Back to (What?!?) Sunday

This weekend is Back to Church Sunday (I hope you found your person to invite!). I figured, what better way to expose those new visitors to Covenant than to preach a sermon on…Drum Roll please…BUDDHISM! That’s right, the sermon this Sunday is going to spend a lot of time thinking about the Epistle of James from a Buddhist perspective.

Now, I know this is more than a little out of the ordinary, but I do have some very good reasons for doing this. First of all, the passage this week really does capture 3 of the 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism 1quite well. If you don’t know what those are, come on Sunday and find out. Secondly, this is Covenant…the church of “What’s going to happen next?” I felt there was perhaps no better way to live into our identity than to throw a real curve ball on the Sunday that brings many visitors through our doors.

Finally, and I think most importantly, there is perhaps no better way to deeply understand our Christian faith than to study a different faith. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me, there is deep truth to this idea. When I was in college, I was a part of a program called, “Lives of Faith.” As a part of this program, we met once a month to have dinner with people of different faith traditions to learn a lot about people that were different from us. A few things that are important here: the person who was presenting on a given night was not expected to be an expert on their tradition, but was simply supposed to answer the question, “What’s it like to be a (insert religion here) living in a small town in rural Texas and attending college?” The point was not to learn all there was to know about (insert religion here), it was to realize that none of us can speak for the entirety of our religious group. That means, what we can learn is what faith looks like for a particular person, and reflect on that in light of our own faith. I came to discover, this was one of the places in my own journey where I most learned what it was to be Christian. In order to interact in meaningful ways at those dinners, you had to be in touch with what you understood your tradition to be.

I would also add, that the other way I have most deeply come to understand my own Christian Faith was from world travel in countries that were not primarily composed of Christians. Pausing while hearing the call to prayer ring out across Istanbul forced me to ask the question, “What does a meaningful prayer life look like for me?” Being overwhelmed by the incense while walking through Buddhist temples in Bangkok forced me to think about, “What is meaningful ritual in my religious life?” Being invited to ring prayer bells in a temple in Yangon required me to think about, “What are the implications of this practice in my own tradition?”

I am an avid believer that the best way to understand your own tradition is to have relationships with people of different traditions. The best way to know what is really important to your faith, is to experience the faith of another.

So this Sunday, we are going to talk about Buddhism, in light of what the Epistle of James teaches us about how to practice a Christian life. We’ll either really intrigue all of those Back to Church guests, or we will send them running from the building. Either way, it should be interesting to watch. See you Sunday!

Recycling the Brokenness of the World

First, let me start by requesting that you take a moment of silence, wherever you are, to reflect on 9/11 and what has happened to our world in the wake of those events…

On a day like today, we cannot ignore the historical weight of the events that happened 14 years ago. Though I could attempt to wax eloquently about those events, or ground them in religion and Spirituality, I have instead decided to do two things with this space this week. First, a link to an article by the Atlantic on what happened to the debris from the twin towers. It is a fascinating article, and in some very deep way, reflective of a kind of deeply sacramental theology. What I mean when I say that is the power of events and people to take something like a chunk of twisted metal, and create deep meaning that connects us with history, and with God. The kinds of things that have been created with that debris remind us, that whatever brokenness we may experience, God can use that brokenness to refashion new beginnings of great love.

Secondly, I thought I would end by pointing you in the direction of an article written by my friend David Lamotte. There is a wonderful connection here: the twisted steel of the towers remade into meaningful memorials parallels nicely with how David connects the brokenness of our world to a response to that brokenness that leads to healing. The article leaves us with a few great questions: How are you going to follow Christ in a way that will change the world?

Healing a Hurting World by David Lamotte

Occupy Alexandria!

This week’s scripture (James 2:1-17) should be challenging to every one of us. At first glance, this looks like a 2000 year old Occupy Wall Street campaign (One of the first places we see people talking about reading James is in Alexandria, thus the title). James places a lot of emphasis on caring for the poor at least equally to how we care for the rich (though I think his suggestion would go beyond equality). The picture painted here is incredibly relevant given the national discussions of the last decade.

However, I think that to leave this about class or economics probably misses the larger point. Where are we showing favoritism in our lives? Who do we treat better than others? Who do we look down on? The Greek word used in the passage this week that is translated as “favoritism” or “preferential treatment” is prosopolampteite. If you break the word down into its component parts it literally means “to turn your face up” –the very definition of a snob—“to turn your nose up” in our common idiom.

Though the class or economic challenge is certainly hard enough, in and of itself, the challenge is even bigger than that. James’ audience was being encouraged to embrace those people that they would have had a hard time embracing. This challenge seems to be the consistent challenge throughout scripture—take care of those people that you would rather ignore!

Take some time to think about who might fall into this category for you personally—There will be a quiz on Sunday! No, seriously. There will be a quiz on this on Sunday during the sermon! See ya’ then!