Thieving for Jesus

This week I’ll be writing a blog on each day of Holy Week, a “sermonette” I can’t preach from the pulpit but one that I can to you crazy people! And by “can’t” I simply mean I won’t but I do think the majority of the congregation I serve would find it hilarious if I did.

I want to talk a little about this donkey Jesus requests here for a moment.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.- Luke 19:29-35

Okay, imagine this… you’re hanging with your homies at your house and you say to two friends, “run across the street and take my neighbor’s car.”

“WHAT?!? NO!”, your homie exclaims.

“No it’s fine, if they ask you why, tell them it’s for Jesus.”

“OH, OKAY…” homies say complete with eye roll, “you crazy!”

I mean seriously. I am down with the miracles, I mean Jesus does some crazy stuff in the gospels. On Sunday I’ll exclaim belief in a bodily resurrection, but you are hard pressed to convince me that anyone, anywhere would allow you to take their property because “Jesus needs it.”

And yet… There’re these people…

Jim_and_Tammy_Faye_Bakker

I mean, if someone’s driving away with my brand new donkey that’s never been ridden and I say, ummmm…. exsqueeze me, whatya doing? I want my donkey back!

“no, no, Jesus needs it.”

I’m calling the police!

sign

I’m not sure what processes Jesus to ask for such a thing. Really, I mean is this a frat house prank, a gang initiation. Or does he know he’s about to die and just not care. Is the next town over Mary and Martha? And if it is, why didn’t he just say, “go hit up Lazarus for a donkey, he owes me one after that raising from the dead thing.”

Sometimes scripture is just weird. The whole thing is weird. Palm Sunday was a political protest. Jesus is mocking politics of Jerusalem, which actually is the least weird thing about this story.

But seriously Jesus, what does it say that we have such specific details about where this donkey came from? Is stealing the donkey all part of the mockery? Did you steal it from a rich person? Did they have to do it over cover of darkness? But the owner stopped them? I mean, WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS DONKEY?

I will never know the answer to these questions, nor do I really want to. Some parts of scripture I like to remain a mystery. But I will say this, don’t try this at home…

 

Leadership is for Wimps

“Leadership is for wimps.” This was part of a text conversation I had a few mornings ago. Tripp Hudgins, Jeff Richards and I were talking about leadership. The glory of it all… HA! “Leadership is for wimps,” Tripp replies.

This is the opposite of what we are told and taught. However, that doesn’t make it less true.

pilate-washes-his-hands-lars-lindgren (1)

Jesus came to turn everything on it’s head. The last shall be first, etc. Was Jesus a leader? Yes. Was he a wimp? No. But he wasn’t in the leadership roles of the day. Next week I will read the story of the passion where Pontius Pilate will wash his hands of the death of Jesus. He found nothing wrong with this man, Jesus had broken no law according to Pilate, yet he washes his hands rather than stand up to the religious leaders and the crowd that are demanding Jesus’s head. Wimp.

Leadership the way it has been established in our systems is for wimps, the faint of heart, cowards. People who do not have enough gumption of their own to stand up for justice that they hide behind systems, offices, and titles. This system is set up for leadership to use and abuse power, hide behind power. When you give someone power enough to make decisions on behalf of someone else without needing or requesting their input it is easier than not to get drunk on the “authority” that has been given.

Throughout the story of Jesus he is watched, closely, by leadership. According to Matthew at his birth the Leadership was terrified of him they slaughtered all male children under the age of 2. He is questioned and attempted to be tricked time and time again throughout his ministry. I can hear the priests behind locked doors asking “how can we trust him when he isn’t one of us?” Wimps.

Finally, they can’t control him and it drives them so crazy they move into intimidation and bribery. After his arrest he is passed from up the ladder of leadership, each one not wanting to be the one who is responsible for an innocent man’s life, yet not risking anything to stop it. Wimps, passing the buck.

In the questioning of Jesus by Pilate Jesus says that his authority is of Heaven, not of earth. He is a leader the way God calls us to be. We refer to it as “Servant Leadership.” Matthew 20:28 Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many.

Servant leadership is a model of giving away power and authority you have been given. Using your gifts and skills for the betterment of the world, empowering others, leading others to power so they too can give it away. There are many, many problems with this in our world. First, empowering others is true power, power in community, power to stand up for one another and say stop, enough. If you hurt one of us, you hurt us all. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we pray together. And it terrifies wimps.

Second, when you use your leadership to give power away and create community you often times lead by example. There’s a lot of grunt work involved, there’s a lot of moments where you take a punch because your job is to stand between systemic power and those whom they are hurting. You live with a target on your back as the one who created an uprising.

But this kind of leadership is strength. It is the strength of faith, of community, and the reign of God on earth. This type of leadership is what allows movements and communities to keep going long after one leader is gone. We may be betrayed for it, we may be flogged for it, we may even be killed for it. But I’d rather die in servant leadership than be a wimp.

The disciples (not just the 12 but all the followers of Jesus) took too long to learn this lesson. They didn’t really learn until after the resurrection. Fear overtook them when their time came to stand up. We can learn from this, we can ratify their mistake. We can stand empowered today as servant leaders, in communities of other servant leaders, each according to their own gifts, united in strength.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Lord I want to be a Christian

There is a famous prayer (paraphrasing here) from St. Augustine saying “Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet…”

Apparently Augustine had a lover and a kid with her. He wanted to be a Christian and a priest, but he would have to give up his mistress and his child. So he went to a garden and prayed. “I want to be a Christ, but not yet.”

These next three days I will journey through the stories of Jesus’ last supper, the prayer in the garden, the excruciating trial and crucifixion. And eventually, death not having the last word.

I cannot pick a favorite story of the bible, or a favorite scripture, or even a favorite book. I can tell you why I would choose Mark or John’s feeding of the 5000 story over Matthew or Luke. Why the prayer of the shema is so important to me. Why the Old Testament stories add such a complexity to my understanding of family and human life.

I can also tell you I am a Christian today because of the prayer Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am the daughter of a catholic and a mainline protestant [and the step-child of two southern baptists(ish)]. Although church was on and off, my family is Christian, I was raised with church on Christmas and Easter and some times in-between. I was also raised with the concept that these were the things we did before the family gathered for the holiday meal.

Despite being “raised” Christian, there is no question when I “became” Christian. I know when I accepted that God was working in my life, I can look up the dates I was baptized and joined the church, I can tell you the story of my first communion and I can also tell you the moment I became a Christian.

An aside: saying “the moment I became a Christian” is really creepy to me. Having been raised for a time in the southern Baptist tradition I have to say this is a little too close to “when were you saved” but there really was a definitive moment I decided to be Christian.

Life wasn’t good and I struggled. I received my call to seminary when I was 18, but life happened, or continued to happen I should say. I ran from God for 2 years after this call. I know, not that long, but I ran hard, my life crumbled. I moved to Memphis running away from my hometown, I moved to Louisville, running away from Memphis.

I ran from Christianity most of all, not from God, but from religion. I could not give up on God… ever. But I wasn’t so sure about Jesus and the church.

My junior year of college I transitioned from a Music Education degree to a BA of Arts in music with a religious study minor. I studied world religions and I loved it. I was not “seeking” for a specific religion but wanted to learn and study all the different ways people knew and experienced God.

To fulfill the requirements for the degree I had to take a course in Christianity, admittedly I was not as happy about this. Yet, Introduction to New Testament I went… The class was taught by an ordained southern Baptist and was full of bible-thumping born-again engineers fulfilling their humanities requirement. I hated every moment of it.

Except, I had to read the New Testament. And I got to the moment of the Garden of Gethsemane (I like Matthew’s version the best). And I was transformed.

I read this prayer, and I had prayed this prayer:

“Now that’s a guy I can follow.” I even said out loud in my apartment. This guy gets it. This God gets it. I can follow him. I can teach his teachings, I can pray to a God who gets it. This Jesus gets me, he understand what it is to live this life. That life is hard and complicated, that there are impossible choices to make.

“Please don’t make me do this” Jesus prays. “I beg you.”

Yet at the end of the day, I believe in the gracious mercy of God and I am at God’s will to be used in the way God would have me be used – for love and compassion even if that means pain and heartache at times.

This is why Augustine left his mistress and child. This why I not only went to seminary but why I am in church on Sunday morning. Even more than that – it is why I don’t actually care if anyone shows up for service tonight, or tomorrow, or on Sunday. Their loss if they don’t.

Because I am a Christian who believes that God knows me through and through, because God – present on earth, fully human, in the form of Jesus – was alone in a sea of followers who worshiped him. Abandoned, he begged and pleaded, for life to be different – for this life he was living to be different. He begged to not have to make an impossible choice. He begged that someone else would take the burden away – make the decision for him. But God doesn’t work that way…

And Jesus knew it. And so do I.

God doesn’t stop the human feelings of burden, of wishing it wasn’t so. I know what I must do, ultimately what I will do, but until then, I beg you, don’t make me do this.

So I will be in worship tonight, I will serve communion, and I will read Matthew’s version of the garden of Gethsemane. I think it would be great if you were there.

Will you stay awake and pray with me a while?

Christ-Gethsemane

 

Commandments and Dirty Feet

ImageToday is Maundy Thursday.  Maundy coming from a Latin word (which I won’t bore you with) meaning “commandment” tonight in John 13, Jesus will reveal to us a new commandment “love one another as I have loved you.” Now I love Jesus, but I don’t do so well with commands.

Yes, commandments and commands are different, but I will totally admit my Americanized rebel hears Jesus telling me something I have to do and immediately wants to reply like an 8 year old, “Oh Yeah! Make me!”

But that’s the thing about Jesus, he’s not going to make me, he’s not going to require me to do anything, I don’t HAVE to follow him on this journey, I don’t HAVE to love others as he has loved me.  But I should, and not just should I, but I should HAVE to.

You know that scene is The Break-up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn when they are fighting about the dishes? and she screams “I want you to want to do the dishes!” and he screams back, “Why would I WANT to do the dishes?”

This is what it’s like with Jesus and this greatest commandment.  We should want to want to love others as Jesus has loved us.  This shouldn’t have to be a commandment.  And how does he show us how much he loves us? He washes their feet.

Yes, their dirty, nasty, smelly, sandal-wearing, desert walking, no pedicures in the 1st century feet.

Okay, I admit it, I don’t like feet. They smell and gross me out.  Which is why it’s a perfect image for me.  I admit I have never done a foot washing in any of my churches, and I use the excuse that others would not like it, but I admit it’s because I would not like it.  I have had others grace me with the gift and it has not been as awkward as I thought it would be.

However, on this night something about this offering tugs at me.  Now if you are coming to church tonight there will be no foot washing, but I know that as Jesus showed us an example, I should want to want to wash others feet.  And not just that but some other thing that makes me uncomfortable, something that is completely opposite of societal rules, something so selfless that someone would like at me the way Peter did Jesus and say, “What are you nuts? No, never, it’s too grand, too massive of a gift, too humbling, I am too uncomfortable with such an offering”

After all my life, after all my study and preaching and reaching and teaching, I pray that just once, just once in my life I may have the grace to love others and Christ has loved me.