Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 21, 2014
First Christian Church
Before we go into today’s text, some backstory. Joseph was the son of Jacob who happened to be the grandson of Abraham. He was the youngest of Jacob’s sons. Being an only child, I’ve never totally understood sibling rivarly, but this is definitely a textbook case. Jacob doted on his youngest, keeping him from doing the really hard work. He even gave him a fancy robe, something his brothers didn’t get.
Of course, his older brothers hated their little brother. But they didn’t react by whining, they wanted to kill Joseph. Ruben, one of the brothers was able to disuade his brothers from offing Joseph. Instead, Joseph was sold into slavery and was soon on his way to Egypt.
This is where we find Joseph at the start of chapter 39. Joseph was sold as a slave to the house of Potiphar. He has gone from a favored son to a slave. But as the passage notes, the Lord with Joseph. He ends up in the house of a high-ranking Egyptian official. After a time, Joseph went from being a common slave to running the household. He went from working in the elements to working inside and managing the affairs of the household. Joseph was so good at what he did, that his boss completely trusted him with everything.
So far, Joseph’s story sounds very much like a rags-to-riches story. Our society loves these kind of stories. We love hearing about someone who was down and out and some how improves himself despite the challenges set in his way. We love these stories because they talk about someone who through hard work is able to pull himself up by his bootstrap and succeed.
Now, when you hear these stories, most of the time we never talk about what happens after they “make it.” We want to believe that the pinnacle of success is constant, but of course, nothing ever stays the same. We can go from making $100K a year to losing a job and then making $24K in a lower paying job. Things can go from good to bad in a second.
So, Joseph was doing well. God was truly with Joseph. But was the good time a sign of Joseph being faithful, of being rewarded by God? But would God still be with Joseph when things took a turn south? Read More…
Note: I need to say that this blog post is NOT an endorsement of corporal punishment. The post is reflecting the some of the more complex emotions on this sensitive issue.
When the news first broke about Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being indicted for physically abusing his child, my “official” belief was that what he he did crossed a line. Parents can discipline children, but if the photos that have been shown are true, well, this was way beyond a little pat on the butt.
But deep down, I felt an odd feeling- knowing that sooner or later, the issue would move to talking about corporal punishment and what role it should have in parenting if any.
I have to say, that if I ever have children I’m pretty sure I would not spank them. I just don’t think that this line of punishment works anymore.
That said, when people start talking about how horrible it is to spank children and what horrible parents these people are, I get angry at the those people. Read More…
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Christian Church
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I loved when we went on vacation. We almost always drove to where we were going: Ohio to some of the amusement parks, Northern Michigan or Louisiana to visit my Dad’s relatives.
For me, the excitement would start several days before we left. Mom would drive downtown to the local AAA office to get maps and guidebooks for the trip. The most exciting thing was when the salesperson would put together the Triptik. If you or someone you know was a member of AAA, you know what a Triptik is. The name is a play on words, because the collection of maps looked like a triptych, a painting that was divided in three sections. One the salesperson had gathered the necessary maps they came back with a red marker and drew the suggested route to our destination, showing where there might be construction and the like.
It was probably those trips to AAA that started my love of maps. I could spend hours looking at all the road maps that we collected over the years. I remember during the 80s, buying a Rand McNally Atlas of the United States and Canada just for the heck of it. An exciting time for me was paging through the states and seeing all the highways as they crisscrossed each other. Yes, I was, I am a map geek.
I know these days that I can use the map app on my phone and I have to get to certain places, but it just isn’t the same as getting that oversized Rand McNally map and just study it.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I like maps. I’ve loved travelling on the highways and as a little kid, I would internalize where my parents drove and was able to repeat them back when they got lost. I like to know where I am going.
Most people like to use a map to get to their desired destination. It just makes sense to know who to get someplace. No one likes being lost.
Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2014
First Christian Church
For the next few weeks we are testing out a new lectionary. Since I’ve been here, we have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, which tries to get you through the major parts of the Bible in three years. My alma mater, Luther Seminary has devised an alternate lectionary which is called the Narrative Lectionary. It also tries to get you through the Bible, but it’s in four years and not three. The main thing about this lectionary is that it looks at the Bible as one large story of God interaction with God’s creation. The story starts today with what I would call the prologue of God’s story.
So today we start with a real familiar story. Many of us here are aware of this story. Maybe we were told this story in Sunday School as a youth. Maybe you read a storybook that had Noah and the ark. Maybe you sang that song “God said to Noah…” Whatever it is, the result is the same, we have this image of an ark on the waters with a smiling Noah. The animals also seemed to have smiles on their faces and the little ship bobbled along the makeshift seas. It’s a nice and pleasant picture.
That’s the story we think we know. And then you actually read the story. The earth is this horrible place and God is upset at what God sees. God regrets making creation and decides to hit the reset button. So, this flood wasn’t something that just happened, it happen because God is angry and grieving over the creation that has gone astray. We see God judging all of creation with a massive flood that kills everyone-men, women and children save a remnant of creation.
And then there’s the animals on the ark. In those children’s pictures, we see all these happy animals and a happy Noah. Okay, I’m a city kid, but even I know if you have things like elephants and sheep and horses and cows you end up with poor Noah and his family living in smelly boat cleaning up all the poop produced by the animals. I don’t imagine Noah had a smile on his face after having to clean up after the elephants.
The story of our youth is not a nice sweet story. It’s a disturbing story. God judges creation and the body count is more than any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
But as hard as it is to come to terms with a violent, judgemental God of fury, we would only have part of the story if we only focused on the flood. Now it is important to understand that God is a just God. God doesn’t look at sin and not care. The sinfulness of creation breaks God’s heart. But the flood, God as judge is only half of the story and it would be wise that we don’t focus only on the flood- God is a just God, but God is also a loving God and even in the midst of destruction, God shows that God brings salvation and promises to do relate to creation in a new way.
This passage starts with the whys of Noah building the ark and ends with the flood ending and God speaking to Noah and his family. They would be the instruments of salvation as they would repopulate the earth along with the animals.
But that is not the important part of the story. It’s what happens next that matters. God tells Noah and his family that God will set a “bow in the clouds.” A bow, a rainbow will grace the heavens as a reminder that God would never again destroy creation. Maybe in modern parlance God is placing a giant post-it note in the heaven to remind God that God would not unleash such violence on creation ever again. God made a promise to creation; a promise that would come with a cost. You see, creation didn’t just stop breaking God’s heart. At some point people would start being evil again and God would become angry at the injustice going on. God might want to send judgement, but God made a promise, a promise to keep. What we will start to see from here on out is God trying to reconcile with God’s creation in a different way. God will use a specific people, the Jews as an example to the world to return to God. Later on, God uses God’s chosen people to bring for God incarnate, Jesus who would bring salvation to all of creation.
The symbol of the rainbow is about hope. Out of the sadness of creation comes a sign that God is still there, walking with us instead of abandoning us.
The rainbow has always been about hope. After the storms, there is a sign that God remembers.
Most of you here remember the big floods of 1997. My husband Daniel lived in Grand Forks at the time which we all remember was inundated with water from the swollen Red River. A city of 50,000 had to grab what they could from their homes and go. This was the largest peacetime evacuation in modern American history which was suceeded eight years later when New Orleans was evacuated during Hurrican Katrina. So there is water everywhere in the city. To add insult to injury, a fire starts in downtown that would damage about 11 buildings. So here is all this water and in the midst of it is a fire. The fire trucks couldn’t get through the flood waters and even if they did, the couldn’t use the fire hydrants since the city’s water system had failed. You can’t get anymore absurd than that.
There is a picture that I saw from that time that I believe was taken by a photographer from the Grand Forks Herald, which won a Pulitzer for their work even as their own building was flooded and burnt. The picture has smoke from the buildings and flood waters everywhere. But there’s something else there. It’s a rainbow. Daniel remembers that picture. It was a sign of hope. Come hell or highwater (in this case literally) hope was possible. This was not the end.
Over the next few weeks will talk a bit more about God keeping God’s promise of hope. Just remember when we face the hurts of the world, know that God has and is suffering with you and that this pain is not the last word. There is a rainbow around the corner. Thanks be to God. Amen.
It was a beautiful late summer day in Minnesota. My husband Daniel decided this was a great day for a walk…through a cemetery.
He knows how to make a guy feel loved.
We went to down to Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. It’s the big cemetery in the area and has some of the state’s most famous people hanging out. A number of Pilsburys are buried there, as is the late Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and one daughter who were all killed in a plane crash 12 years ago.
I have to say I enjoyed the walk. It was interesting to see these burial stones of people who lived long lives and some not so long.
The thing is, if I had been asked a few years ago if I wanted to walk around the final resting place of thousands of folks, I would have passed. It was Daniel that made the difference.
When make trips to South Dakota to visit an aunt and other relatives, we have always stopped by his mother’s and father’s grave. They in separate church cemeteries only a few miles apart. I remember on the day of his dad’s funeral, his sister, brother and nephews went to his mom’s grave, and got a blanket and spread it in front of her grave. None of this was disrespectful; it was honoring one parent on the day that the other parent is being laid to rest.
Daniel helped me see something I should have seen a long time ago. We all die. We will all end up at a place like this. Death doesn’t have to be scary; it’s just something that at least on this side of heaven, just is.
I’m less scared of death because of Daniel. A few years ago, my Aunt Nora died after a battle with Alzheimer’s. I visited her in the hospice, but didn’t go to the funeral in Michigan. When Daniel and I visited Michigan a few months later, I needed to go to the cemetery to see where my aunt was buried. We found the gravesite and I felt a sense of completeness. A few years back, I wouldn’t have done this, but now I had to visit, to say hello, if that makes sense.
Death is present in all of our lives. Our beloved pets die, our parents die, and we die. If we can accept that we are finite and that we will end up at a cemetery someday, maybe we can make death less scary- and maybe we will learn to live the life we have left.
BTW, please read this great post on death and life by David McElroy.
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24, 2014
First Christian Church
I’ve always had an interest in superheroes. Which is kind of odd, because I tend not to buy comic books or as they are now called, graphic novels. I know friends that have boxes of comics from years past, but that’s not me. No, the way that I found out about superheroes was through TV, specifically, the SuperFriends- a light-hearted take on the Justice League which ran on ABC at various times in the 1970s starting in 1973. Then it was watching the live-action series “Wonder Woman” and the “Incredible Hulk.”
In the years following college, I would catch an animated version of the X-Men and during the seminary I was loved watching Batman Beyond, a futuristic take on on the Dark Knight. And yes, I still watch superheroes in the movies and on television. I watch shows like “Arrow” which is a take on the comic book hero, the Green Arrow; Young Justice which focuses on the sidekicks of famous heroes, and well, there are more, but I think that’s enough for you all to know for now.
I think that I am fascinated by superheroes because the stories can sometimes take on things that are taking place in the wider culture. I like the X-Men because the story makes these superheroes are not treated like superheroes by the wider culture. In fact, they are seen as threats hence why they are referred to as mutants. Since I was coming out during that time period, I could see X-men as an allegory to how LGBT persons are accepted in society- or not. Comics can also allude to the changing demographics of a society. Earlier this month, Marvel Comics announced that the next Captain America was going to be African American. The character is currently one of the current Captain America’s superhero associates, Falcon. Falcon was considered one of Marvel’s first black heroes when he was introduced in the late 1960s and assume the identity of superhero that embodies the American ideal represents the changes take place in the United States.
Superheroes tend to have aliases. Sometimes they want to keep their other identity a secret. Batman was actually billionaire Bruce Wayne. When Superman wasn’t saving the world, he was Clark Kent, a journalist. Very few people around them actually know of their secret identities. I think comic books and television use a ton of suspended disbelief in thinking that a mask around people eyes will prevent them from knowing who they are, but for some reason people buy it.
Because these heroes didn’t tell people who they were, people became curious. Who are these people? Is it someone they know? What was it that people said after meeting the Lone Ranger: who was that masked man? Regular folk just want to meet their hero and find out about them. There are some that see them as a threat to society and they want to expose them before they cause more trouble.
Superheroes can remind people of how we relate to God: a mysterious powerful creature that seems to want the best for us. Some just want to meet God and learn more about God, while others see God as a threat to their way of living. Read More…