Mirror Images

God created humanity in God’s own image,
        in the divine image God created them,
            male and female God created them.
(Genesis 1:27, CEB)

Familial resemblance is a heck of a thing. I was at dinner this week with some people from church and one of us was able to recognize our bus boy. It wasn’t because the church-goer actually KNEW the young man, but because she knew his father. “Are you the son of…?” she asked. “Yeah,” he replied with a downtrodden look.

I know this feeling well. When I was growing up I would often be confused with my father or older brother when I answered the phone. “Hello,” “Kirk, Kent?” “No, Will…” It13418719_10206383515486311_7510819720127855738_n.jpg can be a bit of a struggle growing up when you’re trying to come into your own personhood and you are continually confused with your family members. And what is more, when I look at pictures now, I can definitely tell my brother and I are related (NOOO!!!) It seems you can’t escape the family traits.

Someway, somehow, each of us is created in God’s image. We bear a family resemblance to the one who knits us together. We might not get confused in a restaurant or on the telephone, but there is something in us where others are supposed to see the Divine One. Similar to how you can’t outrun your heritage, you can’t outrun the fact that you were made in the image of God.

We can argue what the image of God looks like, and people have for millennia, but at a fundamental level, each of us possess that innate trait that connects us with the Creator. This can be a blessing in disguise, a way of dealing with rising tension as it bubbles up in dealing with others.

That person who always post ridiculous rants on Facebook, created in the image of God. That homeless man who is always on the corner, created in the image of God. That baby in the midst of a meltdown in the middle of the bread aisle, created in the image of God. The crazy uncle who spews conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, created in the kaboompics_Woman taking photo.jpgimage of God.

It’s a challenge to each of us, to see God in the face of those we meet on a daily basis. We’re conditioned to stay in our cluster, haven, or group of like-minded people: those who think like us, talk like us, vote like us, believe like us, look like us. It can be easy to judge those who are different, who don’t fit into our preferential categories and deem as “less than.” But at a fundamental level, each of us has inherent value, no matter the categories we put each other in, and that breaks down any division among us.

We can’t escape our familial resemblance, the things which bind us to one another. We are all created in the image of God.

Changing the Guard

 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12, NRSV)

Pentecost itself is a season of transition. If it had been written then, I’m sure the disciples would have been listening on repeat Bob Dylan’s song “The Times are A-Changin.'” A little over a month ago their entire lives were thrown into chaos: their leader was arrested and executed, then miraculously he came back appeared to some and then to all, then he left them with specific instructions to stay put and wait.

And so here when the rest of their countrymen and fellow Jews are celebrating a Festival melanie-wasser-245775.jpgto rival any state fair not named the Iowa State Fair, the group of Jesus-followers hunkers down in their safe confines. I wonder if they stayed there the entirety of their time in Jerusalem. Maybe they were afraid and it was just as well to stay in the safe confines of their room.

The disciples aren’t alone though. Their relationship with the divine is changed as well. Though they had access to Jesus when he was alive, he’s no longer there. Instead, they are given the Spirit. And through the Spirit, the disciples transition to apostles. They transform from middle management to upper leadership. They get promoted from Triple-A to the Majors.

And the transition isn’t done there either because though Jesus initiated the beginning of God’s realm here on earth, it’s not complete. God worked through Jesus, but now God transitioned to work through these apostles, the first persons of what we call the Church. It’s an amazing idea, God works through the Church. That means God works through us, we who are the Church.

God works through you. Think about that for a second. You bet it can be a scary proposition, “God relies on little old me?” I’m sure that same question was going on in each of the apostles’ heads as they dealt with the confusion of trying to understand eachlightstock_1138_small_sara.jpg other.

But the quick answer is, “yes.” God relies on you. God relies on me. God relies on us. Because that’s the final transition of Pentecost. Through the outpouring of the Spirit both then and each time one of us is baptized, “me” transitions to “we.”

Through the Spirit, we are united together. Through the Spirit, we are the Church. Through the Spirit, we are God’s People. I guess that means we should probably act like it.

May it be so this day.


By Another Name

All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:14, NRSV)

A couple years go, a minister friend of mine told me of a conversation he had with one of his five-year-old daughters. He was trying to teach her different ways we could name God. josh-applegate-146228.jpgThere was the usual cast of characters: Father, Creator, Redeemer, Spirit, Divine One, Shepherd. Those were met with some questions, but mostly assent as acceptable.

Then he tried to steer the conversation towards names which are not necessarily “traditional”: Mother, Womb, Woman Wisdom, Ruach (Hebrew word for Spirit which is in the feminine form).  A quizzical look came over the girl’s face. So my friend asked her,

“You don’t like these?”
“Why not?”
“They’re all girl names”
“You don’t think God could be a girl?”
She said, “Why would God want to be a girl?”

It saddens my heart that even a five-year-old girl would be able to catch on to something as deep as this. We, the Church, have allowed our main images for God to be dominated completely by male/masculine imagery. I hear it all the time when the main way to start a prayer is something, “Heavenly Father…”

Here’s a short thought exercise. Take a second and think about the pronouns you hear used for God. Do you ever hear “she” when referring to God, or is it only “he?”

Our language surrounding God is deficient at best when it comes to including women and girls and it shapes our imagination. Language has the power to form worlds, both for the good and the bad.

Maybe that’s why Christ included women inside his inner circle. In a time when women were considered second-class citizens, Christ repeatedly lifted up women as paragons of faith. There was the woman in Mark who anointed Jesus and in whose remembrance the gospel is proclaimed (Mark 14:9). There was the widow who is lifted up as the example of all givers in Luke (Luke 21:3-4). And of course, there were the two Marys who became the first preachers of the good news of Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10). Even in today’s passage, women are included in the close community of disciples.

Women played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry, both while he was incarnate on earth and when he worked through the early church. The words we choose to refer to God though, have often lagged behind.  london-scout-27288.jpg

It might not seem like a big deal, but when we limit how we talk about God, we limit our imaginations to see how God interacts with us. We limit our ability to interact with the one who is the giver of life. We limit the way we, and our children, can dream (see above).

Maybe it’s time to rethink how we talk about God.

(If you like to talk more about this with me, shoot me an email at wryan@burlingtondisciples.org and I’ll try and get back to you as soon as I can.)

Praying with Hands

God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. (Acts 17:27, CEB)

The other day I sat mesmerized, entranced even, by a new mother and her darling baby. There were the requisite “coos” and tickles from mom, but the thing which caught my Inquisitive Baby.jpgattention was what the baby was doing. It was reaching its arms out desperately trying to grab onto something. Shirt, hand, or hair, it did not matter. The baby needed an anchor, something to hold on to, to give it bearing, or even meaning in a turbulent world.

Reaching out, it could have gripped the first thing to offer itself, anything to give definition and meaning. Work certainly would have fit the bill. I’m a lineman. I’m a lawyer. I’m a nurse. I’m a teacher. I’m a banker. I’m a minister. One can cling to that for awhile.

There’s the myriad of relationships which give us a reason to wake up. I’m a daughter. I’m a husband. I’m a friend. I’m a grandma. These can last for a time. New ones can even emerge within the context of a new day.

What about interests and convictions? I’m a Cubs/Cardinals fan. I’m a golfer. I’m a reader. I’m a biker. I’m a snow skier. I’m a Big Sister. I’m a gamer. I’m a Lion/Eagle/Moose/Rotarian… These fill in the cracks, hold our attention, help us grasp something for a bit.

Of course, there are always those things which seek to swallow us within themselves: the search for wealth, the pursuit of the perfect body, the next Netflix show, best Instagram post, the bottle or needle.

Baby had a lifetime ahead of her to grab onto any and all. Meaning was at her very fingertips.

Instead, Mom offered her hand and the child snatched up in its vice-like grip. It was like the baby tried to pull it close, to hold on and never let go. The small fingers with bones no larger than rice clung with all their might, all their power. huy-phan-100866There was safety in finally finding the hand of the one who cares in every way, who listens to your cries, who loves unconditionally.

There’s something to be said for resting in the one in whom we live and move and have our being. When we can stop and say, “it is well with my soul” and actually mean it.

If These Stones could Speak

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight…” (1 Peter 2:4, NRSV)

Many years ago, someone decided it would be a good idea to build a new church. Meetings were had, opinions gathered, compromises discussed, decisions made, and plans eventually drawn up.

It was going to be a marvelous building with its imagined beauty unrivaled. The implied tumblr_n2x2x80VfA1sfie3io1_1280.jpggoal of felt awe and reverence upon first eyesight was a sure thing. The spirit of the community was sure to be raised as the new steeple soared across the landscape. Everyone was excited about the future possibilities.

So building commenced. There was much consternation about the appropriate materials during the conversations leading up to the actual construction. Would brick do? How about reusable bamboo? The builder eventually came to the decision, stone. Beautiful limestone all of the same size, shape, orientation, and color. The builder placed each stone with utmost care, satisfaction, and conviction.

The night before the dedication of this glorious new church, there was a storm. First, high-speed straight-line winds howled, so the top stones tumbled over. Next hail battered the building, so the middle stones broke down piece by piece. Finally, the torrential rains came, and the bottom stones crumbled beneath themselves.

Crowds formed the next morning and shook their collective heads at the calamity wondering “what went wrong?”

Someone else also decided to build a church at the same time. Meetings had, opinions gathered, compromises discussed, decisions made, and plans eventually drawn up.

Instead of selecting those same limestone pieces, this builder decided upon a more eclectic group of stones. Slate, granite, sandstone, flint, marble. Rocks of different sizes, jeremy-cai-1174.jpgshapes, orientations, and colors were selected, gathered, and placed. Onlookers scoffed at the apparent naivete of the builder. “How could this thing stand? How could this church survive?” they asked.

The night before the dedication of this disparate new church, there was a storm. First, high-speed straight-line winds howled, but the top stones never gave way. Next, hail battered the building, but the middle stones held their ground. Finally, the torrential rains came, but the water flowed freely down the side and into the soil.

The crowds from the blown down church made their way to the other side of town to find another still standing. With slack-jaws, they wondered, “what went right?”

They couldn’t see the bright and warm cornerstone which held all the other stones in place and the mortar which bound them together, differences and all.

*based on Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995, p. 38-9.

Hearing your Name

The gatekeeper opens the gate for [the shepherd], and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3, NRSV)

Christ calls us by name, trying to lead us the the green pastures of abundant life to flourish; to have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. Christ calls out our name, hoping for us to listen. 

matthew-smith-7137.jpgWhen I was in High School, I had the audacity to take time and read the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. My mother was a counselor and the DSM was lying around the house. I was bored one day, so I picked it up. It wasn’t the most thrilling read I’ve ever partaken in, but I was able to piece enough information together to get myself into trouble.

See, I noticed one particular thing: a lot of mental disorders begin to manifest themselves during adolescence, around the ages of 16+. This just happened to be about the same time I read the information. Not good in the wandering mind of a teenage boy.

I thought I was beginning to show signs of a mental disorder because whenever I would go out into public places, I would hear my name being called. It happened again and again, “Will…” “Will…” “Will…” Over and over and over. 

I thought I was going crazy! I didn’t realize that you know, “will” is kind of a common word to be spoken and it also sounded a lot like “well” like, “well, he was really…” I didn’t end up being crazy after all.

However, I did get a bit confused because there were times when people were actually talking to me. I was conditioned to hear all these different voices say my name and I wasn’t able to actually hear when someone was speaking directly to me, often for a veryjose-martin-651.jpg good reason! I would just float on and on and on…until someone would shout in my ear and wake me up out of my self-imposed stupor.

Christ calls us by name, shaking us out of the daze we allow ourselves to be put in.

Thanks be to God.


Come and See

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matt. 28:1, NRSV)

We live in an old normal world where we expect the worst to happen. Maybe we hope for the best, but if we’re really honest, we expect the worst. Like those two Marys, we go to the tomb expecting the normal world where large boulders stay put. We’ve seen it just lightstock_199577_jpg_sara.jpgin the past weeks: chemical weapons attacks on children, retaliatory missile strikes, people ripped from their airplane seats, CEO’s of large banks getting rich by preying on the poor, children shot in their school, this is our normal world. This is the world of Herod, Pilate, and Caesar.

As fast as a crack of lightning, we, alongside those two Marys, are drawn out of our morose normalcy by a sight better than any Hollywood CGI studio could concoct. A life rocking earthquake, “lightning before dawn, snow in the Middle East (v. 3), a huge stone rolled away, and Caesar’s finest shaking in their boots— we are not simply on the edge of dawn, we stand upon the precipice of a strange and wonderful, although confusing and badly shaken, new world.” (Will Willimon, Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew vol. 2) We stand wholly in a world with a new normal.

But what about that whole rock being removed. Why was that stone rolled away? If the resurrection already happened and Jesus wasn’t in that empty tomb, what possible reason could there have been for that angel to get in a workout and relax on top of the boulder? The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let us in. We are called into the cave because we often put God in a box. We tend to hold up a mirror to our desires and claim that this is exactly what God wants. God wants to be comfortable. God wants daniel-burka-98224.jpgpredictability. God wants to feel safe.  We roll a stone over the cave of our life, sealing God safely away.

So the angel calls not only to each of those women to “come and see,” but to each one of us. Come and see inside this darkness. Come and see what God did. Come and see that hope lives. Come and see that peace has a chance. Come and see that death was defeated. Come and see that hate is overpowered. Come and see that love wins. Come and see that God has the last word. We go into that cave to see God has let Jesus out on the loose.

He is still risen. He is risen indeed.

Going for a Parade

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” (Matt. 21:10)

You can make any manner of comparisons to the way Jesus entered into the great city Jerusalem. It was like the first Hollywood red carpet complete with fancy coats and decked out crowds. It was similar to Aladdin’s, my favorite Disney movie, entry into Agrabah on top of his monkey/elephant led and followed by any number of fanciful acts. It was like the Chicago Cubs parade after winning the World Series last year, what with its communal expression of joy and elation after a long suffering drought of hopelessness.

All of these are good comparisons and the Cubs one might even garner consideration for 2016-02-23-elena-hruleva-barnimages-005.jpgthe coveted status of “great” (at least in my opinion), but they all tend to inflate ideas of grandeur and victory. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (foal) had very different connotations.

Harkening back to the prophet Zechariah, the author of Matthew makes it clear Jesus is entering the city as the new king. The crowd even goes along and equates Jesus as one of King David’s offspring, one who would have a title to the throne. But the type of monarch Zechariah (and by then extension Matthew) describes is opposite of the warrior, conqueror, and subjugator currently occupying the political power in most of the known world (including Jerusalem): Augustus, Caesar of Rome.

Instead of being a king with power over people (he did reject this in his temptations), Jesus fulfills God’s vision of the kingdom at hand: humility, peacefulness, meekness. Instead of riding in on a warhorse, Jesus rides in on a working animal: the donkey. Jesus’ lordship is made clear in the fact that even in his “triumphal entry,” he is still acting as the servant to all.

But by the time he gets into the city proper, Jerusalem has been shaken to its core. Questions abound about just who this servant king is, rival to the current powers that be (Rome, Pontius Pilate, and Herod).

Turmoil and confusion ran rampant as expectations were sky high for Jesus. The crowds called for Jesus to save them (Hosanna translated means “save us”), but the question was from what or who? Surely those in charge heard those cries. How would they react? Would they crush opposition or let themselves be transformed? I guess we find out later in the week…