Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Lenten Journey moves into Holy Week

These are the symbols we collected as we reflected on the Lectionary gospel readings during Lent.

  • Sand, from the desert, where Jesus sojourned for 40 days
  • The serpent - lifted up in the wilderness
  • A bucket - the Samaritan woman at the well told Jesus: "You have no bucket"
  • Eye glasses - the blind man was helped to see better physically and spiritually
  • A piece of cloth - the grave clothes that bound Lazarus
  • A worry doll (from Mexico!) reminding us that we are as fickle as the crowd who cried Hosanna AND Crucify him.
As we've journeyed through Holy Week, we've gone back to examine how people were changed by encountering Jesus - the Samaritan woman, the blind man and Lazarus.
And so we journey on, to betrayal and to Calvary.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The gift

Easter Communion

As we share bread today
the young, the old
the familiar, the new
we do this in the light of Easter
We have journeyed through Lent
and Holy Week
and now we have this celebration
of new life
of new meaning
of new purpose.
Made new
not just by Christ’s death on the cross
not just by Christ’s body broken
and his blood poured out for us
but also Christ’s rising from the tomb
to conquer death itself
And so what we celebrate
is not an empty promise
or old, familiar words
but life itself
lived and given in love
a love that confounded the government then
a love that confounds the church now
a love we cannot earn
but simply accept
as a gift
This is the mystery of Easter communion.
All are invited
Come and feast.

Everything has changed

Everything has changed

We’ve shared Passover countless times
Getting together
Reciting old, familiar words
Performing ancient rituals
but this year felt different
as though everything was changed
that ancient Seder celebrated by generations
became a whole new feast
a whole new celebration
a remembrance moved on
We still shared bread and drank wine
We still celebrated freedom
but ours was a new freedom
moved on from Egypt
going global
the cup became new blood spilt
the bread – a different body broken
all fulfilment of an ancient promise
of the Messiah.
and so our celebration now
our remembrance
celebrated a new relationship
made possible
because the Messiah
gave his life in love
for our freedom
And that very freedom
binds us
to remember that sacrifice
and to live in such love
to share communion
with God and each other
in remembrance
in thanksgiving
in celebration
that everything
is made new.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Staying with the Hosannas

Lenten Labyrinth

Hold on to the Hosannas

Let’s stay with the Hosannas for a while
Let’s let them keep on ringing in our ears
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Instead of rushing on to hear the cries
that came later in the week
Let’s stay with the Hosannas
Maybe once we’ve heard those
in a new way
will we be ready
to make the rest of the journey
A journey that was hastened
and given new purpose
by those Hosannas
For those Hosannas were not
simply the innocent cries
of palm branch waving children
Those Hosannas were the war cries of adults
tired of the oppression
of occupying forces
Those hosannas
were the hopeful cries
of a nation seeking liberation.
Those Hosannas
were an investment of hope
in one they thought would deliver.
Those Hosannas
that we have sanitized over the years
rang out in clear insurrection
sealing the fate
of one who rode on a donkey.
so, let’s stay with the Hosannas
Let’s wrest them from the lips of children
and allow them to ring in our ears
and spew from our mouths
as a call to action
a call to justice
a call to love.
Let’s stay with the Hosannas
even as we journey
with the Christ
who carried those Hosannas
all the way to the cross
and ensured their fulfillment
as the justice and love of God.
Let’s stay with the Hosannas.
Liz Crumlish 2010

A reflection for Palm Sunday.
There's another reflection here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Can these bones live?


Sunday 10th April 2011

Reading: Ezekiel 37 v 1-14
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Can these bones live?
A timely question for churches in our world today.
Can these bones live?

I was introduced by a friend this week, to a man I had never met before. On being told that I was a Church of Scotland minister, he said: “Oh, what about the church, then, it’s in decline, isn’t it?”
He was surprised by my answer: “Only in some places”.
Unfortunately we didn’t get time to pursue the conversation but I get tired of folk, many of them in leadership in the church, even here, who already have the church dead and buried.
It’s no wonder that folk pick up on that gloom and doom and are already preparing for the funeral.
"I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

Because God never gives up and encourages us to do likewise.
And in this season of Lent, when we look forward to emerging from the wilderness to celebrate the resurrection, we have every reason to be hopeful.
Even, from the darkness of death, we are redeemed by hope.
God didn’t give up on the people of Israel, even after they’d strayed so far that they were captured and exiled.
Even when the people thought they were already dead and buried.
God didn’t give up on them.

Ezekiel’s ministry could be considered a ministry of two halves:
At the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry God called him to call the people of Israel to change their ways so that they would not be captured by their enemies and forced into exile.
But the people would not listen.
So Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.
Ezekiel’s preaching fell on deaf ears.

In the second half of Ezekiel’s ministry, God called Ezekiel to reassure the people, now in exile, that God was still their God and still with them.
In a vision Ezekiel saw a field of dried, strewn out bones. This is how the Jews saw themselves.
Dried bones.
They were in captivity, and their land was gone.
They had lost all hope.
But God gave Ezekiel a vision, an incredible vision.
Those bones that had been lying in this valley for so long they’ve dried up are commanded to life.
And it’s not a case of God simply performing a miracle.
Instead, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy and tell these bones to come together, for flesh to form and muscles to develop.
God worked through the prophet.
For though God is perfectly capable of changing things, we know only too well, that that’s not the way God works.
God, who created us in love, waits for our response in love.
God trusts us.
And more, God relies on us – to make things different.
God wants to involve us in the work of resurrection.

After the bones have bodies, they are still not living.
So, once again, God works through the prophet.
God tells Ezekiel to command the wind–God’s Spirit–to come and breathe life into the bodies.
So, through a prophet’s word. God’s Spirit comes and breathes life into the bodies that have been formed from the dry bones.
Then God asks Ezekiel to spell it out to the people -  to tell the exiles that just as God can raise a living army from these dry bones, so God will restore the people of Israel to their land.
They will once again be a nation, in their own land.
They will, once again, know hope.
Because, in spite of all their turning away, still they are loved by God who IS love.

That was such a hard thing for the people of Israel to hear.
In the depths of despair, it’s hard to hear good news.
When you’ve already written off the future, it’s hard to emerge from the darkness.
And that’s why Ezekiel was given such a powerful vision to share.
Because that vision needed to get beyond the hopelessness in which the people he spoke to were living.
That vision was required to breathe new life and new hope in to a lifeless and hopeless people.
If God can breathe life and hope back into a captured and exiled people, we, the people of God today have cause for hope.
That is why I refuted my new friend’s claim that the church was in decline.
That is why I believe that we, the people of God today, however flawed, yet will live.
Because God is not finished with us.
God is still working – from the inside out.
Working on our hearts.
Restoring our faith.
Restoring our hope.
Breathing new life into us.

I found these words on the Church of Scotland website –  I found them – of all places – in the history section of the website:

In a millennium and a half, the Church (of Scotland) has been at different times a tiny, radical outside force, a revolutionary movement, a strand of government and a partner in civil society.
It has been supportive and critical, protective and destructive.
Today the Church of Scotland lives in the creative tension of serving a nation, offering the ordinances of religion and also providing a prophetic Gospel voice through parish ministry and national engagement of many kinds.

“A prophetic Gospel voice”
Is that how we see ourselves today?
Or have we, as critics would claim, been left behind in that valley of dry bones?

Are we still nursing old hurts that have never quite healed up?
Or lamenting past traditions that have fallen out of use?
Or cherishing former leaders whose word and style was different?
Or are we just cussed enough to want to wallow in the valley of the dry bones?

Even if we are guilty of all these things, we will be annoyed to be reminded that God never gives up on us.
God still considers us worth redeeming.
God still waits.
Waits to breathe life and hope into us.
So that we, in turn can breathe new life into a world that needs to hear that prophetic gospel.
A world that needs healing from hurt.
A world that needs help to move on.
A world that needs encouragement to once more experience love and hope.
Even and especially in the face of despair.
Where else can healing be found?
Where else encouragement?
Where else hope and love?
But from the people of God, whom God has never given up on.

So can we too, be raised up by that ancient vision?
Can we be filled with life and with hope?
Can we still be that prophetic gospel voice kindling hope in our world today?

If we will allow it, God breathes new life into us.
God never gives up on us.
God calls us to be prophetic voices, bringing good news.
There IS life in the church – believe it – and live it.

Can these bones live?
that depends
on whether there is the will
for resurrection
the will to bring together
creaking, groaning,
can’t be bothered spirits
and transform them
with a whoosh of life
a whoosh that is infectious
that starts off as a wee rumble
but gathers pace and momentum
disrupting all in its wake
even in the dryness
there IS potential
sometimes visible only
to the God of life
the God who revives tired spirits
and lifts up weary souls
and brings revival
when all seems lost.

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Half the Church - a book review

As I read Half the Church - Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James, I experienced a growing sense of  unease.
I knew that I didn't have any problem with the author's abhorrence of the inhuman treatment of women throughout the world - especially the likes of those accounts shared in Half the Sky and particularly with the notion of selective reproduction or abortion.
I agree that in the face of such injustice and oppression, those in the church should be among the first to stand up and speak out.
But, it seemed to me, when the author brings her thesis into play in the nitty gritty and often petty politics of the church it somehow reduces a huge issue to bad housekeeping and internal squabbles over Biblical interpretation.
This may well be the result of growing up in a seemingly "enlightened" Presbyterian Church of Scotland where one rarely has to grapple with the egalitarian versus complementarian debate that James lays out in her book: the Great Debate of which she writes is not a debate with which I have had to grapple in this culture.
But my discomfort in reading also had a lot to do with the fact that the author failed to reveal her position on the debate, particularly surrounding the ordination of women. Towards the end of the book, James admits that she does not want to alienate potential readership, especially among her counterparts in her church tradition. I suspect that I do not properly grasp the fear that maintains her reticence and her inability to be open on this. But that lack of understanding on my part in turn led to my growing discomfort as I read through the book.

Although this book may be helpful in the culture in which it is written I am not convinced that it has the global emphasis that it might have had if written outwith the confines of that culture and, indeed, portrays the church as a huge contributor to the injustice afflicting women globally while, in reality, much of the injustice in the church that the author cites, while plainly wrong, has little impact on the world around it but remains an in house squabble. That is not to deny the atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of the church all through history. But, in James's context, the issue is much more confined to church governance and polity that simply baffles the world at large if it even captures attention in the first place.

I had difficulty with James's terminology, particularly her use of the term ezer to describe "God's female image bearers". But perhaps this is because James describes her "first serious encounter" with her "calling as an ezer" as a time when she was "smuggling books out of her husband's study" in order to find some answers. James asserts that:
"God deploys his daughters - all of us - to be ezer-warriors for his kingdom all the days of our lives. As a daughter, I love the idea that we are to follow in our Father's strong ezer footsteps by soldiering alongside our brothers for his kingdom. A name like ezer gives women and girls a lot to live up to no matter who we are or where we live"

I hope that "Half the Church" will prove helpful in liberating the gifts of women in the context in which James exercises ministry but, for other church cultures her experience seems alien.
Of course the issues of women being exploited and trafficked and oppressed and viewed as dispensable commodities is a whole other book.

Thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review this text.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

An unlikely king


I’ve been chosen
can you believe it?
not the strongest,
not the sharpest
and certainly not
the oldest
But I’m the one who has been chosen
seems like a dream
but maybe not a pleasant one
more like the stuff of nightmares
And it’s down to those soft, melting, brown eyes
they land me in it every time
People just look – even prophets
and decide – there’s a boy with soul
But this time, those eyes might be my downfall
How am I going to fulfil God’s calling
for me to be king?
There’s a perfectly good king already
Maybe a tyrant
Maybe a bit unhinged
But that’s the way of kings
And this crazy prophet thinks I’ll be next?
I don’t think so.
I’m off to lie low
and hope that, in time
they’ll forget all about
the prophet’s visit today
with his talk of God’s will
I’ll head back to my sheep
and, hopefully,
they’ll carry on without me.

This is a reflection, published in Spill the Beans, on the anointing of David by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1-13)