Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

To see this email with active links:

Let me first draw your attention to the prayer list. Assistant to the Bishop Peggy Hahn is now a grandmother. Born three months premature, Cora is 2.1 pounds and in critical condition. Also, the wife of Pastor Emmanuel Jackson (Living Word, Katy) is pregnant. Due in June, her water broke, so also a situation in need of your love and prayers.

Second, here’s another Lenten series idea for the chronically procrastinating. LIRS has a series called A Feast of Grace. Follow Nabila and her family who fled the Taliban. Free email devotional, bulletin inserts with prayers and reflections and a powerful Bible study on migration in the Bible by Pastor David Vasquez (Campus Pastor at Luther College) can be found HERE.

March 9, 2011 – Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – Blow the trumpet. Sound the fast. Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning.

Isaiah 58:1-12 –
The fast that God chooses: loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your house.
Psalm 51:1-17 –
Have mercy on me O Lord, according to your lovingkindness. Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
– We are ambassadors for Christ. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
– Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discipleship instructions on praying, fasting and almsgiving

Note: Joel has been used a lot. Consider using and preaching on Isaiah 58 in which the prophet the kind of fast God looks for, going beyond ritual-only fasting.

March 13, 2011 – Lent 1A

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “On the day that you eat of it, you shall die.”
Psalm 32 –
Happy are those whose transgression is covered, whose sin is forgiven.
Romans 5:12-19 –
Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
Matthew 4:1-11 –
Jesus’ 40-day fast and the Temptation in the Wilderness

Border-Crossing Church

We follow a border-crossing Jesus, who calls us to be a border-crossing church. We follow a Jesus who walks through walls, and breaks through barriers, and calls us to do the same.

Consider the texts we are looking at this Lent:

·         Lent 1: Matthew 4 – The Temptation in the Wilderness

·         Lent 2: John 3 – Nicodemus

·         Lent 3: John 4 – Woman at the Well

·         Lent 4: John 9 – Healing of the Man Born Blind

·         Lent 5: John 11 – The Raising of Lazarus

I’d like to touch upon all of these texts in these erstwhile reflections:

A border-crossing church is a church that does what Jesus did: reaching out to love the neighbor across societal borders that often keep people apart – boundaries of race, class and gender, for example. These barriers marginalize some and grant privileges to others. Many times they are about power.

Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I know I am called by God to love my neighbor, but who, precisely, is the neighbor that I must love? Is my neighbor the person who lives next door? Is someone from another country my neighbor? Is someone of a different race my neighbor? Is someone of a different religion my neighbor?

In true rabbinic fashion, Jesus answered the question with a story about a man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead. After being passed up by all the people who should stop and care, a Samaritan comes along and cares for the unfortunate traveler. Samaritans were Jews in Samaria who had long ago married with other races, clans and religions. For Jews it was forbidden to talk to them, touch them, shake hands, or even make eye contact. They were untouchables.

Jesus intentionally chose a Samaritan to be the hero in this story, someone of a different race, religion and country, someone he intuitively knew would make his listeners flinch. He knew that for them the term “Good Samaritan” was an oxymoron.

After the story, Jesus posed a question to the lawyer: “Who is the neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

For Jesus, loving the neighbor means loving the other, the stranger, the alien, the one of whom I may be suspicious or afraid. Loving the neighbor means crossing all kinds of social barriers. It creates stigma. It is often scandalous.

Lent 1: Matthew 4 – The Temptation in the Wilderness

After Jesus’ baptism, we are told the Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 daysto be tempted by the devil. This is a border-crossing. Jesus moves from the relative comfort of home, and all that is familiar into the discomfort of the wilderness. From mommy to Satan. From the known into the unknown.

Studies show that liminal experiences are vital to faith. Liminal means “of or related to a threshold.” Getting out of our routine, getting out of the familiar, getting out of the comfort zone is very important for spiritual development. Camp, youth events, mission trips, vacations, and the like are times for us to break old patterns and live into a new future. All great spiritual leaders went into the wilderness: Abraham, Moses, Paul and Jesus. In this case, Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.

In the wilderness Jesus is tempted to be derailed from his ministry. Not by bad things. Satan does not tempt Jesus to do evil things. Jesus is not tempted to commit adultery or genocide. Instead he is tempted with good things: bread, safety, authority. We too are tempted every day to be derailed from our ministry, by things that might not be bad, but will distract us from the ministry to which God has called us. We too are tempted every day to choose the comfortable place rather than cross the border into the uncomfortable place into which God is calling us.

Lent 2: John 3 – Nicodemus

On Lent 2 we hear the story of Nicodemus who is told that he must be “born again” or perhaps “reborn from above” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Is the birth canal not a border crossing? We go from the apparently safe womb to frightening world. Of course the womb is not as safe as we think. We cannot stay there long. In order to become, we must burst through barriers and cross borders.

Being born again is a border crossing we must take every day. As usual Jesus moves from the physical to the spiritual: He is not talking about a physical rebirth but a spiritual one. To be born again is to die to our self-centeredness and be reborn into a God-centered life. It is to cross the border from self-preoccupation to neighbor-preoccupation. We are called to die to self and rise in Christ. This is an intense, and very difficult border-crossing.

Lent 3: John 4 – Woman at the Well

Next we hear the story of the woman at the well, from John 4. Jesus is sitting at a well, resting, while the disciples run into town for groceries. A Samaritan woman approaches the well for water. He engages her in conversation. Before the dialog even begins, the hearer of John’s gospel learns something about Jesus. He has broken through multiple barriers, crossing several borders.

First, he is talking to a woman in public, in a Semitic society. This is astounding. In fact, when the disciples return from their shopping trip it says they were “astonished” that he was talking to a woman. Jesus is traversing a gender border.

Second, the woman at the well is not just a woman; she is a Samaritan. We’ve already mentioned that an orthodox Jew is not supposed to speak to a Samaritan. Samaritans are unclean. Jesus is crossing cultural and religious borders.

Third, this woman is a divorcee. In fact, she is a five-time divorcee who is living with her boyfriend. This makes this woman unclean, outcast, a sinner. Jesus breaks through barriers of stigma and social propriety.

Before we even engage the content of Jesus’ conversation with the woman we learn something about Jesus’ style of evangelism. We see instinctively reaching out across boundaries of gender, culture, religion and stigma.

“I will give you water so that you will never thirst again,” Jesus says. But of course he is not speaking of physical thirst, but spiritual thirst. This is a thirst that can only be addressed by being “in Christ,” by making Christ’s faith our faith, by following Christ’s way of being in the world.

Lent 4: John 9 – Healing of the Man Born Blind

April 3 we hear the story of the man born blind. In this story Jesus breaks crosses borders of shame, disease, disability. The blind are not welcome at the altar, in the temple: “No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed.” The word “man” is intentional. Women were not welcome in the temple, nor the blind, lame, disfigured and so on. Jesus is very intentional about reaching out specifically to those who are ostracized by the religious establishment, trying to be faithful to Scripture.

Like the two preceding passages, Jesus moves from the physical to the spiritual. He challenges the blindness of the religious leaders who are so focused on the letter of the law, they miss the point: mercy and justice, the weightier matters of the law.

In the process of all this, Jesus makes himself unclean. You cannot touch the untouchables. What characterizes Jesus’ ministry is his willingness to encounter lepers and people with a host of other unnamed diseases. He crosses the line – the borders of life that the world call unsafe, unreasonable, unwise, and invites us to do the same. Many say the early church’s willingness to care for the sick and the poor made Christianity preferable to its pagan counterparts. The Emperor Julian complained to the high priest of Galatia in 362 A.D. that Christian virtues overshadowed pagan virtues. “They care for their own poor, and ours as well!” There is great risk in encountering disease. But when the church chooses safety and comfort, our message is powerless. When we become a border-crossing church, the power of the gospel changes lives.

Lent 5: John 11 – The Raising of Lazarus

Finally, we will hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Dead bodies are unclean too, but this will not stop Jesus. Is death not the ultimate border crossing? Is it not the final frontier? Jesus, the Word made flesh, crosses the border from divinity into our humanity. Entering into our world, he lives a border-crossing life, showing us the way of justice and peace. Then, taking upon himself the full weight of human sin, hatred, violence and suffering on the cross, he burst through one more incomprehensible barrier, from this world into eternity.

On that day, when we take our final breath, he promises walk with us across the final barrier, no, carry us. He calls to us, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.”

We follow a border-crossing Jesus, who calls us to be a border-crossing church. This Lenten season, as we make the journey of the cross with Jesus, let’sbe the church that bursts through barriers, crossing borders of race, class, gender, creed, stigma, shame, disease, disability. Believing in the resurrection of the dead, let us have the courage to follow our border-crossing Jesus into the darkness of this world bringing the love of God to a blind, thirsty, dead world.