from Pastor's desK
March 24, 2023
This week we get to hear about Jesus marching right up to Lazarus’ grave and raising him from the dead.
All right, maybe it’s not simple. Actually, it’s kind of complicated. Jesus delays. He weeps. His disappoints his friends. He confuses his disciples. He says things that don’t make sense in a normal conversation. But through all that, Lazarus walks out of the grave, a living man. “Unbind him, and let him go,” Jesus says.
This is the seventh of the signs Jesus performs, and perhaps the most personal, personal because it’s about death, the most personal of all experiences, and personal because it’s about friends and love and family. No one in this story is a random person on the side of the road, but rather someone close to Jesus, someone he loves, and it’s also the last sign he gives before his own death. There’s a song about how the crucifixion causes me to tremble, but I wonder if, in any part of this story, love and loss caused Jesus to tremble.
One of the things Jesus says to us is to not be afraid. It’s like saying not to breathe. The power of death is awesome and almost complete, and it’s always on its way. It is the final separation from the ones you love—you seek them everywhere only to know they are never to be found anywhere. Even your memory of the ones you love gets them wrong somehow. The only place left for us to find them is in the heart of God, in the one who looks to the grave and says, “Come out.”
So come hear this story in church this Sunday with us.
See you soon,
P.S.: We still need one or two people to help with a work project tomorrow morning at 10. Email Jane if you can come!
P.P.S.: The Church Council and Cornerstone Committee have recommended updating the worship mask policy. For now, masks are recommended, but not required, until the community risk level becomes high again.
March 17, 2023
We have a super long and fun story about Jesus healing the blind this Sunday—the blind man gets in a lot of trouble just because he got healed. The story is a bit like the movie Brazil meets SNL meets the Bible. And in a great ironic twist, John calls this a sign: a sign which we are still trying to figure out today.
I read something once about how to secure nuclear waste, and one of the problems the engineers face is signage that will make sense in 3000 years—in case, for instance, a horrible plague kills decimates the human population, and we forget about the nuclear waste and one day someone rediscovers it: how would they know to stay away and not explore? Can you think of a sign like that? It is both an interesting and necessary thought experiment, but yet, if you look at the trajectory of human civilization, the past and all its signs still speak to us. The question for us humans, for whom the generations rise and fall continually, is whether or not we will listen to what the past has to say to us, whether or not we will even want to do that.
Some of Cormac McCarthy’s novels often feature a character that holds a flame, the flame of knowledge and civilization or compassion, whatever it is that makes humans good, and harbors it and keeps it from danger. Even though I am not Cormac McCarthy’s biggest fan, I sometimes feel like that’s part of what the church does—we keep the flame of God’s love, hope for all creation, not just civilization, and we harbor it and tend it. We listen, as best we can, to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and we pray that the Spirit open our eyes, not only to see, but to understand the will of God. We pray that the Holy Spirit opens our hearts, not just to receive the Spirit, but to share in the world’s sufferings and fears, so that mourning can turn to dancing, weeping to laughter. And, hopefully, avoid all metaphorical nuclear waste sites, both metaphorical and literal.
See you soon,
March 10, 2023
Remember the last time you were really thirsty? Maybe it was after a long hike, or a long walk, or a hard work-out. Maybe it was at the beach on a hot day. I am not a soda drinker, but I was floating on a lake in an inner tube one Kansas summer, and my uncle asked if I wanted a Coke, and I suddenly realized I was really thirsty. So he threw me one, ice cold, and we floated on the lake in the hot sun drinking ice cold Cokes. It might be the last time I ever enjoyed a soda, but I think I was so dehydrated and fried by the sun that my body just needed all the sugar I could get—and there’s something wonderful about floating in water and drinking something cold when it’s hot.
How much we take for granted. It’s a wonder to be able to live in a city like New York, which has some of the best water in the world. I was told it’s the water that makes the bagels good here, and I can tell you from experience the NYC tap water is absolutely delicious. No taste of chlorine or alkali, just that crisp cool refreshment that the miracle of water is for us. But it took a long time for us to get here. I learned recently that it took decades after John Snow discovered cholera was transmitted through water for governments to begin regulating it, and publicizing the dangers of drinking water that has not been treated if it came from a dangerous source. The reluctance of corporations, utilities, and government to purify water is still astonishing: even to this day, we will hear of lead poisoning in water here in the United States and our cities. I don’t know why it’s so hard, but I have learned never to underestimate the inertia that comes with guaranteeing a public good.
When Clare and I lived in Tanzania, we visited a school north of the town where we were stationed, and we learned that the girls of the school (always the girls) had to literally climb up and down a cliff to fill their water buckets for the school, and then that water had to be boiled in order to be used. The cliff was a couple kilometers away from the school itself, so if you wanted a drink of water and there was none left from the day before, you had to walk a couple kilometers, climb down a cliff, fill your bucket, climb up a cliff without spilling too much, and walk a couple of kilometers back with the bucket on your head to prevent spilling water, make a fire, boil the water for some time, and then let it cool down. Then, and only then, could you have a drink of water that wouldn’t lodge some parasites in your intestines.
Jesus sits down at a well in the Gospel today, and when he tells the woman that anyone who drinks of his water will never go thirsty, she says, “Lord, give me this water, so I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She did not have a tap, or the benefit of water treatment plants, but had a something like a bucket and lot of walking back and forth. So she had every right to be excited—or perhaps she wasn’t. Perhaps she was just rolling her eyes at another big-talking man. And so this encounter is a fascinating one, the encounter of our spiritual needs and material needs. And yet I think we cannot meet one without meeting the other. Would you baptize a child in contaminated water? I can’t imagine it.
Lutheran theology insists that God always comes to human beings through means: through material things. Other people, the Word of God proclaimed, the Sacraments, because we are material creatures. We are embodied. One of the chief ways we love each other is to care for our own human ecology: our water, our air, our hands, our bodies. So when someone can’t get clean water, it is Christian to build a well, for both the builder and the one who is thirsty still needs that water that truly satisfies, which is the presence of Christ made real.
All who are thirsty, come!
March 3, 2023
As we continue on through Lent, you’ll notice that there’s a bit of change in our Gospel readings. This is Year A in the lectionary, which concentrates on Matthew, but for the remainder of Lent until Palm Sunday, our Gospel passages will come from John.
John is a tricky Gospel to read, since it is so different from the others. Of course, the others are different from each other, too: Mark wanted nothing but the facts, Matthew wanted to show Jesus in his Jewish context, and Luke wanted to employ the best historical methodology he could. But they all tried to tell plain story, differing in particulars but not in the way they tell the story. This is why Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptics: they look at things the same way.
John, however, is concerned with what things mean, and he often uses set pieces in his Gospel as symbols or signs. The symbols are easy to miss, and the signs can be hard to understand. As matter of fact, it’s a bit of a running joke both in Gospel of John and here at OSA that there is nothing more useless than a sign, since people never pay any attention to them. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all concerned with the literal proceeding of events, but John wants to say, “Yes, all that stuff happened, but here’s what it means.” And that means, for us, that we have to take a step back when we read John and figure out what the real purpose of the story is: is this a metaphor for baptism or the Eucharist? What does this passage signify? It’s a very different way of reading than we normally employ.
It took me a long time to get comfortable with this. Earlier in my life I thought the Gospel of John was boring, and to be honest, some parts are still a little boring. But once I realized that John was doing something very different than the others, I found it to be more moving and enlightening than I had before.
Reading the Bible is tough—some things make sense, some things are horrifying, and some things move your soul. And as you grow and age and change, sometimes the things that bored you become very important to you, and the things you found most meaningful become less important. This is what happens when you encounter Scripture—it always points us to the Living Word, our Savior, Jesus, who is more than a book. Still, every word of Scripture somehow forms what Martin Luther called the cradle of Christ, even when it’s hard to understand or written with an intention very different than ones we bring to it. So don’t worry too much about the contradictions, the inconsistencies, the baffling portions. I’ve come think of them as cantilevers, leaning on each other to support something more important than they are. It’s more important to understand what each part is doing and saying, and for those of you that like puzzles, John will be really fun and interesting.
Finally, these Lenten stories from John are long, but sometimes they’re funny. Don’t be surprised if you chuckle during church! So, I look forward to exploring them with you over the next few weeks.
See you soon!