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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

Lent II: Born of the Spirit

The "Spirit" is an odd commodity, isn't it. Jesus likened it to the wind: you don't know where it came from or where it goes, you can't see it, but you can feel it and see the effects it has on other things. With the exception of the meteorologists in our midst, most of us still don't know where the wind originates. We do watch the weather forecasts, yet even then there can be a turn of events that change everything during a day - in a matter of minutes or hours.

Our coming is another matter all together. We are born basically the same way. Anyone who has birthed, been a witness to a live birth or has even seen a birth on TV from the comfort of our own dwelling has seen we are flesh. Quite fleshy, gooey, bloody, watery. Our entrance into this level of life is fairly graphic and, unlike the wind, over time we learn where we have come from and where we are going.

At baptism, those present celebrate the inclusion of yet another person into our family - all of the children of God. The Spirit descends on us as well and our bodies become equipped to deal with matters of the Spirit. After adults have been baptized, they speak of feeling different - of an experience that defies retelling but is quite real to them. Our other sacramental church rituals give us that window of opportunity to feel that fresh air come through: the Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Reconciliation and Unction. Some happen only once, some happen as often as you are prepared to enter into them.

I remember both my First Communion and Confirmation when I was seven years and thirteen years old (respectively) and a Roman Catholic. Each was an extraordinary event which warmed me all over. When the Spirit is called upon for the power to transform, we become transformed. I felt the Spirit when I was received as an Episcopalian at age 20. Before entering the convent I made a life confession (and that took pages to write and ponder upon) and felt the relief of a lifetime in the powerful pardon I received. During my ordination I felt the Spirits presence (as well as the hefty manual grip of the suffragan bishop) on my head and in my being.

Perhaps you too have experienced and cherished these or other moments when something within the born flesh is transformed by the Spirit. We have sacraments as spiritual chargers, transforming us not only in that act, that moment but for all time. When we become born of the Spirit, the Spirit bears much for our sake in our lives.

And when, at the last, we receive the last Sacramental rite the Spirit takes us over completely and inevitably into the heart of God, to be born yet again into a life that we cannot on this side of eternity completely comprehend but try in our own feeble way to approximate in Inadequate words in prose and poetry.

We are born of the flesh but once; we are born, renewed, strengthened, restored, upheld, supported, transformed again and again in the Spirit. May we welcome this spiritual regeneration with open minds, arms, hands and hearts. Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lent 1: Have I got a deal for you

Each time I read the Gospel passage of the temptation I am quietly amazed at how smooth and persuasive "the Tempter" can be. A real 'con' man, that is, someone who attempts to gain your confidence only to turn around and abuse it. This guy is smooth, almost oily in his ability to manipulate. He seems to care a great deal for your welfare, but his care is self-serving.

I have often have wanted to direct a liturgical drama piece re-telling this Gospel passage with Satan in cheesy plaid polyester pants, wide tie and pin striped, ill fitting sports coat with at least one mustard stain on a lapel..oh, and don't forget the pencil mustache and slicked back hair.

While that particular production may never take place I don't think we do an injustice by exposing 'the tempter' for the con man he is.

Jesus has just been baptized and had his own personal epiphany regarding his identity as the Son of God. Not just a child of God..the son of God. After getting that awesome news in that spectacular way, his Spirit leads him with some urgency into the desert. This whole concept can't be mulled over while fashioning a cart or a water bucket.

Jesus sets off on a retreat - a vision quest if you will - to attempt to incorporate this reality into his familiar reality. He goes totally unprepared for the journey - no food, no extra clothing for a brisk evenings, no protection from snakes, scorpions or small mammals, no flint for striking a fire. Nothing but food for thought. It is when Jesus is thirsty, nearly delirious with hunger that 'the Tempter' comes to him, testing out whether he has indeed taken his vision seriously. "IF you are the son of God, try out some of the abilities you possess: change this stone into bread. Somewhat oddly, Jesus reverts to his tried and true knowledge, gleaned from scripture and his worldly experience.."MAN does not live by bread alone". The Tempter tries again to force Jesus' hand this time using Hebrew scripture as a tool, "IF you are the son of God, throw yourself down - you won't be hurt!" Relying on scripture again, but beginning to rely on his own new identity, Jesus quotes "It is written, don't put the Lord to the test".

Alright. The slick salesman has tried two different kinds of pitches and neither worked. He now focuses on the strictly human - and more familiar - side of his targets character. Going to a high peak The Tempter says "Look around you. This is all mine and I will give it to you if you worship me." Jesus summons the strength to dismiss this imposter, this Tempter: "BE GONE, SATAN. WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE ONLY HIM." Satan was dismissed by God in Jesus. In other Gospels, the cryptic note (paraphrased here) is added to the account: Satan left then, waiting for an appropriate time to return.

Evil is persistent. Temptation is a reality, or Jesus wouldn't have taught us to pray to the Father not to be led there. The Tempter is with us always here on this plane of existence, but not in the next. We can, with the help of God (and often a friend, family member, spouse, group or our own conscience) avoid succumbing to our temptations. They may not be so blatant as the ones in this Gospel. It may mean the choice of satisfying a curiosity by having a 'fling', a couple of shots, a few pills taken secretly out of a prescription written for someone else, a lie to fulfill the need for attention we feel we cannot get by being just ourselves. Temptation is there...and so is God's Holy Spirit.

Life would be dull without choices. Making certain choices made while being provoked by the Tempter (whether from within or without) may have us driving home in the lemon from the used car lot. Others will put us on the slippery slope of putting a brick in the wall of our relationship between ourselves and our God.

If you are faced with the decision between putting a bid on the Brooklyn Bridge or building a bridge of gratitude and humility to your God, I'd make my investment in the second option. If the Tempter has been trying to talk you OUT of it, you know you're making the right decision. Amen.

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