Food for Thought-Where Was God When Germanwings 9525 Crashed?

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I wish I knew. I don’t say this lightly. Some people aren’t going to like this but I’m going to say what’s been bothering me since I first heard the news on Wednesday. If I as a pastor can’t speak my mind, then who can? I’ve been wrestling with this question for three days now. Amid the discussions about mental health and cockpit security, the “God” question has been foremost in my mind. From the moment we realized the passengers and crew were aware of a serious problem (via the in-flight recorder) they too must have known their own deaths were imminent.

Why did God allow 149 innocent people to perish on the side of a French mountain? This question can be posed in any number of ways involving tragedies ranging from disease, famine, and natural disaster. Why does God permit any of these things? For the moment, I only want to talk about the plane crash.

I hear accounts of miracles on almost a daily basis. Listening to stories of God’s divine intervention and miraculous actions are not new to me; they are part of my work. Earlier this week, a man came to the church to tell me the story of his fiancé, crippled in an automobile accident last year now slowly regaining the use of her limbs. This he assured was a miracle and a response to his unceasing prayers. God had intervened on the night of the accident and saved the life his beloved. Now, she might walk again. I hope so. I prayed with him for over 30 minutes about his life and the life of the woman he hoped to marry.

I read in scripture that God actively intervened to deliver the Israelites from military catastrophes and social disasters. Jesus healed people day in and day out of his three year ministry.

It would seem easy for the God who divided the Red Sea, raised Lazarus, and is doing miraculous things for nearly everyone I encounter on Facebook, to cause the electronic lock to fail on the interior of a cabin door of an A320 about to crash in the French Alps so the pilot might save the lives of 149 innocent people. For some reason, that miracle doesn’t occur. That would be a miracle I would love to weep about, hold up to the world, and point to the mysterious workings of a great and wonderful God. I can’t do that; because my God, the God who worked that way in Exodus, Joshua, Matthew, and Mark is not working that way on a Germanwings flight over the French Alps. I don’t know where that God is now. I would like to know where that God has gone. How can this God be credited with so many things in my world (pre-mature babies born safely, people healed of cancer) and no one hold the same God accountable for the unspeakable terror of which Flight 9525 is only one example.  Some will call such statements heresy.  I call it a fair question, especially at Easter.

Perhaps that idea of God died en route to Dusseldorf.  Like a modern day version of Calvary on a Good Friday that never ends, God has fled the scene we are left to pick up the pieces. So we wait, for redemption, deliverance, and meaning from torn up doctor’s notes and aviation experts.  Woven in between the frantic words of explanation is the one truth of Holy Week: God can die and we must acknowledge this reality.

Food for Thought-A Lewis Carroll Inspired Collect for Holy Week

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Almighty God, as we prepare to step through the looking glass of our lives into the topsy-turvy world of resurrection living; fashion our hearts and minds for the Mad Hatters of Maundy Thursday, the Damnable Dormice of Good Friday, and the blank stares of the March Hare on a bleak Saturday afternoon.

As we recall your tea party, a celebration of life and living of gifts and giving; may we say what we mean and do the things we remember not for a queen or king but you, our friend, in whom we believe. For much we have heard and some we have not seen and yet we still, even today, say we believe.

Amen.

Food for Thought-Psalm 51 Questions and Reflections

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I can imagine they liked to sing. They were a singing bunch; like pirates. I can hear the disciples walking down the Galilean hills singing these words. Once I put multiple voices to the words of the Psalm, it no longer seem melancholy, penitential, or sad. Instead, the words of Psalm 51 seem to be brimming with joy and life.

I can imagine that music allowed the disciples to put things into perspective and calm their spirits.

In the music of Psalms, we find words in which the disciples can place their hopes and fears, words in which they can try to understand their individual and collective realities. The stories of their lives are told in the Psalms they sing.

I think these verses are ones the disciples knew, had sung before, or first heard as part of a sermon or exhortation from John the Baptizer. When we read Psalm 51, we’re hearing the melodic glue that held the apostolic community together.

It is in verse 10 where the words begin to cling to our souls and take meaning from the world around them. What does it mean to “put a clean heart” into our bodies and a “new and right spirit” within us?

a) What would this look like?
b) We don’t want the Holy Spirit to be taken away from us. We need that companionship. Why is this so important, particularly in an era that had no understanding of the Holy Trinity?
c) “Restore the Joy of My Salvation”- How do I get back to a place where God’s priorities outweigh my own? My salvation is still there, in place but it needs restoration. Your salvation is not in jeopardy; it needs a reorientation back to God’s priorities. Central to that restoration is a sense of joy.
d) Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Once all of these things have happened, “I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you”.
What does that look like?

Teaching transgressors? Who are the transgressors? What are your ways? Who or what constitutes a sinner? What are they returning to or from?

Food for Thought-My Grandmother Is Dying

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My grandmother is dying. She has a large cancerous tumor in her stomach that is visible to the naked eye beneath her skin just above her waistline. She is in a great deal of pain that may only be ameliorated by regulated amounts of morphine. As of this morning, she can no longer communicate. Such are the remaining hours of life for an octogenarian, dying in America, in the capable hands of Hospice, surrounded by family, and abandoned by God. I can’t stand to see anyone suffer. It’s much worse to see those whom I love suffer. It’s even worse to see family and friends pray that God may relieve my Grandmother’s pain and day after day the pain grows worse. God does nothing. Our prayers fall on deaf ears. The final trip over the river Jordan is inevitably delayed time and time again. One might come to believe God doesn’t care, isn’t listening, or that suffering is endemic to the human condition despite our relationship with God. I keep telling my mother (it’s my job, remember) that God has intervened on behalf of the faithful throughout history. I hate being made out to be liar, especially to my own family. Despite my protestations, God remains silent.  My Grandmother lingers in pain because, as one nurse told my mother, “she’s fearful of dying.”  So that’s why she’s suffering, the God I’ve dedicated my life to serving is keeping her alive (and in pain) out of her own fear of eternity.  How do people become so misguided in their understanding of God?

Where is God in all this? Where is the connection between Christ’s suffering then and being active in the world now? One child goes into remission, one person gets healed, one marriage gets restored and we claim proof that God still answers prayers. Yet for the one, the sole example, millions of people go to funerals and leave hospitals without the miracles, only to be told, “I guess God needed a new angel”. We have no good answer for the people who don’t get their prayers answered the “right” way. Our only responses are clichés; pat answers that pour salt on the open wounds of grieving souls.  Again, I hate being made out to be a liar, especially on such a pretty afternoon.

Food for Thought-Pastoral Prayer 3rd Sunday of Lent

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Gracious God,

Come find us in the corners of the temples where we have hidden ourselves.  We don’t want to be torn down and re-made; not in three days or forty-six years.  We have grown comfortable with our lifestyles, accustomed to changing our money, paying what we can afford to make blood sacrifices to our personal versions of God.  We are so enmeshed in the system we no longer realize how out of hand things have become.  We don’t realize by handing over and participating in the empty rituals around us, we are complicit in the corruption you have come to expose.  May today be the day we stop participating in a corrupt system in order to pay for the right to worship our God.  May today be the day we realize the price of prayer is nothing and coming to God is something we are able to do without gatekeepers or buying a ticket to enter a building.  May we spread this message far and wide.  May we bring God’s presence to those who feel locked out, abandoned, and forgotten.  To those who seek healing, we offer our own contrite hearts and broken spirits as free sacrifices and gifts of love.  To those who mourn, comfort them in their loss and shield them in their grief.  Here us now, as we pray…

Food for Thought-I’m Not Sure I Want to Be Washed Whiter Than Snow

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After witnessing the epic winter weather across the United States and two recent snow events here in North Carolina, I have meditated upon the words of Psalm 51:7. The Psalmist writes, “Purge me with hyssop; and I shall be made clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” For Christians, there is an obvious allusion within those words to Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. However, it is helpful to remember, these are not Jesus’ words. In the opening chapter of Isaiah, the Lord says (in an appeal to the reason of the Israelite people), he has a desire to prevent the further destruction of Israel. “Though your sins are like scarlet,” says God, “they will be white as snow. If they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool. If you agree and obey.” Context matters. This passage has nothing to do with the salvation of humanity or Jesus of Nazareth. It does have everything to do with the imminent deportation with the Israelite nation to Babylon. God will square them with Babylon; not their sins with the cosmos. That’s not the issue.

Jesus never uses the word “snow”. The word was used to describe his apparel at his ascension in Matthew’s gospel. John recycles Isaiah’s prophecy and adapts it to early Christian apocalyptic thought in the Book of Revelation. That’s the sum total of snow in the New Testament. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, made no mention of our bloody sins being washed away. Shedding and washing are two completely different words in New Testament Greek.  Washing sounds folksy and like something you can imagine your grandmother doing.  Someone “shedding” blood sounds like a man who was taken out to a Roman Imperial black site and executed on political charges.  As a result, if Jesus never talked about our sins becoming as white as snow (as a result of his sacrificial shedding of blood). So why do we keep pushing this image?  Is it because of the sanguine obsessions of late 19th century hymn writers?  Because it’s not in the New Testament. It’s not something attributable to Jesus of Nazareth.  Call me crazy, but I put a priority on doing things Jesus did, not stuff  we make up and then later pretend he did or said.

I don’t want to be washed white as fresh snow. I don’t think Jesus wants me washed as white as the wind driven snow on a George Winston CD cover. Jesus needs me dirty, tarnished, muddy, and filthy. Because this is who Jesus has called me to serve, love, and live among. The people who can’t go inside, make chili, post pictures on Facebook, haven’t showered in days, have no one to love them, can’t afford their Lorazepam, the people who are broken and no one wants to sully themselves by stopping to look at the dirty mess by the side of the road. Because if you’re looking at them, how can you praise God for all the great things God has done for you, how blessed you’ve been, and how grateful you are that you are clean.

Lord, I beg you. Keep me dirty and muddy and free from unsound scriptural metaphors about snow.  I need my sins to make me a better Christian.

Food for Thought-Morning Prayer for the 1st Sunday of Lent (B)

You have come alongside us for the Lenten journey. These are early days. We do not fully understand the destination. Jerusalem is both a memory and a dream. In the early hours before dawn, the air is cool and the sky remains dark. What we do see is obscured by our own fear. Help us to progress forward this day. May we trust when we do not see. May we seek when the path is dark. May we proclaim when there is no one to hear. In this place and moment, we light your light. We proclaim your word. You church is here, on our journey, in this sacred space. Consecrate our time, our words, and the world around us so that we may worship you in safety and peace. Bless those who are sick, grieving, hungry, cold, and ailing among this community and beyond. May we go to them as ministers of grace and mercy who carry the reality of healing and hope. Into brokenness of our lives, sand the jagged edges of emotions that stop us from truly living in community and journeying with others. Forgive us for seeking to live beyond hope.
For all that we are, you are more than we imagine,

Amen