Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday Stirrings

The music stirred my heart and awakened my mind. A blue jay sends out a mating call; a response from a searching mate. The rites of spring had, finally, begun. Chickadees doing a home inspection on one of our backyard birdhouses, making a place for new life to live. The rising sun’s warmth fills my living, the light which will melt the snow and bring forth the snow-pea.  Something new, but something as old as the earth, is happening.

Holy Spirit,
giving life to all,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping away their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep. (Hildegard of Bingen, translated by Stephen Mitchell, from “inward/outward”)

“Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf of spring-time.” (Martin Luther)  And in every heart today is stirring new hope. Some new thing is happening to you today, do you not perceive it?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Maybe You Can Come Over for Supper"

When the church works best it seems to happen when we accept the invitation to come together for a meal.  Sometimes we are the “inviters.” Sometimes we are the “invitees.” Which is it harder for you to do, to invite someone to join you for a special meal or to accept the invitation of another?

I was sitting at my desk working away at the ordinary tasks of the day when the phone rang. The funeral home was looking for a Reformed minister to help a family who had lost their teenage daughter after a brief hospitalization.  Over the next days leading up to the funeral I got to know the parents and grandparents. We did our best to find a way to grieve their tragic loss. Following the Saturday funeral service I met for the first time the youngest brother.  As we walked out of the chapel and toward the fellowship hall he asked if I was joining them for the meal. I told him that I would like to but that I had to return to church to work on Sunday’s sermon. He asked about my church, and his dad suggested that maybe his son would like to come see me at church one day.  I supported that and invited the boy to come see us.  The boy said to me, “Well, maybe you can come over to my house for supper.” Maybe I could.

The question is always this: on whose terms will we share the meal? How important is it to me? We fail to be the church when we evaluate invitations from our perspective, based on our priorities and schedules.  Being the church, being in community is, in the end, about finding the heart and courage to say “yes” to the invitation to come over for supper. The work of the church happens by accepting the innocent invitations to supper at a new friend’s house. But is also happens when we accept our Lord’s invitation.  The work of the church happens in community, gathered together over kitchen tables and the Lord’s Table.  To accept the invitation to both suppers is the essence of being the church.

Maybe there is someone who will invite you to supper this week, someone for whom you can go and be Jesus. Will you go?  Maybe you could come join Jesus for Supper at his house on Thursday. Will you come?  Do you have the heart and the courage to say “yes” to the invitation to be the church?

"Someone's Got to be the Pope" Pt. 3

And that someone is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  Known as “Father Jorge” in his home nation of Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio is now Pope Francis, the new voice of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.  The new Pope starts the last job he will have at age 76. I am a big fan of the idea of “finishing well”.  I think everyone should look for some task, some calling in the last years of their lives that allows them to finish their vocational life well.  When we retire from our “day job” we should all have some plan for how we will finish out our years in some service that transforms places or people or both.  I am only 58 as I write this, but as I think about the model of Pope Francis I think there can be no more exciting prospect than at age 76 having the health, physical and mental, to take on the one of the most significant calling of my life.  May God grant us all that grace.

But there is so much more that is important about this story.  I prayed, with billions of others I am sure, that the Holy Spirit would choose someone surprising, someone that would speak well for Christ in this most visible pulpit.  I think that prayer was answered.  A friend said to me that with the eyes of the world trained on the Vatican balcony, there would be no better opportunity to glorify God, to show that the Spirit is active and the Word is alive.  Consider this: the man took the bus instead of his limo back to his hotel. The man cut back the “adoration” of his former peers so he could get the throngs waiting to see him out of the rain sooner rather than later.  The ancient prophet Micah (6:8) asks what the LORD requires of us, and the answer is: (1) to act justly-check; (2) to love mercy-check; (3) to walk humbly with your God-check.  Really, look at the background of Pope Francis and how can you not see that this is a man of God who is a model for all leaders of God’s people.  He gave up a palace for an apartment while living in Argentina.  He chose the name of a saint who renounced wealth to serve the poor.  Pope Francis did his ministry by personally visiting working class slums.  He is described by those who know him as having a very strong commitment to social justice.  The man is a sinner saved by grace through faith, but he is a good one.

And, perhaps of even greater significance for me is that he is a Jesuit, a sort of rebel band of priests, described as “powerful and  controversial” by church observers.  The Jesuits are also known for their missionary work, spreading the Good News.  I sense in this man that the Spirit is ready to change the Roman Catholic Church, and  thus, I hope, create openings for ecumenical efforts to fulfill the great prayer of Jesus that his people would be “one” for the glory of God. (John 17:23).  May Jesus’ prayer be ours.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Someone's Got to be the Pope, Part 2

Whom is God calling to lead the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics? As the 115 eligible Cardinals get set to enter their conclave the world has set about trying to guess the answer to that question.  I wonder if God is listening. There are 115 men (of the 208 Cardinals in the world) who stand before God and the world eligible to lead a denomination which represents about one-half of all Christians. All of the candidates are men under 80 years old.  In a few days one of them will be have the most bully of pulpits in the world.

The concept of “call” goes back to at least Abram in Genesis.  God called Abram and his family to go where God would show them.  Abram didn’t choose God’s mission for Abram. God chose Abram for God’s mission. That distinction makes all the difference. The problem is that we, today, do not hear God quite so clearly.  I don’t think the problem is that God has stopped speaking; in fact I know that God continues to communicate with God’s created ones.  But, it certainly seems that we have done our best to remove the mystery from the concept of a religious calling.  If you read the news articles which have led up to the conclave you would have a hard time knowing that God is anywhere in the process at all.  Secular writers weigh the political factors of geography, population, language, even posture.  There seems to be a good deal of concern that the next pope have an upright posture and a nice smile, while being able to relate directly to the 67% of the denomination which resides in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Hence the popularity of one Cardinal who is fluent in 6 languages. Peggy Noonan writes that the next pope should be a man “who can greet the world with a look of pleasure on his face….” Rather than moving ahead in a “bent posture”, as if bearing the weight of the world, the next pope should be “joyous anyway.” (WSJ 3.9.13).

The process of discerning God’s call upon any leader has the potential of turning into the equivalent of a political campaign.  Whether the “search team” is a mixture of congregation members or the appointed Cardinals, the risk is that those doing the selecting vote with a specific idea of the type of person they seek for the office to be filled.  The problem with that approach is that it seems to leave so little room for the Holy Spirit to work.  From what I can tell, God always saves his most exciting work for the men and woman who seem least qualified for the job.  Read the stories of the boy David and the prostitute Rahab to get a flavor for my point.  God doesn’t choose based on the criteria humans use. So, I hope to be utterly amazed at God’s choice for the next pope.  It matters to the world. It matters to God. Pray with me that God’s vote counts most.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Someone's Got to be the Pope Pt. 1

Benedict XVI is no longer the Pope.  That this happened by his decision and not by death makes this event not only an enormously historic one for the church he has faithfully served, but also for him personally, as a human being.  While I am not a Roman Catholic, I respect the historic office of the Pope as one which has provided spiritual leadership to billions of people across the centuries.  I do not of course subscribe to all the tenets which establish the authority of the office a pope holds, but that doesn’t mean that I do not think the man who serves in that office is not important. It makes a difference who serves in what the Roman Catholic church teaches to be the office first held by St. Peter 2000 years ago.  I have difficulty thinking of another position in life that makes a more significant claim to its historic importance.

Which is what makes the decision of the man who was Benedict XVI so fascinating.  He moves from being the authoritative voice for over a billion souls to being, in his own words,  a  “pilgrim on the last stop on this earth.”  I do not know what all went into his decision to “renounce” his office and to become a praying pilgrim, but what I see in that decision is the humble recognition that our work does not define us.   Our vocation, as opposed to our occupation, is what is important for everyone who desires to serve God.  Our “calling” is to serve God;  to please what one writer famously describes as  “the audience of One.”  Retirement from any position, even from the wearing of “the shoes of the fisherman”, neither changes who we are nor does it diminish our value as human beings.  We work to earn a living, but in the end we are all just pilgrims on our way home, on our way to a glorious home that is beyond human comprehension.  It is the recognition of this reality, that our earthly occupation does not define our value to God, which perhaps ultimately informed the retirement decision of the man who is no longer Pope.  I wish the man a peaceful pilgrimage, that he may “finish well.”

But, someone’s got to be the pope. While he will not be “my pope”,  someone will be called to speak to a world-wide audience as the most recognized of religious voices. And it is for that reason that I will pray for the Cardinals as they assemble to discover whom God has called to as leader of the world’s largest “denomination”, representing  over half of the Christians in the world. My prayer will be that the man whom God is calling will remember that the most important audience he serves occupies the only seat in the house.  What matters most for the successor to Benedict XVI is not what the world thinks of his work, but what God thinks of it. And so it is for all of us.