Archive for the 'Ordinary Time' Category

Proper 15, Hebrews 12:1-3

March 25, 2013

Historical Description: 

In 1999, Antony Gormley’s sculpture was completed.  Quantum Cloud had been commissioned as a piece that would complement the newly constructed Millennium Dome in London, England.  This sculpture is 30 meters tall, contains 5.5km of galvanized steel, and weighs nearly 50 metric tons.  What is most impressive about this piece is not the size or the weight but rather the science and engineering it took to complete it.  Gormley worked with various and randomly oriented steel sections, implementing geometry and trigonometry, to shape this massive work of art.  Overall, Gormley used 325 tetrahedral units to finish the piece, giving birth to many websites and articles describing in detail all the math and science that went into this complex sculpture.

Yet, in the midst of all of the math and in spite of the complex enormity of this piece, what naturally draws viewers is the faint image of a person in the midst of the chaos of metal.

Devotional Reflection:

What kind of things are complicating your vision in your life?  Through the distractions and distress, the complexity of life, it is very easy to lose sight of our creator and redeemer.  Every word of anger or lustful thought can cloud our vision of who our saving grace is that shapes us and makes us perfect.

At times, it is as if we look at our life and see metal sticking out in random patterns.  Our lives, like this sculpture, can remind us of the dangers and temptations of our world.  We see a planned effort by the Devil and the world to tear us down physically, mentally, and most importantly spiritually.  Yet, if you look closely at this sculpture, what stands in the middle of all the tetrahedral units and galvanized steel of this piece is a body, a man to be more specific.  In designing this sculpture Gormley used his own likeness to create the human form in the middle of this cloud.  So, as people walk by this Quantum Cloud, the creator of the piece reveals his image through the complex construction of the metal.

Scripture seems to show us over and over again that God uses strange and oftentimes messed up people to carry out His will.  These people, although not perfectly molded or formed, were used by God to accomplish great things and give glory back to their creator.  The book of Hebrews actually gives us a list of these people in chapter 11, known commonly as “the heroes of faith” chapter.  We are shown Moses, an ordinary man chosen by God, leading God’s people out of slavery in Egypt by faith to the Promised Land.  After the author gives us this impressive list of ordinary people we are shown something greater.  We find out in Hebrews 12:1-3 that we are reminded of these faith role models because they actually testify to someone greater than themselves.  These spiritual hall of famers, that could easily draw a fan club of their own, are actually just a cloud that point us to their creator, our God.  This cloud of witnesses help paint a picture of who God is and how he works.  God acts in and through their lives and through them we are given a glimpse of Him.  This cloud of witnesses is actually meant to be an encouragement to Christians as they try to live out their faith in their daily life.  By showing us who God is we are encouraged to run with endurance the race that is set before us.

This cloud of witnesses is meant to be an encouragement to us as we run the race with perseverance.  They encourage us by giving us a picture of God, if only through their lives and struggles.  Not only do we draw encouragement from this but we also begin to recognize our place in the cloud.  We are encouraged, as we look back at our lives, to trust that Christ is present in all circumstances.  Even at times to see the faint trace of his person and work.  By grace, we are part of the cloud of witnesses that help people see Christ.  We testify to who God is just as the heroes of faith have done throughout history.  So when life in all of its stresses, frustrations, and fears starts to cloud your vision, focus your eyes again on the great cloud of witness.  Focus on them not because of what they have done or how great they are but rather because their lives point to your God.  They testify to Jesus Christ who is the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  He has authored all of our days, as clouded and complex as they may seem.  He is in the midst of our lives giving us strength and hope for each day.  Christ is the perfector of our faith as He shapes and molds us through our lives and the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.  Through all these things we are made more like Him, which will be fully realized on the Last Day when Christ comes to make all things new.

Proper 12, Luke 11:1-13

March 25, 2013

Historical Description:  

Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987) is most known for his painting of “pop art” in the 1960s. He is known for paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, dollar bills, and many other iconic images. The Campbell’s Soup Can is one of those iconic images. For a movement of art that appeared to be anything but art, Warhol and pop art has remained influential.

This unassuming painting of a Campbell’s Soup Can blurs the line of art and the world. Warhol painted many soup cans from Tomato to Onion to a scene of 100 Campbell’s cans. Recently Campbell’s has sold soup with Warhol designs as its labels.

Devotional Reflection:

When you look at anything by Andy Warhol for the first time, you might exclaim, “This isn’t art!” The Campbell’s Soup Can is just the image that might evoke displeasure, an anticlimactic feeling, or utter disdain. A painting like this is so simple it seems anyone could paint it. The simple Campbell’s Soup Can that could sit behind the closed cabinet doors of a kitchen is presented on a canvas. This is just the sort of thing that makes art strange for so many people. How can this be art? Whether it hangs in a gallery, is ridiculed in a museum, or is viewed on the internet there is a simplicity, a whimsical allure, to the work of Andy Warhol.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples ask. It is such a simple request and Jesus offers simplicity in his answer. The prayer he gives to his disciples is unassuming and straightforward.

There is no question that this is a prayer indeed. But how did the disciples not know how to pray? Before we hear Jesus’ answer to the disciples, we might listen and hear overtones of other prayers.  We could overhear disciples praying like the Pharisees, we could consider the temple rituals of the Sadducees, or even the total ignorance of the pagan world may come to mind. In contrast to these people and these prayers, Jesus offers a simple act of prayer.

This prayer is near and dear to the Christian community. Yet at times it seems too simple to be a real act of prayer. Praying for daily bread might seem trite to some.  Particularly in a world where our basic needs are typically met. Praying short petitions seems rote and disingenuous in contrast to long prayers and meditations of the heart. This prayer, however, calls us into a world where the simple has beauty, and where the mundane has divine significance. Jesus leaves little to wonder, but much to appreciate when he teaches his disciples about prayer.

What we are left wondering is not whether hallowing God’s name is important, or if forgiveness of sins is essential, or even if we should pray for God’s kingdom to come. Those things make sense in a faithful prayer.  But daily bread?  What does that have to do with the kingdom of God?   If we are not careful we may treat this teaching like some treat Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can, as different from and not relevant to the world of art.  So this petition about daily bread is not connected to the larger richer experience of the kingdom of God.  The simplicity of Jesus’ words can cause us not to see the complexity of his petitions, how praying for daily bread can relate to the kingdom, can relate to something like helping the needy around us as a manifestation of God’s work or his love.

A simple soup can.  It reminds us not just to pray for our own daily food from the gracious hand of our heavenly Father but to recognize the fullness of the kingdom of God. We pray these words because God promises to hear our prayers. But we also live these words.  Our lives become this prayer in action as Jesus calls us into a sacrificial love for neighbor that is simple and unassuming. Drive around the city.  Watch as this prayer reminds you that giving to the poor and needy is part of the kingdom.

Dismissing the simple things, or even not asking for them in prayer, is like dismissing Warhol’s simple artwork. There is more to the kingdom of God. For this reason, Jesus teaches us to pray, and by praying to seek his kingdom, this simple and unassuming kingdom present in our world.