Thursday, May 24, 2018

Jesus was "Woke"

Dino Reichmuth Photo: Jesus was 'woke'

This passage from John 3: 1-17, where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus may be the crux of the entire message of Jesus Christ. He speaks of the need to understand simple truths, and the takeaway is his proclamation that his presence on Earth will bring eternal life to all who believe. That’s it...

But wait, there’s more, as they say in those late-night infomercials.

The message that Jesus is giving to Nicodemus is one where we find Jesus in a moment of Zen. Christ talks of things that some may interpret as being ‘born again.’ Christ says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’

The most amazing part of this passage is what follows. Jesus goes on to wax lyrical: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”

My favorite comic relief comes from Nicodemus, who asks him “How can these things be?” Jesus gives us a true Seinfeld-ian moment when he says: Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” The first thing that comes to mind for the ultimate Seinfeld buff is the classic: “And YOU want to be my Latex Salesman?” He goes on, almost exasperated, to say, “If I tell you about the things that are happening here and now on Earth, and you don’t believe, how can you believe what I’m trying to tell you about heavenly things?!”

The most famous of passages follows in John 3:16 in this text for Trinity Sunday. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” This is as good as the saying: “Jesus explains it all for you.” There it is in a nutshell, folks. The whole gospel laid out in one short paragraph.

How simple is the understanding of the enlightened among us, who may understand the feeling of being born of the Spirit. It may take a lifetime of understanding to truly know the feeling of enlightenment, where we are truly born of the Spirit.

I cannot help sympathizing with Nicodemus, who is limited in his understanding of Jesus’ enlightened spirit. There are times in our lives when we have not understood a difficult passage or text, in the Bible or in any aspect of life, only to read or hear it with fresh eyes and to suddenly become enlightened as we gain a new understanding of what the content means.

The kids now say, “You have to be ‘woke.’  It’s hard to describe it, but one of the best examples I know comes from a movie. In one of my favorite scenes in “The Miracle Worker”, we see Helen Keller as a child who is pathetic and angry and struggling against the world. Mute, blind and unable to communicate, there were no connections for her. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, (played by Anne Bancroft in the film version), patiently worked with her to try and teach the child how to communicate. Her teacher signed the alphabet, and words for water and hundreds of everyday items, yet Helen was still unable to make the connections. The moving and cathartic scene where Helen Keller DOES make the connections to the sign of ‘water’, and then realized she would able to communicate with other people is one of the most spiritually connected scenes ever filmed. The kids would say, she was ‘woke’

We are not always woke to difficult content in our daily lives. I am one of those who freely admits that I often have limited understanding of cultural waves, and the dawning of new attitudes and cultural shifts. But we need to keep at least open minds as we try and muddle through the technological haze of life in these times. Baby boomers often find it particularly difficult to accept the fact that we will never return to the days of the Golden Age of Television or the life of the fifties and sixties, before computers and the internet went mainstream.

Helen Keller is an example of one among us who was enlightened. It wouldn’t matter to her what age or era she lived in, for her world existed outside the realm of material objects and time. She didn’t need to see things or hear them to understand what it takes to become born in spirit. Perhaps if we took the time to appreciate the natural world, and tried to comprehend things using fresh eyes, we may glean some understanding of the message out of time that Jesus wanted to convey. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Hope that is not seen

 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Photo by Warren Wong

The imaginative language and the poetic beauty of this Biblical passage of Romans 8:22-24 makes this one of my favorites. We are all ‘groaning in labor pains’ as we wait for salvation. And as we wait, we operate in hope with the notion that we are saved through the love of Jesus Christ. “For in hope we are saved…

What beauty is found in this passage from Romans, talking of the hope that is not seen! I think at times that our lives are lived partly in reality and partly in spirit and hope. Certainly we, as Americans, have always lived in hope with the elusive American Dream that is still calling to us.

There is an old Frank Sinatra song that talks about “High hopes.” We at times have high ‘apple pie in the sky’ kind of hopes. We all have high hopes in our lives, and the spirit of what we hope for is, at times, the thing that keeps us going.

We hope for a better tomorrow. We pray for peace and we hope for a better life for our children and the ones who come after us. We hope for forgiveness and enlightenment, for peace to bind our wounds and heal our troubled souls.

  All of these things speak of spiritual hopes and aspirations, far beyond the material world we live in. The hope that is not seen, but felt and lived as we are touched by those who seem to have far less, or live in dire circumstance and are lifted in their lives by their own faith, these are the humbling events we need to carry with us, as God is able to discern the strength of our convictions as well as the weakness of our corporal bodies.

  As Christians, we also live in hope for the lives we live on this earth. The idea of eternal salvation is a promise that is not seen, but is often felt. We are told we must wait with patience. Patience is something that is hard to come by, when your life seems hopeless at times. But the promise that God gave us in Christ, and the hope he instills in us, and implores us as we still feel the presence of the living Christ in our lives, tells us that we are still at our core, a people filled with hope. We must send up prayers for patience for each of the things we hope for in this life, but in hope we are saved, and in hope we will live out our lives. For the one who had the highest of hopes for all of us was Jesus of Nazareth.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jesus thinking "Outside the Box"

Outside the Box...Photo: Diego PH

John 5: 9-13:  The lectionary text this week tells the story of Jesus thinking ‘outside the box”.  The Sabbath is a Holy Day where no work is performed, including healing! But Jesus did it anyway because he knew it was the right thing to do and he didn’t want to be bound by a law that was going to make this man suffer….so he decided to make an “Executive Decision” and help someone in need.  We have all done this at one time or another and had to suffer the consequences. And we probably knew we were doing the right thing, even if we were going to have to pay the price for our convictions.

In this story, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath Day. The ‘powers that be’ are outraged that he made this decision without following the rules established by their scripture. Jesus saw someone suffering, and instead of waiting, he did the right thing and offered immediate aid and comfort. He did what he had to do in the moment.

Those who did not understand what Jesus was about, and what he was trying to do, were upset that he broke the rules. Were he in a business environment today, people would say Jesus “thought outside the box”, and came up with a solution to solve this man’s problem. Jesus was often known for his radical problem solving and his revolutionary ways of thinking outside the box. Too often, we hear that if we play by the rules and follow conventional wisdom, we will succeed. But once in a while, someone comes along that does not play by the rules. And we are sometimes outraged and offended by this behavior. And deep down, many of us know that the maverick way is one that we envy just a little bit.

We have all wanted to just cut loose and go off and do our own thing. But we don’t most of the time. And at times, we are told that we cannot do this or that because it’s not done, not acceptable, etc...And we agree. But we know that there are some things that are worth going ‘all in’ on. With Jesus, each day he preached his message, he was going all in on the word. He was challenging people, irritating people, and at times confronting the conventional wisdom. That was his challenge to us. As Christians, we must often think outside the box. 

One of the phrases that we heard some years back was: What would Jesus Do? What would Jesus Drive? What would Jesus say?....Well, we know what he would do and think and say from the Gospels (all except driving cars!). Jesus would challenge conventional wisdom, he would upset the apple cart, he was the Steve Jobs of his day, the one who thought outside the box. And we hear his message of radical love and caring for others, of listening and acting on this love, of challenging others to take up the cudgel and follow him, and of spreading the radical message of “Love one another’ to all corners of the Earth.

Do you remember the lines from Jesus Christ Superstar: “If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no Mass Communication.?” I have always loved these lines because it speaks to the heart of what we are about in our own modern world dilemma. We live in a world of Mass Communication, and yet many times we still end up feeling isolated and alone in a world where we are more connected than ever before.

What irony that we can still turn to the Gospels and find our solace and strength in a message delivered to a relatively small group of people in a rustic setting two thousand years ago! We can learn to ‘think outside the box’ in a creatively modern way when we read the story of Jesus’ life and teaching. He was the one who taught us that thinking outside the box, and doing the right thing is not a modern concept. It comes from within, and it is a central part of the Christian theme of loving and caring for others. We cannot discriminate, bind up our wounds and  then hide our heads in the sand. We must engage and help those in need, whether they are friends, immigrants, rich, poor, straight, gay, or even when they are hostile to our message. That is the hardest part of the simplest of messages-Love one another. It’s still a radical message.

*Can you think of a time when you 'broke the rules' and went outside the boundaries to help others? Or had to think "outside the box" when you were in a jam?....

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Passers By

Picture by Nina Strehl

The passage in John from John 5: 1-6 tells a story of how Jesus starts a conversation with a sick man who had been passed by and overlooked for years as he tries to make his way to the  healing waters. He has lived in pain, and is one of the marginalized who is seen by passers by each day as they go to the well. Jesus heals the man and takes pity on him. It made me think of times in my life where I almost missed the boat because I was too busy just passing by.
    Not too long ago I was rushing into a grocery store on a Sunday morning, before heading to church, and there were suddenly two strangers accosting me before I went in to give money to help feed the hungry. I rushed by and said, “I’ll catch you on the way out!  As I was in a hurry, I still took the time to stop and give them a donation as I left and added, “Here we are on a Sunday morning and I’m headed to church. It would defeat the purpose to simply rush by and not stop to help those who are helping others." (I knew the organization was a dedicated local non-profit).  So, my lesson to myself for the day was this: If you are going to church and decide you are in too big a hurry to stop and help those in need or who are helping those who are hungry and in need of loving assistance, you should stop, (as I did), to remember the purpose of WHY we go to church in the first place!

       Some years back, I was leaving a dollar store in an area that was notorious for panhandlers and those looking for handouts. A man who probably was not very old was lying on the sidewalk close to the entrance, and I stopped and gave him a five-dollar bill. I’ll never forget the look on that man’s face, as I turned to leave. The look I saw gave me a sense of shame, and I remember after all these years, the feeling I had of a need to assess my own humanity. People passed by this young person who was lying by the door as if he was a piece of discarded tissue.

     I know that I have tried to be conscious of all those who are on the streets as we meander through our days and see these people as fixtures in our lives. At times, when we are busy, we don’t see them. They are simply there. We are too busy just passing by.

    Jesus stopped and healed a man who had been waiting for years to find comfort and solace and humanity. As Christians, we are Christ’s messengers who carry an important tiding of solace and hope. Yet we are tardy and neglectful at times, and we think too often of our own wants and desires. And that is why we are imperfect and human and mindful of the fact that we need to be forgiven by God. Fortunately for us, God does not treat us as passers-by. He listens to our prayers, eagerly nurtures our hopes and comforts us through our sorrows and tribulations. We cannot become mere passers-by when practicing Christianity. The need for today and every day is for us to go ‘all-in’ on the message of Christ.  “As I have done for others, it is for you to treat others as you would have them do the same for you. “-