Worship – First Sunday in Lent

**This first Sunday in Lent, Ginter Park Baptist Church has had to cancel activities.  This was to be the first Sunday of a series entitled, Walking into Darkness based on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  The following is an adaptation of the liturgy planned for the day.  May it help you to worship… Pealing the Hour(Enjoy this clip of the bells pealing at the Cathedral of Saint Paul as you settle your spirit into worship.) Prayer of Invocation – Holy God, on this morning when we feel the frustration of a week interrupted by weather, we seek a holy interruption in our life.  As we are unable to gather together as the body in worship, we feel the absence of community.  May that be a meaningful reminder of the significance the habit of worshiping together has for our faith.  As we come before you to worship, connect us though we be apart.  Grant us courage to welcome your presence.  Help us to encounter you in this season of “learning to walk in the dark” as we follow the footsteps of your son, Jesus the Christ who taught us to pray… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Scripture Reading-   Matthew 8:11-12      

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 1while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reading from Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor-      “Courage,” [James Bremner writes], “which is no more than the management of fear, must be practiced. For this, children need a widespread, easily obtained, cheap, renewable source of something scary but not actually dangerous.” Darkness, he says, fits that bill…How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?…The connection between light and safety may never be fully understood…since what light can really do and what we imagine it can do are not completely different things. If we believe a bright security light keeps us safer after dark, there is not a statistic in the world with power to persuade us otherwise. (Pages 37 and 71.)

Confessional Prayer-      O Lord for whom the night is as day, we confess our fear of the dark. From childhood anxieties of monsters under the bed, to fears of criminals hiding in darkened streets, we imagine the worst when we cannot see. We admit that our fears run wild in our minds when we feel vulnerable. Forgive us when we consciously make wasteful and hurtful decisions based on irrational fears. Grant us the courage to walk in the dark, to practice calming our fears and trusting your presence even there. Teach us to walk in faith – the conviction of things not seen – and not in fear. In the name of Jesus, who shines in the darkness and is not overcome, we pray. Amen.

Keeping Silence

Kyrie Eleison (Listen to this recording of Benedictine monks chanting the kyrie.)

Extinguishing First Candle (The first of the Tenebrae candles is extinguished.)

Assurance of Forgiveness – Psalm 139:1-2, 7-12, 23-24      O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.  Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fastIf I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Call:  Friends, believe the good news of God.

 Response:  In Jesus Christ, we are made whole.

  Anthem – Once Upon a Tree by Pepper Choplin

Once upon a tree, a good man died,

and though He did no crime, He was crucified.

If the story ended there, I would have no song to share,

But my heart will ever sing the story.


Once upon a tree, so the story goes,

and all its mystery surely no one knows.

Could the Father’s will be done through the suff’ring of His Son?

And there comes the answer, “Once upon a tree.”


For God so loved the world, He gave His priceless pearl.

What greater love could there be?

He died, He rose again, still the story doesn’t end,

for His spirit is living in me.

What tale of human love could there ever be told?

What song could compare with the one I hold?

Through ev’rything I am and through ev’rything I’ll be,

Let me sing my story: “Once upon a tree.”

 Offering (You may give an offering through the “Give Online” link on the Ginter Park website, if you would like.)

Offertory Prayer – Thank you, Generous God, for the many gifts you have given us.  Thank you for the opportunity to share in your work through generously giving of our resources.  Because you have blessed us, we have much to give.  May this offering express our gratitude, and, be used to share your love and goodness with the world.  For this is the work, your work, to which we dedicate all of who we are and what we have.  Amen.

Scripture Reading – Exodus 20:1-3, 18-21      Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me…When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Reflection(The reflection is a compilation of excerpts from Learning to Walk in the Dark helping to introduce our Lenten worship series.)

Benediction –     In the goodness of God, you were created by God in the image of God.  By the grace of God, you are being renewed and recreated this day, and, all of your days.  Go now with God’s blessing and peace.  The peace that passes all understanding.  Amen.

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Walking into Darkness, a Lenten Liturgy

BBTCoverWalking into Darkness is a Lenten Liturgy using readings from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.  It was developed in collaboration after a discussion between Tim and I sparked the idea.  My congregation will be “walking into darkness” this Lent using this liturgy.  We are sharing it with you in hopes it will be helpful and may inspire creativity and adaption to your context.  The liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent, and the notes of explanation, are included in this post.

The full series may be accessed through this link – Lenten Liturgy: Walking into Darkness.

First Sunday of Lent – Facing our Fears

Sermon Scripture: Exodus 20:1-3; 18-21

Liturgical Readings:

First step into Tenebrae darkness – Matt 8:11-12

Reading from Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

“Courage,” [James Bremner writes], “which is no more than the management of fear, must be practiced. For this, children need a widespread, easily obtained, cheap, renewable source of something scary but not actually dangerous.”[1] Darkness, he says, fits that bill… How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?… The connection between light and safety may never be fully understood… since what light can really do and what we imagine it can do are not completely different things. If we believe a bright security light keeps us safer after dark, there is not a statistic in the world with power to persuade us otherwise. (pages 37, 71)

Confessional Prayer

O Lord for whom the night is as day, we confess our fear of the dark. From childhood anxieties of monsters under the bed, to fears of criminals hiding in darkened streets, we imagine the worst when we cannot see. We admit that our fears run wild in our minds when we feel vulnerable. Forgive us when we consciously make wasteful and hurtful decisions based on irrational fears. Grant us the courage to walk in the dark, to practice calming our fears and trusting your presence even there. Teach us to walk in faith – the conviction of things not seen – and not in fear. In the name of Jesus, who shines in the darkness and is not overcome, we pray, AMEN.

Alternative testimony on facing fears


Kyrie & extinguishing the first candle

Assurance of Forgiveness – Psalm 139:1-2, 7-12, 23-24

Leader: Friends, believe the good news of God.

All: In Jesus Christ, we are made whole.

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Mother Emmanuel (A sermon on John 19:25b-30 for Ginter Park Baptist Church on February 23, 2014. The third in a series on Mary, Beyond Christmas.)

marymodernJesus’ ministry is “framed” by Mary in the Gospel of John. The word “Emmanuel” means God with us, and was used in the way Matthew told the story of Jesus’ birth, when an angel in a dream told Joseph that Jesus was to be Emmanuel – God with us. Matthew came back to this idea when he ended his gospel. By chapter 28, the resurrected Jesus has gathered his disciples on a mountain. Just before his ascension into heaven, he commissions them. Tells them to go into the world and make disciples. And as he promise, he states, “I will be with you, even till the end of the age.” Matthew’s gospel is framed by this idea that Jesus is always with us.

In John’s gospel Jesus’ ministry is framed by Mary. She is there at the beginning of his ministry, when he turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. She is there at the ending, being one of the few disciples to stay with him at the cross. Mary plays the role of Emmanuel in Jesus’ life. She is the one always there – for better or worse. She’s the one telling him to fix the problem at the wedding. She’s the one who wonders if he’s gone crazy and needs to come home so she can straighten him out. Only Peter dares to rebuke Jesus as strongly within his tribe of followers.

Mary, playing the role of Mother Emmanuel, is the first human being to have expectations for Jesus. As the one who carried him in her womb, even before others talked about him, she was already wondering about him. To stay with him at the cross is to face the reality that her expectations didn’t come true (surely, she didn’t expect this!).

What did it mean that she came to the cross?

Did her place there reveal steps along the journey away from Mary the mother of baby Jesus and towards Mary the disciple of Jesus? What do Jesus’ words to her, mean to her? Is it the final severance of an umbilical cord? Or is it the beginning of something new?

            Sometimes to get unstuck, expectations have to be shattered, first. Death comes before resurrection.

            The exchange between Jesus and Mary and the other disciple reads a bit cold to us-21st-century people. “Woman, here is your son,” he says to Mary. Then to the unnamed disciple, he says, “Here is your mother.” There certainly is no warmth in the exchange of words. It is matter of fact. Simple. To the point. That Jesus was in immense pain and suffering at the time might be cause to cut him some slack on how he spoke to his mother, but given how other gospel passages show Jesus speaking to Mary this interaction looks sadly familiar.

20th century biblical scholars do not help illuminate the conversation. Most focus on it symbolically, which seems a bit like the moments so frequently depicted in movies when the monarch lies on their deathbed making a succession proclamation, or that moment in the Godfather when you see the mantle pass from father to son. Call me skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I love rich symbolism. But to boil this moment down to an academic exercise misses the intimately interpersonal nature of these powerful words. Furthermore, it belittles the very humanity of Jesus. He wasn’t a messianic robot void of feelings and incapable of meaningful relationships. He was a man who loved others deeply. Hanging on the cross, is a man bearing the painful agony of torture, as he prepares to take his last breath, looking down to met the eyes of the woman who bore the painful agony of birth as he prepared to take his first breath.

We can talk about how Mary was a symbol of past tradition all we want but that still doesn’t change the fact that she is so much more than symbol – she is the person who shared the most intimate connected with Jesus. Most commentators on this passage continue the pattern of overlooking Mary beyond her Madonna and child pose.


Why is that? Is it simply a matter of sexism? The patriarchs of the Church muted portraits of Mary the disciple because Mary the mother fit the image of women in the Roman Empire by the late first century? And centuries of male chauvinism continue to taint the interpretation of our exchange today? Or is it more prevailing than that – that once you think you have someone figured out, it is just a lot easier that person through that set of lenses than to be open to new understandings?

What would happen if we chose just to see this exchange as something going on between Mary and Jesus as real, living, feeling, connected people?

On the surface this seems to be Jesus looking out for his mother and making sure that Mary is taken care of after he is gone. But this is odd for a couple of reasons. First, there isn’t any evidence that Jesus took care of Mary during his the time of his ministry. In the gospel accounts of Jesus and Mary, even as early as when he was age 12, in every exchange between them there is an undercurrent of his refusal to be and do what she wants him to be and do. He continually reframes the demands they put on him as family by redefining family. He leaves his hometown touring around teaching and healing, and, when he does return to his hometown he doesn’t return to her home.

Furthermore, she isn’t left all on her own after Jesus dies. She isn’t like Ruth and Naomi who were left with no family and had only each other. Mary has other sons and daughters that are still living. Her son, James, becomes the leader of the Jerusalem Church after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. She wasn’t left without any family to care for and be cared for. Jesus didn’t need to connect her with the beloved disciple so that she wouldn’t be left alone and vulnerable. So, why did he do it? The final words of the dying are typically laden with intentionality and purpose. So, what was it that Jesus was really saying and doing in this moment?

As we saw in last week’s story when Jesus returned to his hometown he didn’t return to Mary’s home. Word gets to Mary that Jesus is talking like he’s lost his mind. People fear he’s gone crazy. And so she and her other sons and daughters go to find him and bring him home where they can fix him. But when Jesus hears his family has come for him he says, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus claims the band of misfits and outcasts that surround him as his family. Mary was saying, “Come home.” Jesus said, “I’m already home.” Family for Jesus had expanded. From family of origin to family of choice. His comment then to his mother and siblings was not a rejection, but an invitation. An invitation for their old relationship to be transformed.

Maybe today’s passage is Jesus’ last invitation to his mother into his family of choice. For Jesus, family had expanded to include his disciples. This intimacy carried on in the Jesus’ movement after his death, resurrection and ascension. All of the books of the New Testament, which originally were letters, speak of fellow Christians as brothers and sisters.

At the cross, Jesus is not dictating his last will and testament and securing protection for his aging mother. He had plenty of siblings to care for her.

At the cross, Jesus is welcoming her into his family of choice, his family of faith and bestowing upon her an elder title of mother, not just sister. Jesus is reorienting her as mother disciple, as Mother Emmanuel.

In Acts 1:13-14 we see a final picture of Mary. It reads, “When they had entered [Jerusalem], they went to the room upstairs where they were staying. Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

Here is Mary the mother disciple, praying with the community, her family of choice, as they all awaited the Holy Spirit to come. Why don’t we have mosaics of Mary praying with the disciples, awaiting the Holy Spirit? This is the climax of her journey– this is the transformative moment – Mary beyond the manger; Mary as praying disciple.


In these three sermons, we’ve seen Mary as she has made the transition from mother to follower – from Madonna to disciple. But in this moment, Jesus seems to entwine those two. Neither is exclusive of the other. And he seems to be blessing that Mary’s future includes the passion of her past. At the end Jesus opens the way for Mary to return to the role of mother, but not as his mother. As a mother disciple.

This is another way in which we might move from one stuck place in the past to a new beginning. To move on in our lives doesn’t have to mean that we never return to enjoy the things we loved in the past. We just have to enjoy them in new incarnations.

So, the star athlete might return, not to revel in old glories, but as a coach to help a new generation become stars on the field. Or the retired engineer might return not to a familiar office and role, but as the leader of a Habitat work team. Or the retired teacher might return not to lead a classroom, but to be a tutor for at risk kids in a local school.

The late-pastor, R.F. Smith discovered this in aftermath of his teenage son’s tragic death. Several months after Forest’s death, a friend of Dr. Smith’s said to him, “Reinvest your love for Forest in other people. You will find it redemptive.” Within a year of his son’s death, Marshall University hired a new football coach. The university was just a handful of blocks from the church and several university leaders were in the congregation. So, when the new coach was looking for a chaplain, R.F. was the first person he contacted. For the next five years, he was a father figure for roughly 100 young men – who were the same age as his son would have been, had he lived.

Tragic circumstances had taken away his role of being father to a son. But in reinvesting the love he had for his son into the lives of dozens of young men his friend’s words proved prophetic. It was redemptive. It helped him grieve and it helped him live again.

Dr. Smith was the mentor of my friend and mentor Tim. So, Dr. Smith is my grand-mentor in a way. At R.F.’s funeral, Tim was seated among the honorary pallbearers. Seated next to him was Sonny Randle, that old coach. He leaned over to Tim and said, “That man saved my life. I became a Christian while he was chaplain of our team.” Tim patted him on the shoulder and replied, “When you asked him to be chaplain to those young men, you might have saved his life as well.”

When Jesus spoke to Mary from the cross, he wasn’t ending her role as mother to him. He was inviting her to a new incarnation, a new role of being mother. To be a mother disciple in the community of the Church, his family of choice and her family of choice.

This is an invitation to all of us…an invitation to break free from expectations, roles, and moments that limit our lives.  It is an invitation to a relationship with Jesus the Christ that will inevitably transform and change us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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Get Behind Me, Mother (A sermon on Mark3:19b-21, 31-35 for Ginter Park Baptist Church on February 16, 2014. The second in a series on Mary, Beyond Christmas.) The second sermon in a series

madonnajesusAs we started this sermon series on Mary last Sunday, we stopped to think about how many of us packed Mary – along with Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and probably a few farm animals – into boxes and hauled them to the attic just a little more than a month ago. With another Christmas behind us, we packed them away with the rest of the Christmas decorations. And for most of us that’s where we will keep Mary, both literally and figuratively, until around the first of December and those dusty boxes are reopening for another holiday’s decorating. But Mary the mother of Jesus was more than just the mother of Jesus. She was also Mary the worried neighbor for her friends’ wedding. Mary the critic of Jesus’ work. Mary the last disciple at the cross. Mary the disciple praying for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. She, like us, is more than any one moment can capture.

During this sermon series, we’re unpacking Mary and freeing her from the confines of the manger scene. And listening to her story, maybe we can see ways in which our lives can be unpacked from the boxes they get confined to – some role, some past mistake, some success that can’t be lived up to, some category that folks use to define us.

But I should warn you – trying to live outside the box isn’t necessarily received well. Especially by those closest to you.

This past Sunday, when we first met Mary-beyond-the-manger-scene last, she was with Jesus and his disciples at a wedding in Cana. When the wine ran out, she pointed it out to Jesus insinuating he could and should do something about it. It was a conversation that seemed like a well worn mother-son script. When Jesus responded that it wasn’t his time, Mary ignored him, told the servants to do whatever Jesus said. And, even though he had protested, a little while later water was turned into wine.

I suggested that something significant happened in that interchange between Jesus and Mary. Both Jesus and Mary seemed to be stuck in old expectations and routines. When Jesus declared that it wasn’t his time – even though he went ahead and did it is anyway – it defined a new moment in their relationship. Though the old conversation played out, a new conversation had begun. In addition to defining a new moment in the mother-son relationship, by turning the water into wine, Jesus defined a new moment in his ministry. As this was the miraculous sign that revealed his glory.

Today’s gospel lesson takes us to another interchange between Jesus and Mary and includes other members of his family. Though it was written by a different author, from a different perspective, it seems to continue the dynamics we saw in the Wedding at Cana story.

Jesus had been preaching and healing in towns across Galilee and had amassed a significant following. Mark tells us, “A great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, even beyond the Jordan River. And then, he returns home – which is where we pick up the story again.

Again, a large crowd came together to see Jesus, so large that they could not even eat. And then Mark tells us, “When his family heard of it….”

But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Jesus heads home and the crowd that follows him is so large that they cannot eat, presumably they don’t have any privacy, or can’t prepare the food because of the crowd. Since Jesus returned home, you would think he would be eating with his family, but apparently he is not, because when his family hears of this they head out to meet him.

Why when Jesus returned to Nazareth did he not return to Mary’s house to eat with his mother and his brothers and sisters? Who is the “they” that could not eat because of the crowd? Is it the disciples? But if so, in whose house are they guests?

Mark tells us that Jesus returned home, but he was not home, at least not at his mother’s home. Is this why Mary and his brothers first came looking for him? Were they brokenhearted as they searched for him? Mad? Disappointed? Confused? Embarrassed? Afraid for him?

We like to think of home as being a “sanctuary.” Home is supposed to be the place where you are safe, where you are loved, where you are always welcome. But we know that is not always true. And even in the best families home can become both sanctuary and prison. Home can be the place that represents being stuck. This can be the case even when parents and their growing children have the best of intentions. Growing up and becoming your own person isn’t an easy thing.

For those of you who are old enough to have done this, have you ever returned to the home of your childhood and slept in your old room and your old bed and suddenly found yourself feeling like you were 16 again? Did good memories flood back as you opened an old high school yearbook? Or when you saw your old letter jacket hanging in the closet? Or did such memories remind you of old anxieties and pressures to fit in? Did you find yourself saying as you put the framed photo of your senior class picture back on the shelf, “But I’m not that person anymore”?

Of course, sometimes parents are the ones who can get stuck. The roles of mother and father, husband and wife, become all consuming, such that the one time savvy businesswoman can no longer think of her identity outside her attachment to spouse or children. For some parents the empty nest is not just a loss of children at home. It is a loss of identity.

The same thing can be true with other identity creators in our lives. Some people keep working far past the age of retirement, not because they need the money, but because they wouldn’t know who they are if they didn’t go to work every weekday. If I’m not an engineer, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a… you name it… what am I? Who am I?


Mary has been known by the portraits, the icons, the frescoes created over the centuries as the Madonna and child – the mother of Jesus. And in real life this is who she was – until Jesus began growing up and claiming his role as Messiah. Then, it meant her role was to change as well. This is the way of parent-child relationships: As the seasons of life change so do the ways we relate to one another. Our connection with our parents and our children is not the same today as it was in the past. And it will not be the same as it is today, as we live into the future.

You can understand why Matthew and Luke, when they were copying Mark’s gospel into their own versions of the Jesus story, left out this scene. Doesn’t look too good. It doesn’t stick to the family values agenda and it certainly doesn’t portray Jesus as the devoted and caring son we might like to think of him as. Mary and his brothers come to get him and restrain him, because…. Well, because they heard people saying, “he has gone out of his mind.” And they believed it.

The verses that conclude this passage feed the fodder that Jesus has lost it. Some tell him, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” And he replies, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

When people try to keep us in old roles, ages, mistakes, sometimes we respond harshly. “You’re not the boss of me anymore.” “You can’t tell me what to do anymore.” “You’re not my mom and sisters and brothers; these are….”

Mark is correct. Jesus had returned home. But he returned not to the home of his family of origin, but to the home of his family of choice.

And who are these people surrounding Jesus? Who is his family of choice? Looking around him we see a crowd of misfits, outcasts and his relentlessly undiscerning disciples. Theologian Wendy Farley imagines what the crowd would look like in our own time, writing, “We might see the strange bodies of the disabled. We might see soldiers with three-fourths of their bodies burned from a firefight… We might see a group of people reeking of cigarettes and coffee at an AA meeting. We might see a (single mother) with a baby on her hip and two men holding hands or holding their adopted child. We might see scraggy members of a mining community singing old-time hymns. (We might see the glazed over eyes of an addict. We might see children playing in bare feet with runny noses.)

When we think about who is near Jesus, it is not the morally perfect. It is just the diverse mess of humanity, with all of its moral, physical, (and) spiritual beauty and imperfection. The only ones not in the picture, the ones not pressing in at the doors and windows, desperate and aching to be near Jesus, are the ones who think they know what religion and family life if supposed to look like.” “It is an odd feature of Jesus’ ministry that he is open to everybody: Gentiles, Jews, the poor, the demented, the sick, working class, women, tax collectors, sexual outcasts.” Some of the only people who provoke Jesus’ intolerance, and there are very few people who do so, are his family.

While Jesus seems to be rejecting his family of origin, he didn’t say, “I’m never coming home, again.” Instead, he seems to be saying, “I don’t need to be fixed.”

Mary brought his siblings with her to drag him home. In her eyes, something was wrong with him. She was going to fix him, set him on the right path, talk some sense into him. Can’t you hear her saying, “Just come home, Jesus, we can get everything straightened out.”

Mary wouldn’t be the last disciple to think Jesus was off on the wrong path. When Peter told Jesus that he would never suffer at the hands of his enemies and to get such ideas out of his head, Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind on human things and not on the things of God.”

In this story, we are getting a front row view of Mary trying to transition from mother to disciple. She doesn’t confront Jesus with simply the concerns of a parent, but rather, she comes to him holding all the expectations of the Messiah. On that day when she told her family to follow her across the village, she did so in much the same way as Peter did when he confronted Jesus. Jesus could have easily said, “Get behind me, Mother. For you are setting your mind on human things and not on the things of God.”

Instead, he said it slightly differently – “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sisters.”

And there it is. In that one short sentence we hear the declaration of a son and a savior that he is his own person and that he will not be confined by the boxes that even his closest kin would put him in. And there Mary is too. Letting go of whatever it is she thought he would and should be to see the man and savior that he really is; to see the way to which he was, and is, calling his disciples to live. She doesn’t give up on Jesus, or turn her back on him, because he fails to meet her expectation. She doesn’t withdraw in shame or embarrassment that she didn’t already understand who he really is and what his ministry is really about. And, she doesn’t shut down because he doesn’t allow her to stay simply Jesus’ mother Mary in that box in the attic. The clarity in his identity and calling causes a shift in their relationship. No doubt, those times when we step out to be really seen, just as we are always shake up our relationships with those who think they know us best.

There are times when we all get stuck – we cling to old expectations and old rules and old routines; we define ourselves by one moment, one mistake, one success. Sometimes, we are boxed in by the expectations of others. May the autonomy of Jesus give us hope for ourselves. Might we be bold enough to grow as he did.   Sometimes, we are the ones boxing others into a caricature defined by our own expectations and stuckness. May it be that faithfulness of Mary give us hope for ourselves. Might we be both enough to grow as she did. May the Spirit of God infuse each moment, phase, role, and relationship. And may the Spirit blow the dust off the boxes we are confined by so that we might follow in the footsteps of Christ. Amen.

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Mother Knows Best (A sermon on John 2:1-12 for Ginter Park Baptist Church on February 9, 2014. The first in a series on Mary, Beyond Christmas.)

Mary SereneToday, we take a break from following the assigned lectionary readings for the day and begin a three week sermon series focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We’ve most recently seen Mary in Advent and it has now been months since we packed her serene-faced image back into a box, alongside the other cast of characters found “away in a manger.”  Not unlike the forgotten recesses of our attic space, other than at Christmas, Mary is often forgotten in the recesses of our minds.  In a patterned fashion, once a year we bring her out of her box, put her on display, and then we pack her away again.  And, the way that she is displayed is thoroughly predictable.  Young and fresh-faced in long flowing clothes.  She is soft looking even when shaped in porcelain or wood.  Her expression is sweetly serene and her posture is one of meek submission as she “ponders all things in her heart.”  But, isn’t she more than that?

We think we know her but like all people that we narrowly define by one event, one action, one time in their life time, we have imprisoned her in the form of a caricature.

          What about you?  Have you been boxed in and imprisoned by one moment in your life?  A time where people judge your character by one mistake you made, or a time of great success that you can never live up to again?  Or maybe you feel that your best years are behind you, and like Mary after Jesus’ birth, you still have a life to live.

Mary has more to teach us than the Christmas story presents.

The glimpses of Mary in the gospels show us that she is a disciple of Jesus.  She was with him and the disciples at the beginning, at this wedding in Cana and at the end, at the cross.  Other than Peter and John, we know more about her than we do about the rest of the disciples.  Her other son, James, became the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.  She was faithfully praying with the disciples and awaiting the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven.  But all those facts are essentially ignored by most Christians.  Or maybe they are simply overshadowed by the Christmas Mary.

I wonder, what gets overshadowed in your life?

What do others not see in you because they see you primarily in one role, or phase in your life – mother, son, senior citizen, toddler, teenager?  Or maybe something in your past continues to define you?  A mistake, an affair, an addiction, a divorce?  Or maybe a moment of great success even, or a career that is now past?

I wonder, what do you overshadow in your own life?  What do you not see in yourself because you only see your life through the lens of one role, one moment, one career…one something?  Are you a Mary stuck in the manger scene?  It can be tempting to think so and it can be so easy to let ourselves get stuck.  But, no, you are more than that, as Mary was more than just a vessel of Christ’s birth.

In this scene set at the wedding at Cana, we see a week-long celebration attended by Jesus, his friends, and his mother.  Weddings rarely go off without a hitch, or at least a glitch, and this one was in trouble because the party was still going strong but there was no more wine left.  “They have no wine, Mary tells Jesus.  He responds, “Mom, that isn’t our problem.  And anyways, it isn’t my time yet.”  She doesn’t respond to him but turns to the servants telling them to obey whatever he tells them.  She assumes he’s going to do something about the situation even though he objects.  And even though he says it isn’t his time to intervene, he does.

There is something about this that seems like a familiar conversation.  It makes me curious whether this is a pattern of how they related to one another.  Had there been other times when Jesus, as the oldest son, had dutifully helped his mother out?  When the dishes had piled up in the sink and time had run out to clean up before the company arrived, when arguments between his brothers erupted at the dinner table over who’d get the last crescent roll, and that time when his little brother James had split his chin open on the backyard swing set…had Mary given Jesus that pleading and knowing look as she mentioned how wonderful it would be if someone had the power to help?

When she points out that there is no wine, she asks nothing of him outright.  But his response makes clear that her words contain an implied request.  The implication reveals her expectation that he can and should do something about it.  I wonder if, as she was surrounded by the celebration of this wedding, where her 30-something year old single son was hanging out with his friends, if she might have had a smidge of frustration that her son wasn’t getting on with living the life she expected of him.  After all, why was she not celebrating his wedding instead of some other mother’s son?  But she comes to him for help for the family and what does he say? “Mom, it’s not our business.  And besides, it’s not my time yet.”

Not his time yet.  Not his time yet!  Mary’s probably thinking, “WHEN was it going to be his time?”

Carol Lakey Hess writes that, “Just as the mother of Jesus saw her son as one who could –and should – meet need, so do many followers of Jesus.  We see a world in need, and we believe in one who claimed to bring abundant life to those in need.  In a world where for so many there is no clean water – let alone fine wine – where is the extravagance of God?  In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of 30-gallon wine jugs, why the divine reluctance?  In a world where desperate mothers must say to their small children, ‘We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come?  No matter how we rationalize divine activity, we still want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and say: “they have no wine.”

          There are so many different boxes we can become stuck in and imprisoned by.  For some, we get stuck in some repeating conversations from our childhood.  Too often there is fear and shame as our companions in that box.  Parental expectations, of which we never fully achieved.  Conversations about weight, or school, or comparisons to siblings or peers.

As Jesus said, “no mom, it’s not my time yet”, he was pushing his way out of the box.  The old conversation is changing.  Jesus declares a new role.  This is not our business, he says.  This is not my hour, he says.  Yet, the story plays out as if it were an old conversation.  Mary prods Jesus to take action and he does it.

Mary is not the one trying to get unstuck from her starring role as Madonna and child. Jesus is.

What do you think Mary’s face looked like when she saw that Jesus had turned water into wine?  Did she have a soft smile of pride?  Was it a slight raised eyebrow of “I told you so?”  Or was it the smug face of “Not your time, huh?”  Or something else entirely?

In that moment when he didn’t just do what she asked of him, Jesus pushed back against her expectations and the pushed back against the old pattern of conversation.  Jesus’ declaration to be un-stuck forces Mary to evaluate her ‘stuckness’.  His decision to claim that it was not his time – even thought he went ahead and did it anyway – defines a new moment in their relationship as mother and son.  Though the old conversation played out, a new conversation had begun.  Sometimes when we are trying to get unstuck from old rules or moments or the past, we are not always successful.  But even attempts to evolve, develop, and grow – when they fail – change us for the future.

Or sometimes it takes someone else to get us unstuck from old roles or moments.  Sometimes we are the ones holding onto a past that is no longer.

If Jesus could call Mary our of old roles and days past, maybe he can do that for us as well.  God has something for you in every phase, role, career, period, and moment of your life.

Listen, beloved ones, for the voices of those trying to get you to fully embrace the present by getting unstuck from the past.  For none of us can be defined by one moment, one mistake, one success, or one anything.  The life of a disciple is one of transformational journey.  Thanks be to God who calls us out of our stuck places, our overshadowed places, our boxes.  Thanks be to God who has something for us in every phrase, role, career, period, and moment of our life.  Amen.

Just for fun!

Just for fun!

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Church happens in Community Cafe

While on vacation recently in Chicago, Mark and I set out in search of a quick bite of breakfast.  We saw the familiar sign for Panera but instead of their normal “Panera Bread” sign, there was a “Panera Cares” sign.  Two steps in the door, I figured out what that was all about when a friendly employee greeted us with a smile and welcome to this “non-profit community cafe.” They call it a cafe of “shared responsibility.” Here’s how it works-you go and order just like you would at any other Panera but then the register calculates a “suggested donation level;” those with the means to do so, donate the suggested amount (or even more if able); those with a real need, may donate their fair share; and those without any means are encouraged to donate time volunteering in the cafe.  You leave your contribution in a donation bin, you’re on your own honor, and they trust that you’ll do the right thing and share in the responsibility of making sure all receive the bread they need.

After chatting with Bob, the cafe’s manager, I learned that this cafe had only been open a few days and is only the fourth to be opened by Panera nationwide.  Their statement of purpose reads, “We exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regardless of their means.”  Two of the other three cafes have become profitable: which means that they can live into their non-profit vision of feeding all those who come through their doors regardless of ability to pay as well as use the surplus income above their operating expense to invest back into the community through job training and life-skill training opportunities.

As I sat eating my bagel I read their big banners that said, “We are a cafe of shared responsibility” and “We offer bread to all – those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, & everyone in between.” And I thought to myself, this sounds like church – shared responsibility for one another as the family of God, offering bread to all with dignity and care.  It all sounds downright spiritual doesn’t it?  Panera has it right with this venture and I wish them success upon success.  They’ve not only won some loyalty for their business from me but they’ve also challenged me.  Sometimes we get into patterns of faith and church that are just “business as usual.”  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the sacredness of community, reminded to share, and reminded to be generous in the giving and in receiving of bread.  For, God has so generously created us, shared with us, and gives to us.  I wasn’t expected to enter holy ground when I walked through the doors of Panera Cares but I most certainly did.


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There is more, sisters…

There is more, sisters….

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