Sunday, February 26, 2017
I was glad...when was the last time that was the first response/reaction on Sunday morning?
Gladness...not just happy because happiness is fleeting and fading.
Gladness is like a stream that I don't control.
Gladness can wash over me, like baptismal waters.
Gladness gets me caught up in the current.
Gladness isn't about rational, reasonable sense.
Gladness just is.
I was glad when they said...
what have you heard around you this week?
Maybe the truth that if it was for bad news there wouldn't be any news at all.
Maybe words that were harsh like sandpaper.
Maybe absence of words in a stony silence between you and someone you love.
What kind of invitations did you get this week?
Besides ones to save money on insurance...or cable...or enter to win valuable prizes.
Do you hear that sing-song voice of God calling you?
But these voices actually invite us to church...
And this isn't just about coming to save your soul, like a golden ticket to Willa Wonka's factory.
This invitation is to community...people gathered.
And where two or three gather ~
Yes there will be four or five opinions...
Yes there will be differences....
Yes there will be disagreements.
There will be live that cannot be encountered in any other way than in the flesh of another.
Maybe that is why Jesus came in the flesh.
Words of prophets and thunder bolts and temples only get you so far.
You need others.
Others to see you, invite you, care for you, love you.
In the best sense that is why the church sings this ancient and beautiful song still today at church.
Grace and peace ~~
The season of Lent begins tomorrow with an Ash Wednesday Service. Over the next forty days, I want to invite you into sensing the sacred all around you. So much of faith seems to compartmentalize and categorize life. We get tripped and trapped into thinking that God lives at church. But as Eugene Peterson translates John 1, the invitation is to see God moving into our neighborhood, into our lives, awakening us not to a new truth, but one that was hidden ~ like a treasure in the field. The treasure in your very soul. Yet, we are also not always great at tending our own soul. Left to our own devices, it is easy (at least for me) to take some random exit ramp and end up stuck in the weeds and reeds of life. For me, this invitation is not only about the individual. We need community. I need folks who will journey with me in the midst of the ups and downs/twists and turns. The sacred every day is about seeing the sacred flow or animating energy or God moving, still creating and crafting in our midst.
So, why begin with ashes? Why start so negative? Actually ashes have a beauty to them. Something burned but still useful. Ashes taken from last year's Palm Sunday service...drenched in joyful "Hosannas" that turn suddenly silent on Friday. Look back at the last year...have there been moments that went from joy-filled to sorrow soaked in the blink of an eye? Look around right now, are there relationships that once brought smiles and now cause stress to sit upon your soul? The universe continues to expand...the earth continues to move...why should our lives be any different. I see a beauty in ashes with our fingerprints and songs of praise, now re-fashioned and recycled to suggest that joy is not the only pathway to God. Religion can meet us in the brokenness and less-than-blessed state.
So, we take the ashes and trace the same place on your forehead where the symbol of the cross was made with water. That is the truth of Ash Wednesday. We are God's beloved and yet God is not finished with us yet. We take the ashes of our life...moments we said or did the exact thing we did not want to say or do...and offer even that to God. Or especially that to God. We shouldn't have to hide ourselves from God, like a child hides a broken lamp from a parent. We shouldn't have to put on a happy face thinking that is all God cares about. We shouldn't have to suggest that life is all perfect and we just want to praise God. Sometimes we want to lament and sit with Job in the ash of life. And then, there are the ordinary, ever days of life. Lunches to make for kids. Appointments to keep. Traffic to get stuck in. Shopping. Binge watching some series on Netflix all the while saying, "Just one more episode." Walks to take. Hands to hold. Moments...ordinary moments...or as the theologians have said...God shows up disguised as your own life. Or there is no spiritual life and regular life...your calendar is a living prayer.
This Ash Wednesday, I want to encourage you to attend a service. Receive the ashes...not with guilt but in the graceful gaze of God whose loves is unconditional. Sing about the coming forty days and commit to a Lenten journey. You can give something up. You can take something on ~ like a prayer practice or volunteering. You can set aside time every day to sit and listen for God. The point is not for me to be prescriptive of what to do...but descriptive of the invitation that the glory of God is a human being fully alive and in community with each other.
Then, keep checking back to explore with me the sacred every day this Lent.
Grace and Peace...and May God grant you a holy, sacred, every day Lent.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
After talking about this hymn...I found this beauty of this video. I love that the words about peacefulness are juxtaposed in a gray, almost barren scenery. That seeming contradiction, reminds us that even in the chaos and clutter and cold of the bleak midwinter...God is still up to something. So instead of more words from me today...just enjoy this beautiful video.
Grace and peace ~~
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
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
Sunday morning prayer...
On this day a truth echoed from an empty tomb.
No longer did desertion and denial and betray have the last word.
No longer did military might and flexing your muscles and get yours while the getting is good make sense any more.
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.
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,
Grace and peace everyone ~~
Friday, February 17, 2017
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
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
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
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 ~~
Monday, February 6, 2017
Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”
Growing up, I remember sometimes my parents would compare my brother and I to each other. "Look, your brother Scott ate all his lima beans." And this went both ways. "Look, your brother Wes got good grades," which I attribute totally to not eating lima beans. Today, some Pharisees try to peer pressure Jesus by pointing out that John's disciples are way better at fasting and praying that Jesus' disciples who are such slackers. Ever notice how we do this all the time still today to each other? We love the status quo. Quirkiness will be accepted to a point, individualism will also be honor...until the collective or leader feels threatened. Family System's Theory says that we long for equilibrium in our relationships; and when someone decides to no longer play his/her appointed role, the group will respond. They happens in families where you don't talk about alcoholism when someone wants to bring the dysfunction into the light. This happens in families where the drug of choice is sugar and unhealthy eating and someone starts to eat kale. This happens in churches when a new idea is proposed only to quickly be discounted by either: "We've never done it that way before" or "We tried that...didn't work." And this happens to ourselves. I am not sure how your New Years resolutions are going...but we do a great job of discounting and discouraging ourselves. We glance at Facebook to see a friend who lost weight...or is having a great time with family...or is being way more amazing than we see ourselves. So, we throw in the towel.
But Jesus reminds people that he isn't just trying to reform or remodel or re-arrange the religious order...he is hear to introduce a whole new sense of connecting with God. It isn't just a patch on a garment...it isn't just refilling the old wineskine...this is something new and different. This is something to celebrate.
I love the story about Groucho Marx who encountered a priest in a hotel lobby. The priest rushed over to him and thanked him for making people so happy and bringing so much laughter into the world. Groucho said in response, "And thank you, father, for making people so miserable it makes my job easier." Let's face it, churches are rather somber, too serious places. Jesus celebrated life fully. Please remember that Roman oppression wasn't created on Good Friday. Lots of people struggled. Lots of people were falsely accused and held unjustly. Lots of people suffered with the Roman boot on their neck. What does it mean that Jesus is here eating and drinking and making merry? What might that mean for us at such a time as this?
I am not sure I have a lot of great answers...but I know that wisdom challenges me and asks me to stay open to God who is still forming and fashioning moments of beauty even here and now. It isn't either/or. It isn't just the Pharisees' way or party all the time. It is both and. I pray this week, I might be open to traces of God's grace here and now to live both fully, faithfully, and lovingly.
Grace and peace ~~
Friday, February 3, 2017
And I thought I had sermons that did not go well...but up this point no attempted cliff throwing yet. I feel somewhat secure living in an elevationally-challenged flatland of Florida! Quick review. Jesus' birth is proclaimed as a sign of Good News...God interrupting and disrupting the world. Jesus is sung to by angels and prophets and people of all sorts. Jesus is baptized and claimed by God's belovedness. Jesus is tempted. And now...it is time for his sermon debut.
Jesus reads from a part of Scripture, Isaiah, that echoes Mary's hymn and John the Baptizer's sermon. Jesus reads from a part of Scripture that will inspire perhaps a later sermon he gives on the plain as the beatitudes. Jesus reads about the Spirit (that pesky Spirit) interrupting and disrupting out lives not to ignore the plight of the poor but to notice and respond as we are able. Great passage. Hopeful passage. The congregation is feeling great. Okay, boy-wonder, Jesus let's hear about how this passage is fulfilled. Are you going to over throw Herod? Are you going to help cure my sick uncle? Are you going to help give us hope every day with your preaching? I don't know exactly what was said when the crowd was "amazed" and "spoke generous/gracious words"...what I do know is that it sounds a bit like an echo of the temptation story.
It is always tempting in the church..as religious leaders...to let ride the wave of public opinion known as - "shaking hands at the back door". If I ever invent a time machine, I am going back to the moment this became a thing and try to altar the course of history. For me, worship/preaching/writing is an art. Like any artist my ego gets wrapped up in what I put out there. I am not neutral on a sermon or prayer or blog post. It is my heart and soul out there. Such vulnerability means that people's words matter...they can help puff up or hurt/harm.
Jesus upsets the apple cart of expectations...and challenges people. He brings up Elijah...a pesky prophet who had the gall to go to a Gentile home and heal that person rather than help his own kind. Rather than do what others wanted...he marched to a different beat of a drummer. Too often, I find myself somewhere in the messy middle. Wanting to respond to people...and also trying to be faithful to God's call for me in such a time as this. Wanting to meet people where they are...but also knowing I can't be all things to all people. I find solace in the fact that maybe this is a bit of where Jesus is at in the passage above. He reaches out to his family/friends...but also know that God's expectations are most important. I am not sure that gives me a crystal clear sense of what I need to do every day this week. But it does tell me that when like Wiley E. Coyote I find myself dancing near the edge of the cliff...it is a good time to walk away.
May God's grace and that pesky Spirit stir in your life and help you live your discipleship in such a time as this.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I love the above painting. It is dynamic and has movement to it. It is also heartbreaking because Jesus is already in the posture of the cross...arms extended and head hung low. When we set a course of our life...point our toes to go a certain way...our choices matter and make a difference. When I moved to Florida, it meant saying "No" to other people and places in my life. For Jesus, baptism charts a course. To be sure, in the journey of Jesus' life there are many exit ramps between the Jordan and Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In the journey of Jesus' life there are many moments he could have decided to go another way.
When you look back at your life, the script you have written, what moments have defined and distinguished and made the biggest difference? What moments of blessedness? What moments of brokenness? Sometimes, for me, the biggest stumbles and bumbles...while in the moment have been so painful...after I processed the pain, I was able to see the lasting and lingering impact.
I encourage you this week...take a piece of paper and make a timeline. Start with your birth on the left side and today is on the far right side. In the middle - rather than just a straight linear line - mark the mountain top moments and valley times. I can name my ordination as a mountain top moment, but times of frustration and struggle as I have tried to live out my call. I can name the birth of my children at the top of the page...and times when I could not comfort them as difficult, rough times. Up and down...twists and turns. Yet, the baptism belovedness of God did not leave me when I am at the bottom of the page...that was when God helped to shine a light and help show me the way.
I pray this exercise might provide more than a trace of God's grace for you.