Saturday, 18 February 2012

Mountain top to wilderness

Mark 9:2-10

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Why does the Transfiguration make one of its appearances in the Lectionary just before the start of Lent?
I'm sure there will be as many answers to that as there are preachers.
But this year, in preparing our Lenten worship programme, I have been struck between the eyes by the progression of the Christian season - from Advent, through Christmas, into Epiphany and, now, into Lent.
This was partly triggered by being in New Orleans, Louisiana, witnessing some of the Mardi Gras celebrations that begin on Epiphany, (6th January), gathering momentum right through to Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). But it was also fueled by a clergy colleague asking me: "What, for you, is the most natural direction for your theology - is it seen from the perspective of the cross, looking back or from the perspective of the crib looking forward?"
That question helped me to crystallise that my preferred theology is Incarnational. What is important, for me, is God entering and interacting with the world. For me, the love of God was first shown in the stable in Bethlehem. And, while the cross is a pretty huge part of the whole outplaying and outpouring of that love of God,(an understatement if ever there was one!), Jesus' death was not possible without his birth.
Depending on the tradition in which we have been steeped, or the particular brand of faith we have adopted, we tend to view God's activity in the world through different lenses - seeing everything through the lens of the violence of the cross, or through the lens of the vulnerability of the crib.

Another colleague pointed out to me recently how much I like to wear a heart around my neck, rather than a cross. And that too, I believe, reflects my preference to embrace the loving action of God present in our world rather than God's death on the cross, even though love triumphed over evil in the resurrection.

And so to Transfiguration Sunday and its place in the hustle toward Lent.
It seems to me that when Jesus glows on the mountain top, surprising his disciples, and his Lordship or Son of Godship is confirmed in the voice from Heaven, what was important was that they didn't linger in the dazzle but that they got themselves back down the mountain to pick up on the nitty gritty.
And so, worship wise and lectionary wise, we move from that fluorescent moment to the grit and dust of the desert where Jesus fasted and faced temptation.
And we take time to "get with the programme" as Jesus did.
Lent affords us the opportunity to contemplate Jesus' ministry and to reflect on God's activity and presence in the world of our everyday.
And, whatever our theology, we cradle a vulnerable, loving God, born in us, living in the grit of the world. From the crib to the cross.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Standing out

Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." 
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" 
Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 
After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 
But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

In the gospel of Mark, we often see Jesus enabling people to blend into their communities. Folk ostracized because of perceived shortcomings, be they physical, moral or spiritual, were acknowledged by Jesus and brought back into community. Often Jesus, in their place, took on their marginalization so that his physical, moral and spiritual well being was called into question.
In this story of Jesus healing a leper, while the leper became acceptable, the leper's testimony ensured that Jesus was unable to move around without attracting much unwanted attention.
Perhaps effective discipleship today consists of blending well with our communities and bearing witness to Jesus who stands out from the crowd, offering wholeness and acceptance to all.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Ulterior Motive?

Mark 1:29-39
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

I've always been slightly scathing of today's text - seeing the healing of Peter's mother in law as being a very convenient act of pragmatism - Jesus and the disciples are hungry, so healing is required for the one who will serve them.
Mulling it over with the Revgals this week, though, brought a much needed new perspective. That of looking at Jesus' healings as acts of restoration - not just conferring on folk better physical or spiritual health but, also, restoring to them their place in the community.
Peter's mother in law's role in life was as a nourisher of her family - and that was what Jesus gave back to her in his intervention.

As is Mark's way, we move swiftly from that healing, to crowds clamouring around Jesus, all seeking different things, united by the common longing for restoration, a place in community, the desire to blend in.
And, once Jesus deals with that little lot, off he goes, seeking some space for rest and renewal.
The disciples sought him out with those words that are often heard in church circles: "Everyone is looking for you."
And then, the disciples, having caught up with Jesus, are immediately led forward to new tasks and new horizons, to new areas of ministry.

A cunning ploy of Jesus - then AND now. Just when we think we've "got it", he leads us into new discoveries and new areas of service.

So much in this brief gospel passage. Can we keep up? Are we willing to try?
Do we have the energy required to keep moving on to see the gospel from lots of different angles and to continually seek out those we are called to serve? And, in our practice of restoration, rather than basking in our sense of accomplishment, can we see the new horizon to which God is calling us?
Of course there are ulterior motives in Jesus' healing.
May we know that restoration, renewal and moving on.