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What would it look like?

What would it look like if church communities sat down every month and had a Kaizen meeting?  What if we constantly asked ourselves what God values and how to usher in the kingdom of God?

What would it look like if we not only allowed church plants to be new and different — to behave newly and differently — but also expected it? Go forth and be new wine skins.

What if we viewed church communities as organisms, not as organizations?  Living, breathing, growing, changing entities with lifespans and families and personalities and the freedom to try, to surpass, to surprise.

What would that look like?

What if we started by asking what God is already doing and how to join in instead of asking God to sign on to our next big idea?  See the new thing springing up and enter in!

What if we refused to programmize, institutionalize, or bureaucratize? What if the church community didn’t need accountants and buildings and budgets? What if we focused more on being available than on being established?

What if “preacher” were not automatically synonymous with “leader?”   What if our leadership were flat?  What if it were equal?

What would that look like?

What if we worried more about being mobile than being mega?

What if we did not pursue the praise of people but the principles of the kingdom of God?

What if we were innovators and creators and deconstructors and reconstructors and  philosophers and activists and lovers and monks and healers?

What if we were loud? What if we were quiet? What if we were brave?

Who would we look like?

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All You Need Is Love

In the evangelical Christian worldview, we like to have the answers for everything.  We like neatness and order.  We like clarity.  We like black and white truths.  We like boundaries. We like to know what is okay and what is not okay, what is allowed and what is not allowed, who is in and who is out.

Bonhoeffer on Community

I’ve written before about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s expression of intentional Christian community (see here and here).  Bonhoeffer described the number one characteristic of Christian community as Jesus as mediator.  When we communicate and interact through Jesus, when we view our brothers and sisters through Jesus, we cannot help but act and react, share and respond out of love.  When we know our brothers and sisters view us the same way, we cannot help but trust that their actions and communication are out of love as well.

Bonhoeffer also stressed the importance of confessing our sins to one another and forgiving each other as Christ forgives all of us.  One of my favorite lines in Life Together is when Bonhoeffer notes that it is difficult to interact with members of our community with anything but love and trust when we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters and grant them absolution, praying together with them for the forgiveness and blessing of Christ.

The Life of Love

In the Critical Journey, the authors call Stage 6 the Life of Love.  (Here’s a great chart reviewing all the stages.) When we reach this stage in our journey, we live, serve, and speak out of our healing, out of the love we have experienced in our encounters with God.

We let go of the questions, the boundaries, the concerns over who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, and we just love on people.  We love people as Christ loved because our agenda is gone.  Our wall has been dismantled, and we no longer live in our pain and react out of fear and anger.

It’s no longer of principle concern whether we are warning people about hell or condemning their actions and words.  It’s no longer our concern whether people know and love Jesus as we know and love Jesus.  Only God knows a person’s heart, and we are not designed to fill in for God in matters of the heart.  We are designed to be God’s hands and feet in the world, the body of Christ among the people of God—all of them.

When we reach Stage 6, we no longer worry so much about the doubts and questions of Stage 4.  They may still be there, unresolved, unanswered, but they are no longer driving our thoughts and actions.  They are no longer overwhelming us.  They are rather a reminder that we do not have all the answers, that we do not have it all figured out, and that’s okay.  The one thing we are sure of when we reach Stage 6 is what our experience of God is like, that we want to continue moving toward God along with our brothers and sisters, and that we cannot help but share our hope with one another.

Paul’s Theology

Paul’s well-known 1Cor 13 passage is the epitome of the Life of Love.  No matter what wonderful things we have accomplished, what honest and intentional lives we lead, if we are still living in Stage 3 where our words and actions are coming out of our duty and our pain and woundedness are still skewing our efforts to serve God, then we are nothing more than a whole lot of loud and ineffectual noise.

I love what Paul says later on in the chapter about growing up in Christ.  When we are children, we behave like children, which is right and appropriate for our natural development.  Being a child is good—while you are young.

But there comes a time when our natural human development moves us into that wonderful world of responsibility, wisdom, and work called adulthood, and it is in this stage of life that it is no longer right and appropriate to behave like children.  Now it is time to grow up, get a job, move into your own apartment, pay taxes and bills, maybe join with another adult and start a new family.

This is natural and right.  This is good.  Behaving like child is good while you are a child, but behaving like an adult when you have grown up is just as good.

Just as we should not retain our childish interests and behaviors when we are grown, so we should not remain in our childhood or adolescent state of spiritual development.  This is another area where the lack of a holistic body theology is evident.  We too easily remain unaware of the necessity of spiritual growth along with physical growth.  As our bodies grow and change, so should our spiritual lives.

There’s a reason Paul uses the metaphor of a physical human body so often in his letters. The wellbeing of our physical and spiritual selves are intimately related.  Thus, they should both be growing.  We should pursue spiritual health and growth just as fervently as we pursue physical health and growth.

Too easily we are satisfied with life in Stage 3.  We think if we can get people to grow up enough to start giving back, then that’s enough.  We’ve arrived!

Never mind people are giving back out of their woundedness.  Never mind people are giving back out of their fear and lack of understanding.  Never mind people are following blindly after others who are giving out of the same woundedness, fear, and lack of understanding.

It’s no wonder so many Christians leave the Church when they reach Stage 4. In Stage 3 churches, there is no room for questioning and doubting.  There is no room for messy, for in-between, for grey.

It’s no wonder so many people view Christians as intolerant, rigid, ignorant, and hateful.  Stage 3 is a wonderful and necessary part of the Christian journey, but when we get stuck there, when we fool ourselves into believing we’ve “arrived,” then we become intolerant, rigid, ignorant and hateful.  We become everything we say we are against.

We become Pharisees.

But God has called us to more than this.  The Christian life is not about the conversion experience.  It’s not about the active Christian life.

It’s about the Life of Love.  It’s about love—dirty, messy, sacrificial, costly love. It’s about love that humbles itself to take the form of a human being.  It’s about love that humbles itself to become obedient to death by the most violent and painful method of execution ever designed.  It’s about love that follows after Jesus not because it’s what is acceptable or required but because the call to “come follow me” is irresistible and renewed each day.

Much-Afraid Becomes Grace and Glory

The allegory Hinds Feet on High Places ends with Much-Afraid’s arrival at the Mountain of Spices.  She is healed, transformed, and receives her new name, Grace and Glory.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In the sequel Mountain of Spices, Grace and Glory makes her way back down from the Good Shepherd’s home, back down into the Valley of Death where her family lives. She faces the cousins who tortured and taunted her, and she responds to them with love.  Her love confuses them! Her transformation inspires the journey of others in the Valley.

What Much-Afraid, Bonhoeffer, and Paul all have in common with the Critical Journey is Stage 6, the Life of Love.  It is when we are living and acting out of our healing that we are truly interacting with each other through Jesus as mediator. When we are living the Life of Love, we can confess our sins to one another and forgive each other.

When we live the Life of Love, being in community is a joy.  It may not be easy, and it may not be comfortable.  It may not even be “acceptable.”  It certainly won’t be ideal.

But it will be real.  It will be genuine.  It will be full of love that casts out all fear, in which we are rooted and grounded, in whom we live and move and have our being, out of whom we speak and act and are the body of Christ.

Having a holistic body theology is great, but it is nothing without love to drive us toward something fruitful, beautiful, honest, holy—without love to drive us toward God, always toward God.

May love be the foundation of our communities, lovely readers.  Let us be the beloved Bride of Christ, the Church active in the world and actively loving the world, our body theology lived out among the people of God.

Forward Friday: The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality Check

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Read part 1 and part 2.

You wanna be like Mary, but in reality, you’re like Martha.  Believe me, lovely reader, I know how you feel.  I’ve been there, and I’m back there again.

So if you’re a Martha and wanna be like Mary, what do you DO about it?

Here’s a little exercise to try this weekend:

  1. Recognize your gifts, passions, and personality. Understand and accept who you are.  God made you that way for a reason.  God likes you like this!
  2. Recognize how you are feeling.  Are you worried and upset?  Are you critical and judgmental? Are you jealous of people who seem to have an easier time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
  3. Identify what is motivating you right now. Are you distracted by the preparations?  Are you busy with things that seem necessary but really are not needed?
  4. Take it to God.  Mary and Martha both went straight to Jesus.  They just had different catalysts for their encounters with God.  Maybe being stressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of your day can be used to turn your attention to the one thing that is truly needed.
  5. Allow God to redirect your focus.  Where should your time and attention be right now?  What is truly needed?

Maybe sitting at Jesus’ feet isn’t your natural state of being.  Maybe it takes work.  It was work for Brother Lawrence, St. Ignatius, and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, too.  That’s why they devoted so much time and effort toward cultivating their focus toward God.

If you’re task-oriented, make time with Jesus one of your “tasks” for the day. Maybe it’s your only task for one whole day, the only and best accomplishment.  If you like lists, put time with Jesus on there along with runs to the grocery store and calls to clients.

And if you’re not like this at all, if you’re naturally a Mary, well then…

YOU ROCK! We all wish we could be more like you.  Don’t let ANYONE take away what you have chosen.  God promised you could stay right where you are at the feet of Jesus, and God will defend you!  You just keep on sitting.

For the rest of us, put sitting on your list.  And then DO it.

And then come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 2

Read part 1 here.

So let’s say you’re like me.  You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.”  You are a DOer.

You are like Martha.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice how Martha responds to the situation.  She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations.  She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.

Martha goes straight to Jesus.  She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.

Notice how Jesus responds to Martha.  He does not condemn her.  He does not criticize her work.  He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for.  Here’s what he DOES say:

  1. You are worried.
  2. You are upset.
  3. Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED).  In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced.  In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
  4. Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.

Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.

This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.”  Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.

Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.

Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.

You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.

If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.

*Whew!*

You will always be the achiever.  You will always be responsible.

What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us.  We focus on the wrong things.  We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.

If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary.  You want to be a BEer.  You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.

You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are.  In reality, you are more like Martha.

You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day.  You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.

That’s okay.  God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability.  God loves that about you!

So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?

Find out tomorrow!

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 1

If you’re like me, you have a complex.

You have a desire, nay, a driving need, to DO, to DO WELL, and to HAVE DONE more, concurrently, and better than everyone else you know.

You excel at doing, and you draw your self-worth from how much you have done and how well you have done it.

You are a task-completer, a list-checker-off-er.  Your number one strength on the StrengthsFinder test is Achiever.  (PS. This actually means you have a bigger complex than I do because Achiever is only number three on my StrengthsFinder results. Nany nany boo boo.)

You feel as if every day starts at zero.  By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself.  And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations.  No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied.  You have an internal fire burning inside you.  It pushes you to do more, to achieve more.  After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment.  – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p37)

Okay, maybe not all of you are Achievers, but a lot of you are.  A lot of Christians are, especially Christian women.  We’re taught early and often that we live to serve, and that our value both in our church community and in our homes is based on what, how much, how often, and how well we DO for everyone.

This is not news.

Martha, sister of Lazarus and friend of Jesus, would have scored Achiever as her number one strength, right above Responsibility.

That’s right. This is you, too, and a lot of other Christians.  Your word is your bond.  You always come through.  You never let anything fall through the cracks.

[You] take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion.  Your good name depends on it…. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable…. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should. – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p149)

Super-DOer.  That’s you.

You have this need to achieve, and whether you want to or not, you find yourself committed to doing more and more.  You are the quintessential soccer mom.  You have it all together.

You are super human.

You are BUSY.

You are TIRED.

You are JEALOUS and CRITICAL of anyone who is not caught up in your whirlwind of activity and responsibility.  You JUDGE.

How do you have time and energy to do and be everything everyone wants and expects you to do and be?

You are a DOer.

So was Martha.

Okay, that’s not news.

Rachel touched on this when she said advertising tries to make us believe we aren’t enough.  Kathy touched on this when she said that well-behaved women won’t change the church.

What you need to know is what to DO about it, right?

To be continued…

Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28 reminds us that we are joined by the Holy Spirit beyond race, class, or gender.  How can churches preach “all are one in Christ Jesus” while discouraging strong women leaders like my friend Amy, the EPC candidate?

How can we be unified as

one body,

the body of Christ,

when we discriminate against each other based on the particular body God has given each of us?

The Choice

When we disagree with the status quo, we have a choice to make.  We can let go of the disagreement, stay in the current situation, and suffer alone.  We can stay and fight alone until we win or are removed.  Or we can leave and either join another community already in agreement or start something new.

How do we make that choice? How do we decide when to suffer, when to fight, and when to leave?

Do not suffer in silence.

Take, for example, another couple in ministry in a community that is not supportive of women.  Let’s call them John and Jenny.  John has the visible leadership role, though Jenny has the clearly stronger leadership traits.  John and Jenny have a pretty egalitarian marriage, all things considered, providing Jenny with the space and opportunities to grow into her leadership gifts more fully.  Yet, like the elephant on a leash, she has been conditioned to subordinate herself to his leadership in the community.

With people like Jenny, I am too impatient.  It kills me to see potential being wasted, to see Jenny silencing herself for the sake of not making her husband look bad, or for not drawing attention to gifts and skills she is not “allowed” to have. I want to rush her into freedom she doesn’t feel the need to seek.  It’s too painful to wait and watch and hope.

Brothers and sisters, do not let your voices be silenced.  Whether you are called to lean into your current situation and slowly affect change from within, or whether you are called to let go and move on to a place where you can experience safety and freedom–do not stay and suffer in silence.  Do not allow the fear and ignorance of others to silence your prophetic voice.

You have something to say.

     You are unique and valuable. 

            You are the catalyst for change.

And you are not alone.  There have been many men and women before you who have advocated for women in ministry and leadership.  There are many more around you now.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Go or stay, my dear siblings in Christ, only do not be silent. Speak.

What Community Means

So, how do we decide when to lean in and when to let go? The truth is, there is no perfect system, no one right answer. Every situation is different, and everyone is called differently.  Ask God to reveal to you what your role is in your community.

Are you a catalyst for change? Are you in a toxic environment? Is your voice being heard? Are you an advocate for those without a voice? Is there room for you to grow?

For those of you who can stay and work for change,  I admire and commend your patience and forebearance, your long-suffering and perseverance.  I wish I could be more like you.

For me, being in community means being in a safe place.  It means being accepted and valued.  It means having the freedom to live fully into my gifts and calling. It means being able to listen to a sermon or pastoral prayer without getting angry.  It means not having to be on the defensive constantly.  It means being able to be fully myself.  It means being able to disagree with others in the community without losing anything.  It means having my voice heard, acknowledged, and welcomed.

A Seat at the Table

There is a lot of talk nowadays about being “invited to the table,” meaning being included in the conversation rather than having to wait for those at the table to discuss and decide and hand down a verdict.  I know that language is useful to many people, but it reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner.

At Thanksgiving dinner, the adults sit at the adults’ table with all the food, nice plates, and wine.  The children sit at the kids’ table with pre-prepared portions of food on paper plates and juice in plastic cups.  As I grew older, I was put in charge of the kids’ table and made sure everyone had what they needed and that they didn’t bother the adults unnecessarily.

This metaphor of being invited to the table makes me feel like I am still at the kids’ table. I may be in leadership over everyone else at that table, but I am still considered “a kid.” Even if I’m invited to sit at the adults’ table, I’m not really one of them. I’m just a kid with a new seat, closer to the mashed potatoes.

I don’t want to have to fight for a seat at the table or wait to be invited. I want to be in a place where my seat at the table is a given, where it is taken for granted that I have been called and equipped with gifts and skills for leadership.

I’m tired of having this debate. I’m tired of being forced to defend myself and my fellow women believers at every turn.  I’m tired of being angry at the injustice.  I’m tired of being disappointed at the realization that, yet again, it’s really all about fear of sharing power, fear of losing control, fear that the truth may not be quite so neat and tidy after all.

I’m ready to move on from the kids’ table and step into the life God has called me to live.  This reality is not what we are meant to be. The table is too small, and there are not enough chairs.

Where is the beauty and innocence of the first Christians?

Where is the unity and trust among believers?

Where is the sharing of wealth and power?

How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?

To be continued…

Against the Flesh: Part 1

One of my pet peeves is when people talk about fighting against their flesh, beating their flesh into submission, or some other allusion to the flesh/spirit (sometimes also earthly/heavenly) dichotomy present in a number of New Testament passages–mostly in Paul’s letters.

It bothers me because people often use these passages to support an unhealthy–or at least unbalanced–body theology, one in which the body is something wholly other, something to be forced into submission, blamed for failures, lamented, battled, beaten, and regarded as dirty, filthy, and something to get rid of and be finally, blessedly free from after death.

I am not my body, people seem to acknowledge.  I am my mind, my personality, and my spirit.  I am pursuing God, but my body pursues evil.  I am good, but my body is bad.  I am purified, but my body keeps contaminating me. “What I don’t want to do, I do, and what I do want to do, I don’t do”; and it’s all my body’s fault.  Stupid human flesh holding me back from the glorious, Spirit-filled Christian life.

I get a little upset.

That is not the truth about who we are as children of God.  These are lies we believe, perpetuated by a consistent misreading of scripture.  Just as we can’t read Romans 3:23 without Romans 3:24, or Colossians 3:22 without Galatians 3:28, or Ephesians 5:22 without Ephesians 5:21 — so we can’t read Galatians 5:16-18 without Ephesians 6:12.

The Bible is meant to be read collectively as the revelation of the story of God for the people of God.  We need a holistic hermeneutic by which to read the entirety of scripture. Otherwise we get caught up in a verse here and a verse there and end up so far away from the point the author was trying to make, or the truth the Holy Spirit intends to reveal.

Scripture is easily twisted to fit our preconceptions and presumptions.  We are so used to reading scripture through the lens of our own understanding and experience that we are often unable to recognize when a beautiful spiritual truth — intended to free us and bring us into the fullness of life and completion of joy promised to us — has been distorted into a horrible lie — intended to steal, kill, and destroy us.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the scriptures below through the lens of holistic body theology.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but representative of the New Testament’s negative treatment of “the flesh.”

To be continued…

 

Forward Friday: What the Story of God Means

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal.  We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.  Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand what brings us to this moment of Christ’s preparation for death.

As you celebrate Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday this weekend, read back over some of the key elements of the story of God from our little flash Bible course this week to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate.  What stands out as particularly meaningful to you?  Let me know in the comment box below.

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.
2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.
3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.
4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.
5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.
6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.
7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.
8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.
9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.
10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.
11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.
12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins.  (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)
13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.
15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.
16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.
17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.
18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.
19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.
20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.
21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.
22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.
23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.
24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).
25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.
26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.
27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.
28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.
29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.
30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.
31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.
32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.
33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street.  Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.
34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe.  Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!

It’s Holy Week! Part 3

Monday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of AtonementYesterday, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. Today, let’s look at the Passion of Christ and the rest of the Jesus story.

21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.

22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.

23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses.  A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.

24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).

25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.

26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.

27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.

28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.

29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later.  They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.

30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.

31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.

There are so many wonderful moments in this part of the story of God.  Jesus, a physical human being, dies a physical human death (of the worst kind), and is resurrected to again be a physical human being.  The women are the first evangelists.  Jesus promises to leave his spirit with those who believe in him.

But my favorite moment is the moment of Jesus’ death when the curtain is ripped in two.  Remember the curtain? That piece of fabric hanging in the entrance to the Holy of Holies?  It served as a reminder of the barrier between God and God’s people.  It blocked people from God’s presence with them.

In fact, only the people considered to be the cleanest and most holy were even allowed near the Holy of Holies. Even the high priest, the holiest person out of all of God’s people, was only allowed inside once a year to sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Ark to atone for the sins of the people.  God was just too holy to be with the people.  The people were just too unholy to be with God.

But God came to the people anyway, in the physical human form of Jesus.  God became the ultimate blood sacrifice–the last and final atonement for all the sins of all people everywhere throughout all of time.  God ripped the curtain (top to bottom) at the moment of Jesus’ death to show the people that there was no more need to separate the holy from the unholy–the sacred from the secular.

And when I think that God, his son not sparing,
sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
that on that cross, my burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!

It’s Holy Week! Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Today, let’s look at the entrance of Jesus into the story.

13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access.  Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.

15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.

16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.

17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.

18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.

19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.

20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.

This is what I love about the Jesus part of the story of God.  Here we see Jesus in his human vulnerability.  Though he is fully divine and capable of changing the end of the story, Jesus is also fully human and willingly becomes the final blood sacrifice as the atonement for the sins of the people–this time not only the people of God but all people everywhere throughout the course of history.

The scene in the garden is one of my favorite Jesus moments.  We see Jesus at his most intimate, praying to God not for the sake of others but for his own sake.  We see the intense struggle between the divine and human in Jesus.  This is no small matter, this business of execution and sacrifice.  This is not easy or pleasant, but it is worthwhile and shows the extent of God’s love for the people–of Jesus’ love for the people, all people.

Blessed is the one who lays down their life for the sake of a friend.  And Jesus has called us friends.

I like to think the blood Jesus sweats during his prayer foreshadows the finality of his sacrifice. Like the blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the first drops of Jesus’ blood are spilled in the garden as he struggles to accept his role as the animal sacrificed on the temple’s altar.

But my favorite moment is still coming…

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