Jesus in the Garden: An Alternative Reading of Maundy Thursday

We understand Jesus’ expression of “Father, take this cup from me” as an  expression of his desire to not suffer and to not die “if possible.” But consider that Jesus was then, and is now, a “people person” – he’s all about relationships with other people. Sure, he understood the theology behind what lay in store for him, and he understood the reality of physical abuse, injury and agony that awaited.

So what really pained him, caused him anguish in his soul, was the impending loss of relationship with his friends. The betrayal, denial and abandonment at the hands of his closest friends was humiliating; anticipation of this brought about the deepest of suffering. But Christ the Reconciliator, who came into this world for the purpose of creating relationship, knew the power of forgiveness, that damaged personal relationships can be repaired and restored.

So, why the intense distress in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus knew he would never have the occasion to experience life’s activities and blessings, challenges and opportunities with his friends, acquaintances, and yes, strangers whom he had yet to meet. He came into this world to create new relationships between God and humanity, and he was abundantly and intimately successful. To leave these relationships grieved him; he suffered this loss with such intensity of emotion that his “sweat became like great drops of blood.”

Knowing it has to be this way does not really make it any easier to accept. No matter how we reinterpret it, spin it or contextualize it, this kind of loss is devastating. And we understand that.

“We Have A Hostage Situation”

April 1, 2012 1 comment

All day I have been pondering one line from my pastor’s sermon this morning: “humanity is held hostage by sin and death.” It sounds stereotypically Christian; traditional language about being in bondage to sin, our need to repent, the looming punishment if we don’t.

But that’s not what I heard this morning. Instead I heard the lead – in from a cable news broadcast, or saw the headline from a blog post, “Humanity Held Hostage by Sin!”

First thought was of the groups we separate from the “rest of us,” the ones we segregate because the people who fall into our constructed categories are not what we want them to be. We have taken them hostage, deprived them of their freedom, grabbed control of their lives! Then I thought about how imprisoning it is to “the captors” to live day in and day out in pursuit of the power and purity in denial of their own differences and uniqueness.

Both examples speak truth to the proclamation. We, human beings, persons of all types are held hostage when other persons seek to control our beliefs, our religions, our relationships. Yet those persons attempting to control other persons are the ones truly held captive.

Categories: Christianity, relationship

Clattering Bones

When I first came to seminary two years ago I had two mentors, ordained pastors, whom I loved then and love now. One was an advocate, an ally for sexual minorities, the other believed homosexuality to be a sin. I felt the pressure, however unintended, for me to “choose a side.” To which camp was I going to align myself on the issue of people’s sexual orientation and their inclusion in the Kingdom of God?

I resisted choosing. I recall clearly stating that I did not, before ever entering the ordination process of my denomination, want my ministry to be defined by this one item. I did not want to be labeled; I did not want to be put into a group where I was ostracized by others – or exclusively welcomed; I did not want my ministerial career derailed because of my identification “for or against homosexuality” obscuring God’s work in me for the beloved children.

Recently, I was discussing this with my daughter. She had heard my rationalization before, but this time she weighed in: “so, you do not want your entire identity as a person defined exclusively by sexual orientation?” (She then made some sort of grunting sound and rolled her eyes a bit.) Point taken.

There’s lots I still don’t understand, so I try to ask questions, and listen. I am pretty clear though that honoring the two Great Commandments leaves no room for me to interpret the scriptures in justification of ostracizing, condemning, or rejecting any one. When I read the Good News of Jesus Christ, I see reference after reference to loving, protecting and accepting those that society – including at times institutional religion – elects to exclude.

So, today I am adding to my resources list the blog “Clattering Bones”.

Painting by Dalana Castrell (Emilia Cleopas)   I would encourage you to take the time to read two of the first posts:

  “Here We Go”   and “Where Are We Going…” for a thorough personal and theological treatment of why this conversation is important. Thanks, Jess. Thanks, Court; I love you. D.

Oh! So there’s no confusion: I do not believe homosexuality is a sin, but like heterosexuality, a God granted gift. Praise be to God for divine mercy for us all. 

 

 

Wisconsin Delegation Statement

The Wisconsin Annual Conference delegation to the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church affirms the need for our denomination to seriously consider necessary changes to its structure, its leadership development and credentialing processes, its financial stewardship, its faithfulness, and its relationship to the larger global church. We acknowledge and appreciate the hard work done thus far by our bishops and the various agencies and study teams to produce The Call to Action, the Study of Ministry, the Interim Operations Team report, and other proposals for change within The United Methodist Church, but we have reservations that the current recommendations will not produce the intended results.

Wisconsin Delegation Statement.

The Unclean

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a man who panhandles in front of my home. “Jim” can be found working the South Street traffic several times a day. When I ask him, “Jim, how’s your day been?” his response is measured by the generosity of the passers-by. A “good day” means he has collected enough money for a couple of fast food meals. We do not give Jim money; we do provide a cup of coffee each morning he is present and occasionally some food. He knows we are safe space. He has thanked my wife and me for talking to him, treating him like a person, not ignoring him.

Weather extremes – severe heat and cold – seem to take the greatest toll on Jim. Under such an extreme he once agreed to allow me to contact on his behalf Central Intake for the city’s homeless services. I made the phone call. I don’t know who was more cynical and distrusting of the other, Jim or the intake worker. In the end, Jim declined to go and the worker declined to concede that the person he was supposed to be helping would be anything less than manipulative and deceitful. For each person, their prior experiences drove their assumptions about the other.

As Christians we have a great deal of difficulty trusting Jesus. We resist relinquishing control of our lives to God. And we know better. We know from our experience the value of doing so, we know and understand the good that comes from this. And yet we are reluctant to concede control.

www.ianpollock.co.uk

Leper Cured - copyright Ian Pollock

So why would we expect that people who have no job, no source of income, no healthcare, no place to call home – why would we expect them to trust and relinquish the little bit of control over their lives to a “system” that contributed to their current state of life? Our failure as a society to recognize the value of human life and treat other people with dignity, as Jesus did with the leper in Mark 1:40-45, contributes to the isolation and oppression. It is a form of rejection that sustains an “us and them” mentality.

***

From time to time I find myself feeling as though Jim takes advantage of us, that he is not doing “his part” to improve his circumstances. I become resentful. Cynical. Recorded in John 13:34, Jesus tells his followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” That is, without conditions, stipulations, expectations; accepting them and their plight, just as they are. Just as I am.

Leaving the Boat

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I love the story described in Matthew’s Gospel (14:22-33) of Peter stepping out of the boat in response to Jesus’ command, “Come”. It is a dramatic climax in response to fear, anxiety and uncertainty. I have often thought of this in light of my own call experiences.

He, Qi. Calling Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity LibraryToday’s biblical lectionary passages include two other “boat stories” that sit in stark contrast to one another.

Jonah had to be thrown out of the boat, and struggles to the very end to let go of his self interest and pride.

By contrast, Simon, Andrew and the Zebedee brothers asked no questions, offered no excuses or resistance, leaving everything behind, followed when Jesus called.

How will you leave the boat when God calls? Before you answer, think about the fact that it’s not just your life which is transformed. You want to make a difference in the world – your town or the global village? If these stories are any indication, getting out of the boat with Christ just might be a good place to start.

 

Image: He, Qi. Calling Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46099 [retrieved January 22, 2012].

Categories: Christianity, Discipleship

Neither the time nor place for a baby

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Throughout this Advent, I have thought about the meaning of the birth story. That Jesus Christ, the deliverer, our hope and salvation, the King of all Kings, the Son of God, is born in the most unexpected place. It is a stall for animals; dirty, forgotten, isolated – and isolating. He comes at a time (take your pick: mother not-yet wed, government census / tax season, travel far from home) that is at minimum “unexpected,” and definitely inconvenient. This is neither the time nor place to deliver a baby.

These are, however, words of assurance for Christians, and the story of promise for all people: that in the most unexpected times and places we can be confident of the presence of the Lord. He does not shy away from the desolate places and isolating events. He is right there in the midst of all of it, joining the bad to the good, altering our perspective on life’s difficult times so that we see opportunities for growth.

I have a tendency sometimes to think of things as “either – or.” A comment, experience or concept is either right or it is wrong. We do this a lot in the church, judging whether something is “right” or “wrong” according to our understanding of scripture, doctrine or theology.

But I don’t believe it’s really that simple. Actually, I wonder if over the ages humanity has actually made it more complicated than it needs to be, that in fact, it is quite simple.

When Jesus taught us to pray as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, it includes the request that God provide us “today our daily bread.” Physical, edible bread, or spiritual “bread”? Or both? The thing we need to sustain us for this day is a little food to eat and the spiritual assurance of the presence of God. These are the things that sustain us and nurture us.

From the moment of his birth, Jesus’ story communicates to us a holistic understanding of life. His was not a story of irony (aka the King born in a manger) nor necessarily analogy or metaphor, but rather an example of complete and total assimilation. Impoverished royalty, almighty pacifist, divine human. What seems incongruous is coherent. The parts have become one whole.

Maybe this is not an “either / or” world we live in. Possibly we don’t get a choice about being spiritual or secular. We just might be in need of a little more awareness of where we are (and whose we are!). And that’s what’s so great about this day, when we all get a little reminder, whether we are ready for it or not, regardless if this is a good time or place for us, that ‘Jesus is born tonight’. Again.

Merry Christmas.