September 27, 2012

About that plucking out the eye thing...

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. - Mark 9:42-48

One of them came in wet with a millstone and a rope
knotted around his throat gasping for air having dragged
the damn thing up from the bottom of the river
where he once was baptized a while back
because he had cursed at a child for high pitched screaming

Another came in with her right hand
hacked off – she was left-handed –
and she dripped crimson drops all the way
down the hall to Jesus' living room
admitting she had used the missing appendage
to flip someone off in traffic for cutting in

One more limped in with a lopped off foot
in his hand and he dropped to the floor sobbing
because he had tripped someone in line
in front of him to get a better seat
at Bonnaroo this year to see Radiohead

Then there was the disciple who had an eye patch
and fumbled her way through the door
having glared at her next door neighbor with
a bitchy stare because she looked so freaking good
in that new dress and those shoes with red soles
and wished she would trip and tear her ACL

They gathered around Jesus, each face
with a seriousness that puzzled the good Lord
except for the one with the plucked out eye –
it was hard to look puzzled with the patch and all.
He looked at them and said,
holding back an uncharacteristic chuckle:

For God’s sake, stop damaging yourselves.
You know I was kidding, right? 
Have you heard of hyperbole, people?
Just don’t do those mean things anymore
and if you do, say you’re sorry, make amends, and move on.
Lift up the lowly and respect the helpless.  
 It’s just not that hard.
Come on, folks!  Get over yourselves!
You're not that bad, and you're not that good.

And then they ate supper and he taught them
many more things that they misunderstood.

September 19, 2012

Jesus and the Boys

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.     - Mark 9:30-37

Like seven-year-olds wearing black capes
and flying through the green back yard

we spit and sputter in staccato speech
I’m the greatest… no I am…. no really it’s me

all while listening to our Jesus buddy ramble on
about betrayal and death and a whisper about after that

but we raise our pecan stick swords way high over head
and battle and pretend a beheaded victory

still the Nazareth dude nullifies our superhero powers
with a reminder of the one thing that deflates all grandiosity:

someone has come to serve you and lift you up
even the child in you that imagines you alone lift up yourself

and so we crack the sticks on our knees, untie our capes
and pray: help us redefine greatness once more through you

help the boys let go of grasping after fake powers
help the boys become men with life to give away

September 11, 2012

Lose Yourself Along the Way

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  - Mark 8:34-37

this road you pave with your words
and your broken body and blood poured

it is not on the lustrous map I bought on Amazon
the Travel Channel has not done a feature on the highlights and hot spots

there is no restaurant tour with stops for every palate
and no kitschy giant dinosaurs to stop and take snapshots with the kids

this way that you speak of with mouth wide open
is every dark dream we ever feared might be true

and all that we wish we could fix about our lot
and the sum of all we reject and hide in the mind’s black box

hoping we will never lose control and crash into the jungle
and have its contents played for all to hear

but you say this path, this bumpy road, this crooked cross highway
is the way of life itself, the gift hidden inside the ugly truth

that we will indeed know suffering no matter our resistance
but oh, letting it befriend us we finally have something to live for

something bigger than ourselves, so trembling we submit
and sink into your eddy of mercy and welcome the news

we live only when we have something we are willing to die for
when we know that our lives in their short span were spent for love

September 8, 2012

Nothing Left to Prove

 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
- James 2:1-7,14-17

Some people (and by people I mean mostly Lutherans) get nervous when they read James.  They worry that this text undermines the good news that we are good with God because God loves and chooses us, and we don't have to do anything to earn it or prove it.  When they read James, they think it sounds like James is saying this:  Prove your faith by doing good things for others.

We all know how much we want to prove things.  We don't want to trust anyone's word.  We don't like too much risk so we require contracts and legal repercussions.  It's a bit like this song Proof from Paul Simon:
Some people gonna call you up
Tell you something that you already know
Sane people go crazy on you
Say “No, man, that’s not
The deal we made
I got to, I got to go”
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone

Faith seems like an island in the setting sun.  I think Simon is being ironic here and critiquing our reliance on proof.  It's how we all work, so that must be how everything is.

Except, when we hear the good news of God in Christ who works wonders through mercy and grace and love that surrounds and fills everything.  Then we hear the real bottom line:  We have nothing left to prove.

This, I think, is how James is speaking.  We have nothing left to prove.  We have faith, that is, a deep, life-transforming trust, in the good news of God's endless grace in Christ.  So when we know we have nothing left to prove, our faith lives out freely in acts of mercy towards others.  In fact, it is when you think you have to prove something that your faith gets self-centered and loses all power.  It is dead.  And nothing good comes from it.  Certainly not love of your neighbor.

When you know you have nothing left to prove, you also know you have life to live.  And living this one human life means loving others in all their need, making sure they don't have to prove anything to us in order to be worthy of mercy.