2014+Isaiah+61-+Garment+of+Praise - https://www.bryngillette.com/store/crown-of-beauty-isaiah-61-nnkt3

Always Longing – Lenten Reflection (22)

Scripture for Today: Isaiah 60-62

Our final reflection from the Hebrew Bible was written by the prophet Isaiah. In this reading we find the people of God in very similar mindset to where they started in Genesis, longing to return to God’s favor. This theme of longing threads through the Hebrew Bible: in Genesis it was the garden of Eden, in Exodus the Promised Land, in Judges the longing for a way of life aligned with God, in Job the longing for vindication from God and in the prophets, longing for freedom from oppression and exile.

Always longing.

Although the context is different, this sense of longing continues today: longing for a new job, longing for an end to politics of hate and fear, longing for healthcare to be affordable and available to all, longing for women to walk the streets without the fear of assault, longing to know God is near during heartbreak, longing for an end to racism and xenophobia.

Always longing.

In this time of longing Isaiah carries a clear message for his hearers: prepare the way, your salvation is coming, God will shine upon you and your people shall be redeemed. God is coming and there will be redemption. So they prepared.

Always longing.

This promise of radical hope is bolstered by the idea that redemption will be unlike anything ever previously experienced: the poor will receive good news, the captives will be granted liberty, those who mourn will be comforted, and the prisoners will be released. The powerful will be knocked down and God’s people will be restored to dignity.

Always longing.

When will redemption come for us?

When Jesus comes, he promises a way of redemption centered on humbling ourselves to be in right-relationship with one another. He asks that we drop our judgmental glare and get down with the sinners and the saints. He turns away from purity codes that elevated certain classes and he lifts up a standard of abundant love. But it’s not what we expected.

Always longing.

We don’t want healthcare for all — we want to guarantee we have the best healthcare available. We don’t want fair wages for all if it means our own wages will be reduced. We don’t want gender equity if it means equity for non-binary and trans people as well. We don’t want a generous maternity leave if it means the same generosity is also extended to those who choose not to carry children. We don’t want redemption if it means that we have to let go of our power.

Always longing.

We are asked to learn to be last. This is especially true for those who are in places of privilege or power. We must accept that God’s reign requires us to follow rather than lead. We must give up decision-making roles and trust that others have an insight into God’s dream. We must stop striving to be the best and instead do what we can, trusting that others will fill in the rest. We must stop chasing freedom through oppressive ways of being.

Always longing.

God’s version of redemption is something we have never seen. It is a life full of freedom, joy, and liberation and it will challenge our impulse to hold tightly to what we believe about redemption. God’s vision requires that we, like the Israelites and the people of God throughout the ages, become willing to let go of our own ways of maintaining power and instead trust that God might be up to something far more wonderful that we could ever imagine.

Otherwise we will remain.

Always longing.

Prayer: Open me to your dream of redemption

Reflection: Where do I sense longing in my life? How might I open myself to what God is doing? How do my power and privilege contrast with God’s dreams of justice?

Art: Garment of Praise” by Bryn Gillette

Resources: How to Be Last: Towards a Practical Theology for Privileged People by Christena Cleveland – who is the keynote speaker at ECM’s annual meeting! Come!

Elena Hopsyu - Psalm 147 http://www.elenahopsu.com/spiritual.html

The Public Heart – Lenten Reflection (16)

Scripture for Today: Psalm 146, 147

Yesterday we sought to understand God more deeply by reflecting on David’s prayer to God. Today we turn our attention to the public arena of Israel’s liturgical service. Similar to David’s praise, we can further our understanding  of God by exploring what this liturgy reveals about Israel’s communal understanding of God.

Psalm 146 praises God’s commitment to bring justice to the oppressed: two-thirds of the verses praise God for being with the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the prisoner. In this hymn of praise people celebrate God’s constant upheaval of power structures.

Alternatively, Psalm 147 focuses on the praise of God for strength, order, and understanding. The last half of the hymn claims how God has blessed Israel, and, in effect, enabled their current power structure.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier prophetic theologians of our time, insists that we recognize these distinct types of praise, as they have drastically different impacts on our relationship with God.

If we offer praise to God that recognizes God’s commitment to lift up the lowly and to care for those who have been forgotten, we develop a readiness for everything (including ourselves) to change. We can see this readiness at work in the raw vulnerability of 12-Step programs, which capture this abandonment and trust in God’s healing by centering recovery stories in their liturgy.

However, singing to a God who has established us as a great nation and will maintain a sense of order in our midst makes us reticent to disturb this order. A hyper-example of this sort of liturgy happens in “prosperity gospel” churches where the liturgy revolves around the idea that God will bless you wildly if you only obey and trust in God’s power. This culture can lead to an unwillingness to question any authority, clerical or political.

Brueggemann encourages us to avoid this type of complacency by keeping stories of renewal and rescue at the center of our worship services. Let us preach and sing of the ways God has healed us and is working to heal our world today. Let us tell of a God that is always making things new. Let us stir our hearts to be open to what such a God might do in our world today.

Prayer: God you are always moving; keep us open to what you might do.

Reflection: Reflect on the worship services you attend. Do the songs and teachings lift up God’s ongoing transformation of our world, or reminders to trust in God’s provision?  How could you incorporate the telling of redemption stories into shared worship?

Art: Elena Hopsyu – Psalm 147

Mordechai and Esther - http://www.yoramraanan.com/between-us-c1ov

Unprecedented Times – Lenten Reflection (13)

Scripture for Today: Esther 2-4, 8

“We are living in unprecedented times.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Nobody knows how to respond to the current situation.”
“I cannot keep up with the tragedies.”

I hear these refrains often as people grapple to make sense of the constant onslaught of violence in the United States today.  It seems like every day there is news of a physical or legal attack on people’s safety. Yes, it is overwhelming.

That said, immense suffering is not a new phenomenon. We have witnessed genocide in Rwanda, the ongoing occupation in Palestine, the Holocaust, the existence of slavery and apartheid, gang warfare in Central America — and these are just my quickest of thoughts. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of immense suffering or “unprecedented times.”

Our heroine for today, Esther, lived an unprecedented story. As an orphan and a Jew she was an unlikely candidate to become queen. However, due to her beauty and the generosity of her uncle Mordecai, Esther is chosen to be part of an ancient version of The Bachelor where women audition for the role of queen. She performs very well during her time with the king; she “won his favor and devotion so he set the royal crown on her head (2:17).”

As queen, Esther deals with an unimaginable situation. Out of loyalty to the Jewish God, her beloved uncle Mordecai refuses to bow to the king, sparking the decree for the entire Jewish people to be murdered.

Esther’s first instinct is to use the protection of her crown to hide from the murder of the Jews. And, rightfully so: if she reveals her Jewish identity it is likely she will die. However, Esther’s uncle reminds her that she is still yoked to her people. She will not escape violence just because she lives in the palace. Mordecai goes on to say that perhaps Esther was called for just such a time as this.

It seems to me that three truths inspired by Esther’s story apply to us today:

  • we are yoked to one another
  • despite privilege, we cannot escape violence
  • perhaps we were called to a time such as this

Yes, the times are unprecedented. But why were born if not to shape our times? Why were we created if not to follow in Esther’s example by offering ourselves as a voice of intercession and pleading for justice and mercy? Why were we created if not to give our voices and resources to stop the violence of this very time?

Prayer: Grant me the courage of Esther.

Reflection: In what ways am I offering my voice towards ending violence? Are there places where I’m reticent to act? How might I begin acting?

Art: Mordechai and Esther” – by Yoram Raanan

If you are looking for ways to work towards the end of senseless gun violence, here are a few suggestions I adapted from this post by Danican Allen. 

  • Join the March for Our Lives Movement by supporting students in the March 14th National Walkout or attending the March for Our Lives, locally or in D.C. on March 24th. For more about these two actions email: natalie@episcopalcitymission.org.
  • Act on information teenagers are providing about their own, or a friend’s, mental illness.
  • Mentoring, tutoring, fostering, adopting, volunteering on a suicide prevention line.
  • Serving in any arena where under-reached youth are crying out for help.
  • Lobby for stricter laws, or broader healthcare, or greater awareness.
  • Donate towards school resources and equipment that may prevent another tragedy.
  • Donate time to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, or violent tendencies, or the resources available to report potential threats.
  • Respond when there are warning signs on social media, or concerns posted by classmates.
  • Reach out to the family members and offer financial or emotional support.
  • Connect with groups, like the Sandyhook Promise, that work tirelessly for safer schools.