Serving Others, Being Powerful, Feet, and Divine Love

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I recently watched a teaching video about the Last Supper where the pastor demonstrated how first century eaters would have reclined at a dining table and how a foot washing would work. He said that sandals would have been left over by the entrance. And because the story is told so often, we already know that it was a servant’s job to wash the feet of the guests.

Many churches still practice this act on Holy Week. Mine does. To be fair, our pastors kept warning people, when they announced the Triduum services, to “come prepared on Thursday to have your feet washed.” Ever been to a foot washing when people weren’t prepared? A little grace there to give people a forewarning, huh?

Part of me thinks the meaning is lost on 21st century western Christians to do this, and the other part of me thinks it is more needed now than ever. It’s more than an object lesson, and more than a biblical gesture. The powerful and “in charge” stoop to turn the tables over, to be counter-cultural, make a point, and put themselves last. 

Christ did this, and commanded us in the same way to serve others. Do we? In my life, i feel like “serving others” is the side dish to the main meal. I’d like to pretend it’s a way of life but who am i kidding. Churches develop outreach and serving committees to do stuff for the poor or marginalized – and it’s part of what we get to do a few times a year. Or maybe it becomes a habit when we take up the cross on average weekends and average days. I saw one of my students post a picture of “Blessing Bags” her family packed for homeless people -hygiene kits that packed snacks, socks, deodorant, soap, etc. for people on the intersections begging. I don’t think that was a program, i think the family just went out and did that.

So we serve, and we let people serve us. Taking off our shoes, feeling super uncomfortable, embarrassed, wondering what others think. It’s good to be served. It’s good to be washed by someone else. Others attended to Christ’s body when it came off the cross. They did useless work of preparing it for burial – since not only his spirit but his body was about to rip out of our world. His world. 

Divine love – stooping, washing, drying. Sending.

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Jesus – We still don’t know how to follow you or tell your story

For no stated reason or plan or “goal,” i felt led to read through the Gospel of Matthew a few chapters a day through Lent. Some of the best seminary studies we had to do were when we had to read whole books of the Bible in one sitting. You get a completely different story when you do it that way. 

I am reading through Matthew using “The Voice” translation. No this isn’t based on the NBC talent show. It’s an okay translation, sort of trying to put the story into script form. Has some weirdly worded commentary throughout as well. Tonight I got to chapter 12. It says:

Many people followed Him, and He healed them all, 16 always insisting that they tell no one about Him. 17 He did this in keeping with the prophecy Isaiah made so long ago:

18 This is My servant, whom I have well chosen;
    this is the One I love, the One in whom I delight.
I will place My Spirit upon Him;
    He will proclaim justice to all the world.
19 He will not fight or shout
    or talk loudly in the streets.
20 He will not crush a reed under His heel
    or blow out a smoldering candle
    until He has led justice and righteousness to final victory.
21 All the world will find its hope in His name.

22 Some of the faithful brought Jesus a man who was possessed by a demon, who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him. The man could see and talk, and demons no longer crawled around in him.

People (astonished): 23 Could this be the Son of David?

Doesn’t it kind of seem today that Jesus’ followers still tell no one about him (v. 16)? We forget that by the end of the story he lifted the “tell no one” ban and actually commanded his followers to tell the story! 

Well, maybe not where you’re from, but I find myself near fewer and fewer people who have been touched and moved by a revelation of Jesus Christ. It becomes less personal. We make the whole story into law, or “guidance” or whatever but not personal, and not about a man. Are we followers without a leader?

It’s Holy Week. Painful as it is, I follow as a denier and a blasphemer and a faker – just like the disciples did, and hide out when he’s praying in the garden, and refusing to have my feet washed, and dipping my bread and hiding out when he’s arrested. Verse 20 above says he needs to lead to victory. I hope we are not stopping him.

The Power of God unto Salvation? Huh??

A friend tried to start a conversation on his facebook today about why those darn young adults are leaving the church. I had a lot to say.

Never mind the fact that i don’t think many were ever really “attending” or participating in the first place, that’s another topic.

The convo evolved into this, that I contributed: In the same way, young adults/ un-churched ppl don’t consider church/worship AT ALL. It’s not that they are antagonistic to it, it’s just that it would NEVER even cross their minds. There is NO VALUE to them at all, and worse, if they give it a thought, all they can see/think of is hate, catholic church cover-ups, gay-bashing, discrimination, in-fighting, and wars over doctrine. I don’t know what the “____” is – in my metaphor, so maybe someone can help with the illustration. The answer isn’t “we need to value worship more,” or “we need to increase our propositional arguments -such as ‘well the Bible [my holy book] says if you don’t, then this __will happen to you… or ‘the bible says, if you come to church you will be blessed, look at this specific verse!” That would be more than irrelevant to someone who does not approach religion with the same value. They will say, “i’m happy for you it works for you like that, but it’s not that way for me, and i’m fine. I’m a good person and i’m contributing to society. And i’m doing it with out all the fighting and arguing over gays like you people do…”

   Maybe it’s like if the Elks Club had this huge outreach program to get people in their mid-30’s (me) to be a part, and they sent me cool marketing in the mail and invited me to like their FB page, and had all these programs bc their research said i might like to come, and they were having board meetings trying to figure out why i wasn’t coming – it’s because never in any part of my day/week/month would it even cross my mind to find out what the Elks Club is or why I should go. Even if i knew one of them. Even if they had some valuable holy book they all worshipped around. It doesn’t translate TO ME. Maybe even the member i know is a pious cool person who really lives what they say (and in this little story, i couldn’t tell you what that is bc i don’t even know what an elks club is other than do they do pancake breakfasts??) No matter how much they value what they do and wish i would value it too, i won’t and don’t plan on ever becoming one of them. I think that’s how it is for “kids these days.” They have their own ways to find fulfillment. Or if they don’t, we have made ourselves so inconsequential that it would never cross their mind to look for “answers” with us.

   Some say “Just become a food shelf! Serve others!” You do not need the church/Jesus/God to serve others. In fact, the boom in “serving” or “volunteerism” could possibly be a huge credit to the church. Weren’t we the ones for decades getting kids to go on mission trips and visit the nursing homes? Well what if “the world” caught on to that and now they are doing it, and doing it better, without all the religious guilt and without the overhead costs of institutional church? Now what? It seems like “dying” churches try to ramp up a program of serving others and then get exasperated when even that isn’t “attracting” neighbors or their 20 and 30-somethings. 

   I remember reading Gerhard Forde and his warnings about thinking we have to become “relevant.” Some of the most miserable things i’ve witnessed in christianity were churches trying to be “relevant” in their steeples and stained glass. Relevant isn’t the same as AUTHENTIC.

   I think we are asking the wrong questions – we aren’t going to get the right answer, because our question is wrong. The question is NOT “why don’t people come to our church,” or “why don’t people come to our church anymore?” Until we are authentic gospel communities who are unashamed of the name of Jesus Christ – the gospel with the power of God unto salvation, we are all still going to be spinning in circles. I haven’t studied european history very much but isn’t that basically what happened there? And now the most beautiful cathedrals are properties of museums or ?? Maybe i don’t have that right.

 

I think of Romans 1:16. This is a verse that i personally go back to a lot – not only because i’ve come to identify as a Lutheran and this was a big turning point revelation for Martin Luther, but because I just can’t get away from the thought that Jesus is really all we have. Paul’s claim [proclamation/announcement] is that we preach Christ crucified – a foolish crazy upside down counter-cultural message. It doesn’t fit anywhere else – it makes absolutely no human sense whatsoever, and therein is the power – God always doing a new thing. Following, in v. 17, he says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” This seems like mumbledeejumblegook to most, but when you break it apart, it’s really cool. In the gospel, (which is the announcement about the goodness of God in Christ, whom we meet at the cross) the righteousness of God is revealed – very good news, and we take hold of God/God’s promises by faith through faith. And that faith isn’t even of us, it’s the gift of God. What my thinking lately has involved, is that the church (as a whole) has largely gotten away from (shied away from) the claim this announcement has on us and the rich promises we have because of it. Not so that we can amass wealth or “have it all,” but so that we can be free to love and serve God/one another. We become afraid to talk about Jesus – and instead default to what we think the world needs, which devolves into moralism (“just be nice”) and a therapeutic deism (“God exists, sure, to help us!”) I wonder though, if we did the bolder thing – recognize that the Spirit is always actively at work, doing a NEW thing, if we wouldn’t see the power of God unto salvation (reclaiming and remaking all creation for the good) and proclaim liberty to all people as Christ’s mission was (Luke 4/ Isaiah 61) in undeniable presence. This is a challenge, because I don’t believe the majority of people even recogize the need to have a revelation.

 

Can you see the Pentecostal in me coming through here? I’ll try to take some time to post some thoughts on “authentic Christianity” another day.

Guarding myself against the “poisonous infection of security and arrogance.” Hmph.

I’ve been in seminary since the fall of ’08. I was supposed to graduate last spring ’13. I’m still at it. I have been so transformed by a new freedom to learn and think and reflect. I’ll have a Masters of Divinity when it’s all done (it will be next spring at this time). Martin Luther had a really high esteem for learning. I don’t think people today learn or think like they did before electricity, indoor plumbing, and the radio. I found a quote today from him – he said:

Therefore, I appeal once more to all Christians, especially the pastors and preachers, that they do not try to become doctors too soon and imagine that they know everything… Let all Christians drill themselves in the catechism daily, and constantly put it into practice, guarding themselves with the greatest care and diligence against the poisonous infection of such security or arrogance. Let them constantly read and teach, learn and meditate and ponder. Let them never stop until they have proved by experience and are certain that they have taught the devil to death and have become more learned than God himself..” -Large Catechism of Martin Luther pp. 382-383

Hyperbole – friend? One of my “get-to’s” in life is writing curriculum and developing lessons based on the small catechism. I don’t know if i ever knew we were supposed to be drilling ourselves every day. What would that look or feel like? Could it be gospel, or would it be mostly law? Does it matter? Could I convince families or youth to consider the catechism everyday?

In one week it will be Palm Sunday. I’m at a different church this year, so it will all feel new to me. I want to be challenged and journey to the cross and feel the heavy weight of sin and death and then have it all be stripped away. Am I good at “guarding [myself] with the greatest care and diligence against the poisonous infection of such security or arrogance?” Does my seminary learning give me false security? Many times I’ve thought no way – it only gives me freedom to ask more questions.

Lent is a questioning time. It’s a time to feel a little of the law. I pray that as I plunge into the darkness of denying him and watching him rise that I will be found sure in him. Learning and all.

It’d sure be nice to sit in a baseball stadium and eat a lot of baseball food and just be sunny and happy

I’m a Minnesota Twins fan 

Not rabidly so

I just like the rhythm of baseball

And now it’s baseball season again

So i’m kind of happy!

Soon there will be a light rail train

that will take me to the game

That comes just within 2 blocks of my house

All the way to Target Field.

Hallelujah!

(Ooops, It’s Lent, i’m not supposed to say that word.)

I need baseball

I need the slow pace

And the fun all-of-a-sudden of a hit ball

And cheering crowds

And silly songs

And silly commercial break games in the stadium

It’s been too long of a winter

And I’m also fed up with my own self

and all my opinions and believing so strongly in things

And taking things so seriously

Words get stuck in me and i can’t rest until they get out

I’d like to just sit there in the summer sun

With my ball cap on

and count up the balls and strikes and outs.

If only for just a few hours to get a break

from me!

Is God like the puppy who ran around the yard with the towel after sneaking it from my hand?

My puppy Baxter loves the snow. When i adopted him, it was January and we were in the beginning of the longest winter in the history of the universe. In fact, it’s April 3 and we’re under a Winter Storm Warning right now in the Twin Cities with all sorts of snow craziness.

Tonight i let him out to play in the yard and maybe 1/4 inch had fallen and he was so happy running around in it. This was after he had to sit inside for hours watching it fall.

The thing i am fearing besides his escape from the fenced yard is digging. I hate muddy paws, and I hate holes all over the lawn (well you can’t call what i have a lawn, but that will be a later spring blog). I thought it was so cute how he dug in the snow… But it must feel even better with mud or dry dirt to him.

As he was starting to dig, I interrupted him by banging on the door to get his attention. Or i go out there and scold. He does 1 of two things. Pauses & resumes, or pauses and takes off running with glee. Today he kept digging so i went out with boots on to try to play fetch with him. (He sucks at Fetch.) He ran to get the ball, left the ball where it landed after i threw it, then ran back to dig.

I tried more deflection. Didn’t really work. I stood on the dig piles. He just got more excited & ran circles around me.

So i grabbed his “feets” towel, the thing i use to clean him off when he gets inside. And i was going to coax him in the house with this (I should mention i’d been trying to get him to come in, but he doesn’t obey the Come command yet). Didn’t work. Instead, he in his joy moment grabbed the towel out of my hand and pranced around the yard with it. I just stood there with my non-anxious presence and watched. (I don’t think non-anxious presence works with dogs. But i keep trying). Tried some “no” “drop it” “leave it” crap which doesn’t work when he’s in a joy moment, and started wondering as he tore around the yard – is this what we are like to God?

Does God see us digging in the mud, and knowing it’s not good for us or the mud, try to stop us? Does he stand in the mud as we challenge him and as he throws toys to get us to go somewhere else and find joy there? And we playfully keep doing wrong and then he brings in other distractions and we grab them from his hand and run around? 

OR

Opposite – Is God the puppy running around the yard trying to get us, the tired homeowner, to come play? 

Because –

Puppy watched me from the yard through the window, on the porch, sit down at the desk and play with my phone. He really doesn’t like it when I am on the computer or the phone. All of the sudden i heard a bang at the door. It was him. I was like “Yay he wants to come in!” No. I got up and went for the door and he did this thing with how he ran off the steps that he wanted me to come back out!

And like a horrible pet owner, breaking all the book rules, i put my boots back on and went out there to play. Who is the master? Ugg.

You know in Jesus’ parables where we can choose to see the God-character as the wicked king or the servants? It’s kind of like that. I’m not sure. But i got the wet pup back inside finally, cleaned him off, and he came in here and i bundled him up on the couch with the blanket like i do every night – and here he is peacefully dreaming.

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