Remember Me

Reign of Christ  |  Luke 23:33-43
End of Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” a man says. He is dying, one of three men hanging on crosses, all of them dying, condemned by Roman law in the first century AD in Jerusalem. There would be no reprieve, no way down from those wooden beams except through death. The story is embedded in the common consciousness of western civilization.

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” says one man, a common criminal. The one listening is accused of sedition and blasphemy: Christianity knows him as the incarnation of eternal God.

Spiral Galaxy - Hubble image
Spiral Galaxy – Hubble image

God is eternal, untrammeled, existing both outside of time and within it. Outside of time, in the where and in the when that we cannot imagine, God does all that God wishes, a communion of God within God beyond our comprehension. That aspect of God is alien to us. Inside of time, in the places and ways and times that we might comprehend, God transcends our notions of linear time.

God is always creating—always, at every moment, from the beginning of time to the end. God is continually coming into the world, in forms as unnoticeable and unexpected as a child. God is forever teaching, forever healing, forever betrayed and handed over to condemnation. God is always dying on a cross, and God is eternally dead in the darkness of the tomb. God is resurrection, continually raising and being raised into life.

And God is forever listening to that tortured prayer, eternally remembering the thief hanging on the cross, continually in every moment remembering each of us.

“Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

This day. To God, all days are this day. All the tomorrows, all the todays, all the days past that we thought were gone and lost to us, irredeemable in the passing stream of our time, are present in the mind of God.

This day, you will be with me.

God redeems all our past days, our lost moments, our lost loves and joys and defeats, all our future happiness and loss, in one eternity. Maybe that is what it means to say that God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end—God stands at the ends of time and at all the points between, folding our linear experience into the eternal moment that does not pass or change.

That is the gospel message. This day, forever now, we shall be with God in that kingdom we cannot comprehend, the land without death and loss and tears, beyond the sands of the shores of time, where time will lose track of us, and death itself shall forget our names.

Remember us, Lord Jesus, when you come into your kingdom.

Above the Clouds

One Thing

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vermeer, c.1655

Luke 10:38-42 | Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

One Thing

Luke tells us a story about the two sisters, Martha and Mary. We think of the sisters of Lazarus from John’s Gospel, but a second look at Luke’s story shows us that there is no mention here of Lazarus, nor of Bethany, where John tells us they lived.

Martha and Mary by Caravaggio, c.1598
Martha and Mary by Caravaggio, c.1598

Still, they must be the same sisters: the same names, in the same relationship, in both gospels. As in John, we see the differences in their temperament. Martha busies herself with the necessary things, food and hospitality, while Mary sits listening, a true disciple.

Jesus tells them that Mary, sitting and listening to Jesus, has chosen the only needful thing, the only necessary thing.

We think so many things matter. We cling to the details of life—meals, clothes, money—and all of those things do matter, all of them are necessary, but all of them are so temporary. When we share a meal, is it the food we remember or the company? And clothes? Our designer labels will be forgotten as soon as the food we ate yesterday.

It goes deeper than food and clothes. We love to dwell on having our way, on being right. It seems so important at the time. In a week? In a month or a lifetime? Most of the points we thought so important dwindle to obscurity, like dust on the ledge of a window where we used to sit and look out at the world.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Diego Velázquez, c.1618
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Diego Velázquez, c.1618

A few verses earlier in this same passage, Luke tells the story of Jesus and of the lawyer who answered his own question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with your heart, strength, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus told him that he was right, but he did not tell him to go and keep being right. He didn’t even tell him to go and do things that were right. Jesus told him to go and love.

Love God. Love your neighbor.

Food, clothes, houses—we need these things, though seldom do we need them to be so rich as we think. They matter, but they are temporary, transient, as real and as lasting as raindrops.

What did Mary choose that was so needful? She sat and listened to Jesus speak a few words. We don’t even know what they were—Luke does not record them, because those words, whatever they were, mattered for Mary. Like her, we have to be quiet and listen for ourselves.

It may be that God has been speaking to us all this time, and we have been too busy to hear.

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vermeer, c.1655
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vermeer, c.1655

What It Means

What It Means  |  Matthew 18:15-20

In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

BaboonInigo should try listening to religious people explaining what the Bible means. I can imagine him replying, “You keep using that book. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The lectionary hands us a few words from Matthew to consider this week. In the middle of the passage, this Gospel records Jesus talking about a man who refuses to listen to the faults that other people find in him. Jesus says, “Let him be to you as the pagan and the tax collector.”

That sounds pretty simple, even satisfying. Practical. Just turn your back on the cretin and get on with your life. But hold on a second—if this Gospel was written by a tax collector, as tradition holds, we might stop to wonder. Let him be to you as…the tax collector. Maybe it does not mean what we think it means.

Most of us want to hear a word of rejection, absolving us for writing off the miserable , unreasonable heathens who offend us. We might stop to remember a miserable man in a hated profession, despised by everyone with any sense and a few coins to rub together, who was called to be a close disciple of the Lord—Matthew. More than that, if the tradition is true, this same wretched cheat wrote one of the four gospels. This Gospel, the one we’re talking about.

Now I ask, what does it mean when Jesus says, “Let him be to you as the pagan and the tax collector”?

Consider something else in this short passage. We keep hearing of two or three gathering together. We keep hearing of people talking, agreeing, asking.

Jesus isn’t talking about judgment. He is encouraging communication and reconciliation. He ‘s not talking about authority, but about true power—a different thing altogether—found in community and shared faith. In the context of this Gospel, the one who fails to listen still remains a potential friend and follower of God.

Hard headed pagans and money grubbing fiends don’t fall outside the circle of God’s grace. Given time, and given God, even they may come around and offer us a story worth hearing.

Who knows? When we finally hear their story, we might find that we were the ones who hadn’t been listening all along.


Keep Dreaming

First Sunday after Christmas Day  |  Matthew 2:13-23

Three times in this passage we read that Joseph was warned in a dream. Just as before when Joseph learned that Mary was already pregnant and an angel appeared to guide him, it seems that Joseph’s angels appear to him only in dreams.Rainbow Wash 001

Dreams are that space where the walls we build around our innermost thoughts crack and come falling down. In our waking world we keep our fears at bay and we block out our hearts. In dreams, our fears disguise themselves and walk up to us, our desires walk out into the light to be seen. And in dreams, sometimes God speaks.

Maybe God is speaking to us all the time, and it is just that our dreams are the only place where our minds are quiet enough to hear.

The Magi came, strange wise men from the east. We know nearly nothing about them. It is likely Joseph knew nearly nothing. They came to see the child, left astonishing gifts, and departed never to be mentioned again. And after they leave, Joseph begins to dream.

He believes in the message of his dream enough to take his new family and hide them in Egypt, finding safety in what had been the land of Pharaoh. He has yet more dreams, and he believes in these enough to uproot his family again and to return to Nazareth.

Unlikely as it may seem, Joseph believed his dreams were the voice of God and acted on what he heard. Just like that.

A voice in our heads does not mean that God is speaking to us. Still, though the voice is just in our heads, it may be the voice of God. We only hear God when we stop to listen.

If we never act on our dreams, they remain only voices in our minds. When we act on our dreams, we meet God face to face.

Hineni – Here Am I

“Hineni,” the young boy said.IMG_2928 - Version 2

In the third chapter of 1 Samuel, we read of a young Samuel, hearing the call of the Lord three times, and answering three times, “Here I am.” What he actually says, each time, is the Hebrew word hineni. (It sounds something like the ‘hi’ in ‘hit’, then ‘nay’, then the ‘ni’ in ‘nit’ or the ‘nee’ in ‘knee’.) The most common translation is ‘here I am’.

This Hebrew term is found in other places within scripture. In Genesis 22, Abraham responds to the call of God with hineni. Abraham responds to the call of his son with hineni. And he responds to the call of the angel with the same hineni.  In Exodus 3, Moses hears the Lord calling his name, and Moses answers, “Hineni.”

We can learn a lot from this one little term. I invite us to consider two aspects–our response to God and God’s response to us.

How might we recognize the voice of God, or of a messenger of God? Among the many answers we may offer, the fundamental answer is simple: by listening. To say “here I am” to God is to pause quietly in the expectation that God is going to say something. That is no trivial thing. There are plenty of people who believe in God, who live wonderfully exemplary lives, and who never actually stop to listen to God and who never actually seem to expect God to communicate anything. It is easy to believe, or not, in something that is far away, a concept. It is another thing altogether to consider the immediate presence of God and to actively, expectantly listen. It is still more removed if, having heard, we respond.

Consider Abraham. It is interesting that he did not see fit to explain to his servants what he was doing. He did not begin by telling people that he was responding to the voice of God. Perhaps he still wondered himself. And take Moses–suppose someone came and told you that he had heard the voice of God speaking from a bush, and that the bush was on fire, but the fire did not burn the bush. You might very reasonably think that he had eaten the wrong mushrooms.

Entertaining the possibility that a small, faint voice may be the Almighty speaking is an act of faith. It is also an act of freedom, freeing us from the worldly constraint that says that truth always speaks loudly, and that we should listen to the powerful, the mainstream, that we should wrap ourselves in the terrible chains of normality. If we are paying attention, it is pretty clear that Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Paul were not normal people.

So how we distinguish faith from lunacy? It may be that the only answer is found in these old stories of faith, the stories of Abraham, and Moses, and Samuel, of people who responded to God and whose response was, finally, embraced by the continuous body of the faithful over the centuries. Time and faith were the winnowing fan of scripture. If we are hearing a voice that speaks something radically different from the voices found in scripture, it may not be a voice to follow.

What does it mean when we say to God, “Here am I?” What did the folk in our faith stories bring with them when they said, “Hineni?” There is nothing of ‘Hey, look what I can do for you’, nothing of ‘Here I stand with ability and worth’. In fact, the only thing we can bring is recognition of our emptiness, of our unworthiness to respond to the Almighty.

There is a blessing. When we stop to respond to God, we recognize that all of these burdens, ideas, conceits, and worries we carry around are what they are—nothing in the face of God.

Remember that we are not the only ones saying, “Hineni!” …They shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. (Isaiah 52:6)

These are words of comfort, that we might hear God calling us, and a promise that God is always listening, always present, always waiting. If we pause, quietly, expectantly, we may hear the voice of God whispering, ”Here am I.”