Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres: Tension and Release

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Job was a man acquainted with a river of tears here on this earth. The subject of a wager between God and the adversary, he lost all of his children, all his wealth, and was left with a sorry set of human comforters he called friends who tried to convince him that he must have done something wrong or none of this would have ever happened.

You see, Job’s friends had the answers. They felt they understood what was going on. Bad things don’t happen to good people. Job had appeared to be a righteous and wonderful kind of guy, but he had obviously done something wrong to anger the Holy or none of this would be happening.

We’ve met some of Job’s friends in our own lives – those who know the answer. That hurricane? Our acceptance of gay people caused that. Earthquake? God is telling us to mend our evil ways and end abortion or give tax breaks to the rich. A bombing? Gotta be Muslim. Everybody’s got not just an answer – but the answer – whenever disaster strikes.

What Job discovers though, and what the Holy invites us to discover still today is this, sometimes there is no answer.

Sometimes, stuff happens, and explaining it won’t make it go away or make the pain or suffering any better. Who really needs to know why a hurricane strikes or someone with evil in their heart plants a bomb? Does knowing the reason make it all better? Does having the answer solve the problem at hand?

Job talks directly to God and never, ever gets an answer. What he finds instead is this – living in the tension, living in that place of mystery and unanswered questions, produces a sweet heaven all its own. Certainty is where we find ourselves plunged into hell. Job’s friends, all those purveyors of certainty who sat around trying to convince Job he was a miserable sinner who deserved his fate – they were living in hell on earth.

Certainty closes our hearts. Certainty closes our minds. Certainty means that we condemn others to hell for even daring to ask the questions. Certainty makes us rigid, and robs us our ability to feel compassion.

My guitar teacher, Rusty, lost his son, Roger, in a car accident several years ago. The life of young 20-something man cut down in his prime. One day, he asked me where his son was now. I looked at him for a long moment and then shrugged. “I don’t know where Roger is, Rusty. I hope he’s in the arms of the Holy.”

Tears began to spring to Rusty’s eyes as he nodded. “That’s the best answer I’ve heard so far,” he said with a smile – a little bit of heaven shining through the river of tears he had already shed. He went on to tell me that some of his good church friends had told him that his son was in hell, because Roger wrecked his truck after ingesting too much alcohol and drugs.

Like Job’s friends before him, Rusty’s friends were certain that Roger must have deserved his punishment. This, Jubilants, is why certainty is dangerous, because when you’re certain, you have no problem telling a father that his son is in hell. Instead, such certainty means you can speak such cruel words and think you’re being loving.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres – Secrets of Strength

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Howard Hanger

The Jesus story we read today (Mark 14:1-9) is one of my absolute favorites. To my mind, it’s one of the most insightful, intriguing and significant of the stories we have of this complicated and mysterious man. This man whose humble strength has endured for two centuries, though his life is forever wrapped in secret.

“It was two days before Passover and the chief priests were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival or there will be a riot among the people.”

So while all those political murder plans are going on, Jesus is – of course having dinner with Simon, a leper, an outcast. I love this man. “As he sat at the table,” the story goes, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she broke open the jar and poured it on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was this ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her.

“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you will always have the poor with you and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could, she has anointed my body before its burial. I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance.”

In other words, this humble, grateful gift of ointment she gave was one of the most powerful and potent events of Jesus life. This gentle and generous gift possessed a strength and intensity that would last through the ages and would be told throughout the world.

What if unassuming, unpretentious and humbly genuine gifts are some of the secrets of strength? Strength for the giver. Strength for the receiver. What if these hunger baskets, for example, are more than simply part of our ritual? What if the act of giving and the food it provides is, indeed, a secret of strength? What if there’s far more going on here than just an exchange of money for food?

So what are the secrets of strength? I don’t know for sure. But, it might well be that the secrets of strength are not found in what we usually consider to be strong: Not in armies and drones, not in political clout and financial influence, not in the loudest voices or the most visible celebrities. It may well be that the secrets of strength are found in dreams and hopes, in giving and receiving, in forgiveness and compassion, in humility and love. And love. And love. And love. Love that is always there.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres: Jesus’ Encore

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 21:1-19), we find our guy with his white chef clothes on, making breakfast for his disciples. The really weird part of this story, however, is that this scene takes place after Jesus’ execution.  The disciples, traumatized after seeing Jesus arrested and led to his death, do what any stressed out guy does … they decide to go fishing.

I doubt the disciples headed out for a fishing trip to relax, though. Instead, they were probably returning to the only life they really knew.

After being out on tour with Jesus and riding the high of a show that changed every life who came in contact with them, they probably felt a little lost. So, they went back to the familiar – their fishing boats.

Only, they didn’t catch a thing – which was probably pretty depressing. After all this time, with the main show over, they couldn’t even go back to their profession.  Then, they see this guy on the shore who asks if they have any fish. “No,” they say dejectedly. Only when they heed this stranger’s advice and toss their nets to the other side do they reel in the big catch.

This is the moment, of course, when they recognize Jesus and rush in to meet him. What does Jesus do? Does he come back in glory to lead a revolution? Does he rile up his disciples to lead that revolution on their own? No. He simply makes breakfast. Not lunch, not dinner, not supper, not even brunch – but breakfast – the most important meal of the day. Jesus may not have known the science, but perhaps he instinctually knew that breakfast can improve concentration and give people more strength and endurance. Jesus knew his followers, both then and now, would need all of those things to keep up their strength for their mission.

In this encore appearance, Jesus uses food as a deep object lesson. Then, just as now, food is the most valuable resource anyone can have – but especially in agrarian societies. There were no Walmarts, or even convenience stores on every corner in Jesus’ society. Food was a prized resource and if you have someone who can feed you – you will follow them anywhere they go and do whatever they say.

This is the power of Jesus’ message to Peter as they take a stroll after breakfast. Jesus asks Peter, three times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter answers, “Yes,” all three times. Perhaps Jesus is giving Peter three chances to repent of those three times he denied Jesus after the crucifixion – but for whatever reason – Jesus’ message to Peter remains his message to us today: “Feed my sheep.”

There is power for anyone who can feed another – whether it’s a literal meal or whether they satisfy our spiritual or mental hunger. Jesus knew that Peter and his friends could start a revolution if they simply remembered the power of feeding other people.

Now, there is much power in our modern times for those who purvey junk food, either in the form of candy or chips – or in the form of junk theology and pseudo-science that  seems to satisfy our hunger, for a little while, but in the long run only sickens and weakens us physically and spiritually. Jesus is warning his disciples, and us, to never feed anyone junk food – that quick and tasty food of easy answers and simple assent to beliefs and creeds.

Instead, we must feed those around us the health food of love, peace, joy, and justice. Just like health food today – people don’t often want that kind of nourishment and will reject it – but Jesus is clear, feed my sheep – and feed them the healthy food of life and compassion.

Jesus invites us to don those fresh white chef clothes and feed breakfast to everyone around, to feed them that most important meal – so they can be strong, and clear-headed, and full to the brim with love and compassion.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres – Changing our Tune

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In both the Hebrew scripture (Jonah 3:1-10) and our Jesus  story (Mark 1:14-20– the message is about repentance – about changing our tune.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, and the prophet Nahum had some choice words for this place, calling it a “city of bloodshed, utterly deceitful.” This was a place that prided itself in plundering and enslaving other nations and worshiping other gods – something Nahum calls “sorcery.” If any place needed to change its tune, it was Nineveh.

So, love comes to town in Nineveh, in the form of a reluctant savior named Jonah. We know his story well – he ran from God’s call to preach repentance to the residents of Nineveh.

He tried to sail away on a ship, but was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. After relenting and going to Nineveh – he gives them a half-hearted prophecy: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

That’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of the people? That’s your message of repentance, Jonah? “You’ve got 40 days, change your tune, or else … well, something bad will happen.” Jonah would make a sad hellfire and brimstone preacher. He didn’t tell them what they’d done wrong. He didn’t preach at them about how badly they treated others or condemned them for chasing after other gods. No, he just said, “Your time’s almost up. Get moving.”

And the thing is … they did. They believed Jonah’s message – they called a fast – they put on sackcloth and changed their tune. From the greatest to the least – from the banker to the beggar – they believed and they repented.

What amazes me about this story is that the repentance of Nineveh was what we could call a grassroots movement. Verse six says, “When the news reached the king, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” He then sent out a decree that all should do the same as an act of repentance, but the king was behind the times. The people had already done that – they didn’t need the king to tell them to repent – they had heard for themselves and moved on their own.

When President Barack Obama was inaugurated for his first term, many liberals – and even many conservatives – expected a lot from him. Some even expected him to work miracles and move this nation very quickly in the direction they’d like to see it move. In some ways, he has done that, but in other ways, he has not accomplished as much as many had hoped, even into his second term. The story of Nineveh, then, is a reminder that often the best way to change this nation – the best way to lead our modern day Nineveh to true repentance – is by changing ourselves.

In this story, the Holy shows us that if we want change – we have to initiate it. By the time the king gets around to sending out a proclamation, or by the time the president signs a law – it will be too late. We cannot wait for the king – or the president – to tell us what kind of changes need to take place in this world. We already know. We’ve already heard the Holy speaking. Love has already come to town and we don’t need a king or a president to tell us to jump that train or catch that plane.

A real change in our tune – a change that improves the lives of everyone from the top 1% to the bottom 99% – doesn’t come from the top down.

If our government has taught us anything, it should be that those at the top are most concerned with those at the top. For real change to come to the least of these – the least of these must be the agents for that change.

If you want the hungry fed, feed them. If you want the homeless housed, house them. If you want equal rights, fight for them. If you want the prisoner visited, go visit them. If you want the naked clothed, clothe them. Don’t wait for a presidential decree or for Congress to pass a law. When love comes to town, the least of these understand their task – there is no “us” and “them” – it’s some of us for all of us.

Jonah’s message to Nineveh is just as urgent for us today. “Your time’s almost up. Change your tune.”

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres: Easter – Songs in the Key of Life

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 20:1-18), we find our guy sparking thousands of years of debate, argument and even executions for heresy among his later followers. What did he do? Well, that, too, is up for some debate.

Some say he awoke, fully humanly alive in his tomb, stretched his limbs, maybe did a few stretches to work out the living dead kinks, and sauntered out of his tomb as a live human being.

Others scoff at such scientifically impossible feats of bodily resurrection and say the whole empty tomb thing is just as story. Theologian John Dominic Crossan believes that Jesus’ body probably suffered the same fate as other crucified criminals – he was fed to the wild dogs that roamed outside Jerusalem.

Others believe all sorts of other things – it was only a spiritual resurrection, Jesus appeared as a ghost – admittedly one that could be touched and could eat breakfast. Others simply shrug and admit they have no idea, but believe Jesus lives on anyway.

No matter where you come down on the debate, the message of Easter is clear – the only way to really live is to get outside of our tombs – to take off our grave clothes, stretch out the kinks of death, and get on with the business of bringing about a new heaven and a new earth.

I admit, as a Christian, and especially as a pastor, Easter has long been a tomb for me. I have always hated having to preach Easter sermons because I can’t affirm a bodily resurrection, but, at the same time many of the other explanations either don’t make sense or don’t satisfy me intellectually or even spiritually. I am among those who can only give the Jubilee salute – a big shrug – to the resurrection. I was not there, so I don’t know exactly what happened.

What I do know is that in that moment, historic or not, God changed the key of life for anyone who would tune in to the music of this divine event. One of the biggest key changes in this passage from John is that the first evangelist was a woman. Something unheard of then, and still unheard of in some circles today! It was Mary who witnessed the empty tomb, and it was Mary who went to those male disciples and told them the good news. It was the male disciples who followed the axiom that President Ronald Reagan would coin centuries later, “Trust but verify.” They didn’t believe Mary. They had to go check for themselves.

The other key change evident in this passage is that often Jesus stands right in front of us and we don’t recognize him. Mary didn’t at first. She thought the man standing outside the tomb was the gardener – someone who probably didn’t merit noticing, let alone speaking to. How many times do we pass by the gardener, the beggar, the needy, or even the enemy, without recognize the face of Jesus in each one of them?

When we refuse to see Jesus in people we deem below us, or other than us, how many times do we nail Jesus to the cross all over again? Jesus didn’t die for our sins, Jubilants, Jesus died because of them, and we kill him all over again every time we refuse to rise from our own tombs of our of privilege, our own tombs of comfort, our own tombs of stuff, our own tombs of security, or our own tombs of certainty.

It is in resurrection that we find ultimate hope and grace. This is the ultimate key change because it offers us the knowledge that all is not lost, that we can rise above our base, violent nature and ascend to a point of grace where we can no longer tolerate seeing hate break so many hearts. In that moment, we are reborn and we realize that divine  love is always  in need of our flawed, human love. Don’t delay, Jubilants, send yours in right away.

Breathe deeply.

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