Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 5 of 2010

Top Five CDs
1. Heaven Below by Peter Mayer
2. Wake Up by John Legend and The Roots
3. You Are Not Alone by Mavis Staples
4. Brothers by The Black Keys
5. Reverie by David Wilcox

Top Five Books
1. A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren
2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
3. Earth by Jon Stewart
4. The Family Book by Todd Parr
5. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Top Five Films
1. Inception
2. Black Swawn
3. The Kids Are All Right
4. Toy Story 3
5. Inside Job

Top Five TV Shows
1. Modern Family
2. The Office
3. Parenthood
4. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
5. In Treatment

Top Five News Shows
1. The Daily Show
2. The Colbert Report
3. Bill Moyers Journal
4. Rachel Maddow Show
5. Tavis Talks

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas with Mary and Juno

Who has seen the movie Juno?

It's about a sixteen-year-old named Juno MacGuff. Juno isn’t the most popular girl in high school. Juno is kind of an emo character. Her parents are divorced. She doesn’t have much money. And at the beginning of the school year, she discovers that she is pregnant. The father of her to-be-born baby is an awkward teen named Paulie Bleaker.

Life suddenly gets even tough for Juno. She is, after all, a pregnant teenager. She had to tell her boyfriend…friends at school…and…her parents. Not fun conversations. Plus she knew everyone at school would find out. And we all know what kind of names she’d be called. And all the whispered rumors that would fly around. Plus, all the visits to the doctor. And on and on. Not an easy situation.

After thinking about her options, Juno decides to have the baby and find adoptive parents for the child. Not knowing how to go about this, she looks through the weekly Pennysaver. It’s among coupons for ham and ads for free puppies, that she finds letters by people who want to adopt children. Among those letters, she comes across the story of Vanessa Loring.

It turns out that Vanessa had always wanted to be a mom, but she was unable to have children of her own. Vanessa felt that she was born to be a mom. But she couldn’t. At the age of 40, she thought it wasn’t going to happen. But all that changed when she met Juno. After meeting Vanessa, Juno decides to let Vanessa adopt the baby once he was born.

The process of being pregnant and giving birth was tough for Juno – and for her family and friends. No doubt about it. But for Vanessa, it was a miracle birth. Juno made the impossible, possible for Vanessa. God had made a way for her to be a mom, even though it appeared that there was no way. One of the last scenes in the movie was Vanessa joyfully holding her baby boy. She had become a proud mom.

I really liked this movie! For one thing, it just a good movie with good acting. For another thing, it’s a story that I’m familiar with. My biological mother gave birth to me when she was 16. And I was blessed with amazing adoptive parents. This movie gave me a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices that my biological mother must have made and the complete joy that my adaptive mother experienced.

But this movie also helps us to better understand what’s going on in the Scripture from today. Mary would have been a teenager when she was pregnant. Most women got married when they were teenagers in Mary’s culture. And since the Bible says that Mary was engaged to Joseph, it’s likely that she would have been about the same age as Juno.

To make her situation even tougher, Mary was from a poor family who lived in a “no-name” town called Nazareth. Most people in this town were poor peasants who were crushed under the weight of the Roman Empire. Times were tough. The economy was bad. And what little money they had, they were forced to pay in taxes. Mary and Joseph would have been “nobodies” in the Roman Empire. Poor. Hungry. And weakened under injustice and hierarchy of the Roman Empire. Life would have been very hard for Mary and Joseph.

Like Juno, Mary was a very unlikely hero. But here we have it. Right here in our Bibles. Mary is the hero! God chooses Mary, a poor teenager with almost no hope for her future.

But God not only chooses her. The angel says to her, “Greetings favored one! God is with you.” Favored one! God looked with favor upon a “nobody.” And this is part of the good news. God chooses people who are lowly, small, weak, powerless, and imperfect.

God used Mary to raise Jesus, even though she was just a pregnant, peasant teenager.

God used Jesus to bring justice and salvation into the world, even though he was just a young carpenter from a no-name town.

God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, even though he was a poor public speaker.

God used Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the civil rights movement, even though he was just a preacher from the South.

God has a habit of choosing people, who don’t seem up for the task, to do amazing and miraculous things.

The angel said to Mary, “Greetings favored one. God is with you.” Despite being considered a “nobody” in the Roman Empire, God considers her a favored person. God loves and accepts her just as she is. God chooses her for the sacred vocation of giving birth to Jesus, and raising him to be a leader. And the angel promises her that God is with her – and will continue to be with her.

“Do not be afraid,” says the angel. Sometimes in the midst of Christmas shopping and glittery cards, we forget just how difficult Mary’s mission would have been. She was asked to be a pregnant teenager, even though she had little money. Plus, to make matters worse, there was an insurrection against the Roman Empire in the nearby town of Sepphoris, which was brutally stopped by the Roman army. Nothing was left in the town. People must have been terrified that the fighting might spill over into their town. There was plenty to be afraid of.

But the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” God promises to keep Mary safe, despite the very real problems she faces. God will make the impossible, possible. God will make a way out of no way. It says in our reading from today, that “nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing is impossible with God.

If God calls someone to do something, it will be possible to do it. It’s often said that “God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called.” Remember that Mary, Jesus, Moses, and King are unlikely servants of God. But that is exactly who God chooses. And whatever God calls us to do, God will give us the ability to do it.

The key, is to respond like Mary, who says, “Here I am, the servant of God; let me do what God calls me to do.” Mary chooses to accept the call from God to do her divine mission. She chooses to work with God to bring about God’s purposes on earth. Her faith enables God to work even more strongly and boldly in the world.

So, this Christmas season, let’s all consider how God might be calling us. What is God calling you to do? Where is God calling you to go? Who is God calling you to help? When is God calling you to act? What difficulties will God help you overcome? How can God’s love be born anew through you this Christmas?

God chooses us. God loves us. God has found favor with us. God has plans for our lives. God promises to be with us as we live out those plans. And because of all this, God gives our lives a very sacred mission, like Mary. We are partners with God, as God brings love, hope, and peace to us and through us. Nobody can tell us that we’re “nobodies” when God sees us as “somebodies.”

We know the troubles are real. We’re fighting two wars. We’re in a recession. Cyber-bullying and homophobia threaten our kids and grandkids. Plus, we’re all facing difficulties in our own lives. Yet despite these very real troubles, there is very real hope. God is with us – and Scripture says that nothing is impossible for God. With God, we can bring miracles into this world. We are God’s hands.

We can share God’s love by joyfully greeting people around us. We can share God’s justice by helping people who have been trodden down. We can share God’s hope by encouraging those who need it. We can share the message of Christmas by being the miracle in the lives of others. We can all think of many good ideas and actions.

St. Francis once said, “We are all the mother of Christ when we carry Christ in our heart…and we give birth to Christ through our holy actions.”

There are many places – many mangers – in our world that wait for God’s love to be born anew. May we all let God’s miraculous love be born in us and through us. Amen!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Phyllis Tickle on Advent

This Advent season, Patheos is hosting a new video series, “The Coming of God: Reflections on Advent,” featuring well-known progressive Christians on what Advent means to them.

In the first video, renowned author and speaker Phyllis Tickle shares her thoughts on Advent, “the most grand of the Holy seasons.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Prayer for Jesus the King

The lectionary texts this Sunday are Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72, and Matthew 3:1-12. They explore the Biblical understanding of Jesus as "King." According to this Scripture, Jesus will be a caring King who protects the poor, empowers the oppressed, and works to bring peace. This is a very different kind of power and authority than we have in many of our leaders today. So the following prayer is a call-to-worship for Jesus the King:

One: Political leaders claim power and authority.
All: Yet their laws often don’t improve the lives of widows and orphans.
One: Corporate leaders claim power and authority.
All: Yet their focus is often not on providing help for the poor and oppressed.
One: Cable news leaders claim power and authority.
All: Yet their stories often don’t mention people who can’t afford cable.
One: Academic leaders claim power and authority.
All: Yet their research often doesn’t focus on injustice in academia itself.
One: Advertisement leaders claim power and authority.
All: Yet their ads often don’t “sell” compassion and social consciousness.
One: Advent provides a glimpse into a different kind of Leader,
who claims a different kind of power and authority.
All: This Leader defends the cause of the poor.
One: This Leader gives deliverance to the needy.
All: This Leader crushes oppressive forces.
One: This Leader stands up with equity for the meek and exploited.
All: This Leader makes the lion lie down with the lamb.
One: This Leader inspires people not to hurt or destroy each other.
All: This is the Leader who we have come to follow and worship! Amen!