Archive for the ‘Feast Days and Holy Days’ Category

It was quite political back then as well. Governments were corrupt and so was the religious establishment.

Everyone thought they knew how things would go. For the disciples, they had a miracle worker as their teacher/leader. He could stop a storm and raise people from the dead. Surely he would prevail.

The Sanhedrin and Pharisees had a prophecy and traditions to uphold. They were “all in” and were confident that they would know and recognize the foretold Messiah. But this young upstart, this Jesus, was just another rebel, using tricks and magic to sway the masses.

And the Romans, well, they had their law and order and strength to rule the whole world. Their gods had blessed their Caesar and they were loyal to a fault. Why would they even question that authority? God help the man who tried.

Just One More Death

He was just one more punishment, one more lesson for the masses, one more death. That one they called Jesus, he could have talked his way out of it; the evidence was sketchy at best. The crowd could yelled louder to release him. Even the disciples wondered why he didn’t stop the proceedings.

None of it made sense to the human mind or to the naked eye. sometimes it’s the worst of times that must happen to shed light on the truth.

” By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?” Isaiah 53:8 [RSV,CV]

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HosannaI just did a brief review of the other posts I’ve done about Hosanna! Such a powerful word and so poorly understood. Certainly, during the time of Christ, it’s original meaning prevailed: Save us!

The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:  Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Yes! The King of Israel! [John 12:12-13, The Message]

Of course, in today’s world, the idea of needing to be saved has been usurped by the “born again” crowd (and I can’t exclude myself from this group either).

But I know how off-putting it can be. I had only been a follower of Christ for a few weeks when a friend convinced me to attend his church, a Pentecostal church in upper Manhattan. It was my first time in a church since my teens and although I was sure of my new found elmer-gantry2faith, I had no answer when a well-meaning greeter asked me on my way out: “Are you saved Sister?”

What? Saved from what? All I could think about was Elmer Gantry or Robert Duvall’s The Apostle. So much fire and brimstone and drama. Are you saved?

And yet, Hosanna is proclaimed on Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The people welcomed him and believed in his power to “save them.”

Art by Johannes Bengtsson

Art by Johannes Bengtsson

I have to say, hell-fire and brimstone were never the driving force behind my transformation from self-serving bohemian to Jesus freak. For me, it was pure revelation: truth became evident and indisputable. I could not call Jesus a lie. But I didn’t exactly feel saved either. I was, of course, but I couldn’t see that back then. I couldn’t see my own descent into the dark world of drugs, alcohol, and free sex. I was spiraling dangerously fast until Christ grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the maelstrom. But I dhelpidn’t really see it until much later, from a distance.

So, yes. I was saved. I am saved.

Perhaps the cry for us today is simpler: Help! Just help.

And Jesus answers: “I will.”

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What does it mean “to enter?” I guess there has to be a designated portal or opening, a path or direction. Entering implies leaving. Entering also implies that an observation is made from the inside, coming in.

Hebrews 10:19-20a; 22
Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart . . .

I remember, back in Indianapolis, I was asked to pledge a high school sorority of some notoriety because it was made up of girls from three separate north side high schools. It had a very long history, apparently as far back as the 1930’s and, based on a cursory Internet search, it was still around in the 90’s. I only mention it because it was the first time I experienced the power of the word, “Enter.” Like most of these types of organizations, there was great hierarchy between the members and the pledges. There were many rules and a lot of “etiquette,” for lack of a better term. And one of the requirements before each pledge could come into a room of members, she had to ask permission to enter. I will never forget that feeling of being made to wait to “enter.”

Another strong memory about entering is from the theatre. There is nothing that can compare with the first entrance onto a stage. There are jitters and nerves, there are fears and expectations, as well as a zillion other feelings. To enter from the sidelines and into the performing area, is literally, like leaving one existence to penetrate another.

The Most Holy Place is not just a place where God hangs out sometimes. This is where God is all the time in a unique and accessible way. This IS God.

In Old Testament times, the “Most Holy Place” was only entered once a year, and then with grave and solemn preparations, including bells on the priest’s robe to insure the people could hear him moving around (some even said a cord was tied to his ankle to drag him out if he died in there – but this is not fully substantiated). That High Priest was the only one who could enter. That was the Law.

Then, a new way comes along and through the single sacrifice of the Christ: all could (and can) enter, all could (and do) have access, all (could and can) engage God in a personal and unique way.

Here’s the sad part: most of us don’t know how to stay there. Legally, through the work of Christ and our faith in the process, we’re in. But we don’t stay in. We act like high school sorority pledges who stand and wait until someone calls us in (perhaps through a Sunday morning worship service or particularly moving sermon or song). We stand like actors and actresses waiting in the wings for our “cue.” We forget about the freedom.

One of our family dogs, a black lab mix, is totally goofy. From the first day we adopted her (at about 4 months), she was afraid of doors and entrances. We had to coax and dangle treats and demonstrate over and over again that no harm would come to her. Finally, she would come in (or go out), and everything was fine. . . until the next time. And we’d have to start all over again.

Humans act the same way; bona fide Christ followers and yet we still stand at the entrance and wait, afraid to enter because it’s not familiar, it’s so unlike “here,” it’s Godspace. We forget the new and living way.

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Batik by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese, Malaysia

Sometimes it’s not worth engaging in discussions that will go nowhere, particularly if people are getting upset and defensive. No one gains. If anything, more is said than should have been said and the controversy escalates. I have seen this happen a hundred times. I’m done.

Titus 3:9
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

We had a controversy in our local community that was extremely divisive. Conversations were misrepresented; newspapers reported incomplete information and often, with only one side of the story or pure hearsay; while social networks were used to accuse and inflame an already unstable situation. And to what end? The people in the center of it all felt no better, just wrenched apart emotionally. The only thing that lessened the impact was the wisdom of a few who said: don’t engage, don’t add, don’t comment. And eventually, this proved the best choice; the furor abated and people moved on with their lives.

When Jesus stood before the different “authorities” on those fateful days before his crucifixion, he, too was silent. What would have been the point? No one would have believed him more that day than any other day. There was nothing more to be said. His great controversy had to be endured and he knew the meaning from the beginning. He may not have known how the whole thing would play out, the passing from one dignitary to another (think about it: he saw three “leaders” in the course of 24 hours who could have changed the world), but he knew the outcome would be the same: torture and death to the body.

But Jesus also knew about the third day. He knew about the results. He trusted God, despite the pain, the desolation, the anger, and the very air of evil that encircled him. Words were nothing.

And so, Jesus, as foretold throughout the histories and prophecies, rose from the dead. That event put all controversies into perspective.

When all is said and done, most stories have an opportunity for resurrection and transformation. With God, there is always hope. There is no irredeemable act. Even in the face of evil, we must hold fast to our belief that “love wins” — God wins!

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Photo by Mike Dykstra

How often do we need to remind someone? In my house, we must remind teenagers every day (and more than once a day) to clean the cat box, empty the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher. And how many more times if we added, “choose what is good today.”

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
[NIV 2011]

I haven’t been able to verify this piece of information, but I did read somewhere that parents, in order to teach a small child or toddler to say “please” and “thank you,” must be remind the child at least 10,000 times before he or she will remember. That’s daunting. In a year, that’s 27 times a day. And if one has more than child . . . you do the math.

Apparently, it’s not much better with adults who must learn the basics of walking out the faith, the very faith they have chosen to follow and even profess. They must be reminded to choose “good,” to obey authorities, to be considerate and to be gentle towards everyone.

If we must be reminded, the implication is clear: we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it either. Why?

As Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Is it really just forgetting to do it? That’s what my kids say, “I forgot.” My husband is particularly irked by his ignored requests, taking that behavior as a choice and therefore lack of respect.

Maybe it’s just our human tendency to take the easier way, the wide road. After all, choosing to “do good” might take me out of my way or inconvenience me. Being obedient might entail putting that person’s request above my own plans. Or, it could be a type of laziness.

But what about the other elements of this teaching from Paul to Titus? What excuse would there be for not keeping the peace or conducting oneself gently? Is it easier to be argumentative and domineering? Perhaps it’s a safety issue again, a control issue. Somewhere along the line, the idea of being gentle feels too much like being a door mat and keeping the peace may mean giving way to my ideas or my decisions.

Or, maybe I just need to be reminded.

Where do the reminders come from? Sermons? Reading? Small group meetings? Blogs? Music? Yes to all of these and more. We immerse ourselves in these mediums to help us remember.

Other faith traditions do the same thing, keeping feasts and festivals and rituals to help the people remember the why’s of faith.

Today is Good Friday, 2011. It is a day for us to remember the Christ who died, crucified, and the mystery that would be revealed. And as we do, we might also remember the rest of the story, the part that leads us to choose a better way each day.

Thanks be to God.

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Since I struggle with chameleon tendencies, I have been uncomfortable with Paul’s assertion to “become all things to all men” to win them to the faith. But then I realized: non-judgmentalism comes with adaptation. And that’s the crux of it all.

I Corinthians 9:22b
I have [in short] become all things to all men, that I might by all means (at all costs and in any and every way) save some [by winning them to faith in Jesus Christ]

Paul consciously chose to adapt to the people around him; he was not pretending to be someone else to be liked. He chose to “be” with people fully. Jesus did the same thing. He spoke to be understood. He genuinely listened. He was present in the moment.

Adapting does not necessarily mean imitating. It’s not necessary to speak crassly to be around people who do. Nor does it mean I must smoke, use drugs, or drink because they do. But, it does mean I can’t condemn them for their way of speech or habits. It is accepting them where they are right now that makes the whole difference.

I am personally sensitive to cursory attention. When I am out of my own comfort zone, around wealthier people or people with greater authority or power, I am aware of my non-status in some of their eyes and demeanor. And I yet, I think I do the same thing to others who don’t measure up to my own internally set standards. God forbid.

People don’t want my pity, my sympathy, or my indulgence. All of these come with an assumption that I have it better than they do, either by luck or perseverance. And yet, does that make me better?

It goes back to the “sacred other.” It goes back to the heart of humanity. Instead of identifying differences, I want to be seeking for similarities.

As babies, we were all seeking the same thing: safety. And that safety was demonstrated to us by a primary caregiver. If we didn’t get that then, we are still looking for it as children, teens, or adults.

Am I a place of safety for others? Can I become one? Isn’t this part of my mission as a believer? To manifest acceptance and safety: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” [Psalm 32:7] “My [Jesus’s] prayer is not that you [God] take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” [John 17:15]

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On Easter morning, we need to consider this detail: women played a key role as messengers of truth. In fact, from the visits to Bethany through Jesus’s Paschal journey and on into the days and weeks after the resurrection, women were players: devoted, faithful and strong. They still are.

Romans 16:1-2, 6, 12-13, 15 and more
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church . . . Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. . . . Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. . . . Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman . . . Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

At first blush, Romans 16 appears as boring as Matthew’s genealogy used to be for me. But a closer examination reveals the same mystery: the powerful women! There are lots and lots of women mentioned here and in most cases, they are clearly cherished by Paul.

The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16 was such a sleeper for me until I experienced an epiphany and saw the reason behind mentioning the women in those verses (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary). They had a message for me: if God could use them, he could use me. And out of that revelation, I created a one-woman show that I toured for several years called Pente.

Now, in this chapter, I see another group of women with very little story to illuminate their place in the timeline, and yet, they are there: Phoebe, Priscilla, another Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, and countless unnamed ones since households were listed by the head of house alone. But women were there, serving, loving, praying, and working in tandem with their families to illustrate the message of Jesus.

Scholars assume Phoebe actually carried the letter of Paul to the Romans. Was she allowed to read it? Did she travel from church to church (there were many house churches) in that great city? Did she carry additional personal messages from Paul? She was from a coastal city of Corinth, at least 600 miles from Rome. That was no gentle expedition. I’m not saying she was the Pony Express, but it’s amazing for that time period for a woman to travel with this type of a mission.

I know, there are other places where Paul seems to give women the back seat. I struggle with these sections too. But as I study those areas along my New Testament trek, I want to remember this Paul, who sent Phoebe with a critical letter to the gentile believers in Rome.

All of the women to whom Paul is sending greetings are commended for their “work.” I doubt he means “woman’s work” either. He is talking about the same work that all of us are called to do: being a witness in word and action: fulfilling the call of Christ in our lives, equally distributed by grace.

Oh yes, this is a day to remember and celebrate that Jesus’s work on the cross included a great emancipation for women of faith. Amen.

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