “God said, Let there be Light.”

And in John 8:12, we read “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

As I quoted downstream, Fleming Rutledge wrote about the light of God being something far beyond our ken. Perhaps as the light that we see from a candle is so vastly different from the light from a bonfire — or worse a wildfire — thus the essence of “God is light” is some dramatically different way from what we mean by “light”.

Perhaps what “Let there be Light” means is more like “Let there be life.” Or even — is it too much to say? — “Let there be Love”.

Which seems to be perhaps what Jesus means in the quote above from John. Honestly, since becoming a Christian I have heard and read that verse and thought that it was beautiful but it didn’t connect to anything. It didn’t seem to mean something concrete or, in fact, anything but it is lovely.

Silly me!

Perhaps it is Jesus saying “I am made of the same stuff as God. And you can have this light in your life too, and no matter how horrible things get, which they may get, I will be with you.” And perhaps not in an “invisible friend” way or any way we can understand, but in a “give you strength” way.

FTGOG

 

Mark 3:20-35 in review

Last Sunday was when I performed Mark 3:20-35 as a lay reader. I don’t like the word performed by the way. Some storytellers are very dramatic and use their body as an actor might. There’s a fine line or discussion to be had about when storytelling turns into acting. My inclination is to stay on the storytelling side – use my hands, face, voice, and maybe an occasional minor prop (I used a stone one time), but I don’t move my feet and don’t “mime” things. I’m also limited by the microphone placement at my church. At least once I’ve used the “wired” mic, so I could move around however I wanted to but actually made me nervous. And once we were in the chapel and not the sanctuary so there was “just” my voice – that was great. I can put on quite a performance voice and I love the smaller space and being closer to the audience!

But what I am trying to write about is “how did it go”? What did I learn? I think it went very well but this sort of analysis is not my strength. I was caught off guard by how packed church was last week, my guess is over 200 people, because it was graduating high school senior day (among other things). As much as public speaking doesn’t give me the willies, that was perhaps the largest crowd that I have had, and that was a bit of a stretch to my comfort level!

I tried very hard with my face, with my voice, to display shock when Jesus says “Who are my mother and brothers?” Because (as I wrote) I think that shock is integral to the story. He isn’t being “sweet”. Jesus is going beyond “oh we’re all family here”. He is provoking his audience to feel a moment of fear: maybe this guy is nuts. We don’t like this image of Jesus as being provoking. It’s annoying when someone behaves like this. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus a nice guy?

But I have no idea if I succeeded in giving the audience that moment. Or if it matters. In the end, each person in the audience hears what message they are meant to hear from God. That trust I have in the Holy Spirit is what gives me the audacity to do this!

The second reading was I Sam 8:4-22, where Samuel outlines to the people all the ways a King will be horrible. I did not blog about it because I couldn’t connect the dots to how it tied into the Mark passage. However that is the passage that my pastor focused on in his sermon, and he referred to a King as a “strong man”. That for me was when scripture shimmered.

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house

and plunder his property

without first tying up the strong man;

then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Once you give power to a King, how can you tie him up? How can anyone from the outside plunder a strong man’s property? Only from the changed and broken heart of a King, could real and lasting change come instead of (to coin a phrase) just a game of thrones. What is power anyway?

Pick a king carefully. And consider this guy who talks in parables and is deliberately provoking. What sort of “king” is he anyway?

FTGOG

 

Midrash for Mark 3:20-35

First family

After explaining to the disciples

And to the crowd

And even the scribes from Jerusalem

That his mother and brother and sisters where those

Who do the will of God

There is no doubt in my mind

that he did go outside the house

And smiled at his family,

Opened his arms wide,

And his littlest brother who was not yet thirteen

Ran into his arms and Jesus

Swung him around

As normal.

 

Which broke the tension, and his sisters

And other brothers scrambled to him.

Jesus had watched over them as a big brother does

Had held the family together after Joseph died

Had shown them love

Every day of their lives.

 

Mary was the last, the children stood aside

and he saw the sorrow in her eyes

He didn’t say anything

There was nothing to say

They both knew where the journey was going

And that it was necessary.

Mary touched his cheek gently and tilted her head

An apology for her fear.

Gently he embraced her

On her head she felt his breath,

Pressed her ear to his chest and heard

The beating of his heart.