Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Isaiah: Pastor, Poet, and Prophet for the Present Moment

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Isaiah 55:2

Wow, Isaiah, way to cut to the chase here. 

This might be one of the most prophetic lines in all of scripture.  It might be the one that makes us feel the most uncomfortable.  We know today that we are far too busy.  We know that we worship at the altar of "perpetual motion".  We know that so much of our identity is caught up in what we've accomplished, degrees that hang on our walls, awards sit on the shelf saying, "You are someone."

What happens when the calendar is blank and bare?
What happens when our bodies won't let us keep moving at such a frantic, frenzied pace?
What happens when the degrees and awards just collect dust and their shine suddenly doesn't seem so bright?


Isaiah...a little less bright light on the brokenness of our lives.

This could be where the church usually says, "Try hard!"  Or tells us, "You've missed the point."  Which is exactly the exact opposite of what I think Isaiah is getting at here.

Not guilt...grace.

Not do more...come to church....give more....but rather stop.  Cease.  Breathe.  Be.

The Sabbath has always been sacred not because God said so...although She did.  The Sabbath is sacred because for one day we are called to just breathe and be.  My lament about the loss of Blue Law isn't that attendance has dropped in church.  Rather, it is that we have given ourselves permission and even the expectation that we cannot stop!  My lament of the loss of Blue Laws is that we have forgotten how to be bored!

If you want Exhibit A that people cannot stand to be bored - study people standing in line.  They are all staring down at their phones.  No longer does a trip to the store have to be frustrating, because you can multitask and check your email.  No longer do you have to strike up a conversation with the person standing behind you, because you can check into Facebook instead. 

I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says about the Sabbath: "For one day a week be good for nothing."  Not that we are unworthy or worms...rather that we are so beautiful and mysteriously made that we if don't stop.  Breathe.  Be.  We will miss it.

This is one of those posts that challenge me the most.  I love to be busy.  I worship at the altar of perpetual motion.   A full calendar is proof that I am needed, necessary.  But, in these still small moments of letting Isaiah's prophetic words sit on my soul, I wonder why?  Why race and run around?  Why move so fast that my soul can't keep up? 

Those questions don't have easy answers.  Yet, God comes to us in human form, to remind us that there is another way.  So today, breathe and be.  Sit in a chair for as long as you can...then sit for another two minutes.

Laugh at something silly.

Listen for God's laughter in your life.



And may there be more than a trace of God's grace on this Sabbath Wednesday for you.

Blessings ~~

Monday, December 10, 2018

Isaiah: Pastor, Poet, and Prophet for the Present Moment

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Isaiah 55:1

If I was to add one more defining description to Isaiah...and keeping with my beautiful alliteration above....I would use the word, "paradoxical".  Isaiah never met a paradox he didn't want to play with.

Isaiah 2 - everyone comes to the mountain...and everyone means everyone.  That person who annoys you?  Yup.  The family member whose politics is different and always pushes your button?  S/he is there too.  The person who cut in-front of you in the line yesterday?  Probably trying to do it again at the mountain.  We struggle with the "all" part of "y'all come".   We'd rather divided ourselves into our carefully constructed tribes.  People who think like us...or at least we think they think like us...because when we dig deeper maybe they want medical care for all but in a slightly different path way...suddenly we have to confront that we are not as similar as we thought.  See how "y'all" is a paradox?

Isaiah 9 - lion and lamb laying down together?  Seriously, Isaiah, learn a little Darwin here!  That lamb isn't safe.  That lamb needs to get out of there before the lion realizes like the shark in Finding Nemo that mantas like, "Fish are friends not food"...might not help with your stomach is growling. 

Every single post in this series has a built in paradox...a world turned upside down.  A tension that won't be easily resolves.  Comfort people in exile is like comforting someone in the emergency room.  Singing a new song when you are stressed, strained, and in a strange climate...isn't when we are at our most creative...thank you very much.

And what about this one above?  A feast you don't have to pay for?  A table where everyone is welcome without bringing any money?  What kind of business model is that?  One doomed to failure!  One that cannot last very long!

Yet, at the heart of the Christian faith is the sacrament of communion, when these words stop being something from the distant and disconnected a tactile and tangible moment ~~ glimpse of God's grace.  Communion is partaking of food you did not did not prepare...and for which you will not receive a bill.  Communion is a gift of grace.  For grace to be grace it needs to be unconditional.  Grace comes to us freely so that we might freely receive. 

I love that the first word of this past is "Ho"...not as in the Santa "Ho, ho, ho".  Rather it is the Hebrew word, "Hoy".  It means, " attention."  We tune and turn our ears because what God is saying at this meal...both in the time of Isaiah and today at this is the way the world is supposed to work/look.  Forget what Adam Smith said...forget that commercial on t.v. about buying your spouse a new car as the best Christmas present ever.  Yet, to let go of that, is very vulnerable.  It challenges us because we have based and built our entire life on these systems.  Work hard and you'll be rewarded.  A penny saved is a penny earned. 

Scripture seems intention on dismantling those very things we hold dear.

Or put another way, to paraphrase Thomas Merton, "We can spend our whole lives climbing a ladder, only to reach the top, and realize it was on the wrong wall."

Or put another, God comes to us in a vulnerable tiny infant.  Not a powerful prince...or Zeus throwing lightening bolts...or with decrees and demands of what to belief.  An infant - meek and mild - and there was no room for that child.  And the question remains - do we have room for the One who will totally disrupt - interrupt - our ways of thinking and being in the world?  If we do...come on y'all...there is a feast set for all of us.

May there be a trace of grace in your life that holds lightly the beautiful paradoxes of life today.

Blessings ~~

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Poem of Hope

The more I think about hope...the more I return to this beautiful poem by Jane Kenyon.  I believe she sees a trace of God's grace in the beautiful ordinary of the every day.  Perhaps that is where hope hangs out and hovers.  Perhaps hope is there in the corner, waiting for us to notice that the course of our life dances with delight deep within as hope beckons us to come and play.  In what ways does Kenyon's poem describe or define what hope might be in your life?

Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
 I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Isaiah: Prophet, Pastor, and Poet for this Present Moment

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth!  Isaiah 42:10

If you want to stir the pot amid the people of God...try singing a new song.  Where the words and melody are unfamiliar.  Where the rhythm is on the off-beat.  Where people bumble and stumble their way through...only to sit down frustrated and flummoxed.

We say that to sing is to pray twice.  So perhaps that is why singing new songs feels frustrating.  We want our prayers to be eloquent...well rehearsed....believing God prefers it that way.  But when was the last time you did something for the first time perfectly?

Try never.

The first time you fell.
The first time you wrote your name...the "e" was backwards.
The first time I preached a sermon...well let's just say I have tried to learn from my mistakes.

Maybe singing a new song is about trying and testing out a different way of connecting with God.  Maybe singing a new song is about a different chord and harmony that leads us to sense the stirring spirit with renewed passion.
Maybe singing a new song isn't about one and done...but tuning and turning our lives toward God here and now.

As the classic cliche goes...even Amazing Grace was a new hymn at one point.

We need new ways to pray and praise God, because today is different than yesterday and tomorrow will not be the same.  Yes, some of the past will continue to guide us with grace.  But love and grace is constantly/continually evolving to meet us in the present.  So, it makes sense something new will stir within us. 

That is why I love to listen to new music and hymns.  Not everything I hear gets repeated and replayed...sometimes hearing something once is enough.  But other new music...keeps inviting and inspiring me.  Some new music awakens something deep within me...and hope rises.  One of my favorite new Advent carols is below.  I share it with you in the spirit of Isaiah that our souls might cry out with a joyful shout.  I pray you hear more than a trace of God's grace in these words.

Blessings ~~

Monday, December 3, 2018

Isaiah: Prophet, Pastor, and Poet for the Present Moment

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching  Isaiah 42:1-4

Hope can often be confused or conflated with optimist...or positive/wishful thinking...or looking on the bright side.  Yet, hope is deeper than just nice thoughts.  Often when we say we hope something will happen, we are attempting to express a deep desire.  Hope, like a north star, will guide us in a particular direction and point our toes toward that which we are passionate.  Hope lives inside each of us.

So, what do you hope for?  In your life, your relationships, your community, and the world?  Hope is expansive...always enlarging.  Hope is elusive...won't be confined or contain in what we can control.  Hope stirs, swirls, and sings.

I love the above poem from Isaiah 42.  Remember, these words were probably spoken to people in exile...out on the edge...having been captured by a foreign empire.  Isaiah says God will put God's spirit upon one who causes God's soul to delight.  A spirit...a strength...something deep.  Just like hope.  The spirit will bring about justice for all people.  The way the spirit will do this is not through might makes right...but in keeping with the theme/thread of Isaiah from the beginning...with peaceful means.

Perhaps this is why hope can be so difficult for us to hold onto in such a time as this.  When we are passionate about something, we can cling to it so tightly our knuckles turn white and we leave finger nail marks in our desire.  When we want something to happen, we can pour every ounce of energy and effort.  Nothing crushes what we call, "hope" more than when things don't happen according to our plans and time schedule.  Yet, perhaps hope wants to get out ahead of us.  Hope wants to turn left despite our desire to go right.  And when we prefer our way to the guidance/grounding of the spirit, that is when we, like the Israelites under Moses, wander in the wilderness of life.

We need to name our hopes...but hold them lightly.
We need to notice what is stirring within us...but also nudging us in ways that seem counter intuitive.
We need to let hope sing out to us...especially when our ears are clogged.

May there be more than a trace of grace...and a hearty helping of hope in your life in these dwindling days of December.

Blessings ~~

Friday, November 30, 2018


Hold: A Poem
By Gowri Koneswaran

we’re taught to hold hands
when we cross the street
or walk with our mothers in parking lots or
navigate crowds with a friend and
don’t want to end up alone

hold hands with whomever is closest
when the power goes out
when the sirens scream near
when the moving of men marches
silences into the corner

hold hands when
they come calling,
when they threaten,
“this is necessary to
teach you a lesson” or
“this is necessary
to protect you”

hold hands when we stand still,
when we walk, when
we run
when they tell us to
when they tell us
to do anything

hold hands when we
fall from the sky,
with or without parachute
when we leap from tall buildings,
with or without
the ability to fly

hold hands with the ones who
look like us,
talk like us,
believe like us

hands like fragile boxes or bombs,
things that could break or explode

each finger a troop in the human army
each gesture a shield

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Isaiah Prophet, Poet, and Pastor for the Present Moment

Isaiah was the prophet, poet, and pastor before, during and after exile.

Exile is that time of fear lodged in the back of your throat and anxiety hovering/hanging in the air.
Exile is that time the person you frustrates you winning elected office or getting the promotion at work or posting on Facebook the vacation you've always wanted to take.
Exile is that moment you are pushed to the fringes - feel lost and left behind.

We don't have to live in the time of Isaiah to know Exile...we know Exile in our own lives...we have lived in Babylon even if we never had mail delivered to us there.  We have been to Babylon even though it no longer really exists on a map.  We know Isaiah because his story is found in our stories.

During Exile, Isaiah starts with a word of comfort/care/compassion.  But in verse 6 of chapter 40, we get this great dialogue -
A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.

When the voices says cry out...Isaiah answers, "What can I say?"  Or you could translate this,  "Why bother?"  Why bother when we are so divided?  Why bother when people hurt and harm us so much?  Why bother because life is so fleeting and fading and fragile?  Isaiah names that life can feel like grass that hasn't felt the renewing and refreshing rain...or a vase of forgotten flowers two weeks old.

Comfort, cry out with compassion, even when it feels like our efforts cannot stop the tide.  Comfort and compassion even when our words feel like we are trying to make dried up, brown grass green again.  Comfort and compassion in moments we would rather be cynical.  That is not easy.  I would have preferred Isaiah said, "Let's just all get that carton of Ben and Jerry's out of the freezer and binge watch Netflix."  But that isn't want he says.  Keep involved...keep showing up...keep staying open.  Day by day...not because it is the easy path...but because it is along this rocky/rough/hilly/valley road we meet God most often.

Who do you long to call out to with comfort and compassion?
Who do you wonder if it will make any difference?
Who can walk with you through this giving you comfort and care and compassion?

May the insights to those questions give you more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~