Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The pride of Frankenstein

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8
            Sometimes the movie is disappointing because it’s nothing like the book.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  As a kid, I saw Frankenstein in black-and-white, the horror movie from 1931 with Boris Karloff playing the monster.  If he had said a word in that movie, I would have recognized the actor’s voice as that of the Grinch from the Christmas cartoon.  But no, the monster in that movie, with a body patched together from parts of corpses and the brain of a murderer, could not speak. 
            This year, the original novel Frankenstein which would become the basis for dozens of horror movies, turns 200.  Written in 1818 by an 18 year old Mary Shelley, you could say it was the runaway monster hit of the time.  I read through the book this month expecting to find Igor and the scientist capturing the power of lightning in the lab, expecting the same silent creature with the flat head and bolts in his neck, the same simple plot of hapless humans trying to destroy a murderous monster.  But I found that the book is much different from the movie.
            Far from being a simple horror story, Frankenstein the book is considered by some the first true work of science fiction.  It points towards a future where humans are able to harness the very forces of life – to create it through technology.  Questions that we face today about the ability to modify genes, to clone living beings and develop new species, to grow organs and tissues in labs, to do research that may have unsafe consequences for society… are all related to this 200 year old tale. 
            The fact that the first play based on the book was called “Presumption,” gives us a clue to the book’s foundational theme.  The original Frankenstein shows us how our use of technology is a moral issue.  In creating a living being, Victor Frankenstein has taken on godlike power without godlike wisdom or compassion.  What about our own use of technology -- just because we can do something amazing, should we?  Is it right to play around with forces of creation which we can’t control?  What is going through the head and the heart of someone who creates a monster? 
            There is no Igor in the book.  The monster is the creation of one man, working alone in his lab.  He tells no one what he has done, not even his bride-to-be whose life is clearly threatened by the creature.  This monster can talk, and has a lot to tell his creator.  He tells him how lonely he is, how he is constantly rejected because of his ugliness, and how much he longs for a single companion.  Despite so many signs of humanity in the creature, the scientist rejects his pleas and treats him as an outsider to the human race.  It is not hard to understand why the creature would resort to violence and threats to get his way, nor is it hard to see the scientist who created him as the real monster in this story.
            Like the novel Frankenstein, the Book of Revelation uses images of monsters and violence to portray the presumptions of humanity.  It was written for a community that felt overwhelmed by the chaos of the world.  Presumptuous Roman Emperors were declaring themselves gods on earth, and demanding worship from all their subjects.  Armies were invading sacred lands and symbols of earthly powers were set up in holy places.  The very lives of those who resisted the power of the Empire were up for grabs as leaders turned persecution into a public policy. 
            But above all the chaos, a voice echoes: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” – the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  This Jesus declares at the beginning (Rev. 1:8) and the end (Rev. 22:12) of the book.  This is the truth that we can be sure of, despite the rumbling earthquakes and wild hurricane winds that try to frighten and unsettle us.  We can trust the word of Jesus over that of any other words people throw at us.  We can know his love is with us no matter how we are rejected by the rest of the world.  We can be sure that all the power and might of Almighty God is with him, even if it is hidden in gentleness and the way of the cross. 
            Our Lenten journey on Sundays this month takes us through the “I ams” of Jesus.  These are statements he made to reassure us that he is there for us in many ways, protecting us from evil and leading us to God.  He told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:1-12);   He tells his disciples, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18); He tells us He is the Light of the World (John 9:13-39), the Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-8), the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), and the Bread of Life (John 6:41-51).  Finally on Easter, we hear his pronouncement to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:1-27).
            It is this promise that pulls us forward through Lent and lights up the darkness of the world’s chaos.  It is the life Jesus gives that brings us into God’s community and turns us restless creatures into children of God.  Easter makes it known that God is in control, that death does not have the last word, and that our present struggles have purpose and meaning.  Jesus gives us strength to carry on to carry his message of hope through this presumptuous world.  We hope you will join us in worship this season as he gives us the means to know our true creator and experience the true life he gives. 

Peace,
Pastor Scott

Monday, February 5, 2018

Hearts and ashes

“But the greatest of these is love” – 1 Corinthians 13
            Valentine’s Day can be difficult enough without throwing Ash Wednesday in.  Whether you’re struggling to find a meaningful gift that somehow, in some way expresses your unique and always-new love to your significant other, or are enduring the pain of a lost companion, or feeling left out of the holiday as a single person, Valentine’s Day by itself can press down on us with its load of hard-to-meet expectations.
            Now pile on one more thing: this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are the same day.  How much more can two days differ?  That holy day of ashy gray and graveside black, of remembering we are and will return to dust clashes about as much as it is possible to clash with the pink hearts and red cards and sugary candy and saccharine sentiments of our national Hallmark holiday.  So how do we handle the dilemma of this ambivalent commencement to Lent?
            Paradox: it means holding 2 opposing things to be true at the same time, and somehow being ok with it.  If Luther was right and the Christian faith is full of paradox, then maybe there is no real dilemma here at all.  After all, we believe in a man who was born from a virgin, a man who was  human but also God, who beat the devil by being defeated, saving the world by losing his life, destroying death by dying, and then leading his people by leaving them and going into heaven.  We worship him by eating his body which is also bread and drinking his blood which happens to be wine, so we can find true forgiveness while still remaining sinners.  Christians should be really good at paradox.
            When we think about Lent, that 40 days of following Jesus as he makes his way to the cross…we’re often hard on ourselves.  We consider our sinfulness, and usually think about depriving ourselves of something nice, or being more disciplined and thoughtful.  We try to minimize our own sense of worthiness to remind ourselves how undeserving we are of Christ’s love.  Maybe all that self-reflection sometimes gets in the way of what Lent is really about – that pathway of love that led Jesus to the cross in the first place.  Jesus did what He did out of love for you.  He looks at you and sees a beloved child of God.  
            So maybe it’s not so much of a paradox after all.  Maybe it makes good Lenten sense to think about all those Valentine’s clich├ęs, the messages on the little candy hearts: “Dear One,” “You Rock,” “Love U,”  “Be Mine.”  After all, it was Jesus who said, “…love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12).  If you travel with your eyes open, the path of Lent will show you just how dear you are to him, and how much he wants you to be his.
            This year our Lenten worship will take two separate tracks – the Wednesday night services will carry this Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day tie-in through the whole season with our “Lent is Love” series.  Each evening on the Wednesdays of Lent we will give away a magnetic puzzle piece to every worshiper, which together will form a beautiful image of Jesus.  In worship each week we will examine a different aspect of God’s love and a different verse from “the love chapter” 1 Corinthians 13.  Though we’re used to hearing those verses only at weddings, they have to do with the unique love God gives each of us, a love he expects us to share with others.
            Our Sunday services will take a different track, as we follow along with the Lenten devotional You Are the Way.  These small booklets contain readings for every day of the Lenten season, and focus on the “I am” statements of Jesus.  The “I am” passages give us hints and clues as to who Jesus is for us individually and as members of His Church.  The You Are the Way devotionals will be our guide through this season.  You may order one from Augsburg here.

            Now in addition to the three services each weekend, we will also have midweek Lenten services starting Ash Wednesday.  There are more ways than ever to make your way to the light of Easter’s empty tomb here at Atonement.  We hope you will find a path this Lent that leads you closer to the one who gave us the greatest love of all – Jesus, our Lord.
Peace,
Pastor Scott