Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Love A Parade!

I was watching PBS last week when they featured a program about the life of Judy Garland.  I learned a lot about her that I did not know.  Most of it was about the tragic short life she had (she died at 47).  She suffered through many incredibly sad experienced, some of which were visited upon her by the movie industry who wanted to make millions of dollars off of her talents.  They forced her to have an illegal abortion when she found herself pregnant at a young age (married the first time) because it did not fit into their plans for her.  They give her pills to pep her up so she would work longer and then to put her to sleep for about 4 hours nightly before she would begin again.  She was set to start in the movie production of "Annie, Get Your Gun" when she collapsed from exhaustion due to the abuse they put her body through.  Finally, when they no longer had need of her, they fired her, telling her she would not work in movies any longer.  That did not end her career, though, because she formed her own movie company and produced, "A Star is Born" which seemed to mirror her own life experiences.  She worked as a singer and television star until finally she died from a drug overdose at the age of 47, far too young.

Despite her sad life, we will always remember her as a teenager in her most famous role as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."  Her young smiling face is imprinting in our brains and we can seem to her her voice each time we hear the song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Another movie she made that was not as famous but for which she sang and danced with Fred Astair was "Easter Parade".  The title song became one which is played and sung each year at Easter.  It is all about people dressing up in their Easter finery and parading down the streets of large cities to show off their clothes.  Still today, many people buy new clothes at Easter to look their best for the holiday.

Easter customs are special and are part of why the traditions of Easter continue to exist.  Decorating, hiding, and hunting eggs remind us of our own childhood memories.  Buying and wearing new clothes make us feel special for that special Sunday.  Enjoying a large dinner with family and friends also helps us celebrate that big day.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week which leads up to Easter.  The first Palm Sunday featured a parade also, but not one that would lead to joy and celebration.  That parade led to Jesus' death on the cross on Good Friday.  People gathered on both sides of the street as Jesus rode on the back of a donkey and the people shouted "Hosanna!" which means "Save us".  They wanted to be saved from the cruel domination of the Roman government that occupied their land.  Many saw Jesus as a political leader who would arm an insurrection against the Romans despite the fact that he had never held a sword or talked about leading a rebellion.  In fact, he had described a kingdom again and again based on love and forgiveness, even of enemies.

Palm Sunday is the event that launched Jesus into the spotlight and created the political mood that would lead to his death.  The religious authorities of Jesus' day would not rest until they had him murdered to get him out of their way so they could be fully in charge of their religious institutions.  As long as Jesus was living, his followers would always be publicizing the fact that Jesus was very special, so special that they could not live with his being in the spotlight.

So, this Sunday is called Palm Sunday because Jesus' followers waved palm branches, a symbol of rebellion, and shouted "Hosanna!" or "Save us, Jesus!" as Jesus rode in on the back of a small donkey, a very humble scene.  They could not understand that the man they saw before them could not bring about any political change because his kingdom was not of this world but was a heavenly one not to be realized in this life.

We will wave the palm branches and say "Hosanna!" this Sunday during our worship service.  We will remember Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem as Passover was about to begin.  We will leave to continue our own lives during Holy Week perhaps pausing on Thursday to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples.  Then comes the end....Good Friday...a day to stop and remember and reflect and prepare for the quiet that leads us to Easter....but that is a story saved for the next week to come.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Natural Ability

I took piano lessons for four years when I was in high school because my mother wanted me to do so.  I had played the trombone in junior high but decided to drop out of band when I was going into high school.  My mother decided that if I learned to play the piano then I could help her out on Thursdays in the summer when she went to the nursing home to entertain the residents.  She wanted them to sing and made them listen to her try to lead them in singing.  I think they just enjoyed watching her jump around while she was singing so they sat and watched but rarely did any of them join her in singing.  Maybe they did not like her song selections either since they were all hymns

Anyway, so I did take piano lessons for four years.  I was even in a couple of piano recitals, along with kids who were much younger than I since few high school students were taking piano lessons from the teacher I had.  I liked this teacher though because she let me choose the music I wanted to play, not hymns like my mother wanted me to play but show tunes and popular songs and a bit of classical thrown in for good measure.  I played well for a teenager who did not practice as much as he should have.  I played for mom's nursing home show too in the summers, hitting many clinkers as I tried to grind out the hymns she wanted the old folks to sing.  I did not play well but the residents never complained. I think they thought it was cute to have a teenage boy playing a piano and they watched every move I made as if I were the object of the day to be admired.

Today, I can play well enough to be embarrassed by my playing skills.  I only play hymns nowadays since I work in the church business but even those suffer greatly by my poor playing skills.  I am like Lot's Wife, if I look away from the page, I turn into a bumbling fool trying to play the piano.  I keep my eyes fixed on the page and do not sing along if I am attempting to play for others to sing.  I cannot do two things at once when it comes to this skill.  I need to concentrate in order for it to happen.

I have always been envious of those who play by ear, whether they play the piano or the guitar or any other instrument.  Some people do not look at music at all.  In fact, some people who play the piano cannot even read music.  They simply sit down at the piano and their fingers play and for some reason the tune leaves their brain and travels down their arms to their hands and they simply play.  If I do not have music in front of me, nothing can happen.  I have no musical imagination.  The notes do not happen just by my thinking about them.

Why is it some have natural talent in some areas and others have to take lessons to try to learn the same things?  Why can some people habla Espanol or spreche sie Deutsch easily and others of us take language lessons for years and all we can do is say hello or count or name the colors in a language?  Why are some adept at tennis or swimming or sports of all kinds and other must practice and put in a lot of effort to make a good showing?

We can those things that people can do well "natural ability" or "gifts" or talents".  We refer to them as "God-given" because the people who have such abilities can use them naturally and easily.  They seem to be a part of the genetic makeup of some persons and not a part of other people.

Could the same be said about spirituality?  Why is it that spirituality comes easily to some and it seems to be hard to grasp for others?  Why is it that to some knowing how to live and what to do in life is an innate part of being human and for others they live lives of confusion and turmoil because they are constantly making wrong choices in life?

Jeremiah spoke of a day that would come when "No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest..." (31:34a,b)  He spoke of a time in the life of the people of Israel when the knowledge of their God Yahweh would be an innate part of being human.  That day has not come, either for the people of Israel or any other part of the human family because the knowledge of God as an innate part of living would produce the reign of God within the lives of human beings.  Some humans come close.  They know how to serve God and neighbor most of the time.  All of us fail now and then, however.  We all need to be taught how to live by learning from one another and studying the writings of persons inspired by God, both biblical and persons in society who have something to say to us concerning the life God would have us live.

God told Jeremiah that God would write the law on their hearts and they would be God's People and he would be their God.  They would just know what it means to love God with one's entire being and to love one's neighbor as oneself.  That would be a part of human existence in the same way that one breathes or receives blood through one's being.  Knowing God would an innate part of being human.

When will the day come when humans love one another instead of destroying one another?  When will it be simply natural to hold the hand of another human being and not see skin color or difference in language or culture as a wall but instead observe it as a characteristic that makes another person unique and beautiful?  The day is surely coming, says the day.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snakes in the Desert

According to a study done by, the number one top fear of everyone who responded was....snakes!  That fear was followed by spiders, scary places, other people, heights, darkness, thunder and lightning, flying, dogs, and dentists.  I can understand why the fear of snakes is the most common fear.  Snakes are so unpredicatable and threatening.  They slither and scoot and can go in any direction.  Their bite is feared because many snakes are poisonous and so many of us cannot distinguish between the poisonous ones and the non-poisonous ones so we just fear them all.

My mother is very afraid of snakes.  Her view toward them is: The only good snake is a dead snake.  She always reminded me of the woman in the B.C. comic strip who would beat the snake to death if she saw it.  My mother would immediately find the garden hoe if she saw a snake of any kind and chase it down and club it to death.  She instilled her fear of snakes in her children so I too share that fear and do not like to even see a snake if I can avoid it.  I change the channel on television if snakes come on and I refuse to go in the snake house at the zoo if we visit there.

The people of Israel were wandering in the desert after they left the bondage of Egypt and, as they often did, they began complaining about the food that God was giving them.  They did not like the miracle bread called manna and began griping about its taste.  I guess God did not appreciate their comments because suddenly fiery serpents began coming out from under the rocks and bit them.  Some died from the bites and others began to plead with Moses to ask God to heal them.  Moses did and God gave him a strange command.  He was to make a copper snake and put it on a pole.  Anyone who had been bitten by a snake could look at the snake on the pole and they would live.  Moses obeyed God and the people looked at the snake on the pole and lived over their snakebites.

Centuries later, a man named Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night and Jesus was trying to explain how God would save all humankind.  He compared the snake in the wilderness to what God would do to bring about salvation.  God would lift up God's Son so that all who would look at him would be saved.  Looking at God's Son hanging on the cross brought healing of soul to those who needed to receive it the most.

Today, we see the Christ hanging on the cross, through eyes of faith, and believe that he is the salvation of the world.  He brings life and health to all who look for a better answer than what they can find in the world around them.  "Look and live" is the message is to all who would believe and receive what God is providing to a sin sick world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Bible Tells Me So

"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belongs, they are weak but he is strong."

We have sung this hymn in church circles in every church I have ever attended in my life.  It is a very pleasing and pleasant song with the underlying meaning that we can trust that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us that truth.  Jesus does say that he calls the little children to come to him and older folks should not prevent them from doing so, which in his day was a revolutionary thing to say because children were considered to be worthless until they were old enough to earn a living.  They were treated as objects or property, the same as women, because in the ancient world only men had rights, property rights and personal rights.  So, when Jesus ordered his disciples not to forbid the children to come to him and for him to hold them and talk to them, his words were in complete contradiction to what society in his day believed about children.

The Bible tells me so....that is what many of us base our beliefs upon and say we believe certain things because we believe that the Bible says something about our beliefs, but how many of us actually believe what the Bible says and really consider the teachings of Jesus and of the Bible as valid for daily life?  Yes, many of us say we believe the Bible and its teachings but when they run contradictory to what we have been taught by others in our lives or by society or by people or organizations whose opinions we value, we may discount what the Bible says and consider its teachings to be secondary.

Our Bible study group this morning discussed the Old Testament reading for this week's lectionary, Exodus 20: 1-17.  That is where one can find "The Ten Commandments" in case you are ever asked where to locate them.  We read the passage aloud and then discussed it in light of our understanding of the world today in comparison to the ancient world.  Most of the commandments found there can be taken literally but a few are ones that few people take literally or they would live their lives in a different manner than they do.

The first two commandments blend into one idea--not to have an idol or god in your life other than the God we worship.  That sounds pretty commonsense in that few of us have a statue of some kind to which we pay homage regularly.  But when one looks at our modern life in the United States, we can see that many of us elevate persons or things to the place of idols in life.  If we were to meet a movie star or celebrity or sports figure that we see on television or in the movies, we would immediately consider that person to be better than we are and we may even idolize them.  If we value money or possessions to the place where it holds first place in life then it has become an idol.  So, we do not need to worship a statue of a cow as the Canaanites did in order for us to have an idol in life.  We only need to examine what is important to us in order to know whether or not we have an idol in our life.

Then, there is that whole idea about keeping the Sabbath day holy.  Since Sabbath literally means "seventh" then Saturday is the Sabbath from scripture so perhaps as Christians we are not obeying that commandment literally unless we rest on Saturday as our Jewish friends and Seventh Day Adventist friends do.  So, even if we allow that Sunday is our "Christian Sabbath" then how do we live on Sunday if we keep it "holy"?  Does that mean that we do nothing on Sunday except go to church and eat lunch and then take a nap?  Does keeping it holy mean that we live entirely differently than the rest of the week or does it mean that we try to slow down a bit and enjoy the day rather than rushing around as we do the other 6 days?  That question is open for debate so perhaps we do not believe it literally, just as the words say.

Taking the name of God in an improper way.....Oh My God--OMG--has saturated our culture.  People say that phrase so much that it has little meaning.  If I say it, does it mean I have taken God's Name in vain or is it just an expression?  Do I have to not say God's name at all to keep it holy as my Jewish friends practice?  Does it mean I do not say G-D (you know the word I mean)?  Again, not a literal meaning to consider.

The list goes on when one considers the Bible and all contained in it.  So, why then, do some insist to elevate certain verses so as to castigate or condemn some in society?  Perhaps the words they are saying are not truly from the Bible but from a human who has used the Bible to promote his or her own agenda.  Perhaps the Bible is being misused by that individual and that misuse needs to be called out by those of us who believe in a sacred reading of God's Word.  Perhaps that person who is misusing the words of scripture has an agenda that needs to be revealed to others so that the power they gain from its misuse will lessen or disappear.

I grew up in a very restrictive religious community which forbade almost everything in society based upon their reading of scripture.  Very few ideas they promoted were truly in the Bible but they taught they as if they had received the commandments from the mountain rather than Moses.  Those people are no longer even involved in a church or religious movement.  Their ideas have faded even as their influence is gone.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so....maybe that is one of the few things I can take literally from the words of Scripture.  It may not say those words literally, but I believe them because that is my experience.