Monday, January 18, 2016

A Reflection in Seven Sentences (Based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11)

I take issue with Paul’s notion that idols do not speak.

He did not get to look beyond the figures of baked clay and metal
to see the ideologies of the modern world
that fight with the unbending words:

“All or nothing.”

Our idols today speak loudly and harshly,
and they have no capacity
for bending,
for forgiving,
or for showing mercy.

They implicitly say,

“Jesus be cursed”

by claiming to have higher importance than Jesus
and his ethic of love for the poor,
the outsider,
and even the enemy.

But, we have the Holy Spirit to speak for us.

We have the Holy Spirit set ablaze within,
who gives us gifts
for the good of all,
and who melts the ideologies of this world as if they were made of wax.

The gifts of the Spirit look different in each one of us,
but they all point over the heads of the idols of this world
to the words of truth written in the heavens:

“Jesus is Lord.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reflection on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The people “were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” With all the talk of winnowing forks, sorting out and burning the chaff (in other words, sorting out the sinful), and the heavens opening up with the Spirit descending as an actual dove on Jesus, I want to ignore all of that dramatic stuff for the time being and instead focus on something much more boring. The people wondered if John was the one who would save them.

Of course, we know that John is not the Messiah, but they did not. They were waiting with great expectation for the one who would come along and make everything right again. John was bold. John was persuasive. John was charismatic. John definitely was not a part of the business-as-usual establishment. Even the soldiers were coming out to listen to him. “Is he the one who will make everything right?”

I focus on this first because, even though I know exactly who my Messiah is, still I find myself searching for someone to fix the problems of the world. “Will he or she finally by the one who will figure it all out and make everything alright?” Or sometimes, more times than I would like to admit, I ask, “Will this thing make everything alright?” We put our trust in so many things each day, expecting them to work miracles.

But, rather than asking you, “What have you put your trust in that ultimately failed?” I will go ahead and offer my life as a humiliation on your behalf. So here we go, a list of people and things that Jira Albers has trusted to make everything right instead of Jesus:

1. Candles and scented soaps. I lit the candles and set them around the bathtub, hoping for an experience of bliss. Instead, I just found myself sitting in a tub with sub-par lighting, and no place to safely rest my head because of all the stupid candles.

2. My dog, Sparky. He was to be my friend at a time when I had very few. And, he was a great dog, when I could bring myself to get close enough to him to pick off all the ticks. And, the licking…I never got into the whole dog licking/kissing thing. Making out with a dog is not a good enough substitute for a girlfriend…just saying.

3. My first car. It was to be my freedom. It was to be my release. It was to be my salvation. It ensured that all my free time was filled with a minimum wage job to pay for gas and insurance. Welcome to the real world Jira.

4. President Bill Clinton. Well, we do not have to say too much more there, do we?

5. My Grandpa. I loved him, and he loved me. We would go on rides in his jeep together, and there were those special times of fishing in the lake with one another. The world was right when I was with Grandpa. And, then the phone call came telling us that he was dead. Even Grandpas are not the eternal Messiah.

Why mention this list? Because, even though we have a Messiah, here’s the reality: it is hard to remember that we have one. There are some days when we are certain that someone or something will make our lives happy and right and good. And, when they fail…as they always do…the feeling is devastation. On those days of devastation, the heavens feel closed up like in the days of Elijah, when God refused to shine on the land and its people. On those days, we feel like the widow as she prepared her last bit of flower and oil for her son and herself. They would plan to eat, and then they would plan to die. Their messiahs had all given out. Everything they looked to and hoped in had dried up, like the blowing soil just beyond their front door.

But, I have news for you: the heavens are not closed up. God has not chosen to leave us dry. Instead, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit was spilled out onto Jesus in the waters of his baptism. And, later Jesus chose to spill that same Spirit upon us.

It is still happening today. They heavens are still torn open, and the Spirit is freely flowing here. Our Messiah has already come, and we have been washed with this saving presence.

That reminds me just how much I like taking time each day to remember my baptism. Here’s how it works; every morning, when you splash your face with that refreshing water and scrub away the grime of the night, you can say boldly, “I am God’s child,” in remembrance of that day when the Spirit was splashed upon you. It’s a great discipline to have. It is refreshing and life-giving. Let’s practice by declaring it loud. “I am God’s child!” “I am God’s child!” “I am God’s child!”

I love this daily morning practice because it reminds me before the day even begins that I do not have to go out into the world looking for a Messiah. I do not have to waste time, putting my trust in people and things that will fail. Instead, I am reminded that Christ has set me free to be who God designed me to be. I am free to go about my day loving the world as much as I want.

Here is an idea. What if, instead of trusting others to fix what we see as wrong in the world…instead of putting hope in a politician or a pastor or someone quite close to you in order to make everything right…what if we simply trusted that Jesus is already on the task of redeeming the world.
Not only that, since we aren’t looking to someone else to fix the world, we can feel free to join in on what God is up to. What if everyone felt free to join Jesus in improving the world, rather than trusting that a politician will do it for us, or worse yet, trusting that scented candles and soaps will magically make the world well?

I can feel bold in asking the question because, I know one thing to be true, your Messiah has come, and Jesus has set you free from all that binds you and holds you back. Sin? Gone. Low self-worth? You are accepted. No matter what binds you, you are free in Jesus Christ. You are free to go from here and love all that you want. No one can stop you. And, the gift of love never dries up. The heavens have been torn open, and the Spirit pours down permanently on us with grace until the end of time. How is that for some good news?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Reflection on John 1:1-18

The confirmation lesson was on that little verse, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a hard enough lesson for adults to take seriously and apply to their lives, but for one of the students, it seemed an insurmountable task.

She piped up nervously at the end of the lesson and asked, “What about bullies? I try to love and pray for mine, but it doesn’t help. What do you say about bullies, Pastor?”

The question took courage to ask in the first place, in front of other kids, no doubt. But, they clearly were not judging her. Instead, they were looking to me, with hope in their eyes, as if I had the answer to life’s most important question.

I looked at the teen and said the only thing that I could, “Do whatever you need to do to get through this time in your life. Keep praying. Mark a calendar of days until the end of the school year. Change a class to get away from the person. Double down and focus on your school work. Do yoga. Take a martial arts class. Do whatever you need to get through it because, I promise, when it is over…and I promise, it will come to an end…you will be making history and the bully won’t even be remembered. I promise you: God shines a light, even in this dark place. Plus, when it is all done you will have better accomplishments to put on your resume than, ‘I beat up someone weaker than me.’”

I realize that it was not a solution for the teen, but it was hope. It was the same hope found in the Gospel of John. It was a light that shined in the darkness, and I am happy to tell you that the darkness did not overcome that light.

The teen is now an adult who is happily married, with two children, heading up a military support group for spouses who have lost loved ones in our multiple battlefronts. I am glad to see that the light Christ ignited in her was never blown out, and so are a lot of other people who are deep in the throes of grief.

Why is Jesus important to me? It is not because he shows me how to live a good life, through there is a little of that. It is not because I think He will be like Santa and shower me with gifts of wealth and prosperity, I could not care less about that.

No, the reason Jesus is important to me is that when I look at Jesus, I see God. I see a God, who cared enough about the world to come, in the flesh, just so that we might see clearly God's love for us and to reveal clearly to us what God cares about.

Sure, God gave us the 10 commandments, and that helps to show us God’s will also, but the 10 commandments do not tell us the whole story.

They do not show us God’s mercy. They do not show us how much God cares. They do not show us that God is willing to go as far as to come into our dark world, live and love among even the worst of us, forgiving us in the process, go to a cross and die a very grisly death, and then rise again. Jesus did not need to do any of that, but he did.

“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Why is Jesus important to me? Because Jesus is that light that cannot be snuffed out. Jesus is that light that cannot be overcome by darkness. Jesus is the word made flesh through whom all things were made in the beginning, and through whom all new life can come.

Jesus is the hope to which we cling when the bullies of the world seem to have the upper hand. In him, we clearly see that there will always be new life...there will always be a light in the dark. That is why Jesus is important to me.

You see, it is easy to get stuck in the dark. Just turn on a 24 hour news station in order to see the state of the world, and you will plunge headfirst into the dark depths. What about terrorism? Is there an end to the violence? The darkness.

But, we do not have to turn on CNN or Fox News to find the darkness. People ask, “What about my inability to get healthy? I keep eating the wrong things, even though I know I shouldn’t. Twinkies are great! Will I never be able to be whole?” The darkness.

Others ask, What about my depression? Will the crying every…single…night of the week stay forever?” The darkness.

Others ask in confirmation class, “What about the bullies? Will I always be at the bottom of life?” The darkness.

To all of that I say, a light shine in the darkness, and things can change…even terrorism…even your own self-worth…even depression…even bullies.

Look, Jesus is the one who showed us that when you have run out of wine for your wedding guests, water can be turned into fine wine. God can change things.

Jesus is the one who touches a paralytic and shows us that a sick body does not have to define who you are; a sick body is not the last word. God can change things.

Jesus is the one who cares for well over 5000 people just to show that even hunger does not stay forever. God can change things.

Jesus is the one who shows us that blindness need not be permanent. Maybe there is some hope for our politicians after-all! God can change things.

Heck, even a dead guy who was rotting in the tomb for a while is unwrapped and given another chance to live and love. In Lazarus we see a hint of the fact that even death cannot hold the author of life down. God can change things.

Why is Jesus important to me? Because, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Jesus in important to us because in him we see that the reality that is today need not be the reality of tomorrow. Jesus can always create something new.

I have to admit, this is sometimes hard to trust. The darkness can seem so oppressive. And, I also have to admit that for me, this hope is sometimes no more than a flicker of light in a dark room. But, here's the thing. Once that light is lit, no matter how dark the room, no matter how small the light, the light still baths you with its flicker. The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light, and that hope is a gift of God especially for those in the dark places.