Lent 2011

To Live in Easter Hope

April 24th, 2011

By Brian Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

EMU Campus Pastor Brian Martin Burkholder

EMU Campus Pastor Brian Martin Burkholder

Could it really be Easter! Is the Lenten journey over? It’s been such a long wait this year with Easter coming in the calendar as late as possible. And what’s up with Easter landing right in the middle of handing in final papers and preparing for final exams here on campus? It’s just mixed up.

Mixed up? How many of us get in the way, or let our agendas get in the way of the very presence and miraculous of God? In what ways do we blind ourselves to the world changing faithfulness of God? Are we holding back from receiving the love and grace and GIFT given by Jesus – this EASTER gift that is available every day? How freeing it is to let God set the agenda.

God’s agenda in the resurrection is clear – death will not have the final word. Jesus is who he said he was and his ways are God’s ways. God is indeed with us. Alleluia!

So let us live in Easter hope. Let us bind ourselves to Jesus: the way, the truth and the life. Let us live this hope in following Jesus in meeting needs in our communities, seeking justice, serving the poor and the broken-hearted, calling each other to faith and building one another up in the faith.

This is our work – this is our collective life according to God’s agenda. May it be so for you and for me – for us, the body of Christ resurrected once again and forever more.

Reflections on the Triumphal Entry

April 20th, 2011

By Dustin Miller, ’09 MDiv graduate

Matthew 21:1-11

I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at His grave, giving Him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.

From “The Way of Pain” by Wendell Berry

While the rest of the world continues their lives on a normal schedule, Christians remember the story that takes us through a whole host of emotions. The week of the Passion of Jesus Christ is central to who we are. A story we have been adopted into. A story that says that only through death can we have life.

For us this Holy Week is about waiting.  We wait with fear and trembling. We wait knowing that the salvation shouts of “Hosanna” by the people lining the streets and the sidewalks, and the steps and pews of our churches on Palm Sunday quickly turn to tears of suffering. We wait in the knowledge that those who cry, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” will too soon change their chants to “Crucify him”.

We wait because we know we must remember. We wait because we need to know the story. We wait because, as Wendell Berry stated in the poem,  “Unless we grieve like Mary at His grave, giving him up as lost, no Easter morning comes.” We must resist the impulse to turn away, and quicken the resurrection. We must stay with the hard parts to get to the hope.

But the paradox is that this season is also about movement. This week spans two liturgical seasons, crossing over a bridge from Lent to Easter.  We move from Bethpage to Jerusalem, walking and riding along with our coming to reign King. We move from a city in turmoil to an upper room. We move from a meal of bread and wine to Christ’s body and blood.  We move from Jesus’ act of humility in foot washing to Christ’s humiliation on the cross.

This story in Matthew is also about how we get to where we are going. Jesus was all over the place during his teachings and journeys. To the north out of Galilee, to Nazareth where he was rejected, to Tyre and Sidon, to the west and finally down into Judea, where he turns towards Jerusalem.

Jesus changed our old ways into new ones throughout the narratives found in this gospel; transforming our old thoughts and habits into a new cycle of life.

To me, the joy of the streets that we associate with Palm Sunday, sounds more like a protest crowd asking a leader to save them. Today we think of Hosanna as a shout of praise, but the cry translates into a plea. Hosanna literally means help me, save me, I pray. With the current upheaval in the world today, the shouts of the streets in Jerusalem, in Egypt, and in Libya ring loudly on this Palm Sunday, as the innocent cry for an end to oppressive regimes all over the world. The triumphal entry is the culminating expression of the mistaken belief that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom, restore Israel to the good old days, and overthrow the oppressive Roman empire. But following Jesus means following in death, not overthrowing the powerful through violence and power.

Followers of Jesus routinely got a bit mixed up between what they thought their messiah was going to look like and what Jesus actually did and taught. This might be one reason that responses to Jesus turned from positive to negative throughout the book of Matthew.

And who can blame them?

The triumphalism found in this narrative would have felt familiar to the people in Jerusalem. Often, the ruling Roman occupiers would have extraordinary displays of military power down the streets of Jerusalem. When Jerusalem was brimming with travelers and pilgrims during the high holy days of Passover the Romans would do this to keep the people in check.

Jesus does not come with the war chariots, or the white stallion. Jesus chooses a donkey for his ride. The world that expected a king to save them must have started asking questions. Jesus refuses to be controlled by the hopes of a nation, refuses to be persuaded by the demands and fears of a people who wanted things to go back to a better time.

As he trots into Jerusalem, Jesus exposes what is behind the idea of earthly power for what it really was. The vicious cycle of death and violence did not need another round. It needed to be transformed. Instead Jesus offers a new way of seeing God’s kingdom. Jesus forever redefines what it means to be king, Lord, and messiah. Jesus submits. But in the end that doesn’t quite live up to our expectations. We want change now.  Jesus transforms the life-taking violence that the people wanted and offered them a new way. A way that leads to the cross.

As we walk with Jesus in our lives, we will go to places where we would have never dreamed of going. Walking with Christ to Tyre and Sidon could mean going to the places where our culture says we’re not supposed to be. Walking with Jesus means that we are going to be misunderstood, means that we are going to have some cuts and bruises along the way. But ultimately we do not walk with Jesus down the streets of Jerusalem because we want to change the world. We walk because Jesus is Lord.

I urge us to live in the paradox that is our story. This great drama that is unfolding is the path to the cross, but is also a path where we meet our savior over and over. Through the bread and cup, through the washing of feet, through the darkness and into the light. The story that we are re-living is our story, the story of the unexpected, the story of Jesus bursting into our world, re-shaping it, transforming it to make all things new.

We must live in this paradox; that our movement is really just an exercise in waiting. We wait because this time is not our time, but that we are made participants in God’s time. We wait for the unexpected, for the blind to see, for the dead to rise. We wait because that’s what followers do. “Unless we grieve like Mary at His grave, giving him up as lost, no Easter morning comes.”

This blog post is adapted from a sermon preached at Cincinnati Mennonite Church, 4-17-11. Dustin Miller is a ’07 Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduate. It is cross-posted from Work and Hope:Finding Christ in the Church

Triumphal Entry

April 18th, 2011

By Caroline Borden, master of arts in conflict transformation student

Matthew 21:1-11

I love that people used something from nature to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Today, depending on the part of the world, they use olive branches, marigolds or pussy willows in remembrance of this day.

When I was young I liked Palm Sunday for the simple reason that they gave us palm leaves in church. Now I care more about the significance of this day. But I still appreciate that by passing out palm leaves, we are bringing some of nature into the sacred space of the church.

I think, in turn, we can bring some of the sacred to nature, by noticing with reverence all that is around us in this lovely valley – today I saw a field of robins (I didn’t even know they traveled in flocks) and a hawk in my driveway (who doesn’t let me get too close). “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you”
Job 12:7.

By noticing nature, and actively giving praise for it, we are welcoming God into our lives in a sacramental way – a celebratory way, just as the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus.

Question for reflection: How has nature helped you to celebrate God?

Renewal in the Wilderness

April 11th, 2011

By Michael Spory, a senior art and photography double major from Boswell, Pa. EMU student Michael Spory

Ezekiel 37:1-14

I find it ironic that the scripture for this week is about Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones, where the Old Testament prophet receives a vision from God about the people of Israel.

I feel the irony as I find myself dry and parched, drained of the life-giving Spirit that comes like a breath of wind from the mountains or a gulp of cool water in the desert. This is the time of year when students buckle and break down with the weight of their projects and papers and exams. More often than not, I feel less like Ezekiel, speaking words of life into these dusty skeletons, and more often like the bones themselves: bare, empty, and devoid of that Breath of Life that only comes from above.

But I sense that this story of renewal in the wilderness offers more to us today as followers of Christ than simply as historical context to the Old Testament narrative about the Israelites. This is about hope in the dry season, for sunrise after the darkest hour of morning. This is about the life that Jesus breathed into each of us when we were nothing but dry bones. When I read this text, I can almost feel the pulsating heat of this valley and the grit of dry sand in my sandals. I hear the rattling of bleached bones as they join tendon to tendon, ball to socket, and I see the newborn breath in their dark eyes as they look to me expectantly, a crowd of people newly remade by the breath of God.

For me, the season of Lent is one of expectation and preparation, where discipline becomes a tangible act of faith to honor the Savior I know is about the face the most painful and difficult part of the salvation story. But on those rushed mornings or very late nights, my faith becomes that dry valley in the heat of the wilderness. I am the bones, helpless without the breath of God to join together the pieces of my tattered and stressful life into something whole, something fully human yet touched unmistakably by the divine hand of a God who comes to us just when we need him.

Even as I continue in this Lenten season, my spirit and body tired and dry as those bones as they lay on the valley floor, I can hear a whisper amid the dusty wind of the stress and the drudgery. A whisper like the one that breathed life into Lazerus, just as it still breathes into the followers of Jesus today as we prepare to celebrate his death and resurrection. A whisper of love like no other, that continues to breathe life into the hearts and souls of his children when they need him most.

Listen. The whisper is coming.

Can These Bones Live?

April 11th, 2011

Tammy Briggs, MS NursingBy Tammy Briggs, masters of science in nursing student

Ezekiel 37:1-14

As Ezekiel stood in the valley in the mist of the bones all things looked dry and bleak.  The Lord asked the question, “Can these bones live?”  To the eyes of Ezekiel it may not have appeared so, but he knew that God knew the true answer to that question.  During this time the house of Israel had lost all hope and felt they had lost all with no way of return. God promised them restoration and the realization that He is the Sovereign Lord.  Maybe you feel as though you are surrounded by dry bones such as problems, negative situations or failed dreams, realize that God is Sovereign and He can speak life into your situation and bring restoration.  God is faithful to keep His word and fulfill His promises.  Ask yourself today, “What dry bones can I speak life to?”

Prayer

“Father, I acknowledge you as Sovereign Lord over all things.  Help me to look to You and your word during times of difficulty.  When I lose hope may I remember your promise of restoration and remember that you are always faithful.  Help me to receive the abundant life that You desire to give me. In Jesus name,  amen.”

The Valley of Dry Bones

April 11th, 2011

By Roger Foster, master of arts in conflict transformation student

Ezekiel 37:1-14

A story to set the context of the reading

”You can never hope to understand the biblical people,” Harrell Beck used to say, “unless you understand that they lived in a sandbox.”

Professor of Old Testament studies at Boston University School of Theology from 1954 to 1987, Beck often spoke with his students about the sitz im leben of the biblical people, as well as their hopes.

“It’s a sandbox that is 90 miles wide, but it is most definitely a sandbox. A desert.”

“And you know when you’re in a desert,” he would say. “When you’ve been pushing and dragging a recalcitrant camel for hours, and when you just have to sit in the sand with your back to the wind and swallow the grit that gets blown into your face,  you know you’re in a desert.”

“And the color of the desert is brown.”

“But you also know when you’ve come to an oasis,” he would add. “At the oasis, it’s cooler. You can wash your face, stable your camel, rest in the shade. If the desert is a place of stress, the oasis is a place of refreshment. You know when you’ve come to an oasis.”

“And the color of the oasis is green.”

He would lean in toward the gathering, lower his voice as if sharing a secret, and deliver this pearl: “And the great hope of the biblical people was their belief that you can turn brown into green.”

Some reflections on the text

Ezekiel’s vision clearly displays his acute and disheartening awareness of the “brown” of his situation. Exiled to Babylonia after the fall of Jerusalem, he was living with the terrible consequences of Israel’s destruction. While others in the community set aside their harps, overcome by weeping and sorrow, unwilling to sing the songs of the LORD in a foreign land (Psalm 137: 1-4), Ezekiel faced a more devastating dilemma: how to sing the songs of the LORD when you’re dead.

Dead, dead, dead. So dead that the marrow has been completely vaporized from your sun-bleached bones. Dead so there is no hope left for you. Your identity has been completely destabilized; your mission in the world has been disrupted, totally derailed.

The vision granted to Ezekiel from the Spirit of the Lord interred the people of Israel in a shallow mass grave, their bones scattered across the valley floor. For Ezekiel, the horror of the site reflected his disconsolate loss of the people of Israel, whom he saw not solely as “his people,” his ethnic base of secure attachment, and not simply as a people who had been privileged.

Ezekiel carried a vision of his people in terms of their being a covenant community, tasked with modeling God’s covenant and its blessings to all the peoples of the earth, giving warnings to other nations like a watchman from the city wall.

So Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones was about more than simply the dismantling of a nation; he felt the brown-ness of the loss of hope for that nation’s mission, the LORD’s great enterprise of reconciling the nations to a right relationship with Yahweh.

Resurrection was not a doctrine endorsed by religious authorities in Israel; when the spirit of Yahweh asked him his opinion (“Mortal, can these bones live?”), Ezekiel had no reason for hope. “I said, ‘Sovereign LORD, you alone know’.”

In a scene which bears echoes of the creation story (Genesis 2:7), the Spirit of God puts flesh and sinew to the dead bones, and infuses the breath of life into them, and they rise up transformed into an army.

This re-creation story also echoes the notion of the creation by the Word, the logos. The Spirit directs Ezekiel to speak prophetic words—to the bones, to the wind, to the nation of Israel. Ezekiel obeys, and in his obedience, receives the boon of serving as co-creator with the LORD, a participating agent in converting his own “brown” into “green.”

Interestingly, the Spirit emphasizes the Spirit’s own agenda in these collaborative proceedings: to transform the understanding of Israel (and the nations) about Yahweh’s identity—“Then you will know that I am the LORD” and “Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it.”

The Spirit wants to restore the covenant community to life and to its mission; part of that mission is to direct all who have eyes to see or ears to hear to an encounter with the One who gives life and calls us—individually or corporately—to mission.

Some questions to consider

In what circumstances in your community or sphere of influence can you see the Spirit of the Lord working to infuse life into “dead bones?”

What prophetic words do you sense the Spirit of the Lord is speaking to the “dead bones” in your community or sphere of influence? In what ways is the Spirit of the Lord creating new life in these “dead bones?”

What do you think might happen if the “dead bones” in your community heard and responded to this word of the LORD: “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’?”

In what ways do you sense the Spirit of the Lord is inviting you to participate in this endeavor?

Waiting for the Call

April 4th, 2011

EMU student Sarah Beck

By Sarah Beck, special education major from Archbold, Ohio

1 Samuel 16:1-13

I wonder what David thought as he was out tending to his sheep on that seemingly ordinary day.

Maybe he was thinking about the weather.  Perhaps the weather was similar to Virginia and he was wondering why on earth it was snowing in spring!  Was he noticing the birds?  Did he observe the littlest lambs trying to learn to walk?  I bet he was just livin’ life, peaceful and content , and had no idea of the anointing that was about to happen.

Can you imagine?  He got called in from the fields and his daydreams to be anointed by Samuel.  To be chosen by God.

Up until about four months ago, I would not have even been able to imagine something like that happening in my life.  I thought I had my life completely together; it was worked out perfectly in my mind!  I had a plan!

Then, one day, I found myself like David.  I was peaceful and content, just livin’ my life, tending to my “flocks” and God came out of nowhere and stirred my heart.  I felt a challenge to do something different, to be someone different, and to live a life different than the one I had planned out.

I think I was as confused as David’s father was, with thoughts of, “me…? Surely you can’t mean ME, God!  There are bigger, stronger people out there and I bet you’d rather choose them!”

But I continued to hear God’s call; He was choosing me.  He had let me have my daydreams about my own plans long enough and it was time to start revealing His plan for me.

I think we are all chosen by God; we are just not always told when he’s going to come anoint us.  I bet the blind man didn’t wake up one morning expecting to meet Jesus and receive the miracle of sight!  I know David wasn’t ready to be called in from the fields to be anointed as the chosen one!  And I sure know that I wasn’t ready to have my world turned upside down by a strange call from God that deviated from my own selfish plans.

Sometimes it takes silence to understand His plans; sometimes it takes time.  Sometimes it takes support and a gentle nudge from those around you; other times it takes a huge, life-altering event.  Whatever your call is, you are chosen by God.  Isn’t that awesome?  The God of all the universe has anointed (or WILL anoint) YOU! He has a plan for YOU! You are chosen! What an incredible thought.

I understand that it can be scary to one day, out of the blue, be chosen by God.  Yikes! What do we DO with that?  I take great comfort in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd!”  He is watching us; He is caring for us!  How can I be worried?  Even when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (umm, hello! That is some scary stuff!) he is with us!

God doesn’t just call us, hang up the phone, and expect us to figure it out.  He provides the call, the map, a guide, and he’s even willing to carry us if we grow weary.  He is calling us, anointing us, to do his will do we may dwell in His house forever.  And there isn’t a single thing scary enough to keep me from THAT!  This Lenten season I encourage you to be open to what God is saying to you.

Maybe your time for anointing isn’t here yet; perhaps you have been chosen long ago!  Or maybe, just maybe, God is creeping into your heart…quietly calling your name…choosing to anoint you for a new call.

Isn’t It Ironic?

April 4th, 2011

Chris Scott, seminary studentby Chris Scott, master of divinity  student

1 Samuel 16:1-13

This passage reminds me of the old Alanis Morissette song of the mid 1990s, entitled “Ironic.” Perhaps some of you might remember that song. It was basically a string of contradictory events that seem to happen in life. She sang of a free ride when you’ve already paid or a traffic jam when you’re already late and so on with a mid 90s angst.

While there is not much about a singer-songwriter in this Bible passage there is much here that carries a load of irony.  The ironic angles here are so strong that the storywriter includes it as the cutline of the story.  “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” the writer records in verse 7.

The contrasts of this passage are deep. Samuel at the end of his years is tricked by the outward appearance of Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son. He looks over and says, “This has to be the Lord’s anointed.” Eliab must be right out of central casting for a king. And yet God says, “Keep looking.” Samuel has to go down the order of sons until he thinks he’s seen them all and it turns out there is a forgotten one. Finally David comes and he is indeed the Lord’s choice.

The shepherd David is crowned king while there is still a reigning king in the Land. That is another irony. Samuel is filling a still occupied position. Saul casts a wide shadow over the land at this point in time. Even though he still looks like a king, is actually still acting like a king, and winning victories as a king, God has truly rejected Saul as king of the land. The anointing of the Lord has passed on from Saul.  Saul’s heart is no longer bent towards God.

We see in this story, and over and over again in the entire Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation that God looks deeper than we do. God is not looking at the markers that we habitually use, but looks deeper. God looks with the heart. Our vision is so often limited to what makes sense, or what appears practical. But God does not always make sense from our perspective and is often horribly impractical for our plans.

This is a rich passage to land on during Lent. Lent causes us to wonder and question. God pushes us to look beyond the apparently impractical nature of a suffering servant and calls us to perceive on a deeper level. As followers of that risen Messiah we struggle to live into the reality that this Lenten journey is the path that God lays out. This is the way God is choosing to act and demonstrate a love so profound and real.

We live in an appearance based culture. We base so much on appearances and snap surface judgments.  So much of what we think of others comes from the external. We see troubles and problems and wonder what’s the point.  We figure nothing good can come out of whatever mess is before us.

In doing so, we forget the enduring truth of this story of a shepherd anointed king. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  In this Lent season may we see the world with God’s eyes, and look deeper with lenses tinted with the heart of God.  May we refocus our seeing on the deeper areas. May we see each person and each moment as a place for God’s moving and loving touch. Indeed may we follow God into the impractical, to the place of God’s kingdom.

Go That Way

April 4th, 2011

Kathy Guisewite, MA in Counselingby Kathy Fuller Guisewite, 2010 MA in Counseling graduate

Psalm 23

As I write these words, snow is falling, and sleet is soon to come in behind the snow. The roads are treacherous.   It’s made me stop and think about the many roads I’ve traveled when I didn’t feel safe or when I felt so uncertain as to where the road was actually leading me.  Maybe I was in a car or maybe I was sitting by the warmth of a fireplace sipping tea.  Journeys take place wherever we are.  So what is it that  pushes us forward or pulls us onward in the face of concerns or confusion?  How do we learn to trust the next few yards in front of us to lead us onto what is next?  How can we trust that what is next will be for good?

Trust isn’t easy.  While it often seems like trust is based on outer circumstances (like safe, clear roads),  it really is an inward journey.  When we find our way to the core of trusting, we have found our compass, our true north which is, in a word, God.  Psalm 23 speaks of such.  God provides… for our rest, our health, our guidance, our nourishment, our joy in this life and the next.  Indeed, our Creator provides at every turn, and most especially, when we lose our way.

In this season of Lent, I extend the invitation to you to read Psalm 23.  Sit with it as you would a map or a GPS.  Open your heart to what God might speak to you.  Listen most intently in times when you find yourself saying, “I can’t go that way!”  And then, go that way, that deep internal way that will lead you to quiet waters that nestle green pastures of rest and plenty.

Water From a Rock

March 28th, 2011

Jamie Spray, dual degree student
By Jamie Spray, master of divinity and master of arts in conflict transformation dual degree student

Exodus 17:1-7

“The people were thirsty for water… and they grumbled.”  When water flowed, it flowed from an unlikely source.  From a dry rock in the desert, life-giving water flowed.

During Lent, we strip back our excesses and take on practices that reveal our true thirst.  Along the way, we may also find ourselves grumbling.  We are preparing soberly for Jesus’ Passion.  It is a season of death that longs for resurrection.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to come to terms with my doubts about the Resurrection, so I talked   to my spiritual director.

She told me to keep my eyes open for signs of resurrection around me appearing in unlikely places and unexpected forms.  I wanted to turn my eyes to the Great Resurrection, but she insisted that I turn my eyes to the small, unexpected, unlikely resurrections of my everyday life.

So, that Lent, I took on the habit of looking for signs of resurrection.  With time, I started to notice in me and around me the ways in which life was emerging or reemerging in places I did not expect to find it and in forms I might not otherwise have noticed.   Finally, when Easter came, I was able to enter the joy of the Great Resurrection in a way I had not for many years.

Reflecting on the story in Exodus, we see that Moses, too, looked for signs of resurrection in the most unlikely of places.  In the face of a grumbling, murderous people, he looked for the Presence of God.  In the face of water scarcity, he looked for God’s provision.   And in the face of a barren rock, he looked for God’s promise of a fountain.

This Lent, as we become aware of our thirst and our grumbling, may we be people who look for signs of resurrection, especially in unlikely places and unexpected forms.