A study for JNicodemus visiting Jesus - Henry Osawa Tanner https://www.wikiart.org/en/henry-ossawa-tanner/study-for-nicodemus-visiting-jesus-1899

Jesus and the Powerful: Lenten Reflection (34)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 19:1-10, John 3:1-21

When I was a little girl I had a bad habit of taking things without asking. I’d sneak a cookie before dinner, borrow my mom’s shoes without checking with her, and even sometimes take five dollars from my dad’s wallet.

Looking back, I can see that I was more afraid of hearing “no” than I was of getting caught. As a child, “no” is your first experience of rejection or feeling  unworthy of the request you made. Rather than risk being (so I feared) devalued, I snuck behind my parents’ backs to get what I wanted.

As I read the Gospel stories for today I saw this same experience of hesitation and fear in Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, and the Centurion. Their approach of Jesus is drastically different than the hemorrhaging woman who pulled on his coat in the crowd, or the Syrophoenician woman who boldly challenged Jesus. Zacchaeus hides in a tree, Nicodemus comes at night, and the Centurion claims he “does not deserve” to have Jesus come to his home.

In some ways, I don’t blame them. Jesus clearly preferences those who are sickly, judged as sinners, or systematically marginalized by society. At one point he clarifies this preference by saying: “It is not the well that need a doctor but the sick.”

Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, and the Centurion were in no way sick.

As wealthy men of power they had spent their lives benefiting from economic and social systems. What’s more, they had likely used religious, political, and financial systems to oppress the very people to whom Jesus “proclaimed liberty,” and “set free.”

I imagine they thought Jesus would say no. No, you’ve already had your due. No, you’re not in need of me. No, you’ve got more than enough support already.

But that’s not what happened.

Jesus instead encounters each one of them with the same compassion he bestowed on those who were so visibly hurting. The vulnerability of these three men reveals deep places of pain, and Jesus, moved by their risk, comes to meet them. In doing so, he transforms the life of each man.

In communities of privilege, our conversations about ending oppression — specifically white supremacy — are targeted at ameliorating the pain of those who are most impacted. How can we, those who have been in power, adapt so that others’ lives are better? What do we need to do to “fix it?” How can we “solve the problem?” While we most certainly need to seek the liberation of those around us, it is equally important that we do not lose sight of the fact that we are sickly as well.

We are so burdened by the drive to be better that it leads to mental illness. We choose to work unbearably hard to sustain being the best, the wealthiest, the most respected — and in doing so we forfeit peace in our lives. We are numb and disconnected from our heart after years of avoiding the truth of how we treated people. We value thinness as if it was health and perpetuate practices that harm our bodies. We live in denial of the impact we have on others. We too are sickly and our world will never heal from a place of numbness, restlessness, and denial.

It seems that Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, and the Centurion knew they were sick. They knew they needed Jesus and they came, despite facing rejection. They came, not for the sake of others but because they needed to be set free. They came, risking their reputation of privilege for the chance to be seen, known by Jesus. And, from that place of humility and awareness emerged the willingness to be entirely transformed for the sake of others.

It is time that we come as well.

Prayer: Open me to feel the pain of oppression.

Reflection: Why is it easier for us to focus on the benefits of change to others than to ourselves? What do we gain by ignoring the way oppression impacts us? What might change if we were willing to acknowledge its impact on our lives?

Art: A study for Nicodemus visiting Jesus – Henry Osawa Tanner

The Conversion of Saul (after Caravaggio) 3 by James V. (Villani) Lee: - http://jvillanilee.com/?attachment_id=122

Everything Changes – Lenten Reflection (23)

Scripture for Today: Acts 8-9

First, a note about chronology: in designing our Bible Study for St. John’s Hingham, the Rev. Noah Van Niel and I decided to begin the New Testament portion with Acts and the Epistles to reflect how the books were written chronologically. We’ll read the Gospels next week.

By beginning with the first recorded writings about Jesus we receive insight into what the earliest followers of Jesus considered his most important qualities and his most valuable implications for our lives. Today, we read the story of Saul’s conversion as a window into what it meant to be on the Way. We can draw out the following four lessons:

One, the name of the earliest followers, the Way, characterizes the identity of their movement. Rather than a religious practice that centered around a temple and a set of stagnant rules, they understood following Jesus to be an ongoing and fluid journey. It was a way of living that enabled people to comprehend and experience the love of God.

Two, Saul was an unlikely character to be called to lead the Way. He was a well known persecutor of people on the Way and held a high position of power in the Jewish community (9:2). But God, ever surprising us, calls Saul to minister to the exact people he was persecuting. This theme of Jesus using unlikely people as instruments appears throughout the New Testament (9:15).

Three, following Jesus requires that we are willing to share in his suffering. It is important that we know that Jesus’ life was so contrary to the governing authorities that the Roman state sought after him. This subversive and challenging aspect of following God was central to the lives of earliest believers. We see this reflected in the text from Isaiah quoted by the Eunuch, and the fact that Saul’s life was threatened soon after his conversion (8:33 and 9:23).

Finally, Jesus changes the entire way we exist in the world. Saul’s conversion is marked by scales falling from his eyes, signifying that he saw the entire world differently. This change in perception is marked by his immediate desire to praise the God he once persecuted. Yes, to Jesus’s earliest followers, he represented a complete shift in the way of being, a message similar to the Hebrew prophets.

In the current context of Christianity in the United States, these aspects of following Jesus feel distant. Following Jesus has often become synonymous with participation in  institutions that legitimize the power of unjust structures rather than movements that challenge the very fiber of this world. We assume that those who earned their religious authority through academic degrees are the ones through whom God will speak. And, rather than stand on the side of the oppressed, all too often the church (especially the white church) avoids suffering and stays comfortable in our seat of power.

I do not intend to completely demean the Church as an institution of faith. As someone who is pursuing ordination in The Episcopal Church I deeply understand the need for structures to hold our community and gather our collective power for change. That said, we would do well to examine our current way of being in light of the Way of living modeled by the earliest followers of Jesus — even if this means everything must change.

Prayer: Keep me open to your Way of transformation.

Reflection: What quality of the early church connected most with me today? How might that connect to what’s happening in my life today?

Art: The Conversion of Saul (after Caravaggio) 3 by James V. (Villani) Lee

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!