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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Second Sunday in Lent: Taking the easy road?


Victor played his accordion

Jeremy’s in Guyana this week, but we’ve got Mexican accordionist Victor Figueroa with us. And Rachel has made it out in the freezing cold and ice with her new boarder, Arsene, a former professional soccer player from the Major League Soccer teams New England Revolution and Portland Timbers. He’s now a business finance major at Columbia U.

Victor starts the service with his accordion with Piazzola like reflections.

Our Gospel this morning is Mark 8: 31-38. Our theme today is Pathways: Where are we going? Do we take the easy way?

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Where are we going?

Lent. A journey back to we are called to be….Wilderness. Pathways. Where are we going?

We’ve been getting our story a little out of chronology. Just three weeks ago, we had the Transfiguration, and to fully understand that we looked at this story, which came right before. At that point, and we’ll come back to this, we saw that Jesus’ understanding of where he was going to be the cross. And Jerusalem. And that led to his shining moment.  The brightest shining moment in Mark’s gospel.

Today we’re looking at direction. And temptation. Why does he say, get behind me Satan to Peter?  Because Peter wants a different destination. Anywhere but the cross. And for Jesus, to hear that from one of his inner circle, his closest friends, was tempting. It’s exactly because he doesn’t want to go there that Jesus gets angry. Because Peter is suggesting he take the easy road.

Though they’re not listed in Mark, Satan’s temptations in Luke and Matthew are all good things…

1.     People are hungry. Starving. Turn stones to bread.

2.     You want people to follow you. Do a big magic trick, leap from the temple.  The angels will save you. Who wouldn’t be impressed?

3.     You want to get rid of the Romans. You know how to rule. You can make it all right. Just play along with me. Those kingdoms are mine to give.

Three easy roads. Three short cuts.

I’m intrigued by the Satan here. Jesus never says those kingdoms aren’t his to give. This isn’t a devil of the underworld with pitchfork and horns. Not a Hades. He’s very much of this world. And very much in control. And seemingly in league with God getting Jesus ready for what’s next. (I just can’t figure out whether JK Simmons plays Satan or God. )

Do you remember the Last temptation of Christ? Movie or book? The greatest temptation for Jesus was to retire with Mary Magdalene, have children and live an ordinary life.  In the end, he realizes that is not his path.

And Jesus knows it’s got to go through the cross.  To gain the world….and lose your soul…those words have haunted me most of my adult life. I wrestle with that always.

We’re watching the cross daily as ISIS massacres a 2000 year old Assyrian Christian community, and destroys the artifacts of one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures.  Is that what we have to go through?

Think of last week’s Oscar movie  stories:

Stephen Hawking and his ravaged body, only given two years to live…

Alan Turing breaking the Nazi code, himself broken because of his sexual orientation

Alice Howland, body fine but losing her mind, finally too late to chose her own death

I grew up a classic Presbyterian with no crosses because you know, he rose, that cross is empty…. I remember New Mexico. Rough hewn cottonwood crosses with twisted, tortured bodies. Then I got it…the one on the cross was them.  They saw themselves there, a savior who had lived their life..

Doesn’t need to be dramatic.  We each of us have our own crosses to bear. Some heavier than others. But all of us have our own…(What’s yours?)…and Jesus’ witness is, you got to go through the cross, not over, under or around…

Because only then, when you have gone beyond,  conquered fear, are you truly free…

Jesus had two seemingly contradictory words for us …

1.     Pick up your cross and follow me

2.     I came so that you might have life and have it abundantly.  Sometimes I feel our Presbyterian culture is more cross than abundant life.

But then maybe the word is the cross is the way to abundant life..(I’m seeing JK Simmons again…)

It means not being afraid. Of taking risks.  What were Jesus’ first two miracles?

The wedding at Cana…changed water into wine. In fact the best wine; saved  for last .

And then feeding 5000…based on the data at hand ,it was a truly bad decision to even try….but….there were 12 baskets left over….

So hard to tell which hard decision we are called to make…that’s why we need each other on this journey.  Let us help each other find the right road, not the easy one. And allow joy to enter our lives as we go.

We share communion. Sing and say our Amens. Service over.
The Session meets to review a contract with Mark.

Tonight is our night to serve another meal at the homeless shelter.

Now out into the cold.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

First Sunday in Lent: Into the wilderness


The first Sunday of Lent. Pat and Larry are getting the sanctuary ready. Pat has prepared a beautiful table.
Pat's table
We’ve chosen as our theme Pathways: Into the wilderness and out again. And this Sunday, the first, is Into the Wilderness.     

We begin with my chant, Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within my soul . And then  this week’s prequel, Genesis 9: 8-17, and we all sing:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water the fire next time

Pharoah’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep.

O Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan, O Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan

Pharoah’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep.

Jeremy has written a response for Psalm 25: 1-10, Make me to know your ways, O LORD;  teach me your paths.  And then the story of Jesus being driven into the wilderness (Mark 1: 9-15) followed by Lord Who Throughout these Forty Days. And then it’s time for reflection.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. In this day of black lives matter, it’s important to remember.

I saw the movie Wild the other night …it’s the story of a woman Cheryl Strayed,  who seeks to find herself after a divorce by hiking the 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Oregon. When she has accomplished her journey she says:

 What if I forgave myself? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

It’s a great example of our almost annual movie ventures into the wilderness as a place of challenge, testing, and yes, redemption. Wild was this year’s  127 Hours where James Franco amputated his arm after getting stuck in a crevasse.

There is something about the wilderness that draws us.

Our doorway into the wilderness this morning is  through the story of Jesus in the wilderness. Begins with his baptism…if it sounds familiar, we had this same passage just a few weeks ago…January 11th, on Baptism of Jesus Sunday. And there’s that same voice we  heard  last week on Transfiguration Sunday, This is my child, the beloved, listen to him…and this week You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Notice that he sees the heavens torn apart, Jesus and no one else sees that’s an almost  violent tone…

And notice that it is the same Spirit that drives him out for this period of testing…of challenge…like hikers Cheryl Strayed or Aron Ralston.

There Jesus will be tempted by Satan…there will be wild beasts…and angels waited on him…

We have no details on Jesus’ temptations in Mark. It’s a simple story.

Our prequel was the story of Noah…40 days and nights of rain. Then there is Moses and children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Both of these are present in Jesus’ 40 days..In the wilderness, the children of Israel became a people..In the wilderness, what you really encounter is yourself…We have 40 days..the traditional giving up something  is a way of stripping down, a way of experiencing the simplicity of the desert metaphorically. Where event he tiniest of flowers appear more beautiful, cactus flowers burst into bloom and vanish soon.

It’s kind of like the spring training that Jesus needs before his ministry season begins. We can use it in a similar way.

Someone once said it’s not giving up something, it’s taking on something…taking on  a discipline.. a way of being conscious, mindful, intentional about what we do…about our daily decisions…

(Back in Pittsburgh, it was the season of fish fries….another Catholic church every Friday night. When I was a kid in school, fish sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, cheese ravioli…)

So today let us imagine our wilderness, imagine your wilderness, step into it..and we will journey alone…and together.

We sing I want Jesus to walk with me for our prayers…all along my pilgrim journey…

And Jeremy and I sing Farther along… and we bring it back at the end of the service.

Tempted and tried, we're oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong

When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year

Farther along we'll know all about it
Farther along we'll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We'll understand it all, by and by

Faithful 'til death, said our loving Master
A few more days to labor and wait
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep through the beautiful gates

                                                         Farther along...

Pat and Leila
After service, the session meets. Some options still alive. Others not. There are difficult days ahead. Some are hopeful. Some are weary. We’ve just stepped into the wilderness. Again.
A New Mexican Cross