Not a cup of Christmas cheer.

Sometimes the cup in front of us is not full of delight.

Jesus ate one last meal with his disciples, talking about bread and wine. He taught them one last time, around the table, walking out of Jerusalem, across a small valley, up a hill. They walked past vineyards on their way to Gethsemane. Jesus looked at the branches and vines and talked about staying connected and bearing fruit.

When he left the disciples and went further into the garden to pray, it is little wonder that he talked about a cup: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

When talking about the cup of wine a few hours earlier, it was a means of life. Taking the cup in what we now call Communion is the acceptance of an agreement. It was the cup the bride drank to accept the groom’s offer of engagement. It was a cup of hope and promise.

When he described how branches have life when they are connected to the vine, it was a description of relationship. The commitment started with the cup is lived out in the growing vine.

But the promise and relationship rested in a cup of willingness. As he talked with his dad, Jesus found an image to describe the pain that was coming in the next hours. Being betrayed, being abandoned, being scourged, being crucified, all were familiar images to him. As a man he had walked by criminals dying. As God he knew the pain of broken relationships. All of that reality needed a simple way to talk about the choice.

And he found the image in a cup, drained to the dregs. And a phrase.

As you wish. Thy will be done.

 

bread. and wine.

Take all the preparation we make for Christmas. All the shopping, all the chopping, all the planning, all the worrying, all the harvesting and blending and decorating and redecorating. Take all of the secrets and surprises, the dreams and the doubts and despair and delight.

It all comes down to a very simple meal around a simple table, bread and wine and a dozen friends.

We expand our gift-giving as wide as we can afford, and two steps past. Yet in our efforts to express our love, or at least our attentiveness, we never can spend as much as the bread cost for that simple meal.

And we explode our senses with color. Balls and bells, lights and fabric. Nothing is as vivid as the deep purple of the wine, or the crimson of the blood which lies behind it.

There is no either/ or about these images, I don’t think. Bright colors and elaborate feasts on one hand, flatbread and new wine on the other. One is not more spiritually elite than the other, one is not more divinely humble. I am convinced that when Jesus said that he was offering abundant life, he was serious. And when he ate huge feasts with newly repentant friends, with curious acquaintances,  and even with spiteful critics, he delighted in the relationships and the food.

But when we pursue the riches as a replacement for the simple feast, we will stay hungry. And when we think we don’t need bread and wine, body and blood, and when our life is marked by not thy will but mine, we miss the meal that heals and feeds.

I know that that the first Easter came after the first Christmas. But the first Easter has reframed Christmas from mere wondering to sheer wonder at love’s gift.

 

Nine decades.

tomNinety years ago yesterday, Tom Kies was born. He doesn’t own the farm where he was born any more, but his grandson does. He doesn’t drive the combine anymore, but he rode along for many hours this fall. He lost his wife of sixty-four years in September. When family and some friends gathered last night, he was the oldest one in the room.

I’ve known him for 32 of those years. I met him because I was planning to marry one of his daughters. He accepted me, and I him. We always shake hands when we see each other and when we part. He has a very strong handshake.

He also has strong concern for the wellbeing of his clan. Sometimes that concern comes out as cranky. But I think that he’s trying to say “I love you” when he tells us to be careful or to watch a certain network or to be careful with our money.

He’s waiting for the end of his part of the story. As well as he can for someone who is ninety.

While I was thinking about what it must be like to always be the oldest one around, I thought about Simeon and Anna. They both saw Jesus when he was an infant. We know that Anna was 84 when she saw Jesus. We don’t know how old Simeon was. They both hung around the temple, waiting for something. They were waiting for hope, they were hoping that the wait wasn’t pointless.

Tom and Simeon and Anna kept living one breath in front of another. They kept, and keep, listening for God. As Tom said tonight after I prayed for the meal, “Thank you for these ninety years.” It was a quiet prayer, like Anna’s and Simeon’s. But that’s Advent. Waiting thankfully for what comes next.

Seeking.

Luke 12:13-31

I’m thinking a lot about food these days.

I’m trying to understand the healthiest way to eat as I train to run further. The more miles I run each week, the more I need to think about what to eat after running, what to eat before running, what to eat on off days. I need to consider how much sugar, how the mixture of carbs and protein and fats might be different now than when I started my weight loss journey a few years back.

And I think about clothing. I’m wearing out shoes differently. I need to consider layers for different temperatures. When I go running at 20 degrees, I need different fabrics than running at 50 degrees.

When we work toward a goal, when we have a specific purpose, when we are changing our identify, we think differently about basics. We examine everything. And we may talk about the new things so much that people around us get tired of hearing  us.

It’s possible to get consumed talking about the food and the clothing. And to spend all our time and money on the best food, the newest clothing, the best storage systems.

Somewhere, I think we cross a line from preparation to accumulation. Acquisition becomes more important than the living.

So Jesus refocuses us: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”

And he says, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Remind me when you get tired of hearing about running.

The inconvenient dinner guest

Luke 14:1-24

I’m guessing that you know the feeling. You walk into a party, into the dinner, into the gathering. You know that everyone is watching you.

I’m not talking about insecurity or shyness. I mean that everyone actually is watching you. It’s a job interview. It’s the first time together with family after a death or disturbance. It’s a visit to your competitor’s headquarters.

Common sense says that you are politically correct, that you find common ground, that you smile. Common sense says that you don’t stick your finger in someone’s eyes, literally or figuratively.

Unless you are Jesus.

If you are Jesus and you go to a Sabbath meal at the house of a Pharisee, you stop in front of a sick man. His body is swollen. He needs help. You look up at the leaders walking with you. You say, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Crickets.

They aren’t going to help you. So you heal the man and send him on home. You ask them a question to discern what kinds of work may be allowable on the Sabbath. If your ox fell into a well, jeopardizing your livelihood, could you do help it? If your son fell into a well, crying out for help, could you drop a rope in to rescue him?

Crickets.

The whole meal was like that. The religious leaders were watching him, and he was asking all the questions, telling all the story problems, upsetting all the social norms.

  • Who should have the best seat?
  • Why not invite people who can’t invite you back?
  • What if you bring in people from the streets rather than the people with polite excuses for not coming?

Trying to trap Jesus usually left you trapped yourself. Right before he offered freedom.

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You can still order A Great Work in time for Christmas.