Tuesday, March 31, 2015

That We May Truly Live

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:34-35, NRSV)

Throughout Lent, we reflected on the seven last words of Jesus on the cross and learned five things God may be calling us to give up in order to truly live.

To give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness.

To give up judgment and grow in grace and acceptance.

To give up apathy and indifference and grow in compassion.

To give up pride and grow in humility.

To give up control and grow in faith and trust.

There are other things we need to give up. But to "die to ourselves" so that we may truly live - that is our call. As Richard Rohr said: "We need to deeply trust and allow both our own dyings and our own certain resurrections, just as Jesus did! This is the full pattern of transformation."

This week, as we dine with Jesus at the table, struggle with him in Gethsemane, stand with him at his trial, and walk the way of the cross with him, I hope we would really take time to reflect and confront the question: "What is it that needs to die in me- in the way I think, the way I act, the way I do things- so that I may truly live?"

May your week be truly holy.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giving Up Control (5th in a series)


Lent is a 40-day season where, just like Jesus, we are called to confront our greatest temptations and try to identify things in our lives that we need to give up because they hinder our fully following Christ. In this series, we've been exploring deeper things that God may be calling us to give up, more than just chocolate.

As a basis, we've been looking at Jesus' 7 last words on the cross. We come to the last two utterances today. Now, these two words are believed to be two versions of the same thing as told by two different Gospel writers.
 

 In John, he says, “'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30, NRSV) No loud voice. No shouting. He probably even said it with a smile. It is finished. It is done.
 

To fully grasp these words, we have to remember the struggle of the night before, in the garden of Gethsemane, when he struggled for control and prayed, “Father, if it is at all possible, take this cup of suffering away from me.” It was a spiritual tug-o-war. Can I have it my way? Is it at all possible?
 

But God prevails and Jesus goes through Calvary. Now, it is finished. What needed to be done has been done. Jesus yielded control, saying “not my will, but your will be done.” And now it is finished. And he breathed his last.

In Luke, "Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Having said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23:46, NRSV)

It really wasn’t over until he died, physically. He had to die. But even in death’s uncertainty, he was giving God full control.
 

These final words of Jesus were actually from Psalm 31:5. It is a prayer every Jewish mother taught her child to say before going to sleep. Just as we were taught, maybe to say, "Now I lay me down to sleep," or some other evening prayer, so the Jewish children were taught, as the threatening, uncertain darkness came down, to say “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
 

Jesus must have said this prayer all his life before he closed his eyes at night. And now as he closed his eyes for the final time, uncertain of what death had in store, he says the same prayer one last time, “Into your hands, I commit my Spirit.” He yielded control. And doing so allowed him, not only to die, but to live again!
 

Like it or not, accept it or not, admit it or not, there’s a control freak in each one of us. We want certainty. We want to be sure of what’s next, of what lies ahead. And we want things to happen the way they should happen, which is the way we want them to happen. We want control.
 

That’s why darkness freaks us out. That’s why going down a long, steep slide freaks us out. That’s why death freaks us out. Because we have no control. But today we are reminded that perhaps the way to enjoy life is really less about our controlling it and more about trusting God. This Lent, God is calling us to give up control and grow in trust and faith.
 

Lent is serious soul work. It's not a mere sentimental journey revisiting Jesus’ suffering and death. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.

More than just chocolate, we are called to give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness; to give up judgment and grow in grace and acceptance; to give up apathy and grow in compassion; to give up pride and grow in humility; and to give up control and grow in trust and faith. May it be so. Amen.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Giving up Pride (4th in a series)


We continue on our 40-day Lenten journey where, just like Jesus, we are confronting our greatest temptations and trying to identify things in our lives that we need to give up because they hinder us from fully following Jesus. So far we’ve learned three. We are called to give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness; to give up judgment and grow in grace and acceptance; to give up apathy and grow in compassion.
 

Up to this point in the crucifixion story, Jesus has been composed and collected, all things considered. I mean, given what’s been done to him, he has remained poised, calm enough to dish out words of wisdom that were nothing less than divine. He was issuing forgiveness. He was promising new life. He was calmly making sure his loved ones will be taken care of.

And even in his trial, he was composed, speaking in short, one-liners that were full of wisdom and meaning. He never said a word of complaint about his ordeal. He was just so regal, so poised, so Godly, so like Jesus!


And then, "about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NRSV)
 

Most of the crowd had already gone home. There was nothing left to watch. Death did not come quick to those being crucified. Sometimes they were left hanging for days until they die of asphyxiation. Other times their legs were broken so that they lose their leverage for breathing and die quicker. It was something the general public did not want to lay around and witness.

It was also midday and yet a stark and gloomy darkness covered the whole land. It was strangely dark. No sense lingering outdoors.


Those who lingered were those who were in charge of the crucifixion, for it was their responsibility to see it through, and those who really wanted Jesus dead- hardliners who continued mocking him and savoring their victory over this troublemaker. Perhaps a few of those who followed Jesus stayed. But they stood at a safe distance, crying.
 

At that point, apart from the physical pain of dying, the cross was a lonely place to be. So Jesus cries out: “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani!” Sabaq is Aramaic for allow, or permit; T means you; and Ani means me.

My God, My God why have you allowed this to happen to me?! If you think Jesus did not feel a thing, think again. He felt the pain. He felt it all!
 

And then he cries out again. “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28, NRSV) 

He had lost so much body fluids through sweat and blood. The last drink he must have had was from the night before during the last supper. He had carried the cross a long ways. He had been hanging on it for six hours now. Of course he was thirsty. He was dehydrated.
 

Dehydration. First it gives you a fever and chills. Then it gives you a throbbing headache. Then cramps in your abdomen. Then nausea. Then your eyeballs dry up in the sockets. So does your lips. Your tongue and vocal chords swell up and your throat feels like sand paper. In the end you can barely whisper. It didn’t sound human; it sounded more like an animal croaking, "I am thirsty."
 

It showed the reality and intensity of his physical suffering. I thirst. I am extremely dehydrated. I am bleeding. I am suffering. I am dying.
 

Can you see what was happening here? Jesus was crying for help! Jesus acknowledged the pain. “Oh, God, help me. Somebody, anybody, help me!”
 

That just bursts our bubble, doesn’t it. Calm, dignified, godly Jesus suddenly breaks down and cries. He finally breaks. This isn’t the Jesus we want. This isn’t the Jesus we know. But it is the Jesus we get today. A Jesus who gives up pride and says, “I don’t think I can do it anymore. I need help. God, help me. Somebody, please, help me.”
 

This Lent, God is calling us to give up pride. To give up pride and ask for help. To give up pride, accept you are wrong and ask for forgiveness. To give up pride, accept failure and start anew. To give up pride for the sake of reconciliation or the greater good or for the sake of life.
 

I've been saying: Lent is serious soul work. Its not a mere sentimental journey revisiting Jesus’ suffering and death. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.
 

Perhaps pride is the only barrier between us and the life God intends for us to enjoy. And so more than just chocolate, may we give up pride, and grow in humility.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Giving up Apathy (3rd in a series)


"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'” (John 19:26-27a, NRSV)

Jesus continues to hang on the cross, suffering and slowly dying a very painful death. Every breath was difficult and painful. Imagine doing pull-ups. When you’re doing pull-ups, it’s hard to inhale when your hanging all the way down. You have to pull yourself up and inhale on the way up. Then you exhale on the way down. So in order to take a breath, Jesus had to pull his body up, his hands and feet putting pressure on the nail wounds. With each motion going up and down, his already raw back would rub against the rough cross. He also had to angle his head so the thorns don’t hit the cross and push back at his skull.

Soon, the lack of oxygen and dehydration cause his muscles to cramp, making him try to shift as far as he possibly can to prevent it, adding to the pain and misery. Perhaps the mocking and verbal abuse was still going at that time. But the focus of the story shifts, like a camera zooming in from a wide angle to a tighter shot spotlighting what was happening beneath the cross of Jesus.

Some of the women followers of Jesus were there. So was his mother, Mary and his disciple John. Amidst the yelling of the angry crowd, amidst his own personal suffering, even when it was extremely difficult to talk, let alone breathe, Jesus focuses his attention on his mother and her pain. He made sure she was cared for during her time of emotional suffering.

Come to think of it, Jesus had enough reasons not to care. He had enough valid reasons to not even notice the suffering of Mary. He had bigger problems and sufferings of his own. But instead of apathy, Jesus chose compassion.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus is known to do this. While he had his own concerns to deal with, he took time to show compassion. Even when he was on a tight schedule, he would go out of his way to help, heal or listen. When he was arrested, Peter tried to defend him by cutting-off the ear of one of the guards. What does Jesus do? He heals the man. He doesn’t say, “Well that’s your problem. I’ve got a bigger issue here. I’m being arrested.”

God is calling us to give up apathy.

Lent is a 40-day journey that mirrors Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, where he struggled with his temptations and had to give things up, things that were hindrances to his life’s mission. Thus, Lent is a yearly spiritual wilderness journey where we confront our greatest temptations head-on and try to identify things in our own lives that we need to give up because they are hindrances to our fully following Jesus.


But more than just chocolate, we’re learning that there are deeper issues and attitudes that God may be calling us to deal with and give up. So far we’ve learned that we are called to give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness. We’re also called to give up our judgmental ways and grow in grace and acceptance.

We’re trying to learn some of the deeper things God may be calling us to give up, by looking at what Jesus needed to give up when he denied himself and carried his cross.

Today, God is calling us to give up apathy. It is the lack of interest or concern. It is insensibility, indifference.

Apathy could come in the form of the blatant, “I don’t care.” Sometimes it comes in the form of, “I see the problem but I don’t want to be involved.” Other variants of this are: “That’s not my problem. I’ve got my own problems to deal with.” Or, “Well, that’s the least of my concerns.” And sometimes it comes in the form of, “Sorry, I’ve just got other stuff to do.”

We have to be honest. We have found ourselves acting apathetic and saying these things, maybe in varying forms and degrees, but apathetic just the same, not just to strangers in need but even to friends and loved ones. And we know the painful sting of being in need, asking for help and receiving a cold, “I don’t care!”

Friends, Lent is serious soul work. It is not a mere sentimental and emotional journey of remembering Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. In my devotion yesterday, Fr. Richard Rohr said, "We need to deeply trust and allow both our own dyings and our own certain resurrections, just as Jesus did! This is the full pattern of transformation."

We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live. And so more than just chocolate, God is calling us today to give up apathy, in whatever forms and degrees we find ourselves living that, and grow in compassion.

Your fellow disciple,
Carlo

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Giving up Judgement (2nd in a series)


Lent is a period of 40 days, excluding Sundays, of deep soul searching to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. In many ways, Lent mimics the 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, where he struggled with his temptations and gave up things that were hindrances to his life’s mission.

It might be helpful for us to look at Lent as a yearly spiritual wilderness journey where we confront our greatest temptations head-on and try to identify things in our own lives that we need to give up because they are hindrances to our fully following Jesus.

So what are you giving up for Lent this year?
 

Last week, I talked about a sermon series I preached a couple of years ago entitled, "More than Just Chocolate" where my congregation and I learned that the point of fasting is not to deny joy or pleasure. We say “no” to some things so we are free to say “yes” to others. Using Jesus' seven last words or statements on the cross, we explored aspects of our lives that God may be calling us to give up, more than just chocolate, or coffee or soda. From the first word, we learned last week that God is calling us to give up Anger and Bitterness. (click here to read)   

"He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'" Luke 23:43, NRSV

Jerusalem had already rejected Jesus. They had him arrested, tried, flogged and beaten. Then they called for his crucifixion. We find him already hanging on the cross, left to die a criminal’s death. On either side of him were two criminals, also crucified. One joins the crowd in deriding him. The other one rebukes the first one, reminding him that they were hanging there, as punishment for crimes they’ve committed but this man in the middle had done no wrong. Then he asks Jesus not to save him, but to simply remember him, when he comes to his kingdom.

Now, Jesus could have chosen the way of judgment and say, “You both are criminals. You’re evil. Remember you? Why? You deserve to burn!” But no. When it could have been easier to say, “Curse you!”, when it would have been easier to pronounce judgement and denounce the person, when it would have been easier to say, “Uuugh! You @#%$!”, Jesus lamented instead, and offered grace and acceptance. He chose to look deeper, seeing the person as also a victim rather than just the perpetrator.

Perhaps God is calling us to give up judgment for Lent.
 

Now, we need judgment to survive. We need to judge between right and wrong. We need to judge between many alternatives. We face decisions every moment of every day and we need judgment to make the best decisions. We need the power and the freedom to choose between right and wrong, the power and the freedom to make decisions.

The problem with judgment is when we use it against each other. We say things like: “Who would do that?!" and "Who in their right mind?!” It’s almost an instinct for us to think wrongly of people when things go wrong. And nobody falls into this trap more than us, people of faith. Claiming righteousness because of our relationship with God, we feel that it is our right and prerogative and that God has authorized us to judge the world and label people good or bad, worthy or unworthy, clean or unclean, right or wrong!

Yet Jesus reminds us. Our call is not to judge people, but to offer grace and acceptance. Now, we may say, “But he was clearly in the wrong!" "She really was out of line!” The people of Jerusalem were clearly wrong. The two criminals clearly did horrible crimes punishable by death. Yet Jesus offered grace, not judgment.

Now, we’re giving up judgment, but were not giving up justice. Justice still needs to happen. But to judge people, to form an opinion of them so strong that we condemn them forever is not for us to do.

Another problem about judgment is when we judge others not because they are clearly in the wrong but just because they look, or speak, or think, or act, or dress, or live differently from us.

Do you know how it feels like to be wrongly judged? Do you know the pain of being looked at suspiciously because of the color of your skin? Have you ever been wrongly judged because of your race, your gender, your sexuality, your accent, your chosen lifestyle or even your choice of clothes?

Or maybe the question is: Have we wrongly judged people just based on these same criteria?

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Our call as Christians, as people of faith, is not to judge but to offer the kingdom of God. Remember, our mission is to give everybody, even the people we disagree with, even the people we dislike, even the people who are different from us, a taste of what it means and feels like to be under God’s reign.

Friends, Lent is serious soul work. Lent is not a mere sentimental and emotional revisiting of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. And in order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.

And so more than just chocolate, God is calling us today, to give up judgment and grow in acceptance and grace.

Your fellow disciple,

Carlo