Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Color of Lent

The other night, for bed-time reading, I was handed My First Message open to the crucifixion story   and told, “Here, read this.”  While it not unusual that the reading choice would be Bible stories, the choice of content was unexpected.  Usually we either skip right over the crucifixion in favor of the more happy and appealing resurrection story.  Or we just skip adult Jesus altogether and read about the annunciation and the nativity. Baby Jesus is so cute and the angels are so beautiful.

I was grateful.  Our usual mode for Bible story reading is the usual mode for many church-goers: we have a big festival at Christmas to celebrate and adore the baby Jesus, skip over his life and (maybe especially) his death to celebrating his resurrection with all things spring: new life, growth, color.  Reading the crucifixion story together was an opportunity.  We talked about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, the way he loved the criminals who were crucified with him, that he was crucified because his love was threatening to people with power – that he hadn’t done anything deserving punishment.  And we often talk about what it means to follow Jesus.  This story and the conversation about following Jesus were an apt way to begin thinking about the following Jesus into the season of Lent.

We often think of Lent as a time to follow Jesus into the wilderness.  We think of the asceticism, the sparseness, of letting things go and giving things up.  We associate Lent with fasting and prayer and renunciation.  Although the liturgical color of Lent is a rich purple, if Lent were to be characterized by any color, it would (in my mind anyway)be the gray of the ashes we are marked with on Ash Wednesday. 

And yet, this year – year B of the three cycles of the lectionary – is markedly colorful.  It begins with the multi-hued promise of God to Noah and all creation that God will be present in covenant relationship.  That God’s mark of covenant would be the rainbow, a reminder to God like a string around a finger, that God will never again visit such destruction on the earth and that ‘every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth’ is included in covenant with God.

In fact the whole season of Lent is an assurance, turning our usual idea of Lent 'Upside Down and Inside Out'.  Using this theme throughout our Lenten worship, Sunday after Sunday, we hear that God’s covenant is for God’s creation – and for us, God’s creatures.  We will hear after the rainbow promise the covenant and promise to Abraham and then to the Israelites, a covenant written on our hearts, a promise that in love, God “did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  The story of Jesus as we follow him to the cross and through the cross to Easter is the story of the new covenant, in which Jesus gave his very blood in an act of love that exposed evil and pointed to the triumph of life. 

That doesn’t seem gray at all!  That seems exciting, bright, vibrant.  An upside-down notion of victory - that violent death would lead to new life.  We in turn are invited to turn ourselves around, toward the God who love us and all creation so fully that in spite of the many times that humanity has failed, turned away, God continues to turn toward us.

I feel personally an extra turning upside down of Lenten seasons past.  Two years ago, I felt thrust suddenly and painfully into the gray wilderness of Lent after experiencing a miscarriage.  So it is feels wonderful to me to be anticipating new life in this season, that Lent is a time of waiting with joy.  And it seems right and good that date given for the triumphant entry of the little one we wait for is on Palm Sunday. 

This year, by all means, offer something up to God for Lent in an act of letting go and fasting.  But consider taking up something that will color your Lent experience.  Pray in color, create something, plant something new, take pictures, visit galleries, get to know the colors and cultures of God’s people.  God’s colorful promise to all creation is still alive and growing and waiting for us to  be drawn in and turned inside out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What's Your Superpower?

What would your super power be? 

On Sunday I preached about the kinds of power we admire and long for, the kind of power of which we are in awe.  Superheroes capture many of our imaginations.  I am learning a lot about Rogue – the one from the X-Men – these days.  I’ve always kind of liked Rogue, at least as she’s portrayed in the movie franchise (I’ve never really been into comics) but having a child obsessed about something brings a new level of knowledge.

Rogue’s power is enviable in that she can adopt another’s power at a touch.  And yet she, understandably, also sees this as a curse.  It drains anyone she touches of their power and sometimes of their consciousness.  She can’t control it.  It robs her of intimacy even while it gives her great strength.  In the power Jesus wields, again and again we see him offer his power of healing to another.  Instead of taking from another he transforms what is broken, withered, captive into something whole and healed and free.  He’s the anti-Rogue.  Except that if one definition of rogue is “Not controllable or answerable; deviating, renegade” well, maybe Jesus and Rogue have something in common after all.

He is in control of his power to heal and offer release, however Jesus is certainly not answerable to any earthly authority.  His is a ‘new teaching’ and its author is God alone.  When we’re asking each other, or when we’re talking with our children about what power they would like to have consider that we already have power at our disposal.  Ok, it’s not a superpower maybe.  But we do have the power to heal, reconcile with and free each other and so do our children.

As I think about our power to heal, free and reconcile I’m reminded of the Circle of Grace teaching that the children are learning.  Central to the understanding of their Circle of Grace is knowing that all around them, the Spirit of God is empowering them to know themselves and use their feelings and intuitions as signals to understand their environment.  As children – as any of us – become more in tune with our senses and feelings, as we understand those around us we are empowered to protect ourselves and those in our midst.  It’s no force field, but it is powerful.

Powerful Graphic Resources you are interested in the direct intersection of faith/ethics and graphic novels, you may want to check out one of these resources from our library:
Pax Avalon, about a peace-making superhero with the power of God on her side.  This graphic novel written by Reese Friesen  chronicles  the city of Avalon is under siege and in her heart she knows that violence is not the solution.  There’s a trailer on YouTube here.  There is at least one further addition to the first novel in the series and a web comic that will be the forerunner of a third.

Radical Jesus: a Graphic History of Faith is by several authors and illustrators. Menno Media calls it “A compelling, graphical rendition, Radical Jesus tells the story of Jesus and his social message, not just in his own time, but also through the Radical Reformation, recent centuries, and our own time.”