Southern Heights Presbyterian Church

5750 South 40th Street - Lincoln, NE - 402-421-3704 Worship Sundays at 10:30

A loving and welcoming faith community located at 40th and Old Cheney Road in South Lincoln, Nebraska, Southern Heights Presbyterian Church is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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Easter 4B - April 26 2015

The lectionary readings for this Sunday, for the most part, revolve around the image and the idea of the Good Shepherd and, more specifically, of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who would, will, and did, lay his life down for the sheep. Psalm 23, John 10:11-18, and 1 John 3:16-24 all focus on or reflect off of this imagery.

Which is wonderful and beautiful imagery. It's a powerful metaphor for both God and Christ, and also for our relationship with Christ. It's a pretty powerful metaphor for who we are, as sheep in need of care, direction, and protection. It's a powerful metaphor that deserves detailed unpacking and careful thought and consideration.

However...

This week, I am feeling drawn to the passage from Acts which appears in the lectionary, almost as an outlier passage. Acts 4:5-12 doesn't connect with the metaphor or the image of the Good Shepherd that appears in the other three passages for the day, but instead creates another image and metaphor for us to ponder.

First, it begins with an inquisition. Peter and John had been arrested for the work that they had been doing in the community and the things that they had been saying. Specifically, the healing of a lame man by Peter (Acts 3:2-6) and the proclamation of faith that he made, especially his teaching that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2). 

Our reading for the day picks up the next day, as the inquisition begins, as they are asking them by whose authority and power they were healing the lame and saying the things about God and Jesus that they were...All a pretty standard inquisition of the apostles, in my opinion.

But then something decidedly wonderful happens. Peter, in his defense, both answers the question and defies the question. He essentially says, "Look, if doing a good deed has led to us being questioned, then here it is...this man was healed by the name of Jesus (who you killed, by the way.) He both affirms the power of Jesus and the work that was done, and draws into question the decisions, judgement, and, ultimately the authority of the ones asking the question.

He then goes on to further question their decision making, judgement, and authority, by providing a beautiful metaphor for Jesus: The Cornerstone (or the Keystone, according to some translations). He is the strongest point in our lives of faith, he is the thing that holds us together, the rock on which we stand...without whom the whole thing would fall apart. And yet...the builders, the ones responsible for the building and the nurture of the faith and the spiritual lives of others, rejected him. 

As I work my way towards Sunday's sermon, I am reflecting on what that means...how we can understand Jesus as both shepherd and cornerstone, and how those two metaphors shape and form our understanding of him and our relationship with him. But also, how we can understand Peter's challenge to the religious authorities in our lives and in our world today...

What do you think?

Lent 3B - March 8 2015

Old Testament Reading - Exodus 20:1-17
This is one of those passages that we tend to believe that we know, inside and out. We may not have it memorized, precisely, but most anyone who has grown up in the church can recite the ten commandments of God that have been laid out here. Even those in the United States who are not a part of the Christian faith are going to be fairly cognizant of what these verses say, as they tend to be printed and posted in many places and public forums. 

For the most part, in our culture, we take them as a distinct set of rules and regulations to follow. We treat them almost like a checklist of "Don'ts" that, as long as we don't do those things...we'll be just fine. 

But it's a lot more complicated than that, I think. Jesus references how complicated this can be when he talks about the issue of adultery in Matthew 5, extending the commandment against adultery from beyond the actual act of adultery into how we think about another person.
In this example, Jesus helps us to see that the "rules" are not black and white, nor are the way that we should live into them, but instead that we need to look at the spirit of the rules, and understand what it is that God is saying about our lives and our lives in relationship to God, others, and the world... i.e., it is not enough for us to say, "Oh, I didn't murder the guy" if our actions and/or inactions lead directly to his death. You may not have killed him, but you were responsible for the death. 

A couple of quick technical notes:
- The first four commandments are about our relationship with God. 
- The last six are about our relationships with others.
- The Hebrew that makes up these commandments are typically two words. By the nature of the structure of Hebrew, these words include the subject, verb, and the negation, but it somehow comes out cleaner, more direct and more precise, in my opinion. 

New Testament Reading - John 2:13-22
Oh, I am so excited about this scripture passage! I absolutely love the image of Jesus turning over tables and chasing people out of the temple with a whip. I think that it helps us to understand the humanity of Jesus (fully God, fully man), but I think it also helps us to understand God's anger, because it humanizes it, taking it out of a place of celestial retribution and into a place of divine disappointment. 

God's anger comes from a place of being profoundly disappointed in us, in the ways that we muck up. The ways that we hurt each other. The ways that we hurt ourselves. The ways that we defy and deny God.

In this particular case, God's divine disappointment in the people in the temple comes from a place of seeing how they were taking something that was holy and turning it into something seedy and wrong. And, in the connection to my thoughts about the Old Testament passage, it's not like they were doing anything explicitly wrong. Everything that they were doing was perfectly within the bounds of what was acceptable, there were no regulations against what they were doing...it just was wrong. It violated the spirit of the place. It was taking advantage of the needs and desires of others to connect with God, and making a profit off of the expense of others. 

What do we do with it?
Last week's sermon dealt with examining when and where it is right to stand and speak...this week I think that I am going to explore a bit more about this, particularly in regard to when using/feeling/experiencing anger is right and just, particularly in regard to injustice and cruelty. Very likely there will be a lot of discussion on how we channel that anger into something that is productive and good. 

Check the sermon blog next week to hear the results of these wanderings and wonderings!

Lent 2B - March 1, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's been a while since we've had a Lectionary Reflection up and published on the site. But, seeing as Lent is the season of discipline, I figured that now was as good of a time as ever to get back into the practice of posting my weekly initial musings on the Lectionary.

Remember, this may contain initial thoughts, ponderings, rabbit trails to chase down, historical/social/political notes, any or none of the above...and these may or may not be reflective of what actually shows up in my sermon on Sunday morning!

Alright, so here we go!

The first reading for this week is Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 --
God's promise to the elderly Abram and Sarai that they will no longer be childless but that God will make a great nation out of them speaks to the hope for a future for God's people. Here, God is promising this couple that they will not be forgotten when they die, but that they will have a legacy that will carry on throughout eternity. 
And who of us doesn't want this? There is a great fear in our world and in our culture about being forgotten, about being left behind, about being rendered irrelevant and unimportant. Here, God promises two people that this will not be the case for them, and that God's promises to them will echo throughout their lineage. 

The second reading this week is Mark 8:31-38 --
We have to remember that, at this time, there were people who were looking for just about any reason to finally "take down" Jesus, and Peter's admonishment to Jesus indicates that Jesus' words about the temple being torn down could have been seen as a heresy worthy of death. 
Jesus, as we now know, was talking not about the Temple but about himself (using a metaphor to talk about his own death and resurrection). He also seems to care very little at this point about what people made of his statements. In fact, in this passage we have Jesus rebuking his friend Peter simply for making an attempt to keep him from being arrested and executed. 
He cares more about getting people to recognize that it is important to stand up for what is good, right, and true...even if that means that they do so at risk to themselves. 
And isn't that something that we are called to? To stand up for truth and righteousness, even in the face of death? Aren't we called to stand against systems of oppression and injustice? Aren't we called to take up our own cross, if necessary, in order to follow Jesus where he leads?

Now, at this point in the week, there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect between the two readings, as I am having a hard time reconciling God's promise to make a nation out of Abram and Sarai, God's promise to preserve their lives through the creation of a generational line and Jesus' directive to be willing to take up your cross and lose your life in order to follow him. They are both messages that, at their core, are filled with hope, but they seem to be taking us in two different directions as to what this hope looks like/means. 

For now, I am leaning towards focusing on the commandment to take up your cross...and what that looks like for us today. 

Stay tuned to see where and how we go with this!

β€œHe has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” β€” Micah 6:8 CEB