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First News of Dickinson and Belfield - March 2008

"The Dawn is Coming"

Dawn is coming, though it is yet still dark.
This sentence is the essence of Holy Week.  Starting with Palm Sunday, we travel through a period of darkness, a period of obsessive self-interest, into the sunrise and dawn of a new age.
Yes, the crowd proclaims Christ King.  But only because they believe they will get their heartfelt desires from this King.  They expect their desire to no longer be last, to no longer be under the tyranny of the Romans to be fulfilled; their desire to come first in the scheme of things will finally come true.  This King is for them, and them alone.
But Christ no sooner arrives in Jerusalem then he overturns the apple cart - or, literally, the moneychangers' booths.  God's agenda, not the crowd's own interests, determines how things shall go.  It is much easier for the foreigners to obtain the birds and other sacrifices in the Temple itself, and to change their money right there.  Of course, it is much easier for the merchants as well - especially to charge double the value for providing the convenience.  Self-interest and ease are chased out of God's house.  And some get annoyed.  They want things to go their way - and that is not Christ's way.
They plot - and darkness grows.  The cries of "Hosanna" dim.  Some forget the healing touch of Jesus as their fear of the Roman's swords return.  Others, who never allowed that touch to occur, murmur with the Pharisees - and plot.Darkness grows.
"By what authority do you do these things?" Christ is asked by those in charge.  He answers in parables, only understood by those who wish to make an effort.  "Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him."  They plot - the darkness grows.
Judas, one of the disciples, is upset that Christ will not use the power that he has over the people, over the government and the Romans.  One who can heal as can Christ has the power to overcome everything on earth.  He wants Christ to rule, to be the political Messiah telling people what to do and what to think.  He offers to betray Christ - whether out of greed or an effort to get Christ to act as he wishes, we do not know.  But darkness grows.
This darkness Jesus has already overcome with his sojourn in the wilderness and the temptation of the devil.  His will is the freedom of humanity, the freedom to choose a life of plotting and darkness, as well as the freedom to choose alife of gift and light.  This week, humanity chooses to plot.
On that Thursday, Jesus has his Last Supper with his disciples.  On the same night he is to be betrayed, he gives the Christian Church the gift of his presence always with us.  "Do this in remembrance of me," the disciples are told.  And we do to this day, celebrating the gift to all of Christ love and grace as we come together around the table.  But that week, humanity moves into its darkest days.
The next day, all desert the Christ.  The crowd that had proclaimed him as King now proclaims him a criminal.  The disciples hide.Peter denies his Lord.  The women watched, but at a distance.
Jesus experiences the most degrading death that a first century Jew could experience - crucifixion.  There is a hint of dawn in the words, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  But few see a hint of light on that day.  The darkness falls and rules the world for two days.Hope seems lost while darkness rejoices.
But dawn comes on Easter Sunday.  Those who persevere in the light of hope experience the greatest gift ever given a human being.  "After Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."   Instead of his dead body, they experience his living presence saying to them, "Do not be afraid."   Instead of mourning in darkness, they experience the dawn - and the gift of the presence of the risen Christ.
It was exceedingly dark, but the dawn came.   The world has never been the same.
Whatever darkness and plotting comes into our lives, that gift of the presence of the risen Christ is ours as well.  However those around us have chosen to use their gift of freedom, that greater gift of the presence of the risen Christ is there with us saying, "Do not be afraid."
We may find ourselves in darkness at some point in our lives, but the dawn comes.
Pastor Kathleen
(Bible quotations from the NIV Gospel of Matthew.)

First News of Dickinson and Belfield - February 2008

"Things . . .Happen"

There are verses in the Old Testament that imply if you are good, then only good things will happen to you.  They also imply that if something bad happens, you must somehow deserve it.  Taken to its fullest expression, this turns God into an elaborate puppet that we make do what we want by praying, behaving, etc.  It labels us as failures when disaster strikes.
Although this concept DOES exist within the Old Testament (especially in Proverbs), the Book of Job refutes it.  In the beginning of the book, Job follows the law to the letter, afraid he might have misspelled once.  Always making sacrifices for his children as they might have misspelled, once or twice.  Job is not a happy man.Instead he is filled with worry; he has not experienced God's love, only God's law.
Job is upright and faithful.  And in spite of this, he is tested.  His life falls apart.His friends tell him to admit his guilt - as otherwise why would bad things have happened?  His wife tells him to "curse God and die."  He suffers, holding on to his faith in God, but finally he gets angry.  And asks God why.
God gives no answer to the "why."  Instead, God shows Job how God holds the universe together. While the whirlwind that God shows Job does not answer the question why, it does show the presence of love within that whirlwind, of an order that does somehow exist in the chaos of life.  Job has never "met" God before, but having met God in his descent into darkness, he now believes in God, a God who responds to his cries of pain.  His faith is stronger at the end than at the beginning of the book.  And the Job at the end, with his newfound faith in God, is a more joy-filled man.
God is not a puppet.  Instead, God is the source of love, that love that helps us through when things do NOT go our way.   A God who wants to gift us with love, especially that love that helps us when we travel through that "valley of the shadow of darkness", that holds our hands until we find ourselves surrounded by light once again.  Nor are we failures, but rather beloved children of God.
In the Gospel, Jesus is asked by his disciples whose sin caused a man to be born blind.  They expect him to say either the man or his parents - but Christ says, "Neither."  Christ, himself, did not ascribe to the theology that if something bad happens to someone that it is deserved.  His full answer is to heal the man of his blindness.  When I preach on Job, I say that Christ's answer to Job's cry of pain was to take the road to Calvary.  Christ's answer is to go through that "valley of the shadow of death" and on to the other side - the resurrection.
In this wilderness of our lives, things happen.  They do not come as punishments.  We can act as Job's wife and friends and claim that they do, we can get angry with God and ask why.  We can ask for a reason.  But there is no answer other than that of Christ holding our hands in the darkness.  Nor can reason explain that love that travels through Good Friday to Easter.  God's love and presence gives us answers that reason cannot.  And we, as did Job, gain a stronger faith in the God of love.
We are heading into the wilderness of Lent.  A wilderness that Christ himself traveled on the way to Easter.  Our goal is also Easter, when we celebrate the gift of the resurrection that Christ came to give to us.  Whatever darkness we may experience in this wilderness, we are not alone.Christ is with us.
Pastor Kathleen

NOT - the Pastor's Letter  January 2008

"Dueling Ideologies"

We no longer live in a world whose many cultures are foreign and therefore considered "barbaric."  We travel the streets of our cities and find stores and restaurants that include the food and traditions of every continent (possibly NOT Antarctica, but then, who knows?).  We travel the internet from our personal computer and find the world, with its many ideas, at our finger tips.
Humanity has two different reactions to this.  One is to open up and welcome the diversity with its new knowledge and experience of what it means to be human.  The second is to close down and ignore the validity of the experiences of 99% of the human race.
In October, I spoke of the difference between prescriptive and descriptive theology - in which prescriptive theology has ONE, PRECISE point of view, claiming any other to be heresy, even evil.  And descriptive theology states the speaker's experience of who God is, but allows that God is much more than his or her experience of God.  Prescriptive theology is exclusive, while descriptive theology is inclusive.
While prescriptive theology has been around forever and has caused countless religious wars, Inquisitions and other destruction and death (including much of the population of Germany during the Reformation), the modern version is a little different.  The human race is on the edge of a new era, an era when we will finally begin to hear the call to love all of God's children.  A time when we will look at those who experience God differently as an occasion to learn more about who God is, rather than as a threat to "true belief" and "right thinking."  Right being will take precedence; accepting that there is a reason for all the different flowers in God's garden and enjoying the view, rather than plucking out anything different than ourselves as weeds.
The modern version of prescriptive theology uses hate to derail the forward movement of the human race.It uses terrorism - both as a weapon and as a reason to hate those who are different.Islamic terrorists destroyed our confidence as a nation on 9/11.  Domestic terrorists used that destruction as reason to beat up law abiding US citizens who looked Middle Eastern.  Terrorism breaks into violence that calls the other less than human as they are not carbon copies of those doing the violence.  We have so many places that ethnic or religious cleansing has/is occurring that it is hard to see the presence of GodHate begets hate and the forward movement of humanity grinds to a stop.  Fear freezes us in place and prescriptive theology rules.
Not necessarily.  God is present, even when we have closed our eyes in fear and cannot see what is in front of us.  We who are Christian have a God who tells us to "fear not" on more than one occasion.  We are told to "fear not" when we havelocked ourselves in that Upper Room through fear of deadly violence.  "Fear not," we are told, when something new, such as the birth of a Divine Child, awaits us.We will only stay frozen if we focus on the terrorists instead of God's Divine Love.  When we focus on the God of love, we move forward.
There is tremendous power in the act ofloving "those who hate you."(Luke 6:27)  First, the cycle of violence is derailed.I  t does not go past you; it does not go past the present moment and into the future.It is thus a gift that we give to our children.  Secondly, it creates peace in us.  We no longer become creatures consumed with rage.  We become a new creation.  Third, as in nonviolent resistance, it challenges the other to accept your common humanity.  In fact, this IS the power of nonviolent resistance that changed both the landscape of India and America.  Many of our contemporary heroes, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, knew well the power of loving "those who hate you."
The transformative power therein is unbelievable.  It transforms the self, the one receiving the love, our society and the world at large.Light breaks into darkness.  When we focus on the God of love, the world becomes brighter and the grip of terrorism loosens.  When we focus on the God of love that vision of Isaiah wherein the lion and the lamb lie down next to each other moves closer to reality.
That vision, of the sword beaten into a plowshare, was not just wishful thinking.  Yes, it did not happen in Isaiah's lifetime and probably won't in ours.  But in our children's time?  Or perhaps in their children's time?  At some point, it will happen that "they will neither hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain."  Each time we make the choice to return violence with love rather than hate that vision comes closer into being.
We who accept the call to love as God loves will win this battle.God rules, not terrorism or fear.  We choose what will rule in our hearts - love or fear; inclusiveness or exclusiveness.I  t may take several generations, or only this one.  But God's kingdom rules.  Peace will reign.

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