Thursday, March 26, 2009

U2 Concerts

I now have tickets to see U2 twice in September. Meeting up with my friend Jason (who got the tickets in the pre-sale) and my friend Chris (who I've know since preschool) and his wife to stand outside Soldier Field in Chicago all day with our General Admission tickets so we can get as close to the stage to stand all night at the concert. Last time Jason I did this was in Pittsburgh in 2005...very cold standing outside, but we were rewarded with the front row in front of Adam Clayton.

Darlene and I will see them again a week later in Boston (this time in seats).

Seeing U2 is a pilgrimage...the waiting around all day, listening to the music and talking with other fans, until "church starts." A night with U2 is a night exploring our common humanity through common song...a special liturgy of sorts!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Angry Jesus

(This was my sermon this past Sunday…complete with poster signs I held up. The names are members of our congregation that were there….)

Imagine that we are all followers of Jesus “back in the day.”

On a bright sunny morning, we all go with Jesus to the temple. The Temple, near completion of a huge renovation project that has been going on the 46 years, looks over the city in spectacular fashion...a breathtaking tribute to God and to humanity’s architectural ingenuity. The excitement of entering the holy place is overwhelming...its all we’ve been talking about...seeing so many people together, sharing in common a vision of God’s purpose in the world, and a hope for the future represented by the temple. You just want to take it all fulfill the image in your heart and mind of the great sacred space.

Our group walks in: and is greeted by the following sign:


We go over to the desk. Fortunately, the line at the desk is not too long. When it’s our turn, Sheelagh says. “Good morning! There are 73 of us.”

The person at the desk responds: “You’ll need to purchase your unblemished animals from the market booths, over there to the left and into the main hall. The moneychangers are there on the right...remember, the temple only accepts temple coinage. Please keep small children with you at all times. The sanctuary and the priests’ quarters are not open to the public. Thank you for coming, and enjoy your day at the temple!”

Among our group, we hear a wince from Jesus.

So we go over to the moneychangers. There are a lot of tables...unfortunately only one of them is currently open, and the line is rather long. The rates are posted on a sign about the tables.


You hear Jesus muttering to himself.

We buy a temple coin for everyone, and Mell insists on buying a second coin for Jesus, so he as the leader can give the appropriate larger offering. Perhaps there’s a part of Jesus that appreciates the gesture, but he’s got a strange expression on his face.

We then proceeds to the booths. It is a chaotic place, with so many people surrounding the area around the sellers, and all of the sounds of the bleating of sheep, the mooing of cattle, the cooing of doves. We only notice the sign as we get close to the front.






Joan quickly turns to Jesus and says, “We can combine our coins for families, and I’ll send David back to the moneychangers to get a few more. We’ll be fine.

But Jesus isn’t listening.

His face has turned a shade of dark purple.


Anne-Marie says to Bill, “Why don’t you take Jesus outside for some air.”

But it’s too late...Jesus loses it.

We all stand in shock as Jesus “makes a whip of cords, and drives them all out of the temple.”

We try to hold him back, as “Jesus pours out the coins of the moneychangers and overturns their tables.”

We look nervously around to see if the authorities are on there way when Jesus yells, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

And our jaws really hit the floor when Jesus shouts at the leaders “Destroy this Temple...and in three days I will raise it up!”

Wow!!! This is really not good...we might not get out of this alive…

You can imagine that it was a difficult day to be a disciple of Jesus.

Some thoughts about today’s episode:

First off, any time someone gives you only the “gentle, meek and mild” picture of Jesus, we need to remember that wasn’t the only way Jesus could be.

I think gentleness, patience and understanding are still core qualities of Jesus, but at least in his human life, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions.

It is important for us to attempt to understand where Jesus’ anger was coming from.

It is possible that Jesus did not care for seeing the temple run as a business: with the marketplace inside the holy area. But Jesus would have certainly understood the necessity here. People came from great distances to visit and give offerings at the temple. One could hardly expect someone to bring unblemished animals over a great distance. While the practice may seem distasteful to us, it was the holy practice set up according to scripture. It was a practice that was to end at a time decreed by God. The book of Zechariah, in the 14th chapter, states that “There shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of Hosts on that day” meaning the day when the Lord comes to Jerusalem.

Jesus may have understood that is was his role to end this practice...or looking back, his disciples may have decided that Jesus as Lord would have been the one to end this practice.

Regardless, it really does not explain Jesus’ anger...he would have understood why the selling of animals was going on, even if he didn’t care for it.

It seems clear to me that Jesus’ anger really comes from the Temple’s attempt to profit from the holy practice. Specifically, I think he’s set off by the blatant price gauging he finds at the temple.

Roman coins, or any other foreign currency, were not to be used in the temple. So it was necessary to exchange the currencies for temple coinage. The presence of the money changers inside the temple suggest that the practice had become a money making technique...where the average person lost out in the exchange. To further the gauging, everything costs more inside the temple. The animals themselves were marked up to an inflated price: a “convenience fee” if you will, that was of course passed along to the pilgrim and pocketed by the temple leaders.

We see this practice in our society all the time...and I know I for one tend to get angry when I experience this sort of thing.

Well, when Jesus gets angry, he doesn’t hold back! He loses his temper, and even gets violent.

Justified? Yeah, I think so. A clear abuse is going on.

Helpful? Well, he certainly gets the point across that he’s really ticked off. Certainly the temple leaders get the message as they come out to argue with him. I feel the need to point out, however, that those who were “whipped with cords” and even the moneychangers who had their tables overturned and had to clean things up, were only doing their jobs. They were the workforce, not the management. They were stuck in the system, not setting the policy. They got the brunt of Jesus’ anger, and I’m not sure upon reflection that they were the ones who deserved it. (I bet after Jesus calmed down, he would have admitted that.)

Was Jesus’ action costly? You better believe it! You can get away with saying a lot of things. But when you mess with the bottom line: ie., the’re messing with fire. The Romans, who certainly profited from the money flow into the temple, would be far more willing to listen to charges about someone upsetting the finances of the system than about someone healing on the Sabbath. This action of Jesus’ in the temple was likely a major factor in the Romans deciding to execute him.

With all this in mind, I wonder: did Jesus regret his actions? I don’t think Jesus regretted taking a stand, and certainly he was willing to pay the cost of upsetting the Romans and Temple leaders. But perhaps, afterwards, he might have wished that he approached things differently. There’s no way to know for sure. I wonder, though, what it was like later that night with his friends. Did Jesus say “I’m sorry, my friends, I let my anger get the best of me.” Was he embarrassed that I he lost control? I wonder if he ever saw one of the traders or moneychangers again. Did he say, “I’m sorry you got caught in wasn’t really about you...and it wasn’t right of me to attack you for doing your job.”?

While I can’t know if Jesus did any of these things, I have to believe that when I lose control of my anger, even when I’m justified, that Jesus would want me to foster healing where I could.

Finally, there is the bold statement about the Temple:

“Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

The temple leaders took Jesus’ words literally, asking, “This temple has been under construction for 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days?”

The Gospel writer John sees this allegorically, and traditionally the church has as well. The Gospel of John says, “He was speaking of the temple of his body, and pointing to the resurrection.”

I can certainly see how looking back at things, we can understand Jesus’ words this way. But I wonder if that was what Jesus was really talking about, in the heat of the moment.

Perhaps there is a third option. Could the statement “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up” really be about the community of God? Perhaps Jesus’ biggest condemnation of the temple leaders is that they were failing to care for and build up the community.

Jesus implies the “You” in this statement: If you destroy this temple...
If the temple ceases to be what it is meant to be

(If the church ceases to be what it is meant to be)

Then, Jesus says, I can raise up a new community in three days time. In three days, and I’ll have a new community of people that more reflects the vision God has for the world!

This is a bold and powerful statement, and speaks to the church today just as powerfully as 2000 years ago.

It clearly says that we (the church) are not as important as we think we are...meaning that our buildings, our customs, our particular word choices and so on are not as critical to God’s (or our own) well being as we like to think. We aren’t entitled to anything simply because we’re the church. And we are certainly not called to protect God from those who are pursing truth and justice.

There’s a great line in one of U2’s new songs: “stop helping God across the street like a little old lady.” (Stand Up Comedy, 2009)

In other words, stop acting like we’re God’s protectors. Remember, it’s the other way around.

Thankfully, there is powerful good news here as well. Jesus really wants us to be the community of God. He doesn’t want to see the temple destroyed, he doesn’t want to see a system that hurts instead of protects. Jesus, for that matter, wants every religious community, no matter what their beliefs, to live into God’s vision of truth, justice and peace.

He is, in fact, so passionate about the religious community and its importance to society, that he acts out of character in this story...he is moved to anger and even violent action when the church fails to be what it is called to be.

That passion is essential for our lives today. We are called to live into that passion that Jesus has for the religious community, one centered on what is just and good, welcoming everyone who comes searching for the holy in their lives.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Those who can't wait out the current market...

Bob Greene wrote a painful and powerful commentary on our current financial world, concerning a group of people who tend to be forgotten in the cycle of the markets.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

God, Noah & the Flood

The story of Noah is one of the first stories that we teach our children. And there are some good reasons why this story resonates with children. Noah, directed by God, builds an ark. In the ark he gathers two of every animal...some of them natural enemies...and gets them all to cooperate together on the ark...the lion does lie down with the lamb. With the chaos of forty days and nights of the flood all around, Noah, his family, and all of the animals are safe and sound on the ark.

Children identify with Noah: he is protected by God...the loving parent who cares not only for Noah but protects every animal equally...all species, even the creepy ones, and the ones that seem to have no purpose...have space on the ark.

There is the releasing of the dove by Noah, who brings back a spring of olive branch to let Noah know it’s safe to come out...a great sign of peace and new life.

And finally...there’s the rainbow...the sign of God’s promise to Noah...the promise to forever care for him and his descendants.

There is, however, a problem. A problem that I used to ignore in the excerpts of the story that we usually read in church, but a problem I will never ignore again.

How can we forget that it was God who chose to flood the earth and destroy all life???

Well...I can’t. Perhaps I could before we as a nation experienced the devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans and the Gulf region...wounds that have still not healed. But I now know that I’ll never hear the story of Noah and the flood again without a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I’m not saying that there is any part of me for a moment that believes this story is literally true. I don’t believe for a second that God caused a flood in Noah’s time intending to destroy the earth...just like I have never thought for a second that God caused any of our modern day disasters.

But I am in search of the truth in the story. I am concerned with what the tellers were trying to say about their understanding of God and humanity. What was the point of their story? What is the ancient truth that they were struggling with: what is the truth that we must not forget?

When I was a teenager, I came to the conclusion that the story of God, Noah and the Flood was story about human sin. Humanity had become wicked, and God decided that it was necessary to act. God found one man who was righteous...Noah...and decided to start over with him and his family.

Noah does what he’s told, and all other life is destroyed.

God then sees the results, and for some reason decides that he won’t do this again. So he actually makes that very promise to Noah...and to all creation.

I accepted this understanding of the story, probably not as fact, but as an attempt to explain why God doesn’t come into the world and blast us for our collective wickedness. I think I would have explained it as “even though we sin, God has promised to love us.”

There were times that I figured God regretted this decision...

It was only later that I considered that the idea of God regretting was an essential part of the story. I was opened to the idea that the Flood story was a story whose primary focus was on this passionate and very active God of the Hebrews...a God with an intimate relationship with human beings.

A God, ironically, who had a lot to learn about being God.

A close reading of the whole Flood narrative reveals a God who reaches the point of regretting that he ever made humankind. These humans were so unlike what God was time to start over...hit the reset button.

So God finds one righteous man, and attempts to start over and eradicate evil. Everyone and everything that is not in the ark dies...

And God looks out over what he’s done...and it is only moments later that he promises never to do it again.

Some thoughts on the God of this story: It seems to me that God is acting more like a disillusioned marriage partner than as a parent. Genesis 6:6 says “And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This is a God who is hurting because this promising creation was not meeting his expectations. Perhaps too much time had passed without any ground rules, or voiced expectations. So the God of our ancestors declares a severance...with devastating ramifications. Instead of attempting to work through the problems, to nurture healing and growth, God bails on humanity. It is the classic overreaction to trouble.

The covenant with Noah and the rainbow are the signs that God has changed...has grown. God’s covenant with Noah indicates a significant change in God’s relationship with humanity: the promise to stick it out...the promise to not allow God’s hopes and desires for humanity to get in the way of the relationship. It is not only an acceptance of the potential evil that dwells in people...but the realization that humanity is truly made in God’s image...capable of spectacular successes and horrible blunders. On God’s end, the story concludes with this God of the Hebrews fully invested in humanity...come what may.

It’s a good thing that God ends up in this place, for the attempt to start over with Noah does not go so well.

I haven’t spent much thought on Noah in the past. “Obedient child” has always been my understanding of Noah. Granted, at 500 years old, he might not have looked like a child. But like an obedient child, Noah does everything that God tells him to do, without question.

Truth be told, I found little likable in him.

Throughout the story we see no protesting or pleading from Noah, and that bothers me. I would like to think that I had been in Noah’s shoes, I might have suggested to God that all that death and destruction was a bad idea...and made some attempt to save other people, perhaps hidden between the elephants and the hippos. I think of the many stories I have learned of people who have risked a great deal to save the lives of other. Oskar Schindler comes to mind as one who seemed to find himself in a position similar to Noah...and rose to the occasion. I wish Noah could have done this.

But, to be fair, remember that Noah comes before the example of who found voice to persuade God into rethinking his choice to destroy.

Noah had no prior example. The rules were simple: what God tells you to do.

I wonder how Noah really felt about the experience? Did he hear the voices of those who died? Did the images of destruction haunt him in the night? Did he really feel safe and secure aboard the ark? Did he not smell the stench left by the Flood?

The text does not say anything about Noah’s personal thoughts.

But I am here to tell you today, that Noah was profoundly changed by the experience. Consider Noah’s actions post-flood. He comes off the ark, immediately makes an altar and offers a burnt sacrifice...a little more obedience and a little more death, this time by Noah’s own hand. Then he plants the first vineyard, drinks himself into oblivion, falls down naked in his tent, wakes up embarrassed, finds someone to blame: his son Ham, for not covering him...and curses Ham’s son, Canaan and his descendants to eternal slavery. It’s all part of the story in Genesis.

My brothers and sisters: the cost of Noah’s experience was the very righteousness that caused God to choose him in the first place. He is haunted by his own silence to the calamity of the flood. And in his pain and anguish, he lashes out in the same over reactive way that God did, condemning his grandson and those who follow.

That’s how the story of Noah and the flood really ends...not with the rainbow, but with brokenness.

The ray of sunshine...the olive branch for us, today, is that death, destruction, and horrible choices do not have to be the final word. We are the God of this story new life and new relationship. The evil of our past: done by us, done to us, and allowed by our not what our future has to be. The transformation begins with acknowledging the past, and pledging to be true to a new relationship: a covenant that boldly declares our intentions to be invested in the well being of each others lives, and committed to the care of our earth and beyond.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

U2 "No Line" Update

Listened through the new album about 5 times....

I agree with Scott that the opening track, No Line on the Horizon, might just be my favorite. The opening set, tracks 1-5, is just an impressive set of music. Love Moment of Surrender and Unknown Caller. Truth be told, I know a lot of people don't care for Boots, but I think it really works in terms of the album.

Musically, I thought "interesting" about a number of songs the first time through. The more I listen all the way through, the more I like. The first time, I was just listening. The second time, I was "moving and grooving" even though I was driving my truck (which fortunately continued to stay in its lane.)

There's a ton of interesting lyrics to digest, and I'm not ready to do so yet.

I imagine a STRONG live performance...quite different from the last two tours. It's just that type of album. (Don't ask me to explain it any more than that right now...)


Very pleased!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


It's my favorite holiday: any day U2 releases a new album. Not only new music, but a concert tour not far behind!!! Been watching them play around the world on the web. Will comment on the new album as soon as I've listened to it ten times through or so....