Tuesday, February 21, 2017

It Is Well with my Soul

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.  When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”  And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;  therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”  When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.  Luke 7:1-7

Healing stories are peculiar part of our faith.  On the one hand, there are many moments in Scripture when Jesus heals someone.  On the other hand, there are many moments in our life when a loved one in our family or friend prayed in earnest to be healed of an illness, only to die.  What is the deal?  Some point to the fact that Jesus didn't cure/heal everyone in his day either.  There were many folks who tragically died...Jesus among them on the cross.  Other's though take a posture of trying to defend God saying things like, 'If you just have enough faith.'  I wish those six words were never strung together.  Jesus was clear that a mustard seed size faith was sufficient.  Usually when we talk about 'enough faith' that is more about us than the person who is struggling or suffering.  Even more, it is about our own discomfort in the face of someone else's fragility and morality.  Illness doesn't have time for politeness...nor for us to project our stuff on to someone else.

So why...why some who are cured and some not?  Rob Bell often says that we need to be weary of quick and easy answers to such a profound question.  I agree.  There is more mystery than certainty.  But I also know that there is a difference between healing and cure.  I can be cured of an illness (like a sore shoulder) but that doesn't mean I will be healed (stop trying to over do my golf swing...after all I am holding a club in my hand it is only natural and normal that I swing for the fences, right?)  That is a silly example.  I have seen people living with cancer who are more alive than someone who hasn't been to the doctor in years.  Or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about people who can be dead at the age of 39 even though they are still breathing.  Life is.  Life is a mystery.  We all have some illness and brokenness and pain we are trying to find relief and restoration.

The early Christian theologian Augustine came to a moment of faith insight after a tooth ache.  Suddenly life before the tooth ache was all chocolate rivers and roses.  But in the midst of the tooth ache, he cursed the day he was born.  Afterwards, he said that is like realizing our own brokenness.  Once you have experienced the pain you cause yourself and others, you cannot go back.  You cannot return to some sense of naivete.  Experiencing the sorrow and sadness will forever leave a mark on your life.  It is why I never understood the phrase about "Getting over grief."  It isn't some obstacle.  It is a season...it is a truth we will encounter.

I think about the hymn writer for It is Well with My Soul...who penned those words after the death of his family aboard a ship.  How in the world could it be well with his soul?  I would be shouting at God.  But there was a grace...a healing...a wholeness...that took over his heart that still causes our hearts to sing out fully today.

So, how is it with your soul?  Is there some sea billow that is crashing down?  Or is it smooth sailing?  Or does it depend on the hour?  (I am definitely in the third camp).

I encourage you to spend sometime listening to your soul this week...and asking the question, "How is it with my soul?"

And may grace and peace be with you ~~

Sunday, February 19, 2017

More than a day Part Three

Sunday morning prayer...

On this day a truth echoed from an empty tomb.
Love wins.
No longer did desertion and denial and betray have the last word.
Love wins.
No longer did military might and flexing your muscles and get yours while the getting is good make sense any more.
Love won.
Not some score keeping victory...not to the blaring soundtrack of "We are the champions" as ticker tape fell from the sky.
Love won in a quiet way.
In a garden where only a few women stepped inside an empty tomb.
Heard their own breathing echoing off the walls...
Perhaps how Moses felt before that burning bush hearing, "Yahweh"...which is exactly what it sounds like to inhale and exhale.
But resurrection was not simply resuscitation;
Nor was it some mental gymnastics or reduced to some prayer.
Resurrection is new life where we break through the waters of injustice and discrimination and division.
Resurrection was a taste of God's realm where we now breathe air and love is something more than what is sold at Halmark stores.
Love is no longer confined by a relationship.
Love is the law and grace and promise and way.
Love is letting God flow through you.
Love inspires and co-spires to create something the world still can't accept.
Love wins.
That is what Sunday is all about.
And that is why I sing and shout and break open my heart to the One who centuries ago and still today sings out,
"Love wins"


Grace and peace everyone ~~

Friday, February 17, 2017

More than a day Part Two

 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6: 32-36

In the famous words of the theologian Charlie Brown..."Good grief!"  This isn't getting any easier.  A second time Jesus brings up the loving your enemies invitation and know we aren't suppose to expect anything in return?  That is challenging wisdom because sometimes I wanted to love my enemies...take the high road...to feel a bit superior.  I want to love them as the Apostle Paul (quoting Proverbs 25:22) once put it, "To heap burning coals on their head."  (Romans 12:20).  Like some bad action movie where instead of violence, we offer discounted chocolate to our enemies..."There take that!"  This cuts to the core of motivation and intention.  Why do we love someone?

We love that person because she or he is in the image of God.  To be sure, we may think the divine spark was extinguished long ago...we may come up with all kinds of rational and reasonable lists of why we should not love that person.  But once we start making naughty and nice lists, it can tend to devolve pretty quickly.  Jesus is saying that loving our enemies means that we seek their well-being and pray for them.

And that wasn't just Jesus.  He is actually borrowing that Jeremiah 29:7, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."  Quick history...Jeremiah was a prophet when Babylon came in...conquered the Holy Land...carted leaders off to live in Babylon where an eye could be kept on them...oh yeah and destroyed the holy temple Solomon built.  Wait!!!  Seek the welfare of those people?  You see, Jesus was grounded and rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures...he was Jewish.  And these echos of Scripture called him to live his life differently.  And remember...loving your enemy...in those days was Rome.  As in the people who taxed you.  As in the people who had the gall to put Caesar's face on a coin with the phrase, 'Son of God'....remember there is a commandment in the Top Ten about not doing that.  Rome as in the one who ruled with an iron fist and crucified people.   Loving your enemy wasn't just some nice idea in Jesus' day...it was every bit as challenging then and there as it is here and now.

Perhaps that is why God keeps sending people to preach about love.  Jeremiah...Jesus...King...Angelou...and on and on.  And especially in a time when we are so divided and fear-filled and hurting and disconnected despite that amazing computing device on which you are reading this blog...these words just ruffle our feathers.  But on this Valentine's Day week, I need something other than sappy sentimentalism...I need a love that challenges my whole way of being.  A way that I sense is actually a pathway to God's grace and presence and peace for all creation.  A way that is good news for all people.  A way that is the path of Jesus.

Lord grant that I might have the courage and conviction to walk this risky way of love, trusting that it lead to You.

Grace and peace everyone ~~

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

More than one day

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:27-31

One of my favorite quotes is that, "The Christian practice has not been tried and found wanting.. It has been found difficult and left un-tried."  I put the above part of the Sermon on the Plain in that category.  These words set the bar so high for Christians to clear.  Loving our enemies?  I would rather be stuck in a room with a walrus, wallaby, and a whale; which is a great premise for a joke.  But that is the point.  Jesus is turning the world upside down and inside out and two thousand years later, we still struggle.  We tend to not even get close to loving enemies, especially the ones who wish us harm...especially those who are waging war...especially those whose comments on Facebook cause that tiny vein in your neck to pulse so it echoes in your ear.  Love that person?  Really, Jesus?  And unfortunately, we tend not to talk about it.

I wish I was standing in the crowd that day to ask a clarification question.  Although, to be clear, I am not sure that is a practice I want to start less it happens during my preach!  I want to know...how?
How do I love someone when the emotion I really feel is anger?  How do I love someone in the face of honest fear?  How do I love that person who seems to have the nuclear codes to my well-being and ends us saying something like, "You look young to be a pastor...are you sure?"  Insert awkward laugh and comment about good genetics.

And loving those close to us is hard enough.  It seems to take most of my energy.  What do I have left to love the person who comes from a different political place or who makes racist or sexists comments?  C.S. Lewis quipped that if we wanted to love our enemies...perhaps we shouldn't start with Hitler.  Maybe we should begin somewhere and with someone else.  And to be sure, this is not just willing my way through...I need a willingness for God's wisdom rather than my own.  I need to let go of my usual score-keeping ways.  And this doesn't mean I need to keep silent...but I don't need to shout.  You see...this loving enemy invitation is hard.

It is a slow process.  Every day, can I let go of the anger to make space and place for God's wisdom and Christ's love to enter in?  I think about Jesus who ate with Pharisees who were really critical... and my ego has a hard time when someone says I talk too loud.  But Jesus ate with them.  And challenged them.  And loved them.  Maybe there is something so profoundly simple and sacred in that idea.  Eat with someone...be honest...but be heartfelt.  Paul put it this way...speak the truth in love.  That is a great image.  Speak your truth...but in love.  And I would add...and listen to the other with openness.  Even in a post-truth world...where hyper-individualism prevails...we need space and place to listen and talk and pray and listen and talk and pray.  The listening suggest I need to learn.  The talking point says that God can speak through me.  And the praying part reminds me that we all need to let God get a word in edgewise.  Feel free to send that on to our local and state and national representatives.

On this week of Valentines...I pray that as people of faith we can lean and live out an image of love that isn't just chocolate-covered surface level cotton candy sweet....but a love that might actually make this world different and participate with God in helping the realm more real for such a time as this.

Grace and peace ~~

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feasting Part Three

“But woe to you who are rich,  for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. Luke 6:24-26

God...I would rather Luke would not make me so uncomfortable.
I would rather get caught up in the blessings rather than these woes.
I would rather get caught up in my own self-righteousness,
Than that empty net Peter washed on the shore line after not catching anything.

Yet...this woe is not about guilt.
It is not about fingers wagging or frowns or smiting.
It is about caution...care...that my wealth can insulate me for the poor, lost and lowly.
It is strong words least I too easily dismiss that my full stomach is different than two-thirds of your beloved children.
It is passionate words least I too easily lean on my lorales and not reach out to those who struggle and feel weighed down by stress and strain.
It is said with the care of a parent who longs for me to choose a better way.

A way that is not paved with glitter and gold,
But a way that has twists and turns and takes me to places I may not want to go.
Yet, it is the pathway that offers the fullest, deepest, honest and heartfelt life.
A life that is drenched in light...love with all your people.

Grant me courage to keep traveling this road.
When I exit, getting caught in the weeds of wants
Remind me that too many people are in need.
Too many suffer.
There is many places I might be a blessing, if I turn from woes.

Thank God for wisdom and may it guide me every day.

Grace and peace ~~

Friday, February 10, 2017

Feasting Part Two

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.  Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  Luke 6:17-21

First the healing...
Then the words.
First the listening...looking in eyes...extending God's love.
Then the theology.
How often have I gotten that backwards?
How often has my preaching, pontificating and prose rung hallow in hearts that simply wanted to be seen
How often I have I preached rather than looked?

God...help turn me upside down and backwards to see your realm clearer.
It is too easy to believe that words matter more than standing side-by-side;
Seeing Your divinity in the eyes of humanity.
It is easy to stand at a distance and toss words rather than be close so that I might smell another's breath.

Breathe on me, breath of God...turning me upside down and inside out.
Help me realize the Beatitudes are not a puzzle to be solved,
But a wisdom to be undergone.
Not some truth I can apply,
But a promise to guide my every day life.

Let Your wisdom rummage and roam around my life
that I might see what I thought of as backwards is really the forwards way to your realm.

Grace and peace ~~

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them.  But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”  Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”  Luke 6:1-5

A single seed of grain sits in my hand,
Resting and rolling slightly.
Awakening me to the a deeper truth,
That I might rest in God's hand.

Other places in Scripture proclaim,
"Why do you hunger for that which is not food?"
And yet, I do.
I hunger sometimes for power, prestige, privilege.
Hunger to be known.
And yet no amount of positive image can feed me
The way trusting that I am created in God's image does.

We make all these rules about
who is in and out.
whose comments we like or
words we re-tweet.
We make all these rules to
defend and distinguish us from others.
Are we like the Pharisees?
Clinging to our understandings rather than grace?

To rest...let this seed of grain.
To know...like this seed that I have value in God's sight.
To trust that this moment I am enough.
May I feast on that this day and this week.

Grace and peace ~~