Friday, May 26, 2017

Ascension Day: Power from on High

According to St. Luke, in his Gospel account of Jesus' ascension into heaven, the last words of Jesus to his disciples is, "And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

The four words that stand out for me in this declaration are "promised," "stay," "clothed," and "power." To attempt to put Jesus' words into my own interpretive sense, I connect these words thus:

I am going away, but you will receive what has been promised if you stay in the place of risk. In that place you will receive a share in the power of God that will so change you it will feel like being clothed with something not your own. 

"The city" of which Jesus speaks is, of course, Jerusalem. It is the place of fear. The other Gospel writers all have Jesus last experiences with his disciples in Galilee, their home country, a safe place. Luke is a man of the Empire, and knows intuitively that the world will not offer safety for the followers of Jesus.  All of the Gospel writers have the disciples-turned-apostles sent into the world with the message, but there is a difference in being sent from a safe place than being sent from a risky one. Luke wants to make it very clear that followers of Jesus must learn to live at risk ( or even in danger), so the risky, dangerous place, for him, is the only logical place to receive the promised power.

What is this "power from on high?"  "The Holy Spirit," is the obvious answer, but, really, a rather vague one. Saying that the followers of Jesus will receive power from on high begs the question, what kind of power with which do to what?

There is a kind of "power paradigm" that surrounds us.  Power is the smarts, the cleverness, the ability to project fear, the skill and strength to win. In current vernacular, power is whatever it takes to be a winner; lack of power, defined as weakness or lack of talent, or even laziness, inevitably leads to loss, to be a "loser."

The biblical sense of "power from on high" are characteristics like courage, resilience, graciousness and, above all, love.  Another list is Paul's "Fruits of the Spirit" from Galatians 5:22-23.

...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

None of these has anything to do with winning or gaining power over others.  They are not so much about "end results" as they are "ways of being," and that is perhaps the most important distinction between "power" as we tend to conceive it, and biblical "power."

The other important distinction is that "power from on high" is just that, from elsewhere. It is a gift. In biblical terms, it is grace, and so it is not something which we must conjure up in ourselves but something which we must be ready to receive and exercise sometimes despite our inclinations.

Which is to say, power from on high is a promise, something with which we are clothed.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It is Spring

It is spring in Western New York, and no matter how many times we have lived through it, we always have to remind ourselves that spring is not summer.  It is the promise of summer, not its fulfillment. One day t-shirts and shorts are in order, the next long pants and a jacket,

We also have to remember that it rains this time of year and this rain is, actually, not just a nuisance, but essential for the creation around us to thrive in the coming months.

I am struck this spring by the many different shades of green as I look out my study window. The trees on the hillside must be every possible color of green there is, a veritable 64-count Crayola box of greens.  Then there is the deep greens of the lawns on the street below, and the fields I noticed driving to church yesterday "over the hill," as we say, from one river valley where we live and another where our family is located, along with our church, and many things with which we are involved. This other valley is the valley of my birth.

On the church's calendar it is a Rogation Day. Historically, the three days before Ascension Day (this Thursday) are days of special prayer for the creation, for the spring plantings, and for our stewardship of it all. Almost no one observes them any more, unfortunately. They are a great way to pause at the beginning of the explosion of creation we are just beginning to experience thus far this year. The creation may be under siege (and I, for one, believe it is), but it insists on dazzling us with new life and beauty.

The institutional church is so obsessed with its own shortcomings these days, and afraid for its future, that we are losing our primary purpose--to shout glory and discover and pronounce God's blessing on every living thing. We have the words, we need to take them off the shelf, blow off the dust and sing them anew.

Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord...
Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, all winds and fires and heat...
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth...
Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, and all you flocks and herds...
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday
Many days ago Mary Magdalene
Came from the empty tomb
Apostle to the apostles I have seen the
Lord

Then she drops from history
If not from imagination
And what an imagination we have had
We have a salacious need to have in the story some
Sex

Joined to sin this sex must be of course
And a woman must be the villain
But Mary of Magdala was no prostitute
She was simply a woman who by Jesus was
Healed

She was healed and was grateful
And joined his followers
Providing for the men
Out of their purse and their
Gratitude

Jesus called her by name in the garden
And so she knew him whom she had known not
As the gardener or body-snatcher
In her mourning her name and that voice brought
Joy

Mary of Magdala deserves more
Than she has gotten from our ignorance
Would should follow her to serve
When no one else would a thereby be an

Apostle

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter Friday

Easter Friday
The Octave of Good Friday
What of sin these past eight days
Paul says consider yourselves to sin
Dead

In Baptism we renounce sin
In every form imaginable
(and some perhaps not)
Then promise whenever we sin we will
Repent

We renounce with fingers crossed
This is the work of the people
Despite protests to the contrary
We know we will fall short, but not in
Mercy

Christ took on our sins
Once for all we say
Should we also say for all time
Is God engaged in an eternal absorption of
Sin

As in Adam all die the apostle says
So also in Christ shall all be made alive
Even Adam Eve and the serpent
Christ robs hell of its oldest inhabitants and they are
Free

It is the energy of this freedom
Fueled by Love sustained in Faith
Resolving into Hope
That enabled the rising and enables it

Eternally

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter Thursday

Easter Thursday
And I wonder on this grey morning
Did the Risen Jesus
Ever stub his toe and
Curse

In the stories after the rising
He seems so solemn
Except for cooking breakfast
A little broiled fish I imagine with a
Laugh

It is true he returns without recrimination
To his friends the betrayers and the frightened
And Thomas with his hubris
He offers three times I give you
Peace

They rejoiced when they saw him
The wounds still fresh on his body
As they will eternally be
Is it possible that fear was so quickly replaced by
Joy

Did they lock the door again
That marvelous peace he gave
Did it replace the fear
Or did it in some strange way
Fulfill

They would come to know
Their lives at no less risk
After the rising than before
But the risk he had shown them was

Love

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Wednesday

Easter Wednesday
The day he was known in the bread
The bread that was broken
And not until it was
Broken

They first spoke to him
Of broken hope
Along the road to anywhere
He called them slow of
Heart

Which gave them heartburn
Which they did not comprehend
Perhaps their hearts had not been slow
But rather withdrawn from
Pain

We protect our hearts
Lest they be broken more often
Than they are whole
Does this make us slow and
Foolish

I confess to confusion
Does Easter Joy take away our pain
Our slow and broken hearts
Or are we not Eastered until we are
Broken

Shall our slow and broken hearts
Be burned into the rising
Is this how divine love works
There is always a death before the

Rising

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Tuesday

The poetry keep coming. I know not if it is good poetry or bad, but it is.

Easter Tuesday
Arrives and we ask
Why is the sound of joy
Already so dim in our ears
Listen

It is a day of question
Why is resurrection promise
Slipping through our fingers
Becoming a strange sound, a
Whisper.

What seemed so real on Sunday
Has returned to the realm of rumor
Listen still, a whisper, a rumor of
Hope.

Today we begin to remember
That the promised joy in not cheap
And sometimes illusive
Slipping through our neural spaces something
Strange

Today it dawns
The Man of Sorrows must lead
Us to the light
With his wounded hands of
Love.

There is a rumor of resurrection
And not all rumors are fake news
Some rumors echo truth
Such is the rumor of

Joy.