Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Lent Year C 2010

05 Lent C 10
March 21, 2010

Isaiah 43:16-21

16 Thus says the LORD,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-9

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

Say Goodbye

Resurrection is in the air. Can you smell it?

There’s a plant called spikenard that grew only in the Himalayan mountains. The flower could be crushed to infuse oil to make a very special perfume, called nard. Nard is an intense aroma, what they now call an essential oil, very sweet, earthy and musky. In Jesus’ day, this oil would be stored in impermeable alabaster jars, which were themselves extremely expensive, then carted by camel or whatever other conveyance over 3,000 miles to Israel.

The cost of the jar of oil Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet, in modern terms, was about fifty thousand dollars. Fifty thousand dollars. Can you imagine what amazing aroma such an expensive oil might have made?

That’s the smell of resurrection.

Resurrection was in the air at that dinner table already. Lazarus, Mary’s brother, had just emerged from the tomb several days before. John doesn’t really comment on that, but doesn’t it raise some questions? What must it be like to wake up from death and walk out of one’s grave? What must the days following be like?

For one thing, Lazarus may have had his own perfume. Nard and other ointments and herbs were used to cover the smell of decomposition. Once Lazarus was raised, presumably the bad smell would have been gone, leaving only the heavy perfumes used for his burial. Some have even wondered if the jar of nard was left over from Lazarus’ funeral. So there might have been a sweet and musky smell at the table already.

But the question is, what must it be like? We’re not talking here about going to heaven. We’re talking about coming back into this beautiful world, this magnificent creation, to be with the people we love, to breathe again, to see again, to eat and drink again. What must such a life feel like?

Actually, for some of us, the answer to that question is not difficult at all. We know just what it feels like.

Mary is doing a prophet thing. It’s a really peculiar thing, and it’s reported in all four gospels, though only in John is the woman identified as Mary and the critic as Judas. Luke thinks of the event very differently than does Mark, Matthew and John, who all report this strange action and the conversation that follows it.

Prophets don’t always speak. Sometimes they simply demonstrate. Isaiah went traipsing through Jerusalem naked. Jeremiah smashed a big clay jar. Ezekiel ate a book of the bible. Hosea married a prostitute. Jesus whipped the moneylenders out of the temple, and he will do a very similar thing to Mary just a few days after this event.

Mary is doing a prophet thing. She brings this $50,000 jar of ointment and cracks it open. She loosens her hair, which no decent woman would have done in public. She pours the ointment on Jesus’ feet, which in any time, then or now, was an intensely intimate thing to do. She then rubs the oil into his feet; simply touching a man you weren’t married to was in those days strictly forbidden. And finally, the weirdest gesture of all; she wipes away the excess oil with her own hair.

And then we have the conversation. Judas, criticizing the gesture as ridiculously extravagant, considering how much fifty thousand dollars could do for the poor. John points out that Judas is being disingenuous. He is a thief; he’s thinking how he might have used the fifty grand. (I suspect this is true even today. Those who speak loudest against spending in the church, who claim they are protecting the poor old widows from being taken advantage of, might actually just be protecting their own significant wealth.)

But this is not the important part of the conversation. Jesus tells him to leave her alone, to let her deliver her prophecy. Jesus is not discounting or discrediting the importance of caring for the poor; it was and is essential to his message. He interprets Mary’s message for us; he gives us the soundtrack.

In the scene just prior to this one, the chief priests meet in Jerusalem upon hearing the Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. They are worried that such a gesture will arouse the people against the Romans, who will then come and destroy them all. And Caiaphas says, “it is better that one man die than that all the people be destroyed,” and they decide to have Jesus executed.
Mary is doing a prophetic thing: she is anointing Jesus for the grave, and at the same time, she is announcing his resurrection.

How can we say hello to paradise, if we don't also say goodbye to hell?

And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Resurrection is in the air. Can you smell it?


Fourth Sunday in Advent Year C 2010

04 Lent C 10

March 14, 2010

Joshua 5:9-12
5:9 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

5:10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.

5:11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.

5:12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm 32
32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

32:3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

32:6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.

32:7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

32:9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

32:10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.

5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;

5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:11b "There was a man who had two sons.

15:12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.

15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.

15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

15:17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!

15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;

15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'

15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

15:21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

15:22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

15:25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.

15:27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'

15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

15:29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.

15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'

15:31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

Ticket to Paradise

What happens next?

Did you notice that this story doesn’t end? We’re left standing outside the party with the old man and his elder son. You can almost see the big tent, the music and the loud laughter and singing, the warm light in the evening, the sound of silver and glassware.

To me, and perhaps only to me, a happy party celebration is a powerful image for paradise. To be in a crowd of people who are all very fond of one another, to feel those good feelings of being accepted and loved and enjoyed by your community, to have that lovely feeling of having way more of everything than you need. If that all isn’t paradise, I don’t know what is.

It seems obvious to me that this parable is aimed finally at the elder brother. The chapter begins with the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus hanging around with sinners and it ends with the old man appealing to his elder son to take part in the party. Or to put it another way, it ends with the old man offering the elder son a ticket to paradise.

The only problem is that it involves letting go of all our enmity toward others. The paradise party is loaded with people that don’t deserve to be there, or at least so we think. In our society now, social life has become as consumerized as every other dimension of our existence. We now have all kinds of technological tools for avoiding people we don’t feel comfortable with and finding people who agree with us on every issue.

Who is this I’m supposed to party with? I want you to think about invitations to parties and which ones you’d turn down. I have to say one of the most dishonest things I hear from Southerners is that they love everybody. I’ve never met a human being yet who loved everybody. Usually when someone says they love everybody, they simply are excluding whole groups of people from the status of being human. Do you love radical militant Muslims? Do you love dirty black people on welfare? Do you love communists?

But I’m no one to talk. I have to say I struggle all the time with this church thing. I think you’d all probably fire me, and you may yet, if you knew how often I questioned it. I have many days when I thank God for all the good things people do here at Philippi. But there are other days when I wonder how many of us even have a glimmer of faith? I sometimes wonder if there is anyone here who really has any idea what promise they have made to Christ. I wonder if there is anyone here, including me, who is really ready to keep that promise.

If only everyone would do what I told them, I could be happy. You know what I’m saying?

My own spiritual bankruptcy here is my insistence on believing that this really has anything to do with what anyone decides or works on, including me, that this depends on anyone but God’s Spirit. It’s my own not-so-comfortable conviction that somehow I get it and no one else does.

The reality is that I don’t get it either, and when paradise is here, I really don’t know how it got here, and when it’s gone I really don’t know how I lost it.

Your ticket to paradise is an invitation to be possessed by a very foolish spirit. This is a ticket that many, many people have refused, and continue to refuse.

There are times when I find it in my heart to include everyone, and when that happens I find that I am filled with energy, filled with warmth, filled with joy. I also, incidentally, notice that enemies line up to shoot at me. It is far more quiet and peaceful in the grave than it is in the land of the living.

So do I want to go into the feast with my Father, or do I want to stand outside here, fuming at the injustice of it?

What happens next?


Monday, March 8, 2010

Third Sunday in Lent Year C 2010

03 Lent C 10

March 7, 2010

Isaiah 55:1-9

55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

55:7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 63:1-8

63:1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

63:2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

63:5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

63:6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

63:7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,

10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

10:5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

10:6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.

10:7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play."

10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.

10:10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

10:11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

10:12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.

10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Luke 13:1-9

13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

13:2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

13:6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

13:7 So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'

13:8 He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

The Parable of the Little Turkey

There once was a little turkey who lived on a farm. She had a warm bed in a warm barn. There was a big dog to protect her against predators. The little turkey never had to do anything for her food. It was brought to her every day by a smiling old man and it was loaded with delicious fat.

And the little turkey thought, “How blessed I am!”

But sometimes there were these odd days when one of the other turkeys, usually one just a little shy of adulthood, would go nuts. It would run around the barn screaming, “It’s all a trick! It’s all a trick! We’re being set up!” During these outbursts, the younger turkeys would simply hide behind their parents’ legs. The grown-ups never commented. Sooner or later, the upset turkeys always grew quiet.

And the little turkey thought “If they only knew how blessed they are.”

And then one day, just a little shy of her adulthood, the little turkey’s parents took her aside.

“We have a very special purpose,” her father said. “On one very important day, the old man who is feeding and caring for us celebrates how thankful he is to God. And on those days, he kills one of us, and uses that one as the main course in his family’s thanksgiving feast.”

The little turkey was stunned. It seemed to her very cruel. She felt panic welling up inside her. She suddenly understood why the older turkeys sometimes seemed to go mad.

And her mother said, “Child, someday you will have to die. Do you want to die in the middle of the night with a fox at your throat? Or would you instead like to give your life in thanksgiving to God?”

And the little turkey grew silent, and said nothing.

The next day, the little turkey watched the smiling old man as he cleaned out the barn and handed out the food. She watched the dog who quietly guarded the barn, always alert for any danger. But everything was different now that she knew why the old man smiled at her, why he fed her, why the food tasted so good, why the dog guarded her.

And the beauty of it grew in her. And she thought: “How blessed I am.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Second Sunday in Lent Year C 2010

02 Lent C 10

February 28, 2010

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."

15:2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

15:3 And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir."

15:4 But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir."

15:5 He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."

15:6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

15:7 Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess."

15:8 But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"

15:9 He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."

15:10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

15:11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates...." Psalm 27

27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall.

27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

27:8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek.

27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.

27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Philippians 3:17-4:1

3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

3:18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

3:19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

3:21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Luke 13:31-35

13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."

13:32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'

13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

“The Garden Plot”

You sometimes hear in twelve-step fellowships that the way to follow God’s will is simply to do the next right thing. And you hear that in church too sometimes. I think we all want to believe that knowing God’s will is beyond us and that just doing what seems ethical is about the best we can do.

In the twelve-step fellowships, however, the main suggestion is decidedly not to simply do the next thing that seems to be right. The goal is to stop drinking and to stay stopped. But everyone who has joined AA knows that stopping and staying stopped is by no means a simple proposition. It involves following a plan, a very specific path, with twelve very specific steps.

It is also not true that we can’t know what God’s will is. We do know and can know and should know. That’s exactly what the bible is all about. God’s will is to restore his kingdom on earth, to remake the troubled world into the garden of abundance it was always meant to be. The bible is abundantly clear about God’s will, God’s vision.

The kingdom of God: more citizens than there are grains of sand on a beach or stars in the sky, a beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, a fruit-rich vineyard overflowing with delicious wine, dense fields of wheat blowing in the wind, the flock of chicks warmly gathered under the mother hen.

But we know, don’t we, that getting to such an outcome is not at all simple?

There are all kinds of threats to God’s plan, there are the vultures that swoop on the sacrifice meant for the Lord, those pesky adversaries in Psalm 27, there are those people Paul says live as enemies to the cross of Christ, whose God is the belly and whose end is destruction, and there is that fox Herod, who scatters the chicks and murders the hen.

The challenge to Jesus is to protect the chicks, to plant a fruitful vineyard or a richly profitable wheat field, to make an offering to the Lord that doesn’t get swept up by vultures. He says in this text, “I must be on my way.”

I wonder if we could think of this “way” less as a path to enlightenment or fulfillment and more as a working strategy, a kind of plot.

Jesus has found a working strategy for overcoming the pitfalls and resistance that undermine the flowering of God’s abundant garden in the world. The way of the world is to fight, force or frighten enemies. But such strategies are precisely what keeps the garden from flourishing. In fighting the vultures and the foxes, we unwittingly join them. How do we plant and nurture God’s garden in the face of foxes and vultures?

We need a plot. We need a Garden Plot.

First off, Jesus kept his goal very much in the forefront of his plot. The goal is finally restoring the garden that God’s creation is supposed to be. The goal is bringing the kingdom of God back into the world. One of the keenest tools the adversary uses against the people of God is distraction from the main goal. If we become convinced that we need to attend to this or that emergency, we will quickly find ourselves rushing about from emergency to emergency and we will forget what we were about doing to begin with.

Second, Jesus spent a lot of time reflecting. Jesus spent a lot of time listening to God. Most people who do the Myers-Briggs personality index come out as people of action. Most people, that is, don’t want to spend a lot of time planning or thinking through something. This is why democracy often doesn’t work. Because it’s easy to talk a big unhappy crowd into swift unwise action.

I’m told it’s quite difficult to hunt predators. They know all the tricks. To defeat them one must know them well, but not become like them. Jesus called it being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
The enemies to the cross spend a lot of time planning and reflecting. They invest a lot of energy and resources into carefully studying their situation. Vultures and foxes have very finely tuned strategies that have been worked out over countless generations.

Third, Jesus took the time to lay the groundwork before he went in for the main event. He stuck to the plan. As he headed for Jerusalem, a place from which he’d initially fled, the warnings come that this is not a safe place to go. Jesus knew this. Of course he did. He has spent nearly three years carefully building a following, with the full attention of using that following when he turned toward the powers that were. And this was not some new concept Jesus was using. It’s pretty clear from the Old Testament that the prophets all developed supporters. Jesus’ goal is to enter Jerusalem as the rightful king of Israel, at least in the minds of the people.

He knew of course that the crowds would not protect him any more than they’d protected the prophets that came before him. Mass support, then and now, has a way of drying up overnight. But he also knew that no one was going to forget being healed, no one was going to forget being freed from demonic possession, and no poverty-stricken farmer was going to forget the good news of God’s justice. They might in the moment of persecution, yes, but when the danger was passed, and they looked back, who would end up looking good to them? The ones who won or the one who lost? After all, despite the many prophets who were executed throughout Israel’s history, they were nevertheless remembered, while those who had killed them were not.

Jesus also made sure to do the hard work of training successors. He demonstrated his way, despite the difficulty of getting it across to his trainees, and never gave in to dumbing the message down, no matter how they failed to get it. He did not give them a simple message, and he did not tell them a single thing about being happy or successful. He taught them the way to plant and nurture God’s garden in the midst of a world full of predators and scavengers. Of course, there is much joy in such work, but there is also much that is challenging and difficult.

He also did not work alone, did not do everything himself, but spent time equipping others to do what he did and even more. He obviously spent significant time involving people and organizing them.

But perhaps the most important element of Jesus’ “garden plot” was to seek above all other things the life-giving power and wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit. This in itself is quite a process and involves some clearly defined steps, steps which he has also outlined to us.

The predators and scavengers of God’s garden are real. They will try to scatter the chicks and even to kill the mother hen. Why will they do this? Because their motives have to do with getting fed, not sharing in a feast. They are like dogs who each have their own bones but who aren’t satisfied unless they have the bones of all the others.

We need a plan to deal with them. We need a way to make God’s garden prosper no matter what they do. We need a Garden Plot.

The life story and teachings and practices of Jesus, taken together, is our Garden Plot. It is the subversive plan to share in the true abundance of creation, to restore justice and righteousness to the earth. This time of Lent is a time for all Christians to return to these basics, the life pattern of Jesus, the purpose of his ministry, the vision of God’s kingdom, the Garden Plot.

Are we involved in the Garden Plot? Are we carefully examining ourselves? Are we willing to turn our backs on the powers of the world, no matter what they promise us? Are we spending time listening to God? Are we working with others, planning and coordinating our mission strategies? And above all, are we doing everything Jesus commanded in seeking above all other things God’s wisdom and life-giving power?

If they rounded up all the conspirators in God’s garden plot, would we be arrested? Would there be enough evidence to convict us?