Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Lent - 3/25/07

Orientation…disorientation…new orientation.  That’s how WB classifies the Psalms.  He contends that the Psalms represent ancient Israel’s dialogue with God through all the times of life, all the emotions of life, good and bad and in between.   The psalms cover it all even if in church all we ever hear are the nice ones.  There are times for the nice ones, times of orientation meaning basically that God is in heaven and all’s right with the world.  What’s called for then is praise and thanksgiving because the world works; things are the way they are supposed to be, creation’s in order, so Psalm 150, “Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him all his angels; praise him all his host!” 

But sometimes that’s not the way it is; stuff happens (Walter used a different word) and the result is disorientation because the order of our world isn’t what we want it to be and those become times of lament and complaint, “My God my God; why have your forsaken me, (Ps 22) until finally out of the lament of disorientation, we are brought to a new orientation, not a return to the old, but something new.  Today’s Psalm 126 would be an example of new orientation as the people have returned from exile so there is the opportunity for new laughter, new shouts of joy.

This is the pattern of the psalms because this is the pattern of life and it is the pattern of an honest relationship with the God who wants to be in relationship with us.  It’s a natural cycle, a healthy cycle actually even though we don’t like the times of disorientation, but it’s a cycle that we go through and then repeat and repeat again, but what Walter says is that too often, especially as Christians, we fight the natural cycle.  Sometimes it’s because we deny the times of disorientation, feeling like we have to pretend that everything’s OK when we know it’s not, so while we may offer lament and complaint to each other, we don’t offer it to God because we think we have to praise God no matter what.  The trouble is, what that does is it just keeps us in disorientation or leaves us trying to go backwards to the old orientation, trying to go back to the past that is that is familiar and comfortable rather than opening ourselves to something new which is what faith calls for.

Maybe it’s because I have Brueggemann on the brain, but it occurs to me that our faith life with Jesus follows, or ought to follow this same pattern of orientation, disorientation, new orientation.  I think most of the time we want to think about the nice, comforting Jesus, the Jesus of orientation, Jesus the Good Shepherd, things like that, and that’s OK, some of the time, maybe even most of the time.  Jesus can be and is an agent of orientation.  But especially during Lent, especially as we draw closer to the end of Lent, it’s important to think about Jesus as an agent of disorientation moving us toward new orientation.  The disorientation created by Jesus’ actions and teachings may not be exactly like the disorientation of the psalms that tends to be about physical issues of illness or exile or alienation or abandonment, but it’s still disorientation and we must engage it because that’s where an honest engagement with the text takes us. 

If you think about Jesus’ life and ministry in general, wherever he went, pretty amazing things happened; the sick were healed, crippled people walked, the blind were restored to sight, miracles happened!  In the eyes of most people, these are good things, but they’re still disorienting.  They would raise questions about a lot of things you were pretty sure were true. 

Think for a moment about the context of today’s lesson.  Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead.  Talk about disorientation!  He’d been dead for four days, now he’s alive and you have to think that word would spread pretty quickly; but whoever you are, when you get wind of this, it has to be disorienting.  There would those who would be very happy about this turn of events, especially Lazarus, Mary and Martha, his friends but still, it’s so far beyond the boundaries that it had to be a little scary. 

There would also be the crowds of people who were following Jesus who would be enthused hearing about this, their curiosity piqued perhpas, asking questions, maybe wanting Jesus to go to the graves of their loved ones, rethinking what is possible, enthused, but also confused, not sure what exactly is going on.   There would be those in power who would dismiss it as a hoax, just peasants out in the country easily duped, but they’d also have to wonder how far they could let the talk go before they would have to bring some order to possible disorder.  However you look at, you’re talking about disorientation here, and Jesus is the cause of it.

In other lessons we’ve had during Lent Jesus has provided images of grace, like in the Prodigal Son last week, and grace is a good thing.  But it’s also disorienting because a life centered on grace is going to look different.  In the first week of Lent Jesus went toe to toe with the devil and won, which we’re thankful for, but it’s also a revelation that the way of Jesus, the kingdom of Jesus isn’t built around the usual power structures and it isn’t built around our inclination to be most concerned about ourselves.  The devil tempted Jesus with things representing the usual order, but Jesus said no.  He was an agent of disorientation then and with his teachings about the kingdom, he still is.

Now granted, there are other ways to read these texts, other slants that you can put on them, but I have to think that during Lent they are intended to disorient us, not so that they can leave us there, but to move us toward the new orientation of Easter.  But first, look at the response to disorientation of the two main characters in today’s lesson.  You’ve got Mary (not Mary Jesus’ mother, but Mary the sister of Martha) and you’ve got Judas.  What Mary does is to perform an act of worship.  She anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair.  It is an act of worship and awe in the presence of the holy.  I don’t think Mary had anything figured out at this point except that in Jesus something different was going on.  She didn’t understand it, but she didn’t have to.  She was still in disorientation, but she wasn’t going back to what was old and familiar.  In worship and awe, she was ready for newness; she was open to the possibilities.

Most of the commentators see Judas as the anti-Mary in this story.  The text makes mention of his dishonest motives, but I almost think that doesn’t matter so much.  Even if his motives were sincere, he’s still wasn’t seeing the difference of Jesus.  Mary’s world was being changed such that she just had to extend herself in worship.  For Judas, he wasn’t letting the disorientation of Jesus effect him.  For him, it was still business as usual.

You can’t get to the new orientation without acknowledging and working through the disorientation.  For Brueggemann that includes the revelation of what he calls a salvation oracle, some word or experience or person that breaks through the disorientation and brings clarity and insight. In some of the psalms this salvation oracle is fairly clear; again in today’s Ps 126 return from exile seems to be the salvation oracle.  Some of the psalms though, go through verse after verse of complaint and then suddenly in the next verse, the tone shifts to praise and thanksgiving for no apparent reason.  Walter’s explanation is that between the lines there must be a salvation oracle; something changed.

The thing about Jesus, while he can be and ought to be a source of disorientation sometimes, he is also our salvation oracle.  Starting next Sunday, we dramatically enact liturgically this pattern of orientation, disorientation and new orientation in the services of Holy Week.  On Palm Sunday we have orientation as Jesus seems to be on the path to glory, in charge, everything’s OK, apparently the triumphant messiah people were hoping for.  As we shift to the Passion Sunday gospel we hear the rest of the story too, but it’s not really until Maundy Thursday and Good Friday that we ritualize the disorientation especially with the stripping of the altar on Thursday and the increasing darkness of the Friday Tenebrae service.

Maybe it’s during the Easter Vigil, maybe during the quiet overnight hours of the all night vigil that we start to sense the salvation oracle, things beginning to change, we begin to sense the fact that disorientation doesn’t rule.  Then we have the salvation oracle of Easter morning; the beginning of new orientation in the Risen Christ.  At that point we kind of join Mary at a point where in awe, all we can do is offer worship and praise, probably like her not understanding it all, but believing, ready for the new life that is offered.

We’re not there yet.  We know it’s coming and that’s good, but to really get there we have to fully experience the disorientation of Lent and especially the disorientation of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Sometimes we don’t want to go there, we prefer to deny the disorientation, skip Holy Week and jump to Easter, but it’s all part of the process.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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