Monday, February 25, 2013

Does This Make Sense?: Lent 3, Year C

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

This Week's Reflection:
Hedva Sanderovitz
Here is the thing that stands out to me in this week's readings: We are gonna have to put up with a lot of crap. In the gospel lesson, Jesus shares that weird little parable about the fig tree. The owner is fed up with it and wants it gone, but the gardener says, "Let's try one more year. Let's surround it with as much crap as we can and see if it will grow under those circumstances. If it doesn't, then we will cut it down."

Mom, if you are reading this, I am sorry for using the word crap so much. It seems better than the obvious alternative!

The question in my mind becomes about where the crap comes from. It is this question that keeps me from using the word fertilizer. To fertilize something sounds so lovely. It sounds so incredibly helpful and I do understand that when the NRSV uses the phrase "until I dig around it and put manure on it" that the manure is the fertilizer, but someone in a prayer group this morning mentioned "all the crap we must go through in order to grow" and it just sticks with me like a fly on, well, you know. The outcome may be growth. It may even mean extended life on this earth, but being dug around and piled under manure doesn't sound like a walk in the park to me.

Bill Nye in Stuff Happens
So, is it a test? The writer of 1 Corinthians seems to think so. This is that passage often repeated to people when they are in the most dire of situations - "God will not test you beyond your strength." I generally can't stand it when folks say that to me. How is it helpful to think about a terrible situation in my life being orchestrated by God to show me how strong I am? I'm more likely to believe that bumper sticker phrase that I can't write here because then I'll really be in trouble with my mother! You know the one I mean. A word that means the same as crap or manure followed by the word "happens."

But that leads my mind down another rabbit hole - why does "it" happen? And, then I'm led back to the gospel where Jesus tells the people around him that they must repent or they will perish. I can't help but wonder from what this particular group of folks needed to repent. If we look at the context of the words, they seem to have been trying to play the blame game. "Well, those people were clearly the worst because that tower fell on them. They must have been really horrible!" Or maybe it wasn't the blame game at all. Maybe they were just trying to make some sense out of things they witnessed that didn't seem to make any sense at all. Like a fig tree that produces nothing or a prophet that tells us "Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Vroom, Vroom by Lorenzo Quinn
This post is wandering around like I'm lost in the wilderness! Seems appropriate on this third Sunday of Lent to do so. Crap happens. Sometimes it happens to us. Sometimes it happens around us. Sometimes it happens in spite of us. Bottom line is that turning toward the Christ is the only way to survive the crap being piled on year after year after year. And, as we wander through these 40 days of Lent, we are called to repent, to grow, and to believe that we can do things that don't seem to make much sense at all in the eyes of the world. Thanks be to God for that!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I've been missing in action once again. It is a very busy time of year for all of us. My prayer is that all of you have enjoyed the start of the Christmas season and will continue to enjoy these twelve days leading us to Epiphany. Don't remove your tree and lights until then! Christmas has only just begun.

In the new year, I will be back to my regular weekly posts on the current week's lectionary texts. Until then, I wanted to share some podcasts with you. The first is a podcast from a friend of mine who had me as a guest a few weeks ago. The podcast is called One Thing in which Rev. Nathan Wheeler hosts conversation with others on what the guest's "one thing" is right now. Nathan describes it this way, "What is the one thing you are focused on or find most important currently for the church? The idea is to ask preachers, teachers, elders, professors, and all types of other people to contribute their one thing they want the rest of Christendom to know/think about." I spoke with him about my theological understanding that to be created in the image of God means that we are creative beings.

Check it out:

In addition, here are a couple of sermons I preached the last couple of weeks of Advent. See you in the New Year!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Birth pains: Ordinary 33, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
1 Samuel 1:4-20 or Daniel 12:1-3
1 Samuel 2:1-10 or Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Photo by Brendan Esposito at The Brisbane
This Week's Reflection:
There are probably lots of folks in the USA right now claiming that there are clear signs of the end of the world as we know it. Hurricanes hitting New York City followed almost immediately by a snow storm, not to mention the fact that Barack Obama was elected to serve a second term as president. I've seen some posts on Facebook that make it clear that some folks think that Armageddon is upon us. (I would like to point out that many of these same people would have claimed that God had ordained Romney for the job had he been elected, but when Obama is elected, then the morality of America is called in question. I would like to point out the hypocrisy of that, but I'll keep it to myself.)

Etna Volcano Paroxysmal Eruption January 12, 2011 by gnuckx
From the first disciples, folks have been expecting the end to come any day now. Over the centuries we have used all kinds of natural disasters or political situations as evidence that the day is just around the corner. I guess growing up in the south means that images of the apocalypse are ingrained in my psyche from early on. I remember quite vividly a dream I had when I was a teenager. I was riding in a car with someone and we came to the top of a big hill on the street on which I lived. My house was supposed to be on the other side at the bottom of the hill. Instead as we approached the peek of the hill, the car stopped and we looked out onto a world that had been destroyed. The road was gone. The houses were gone. Our church was gone. Our home was gone. Beyond that hill, there was nothing other than flames of deep red fire bubbling and burning like lava from a volcano. Sounds like many descriptions of the End Times that I heard growing up. I suppose if I were to analyze the dream, it would have had to do with the fear I felt as a teenager who was worried about screwing up so bad that God would leave me to burn.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the texts this week. Well, the Mark text is that one where Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple, where he warns the disciples that the things of the dominant culture are coming to an end, "where nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines" Yep, must be right around the corner!

Earthrise from
Here is what sticks out to me, though. Jesus goes on to say that these things will be just the beginning of the birth pangs. Birth pangs. From Hannah praying for a son whom she would ultimately give over to Eli to raise as God's servant to the very earth upon which we live, this week is all that while there is pain in giving birth, the new life that comes is worth every minute of it. Though there are all kinds of questions about the end of the world as we know it, though keeping awake and ready is a good idea, though the dominant culture in which we live will come crashing to the ground, what Jesus is telling his disciples then and now is that we live as people of hope because these signs that often feel scary and confusing are really the birth of new life, of a new heaven, of a new earth. Just like Hannah dedicating her son's life to God, we dedicate our own lives to God's work in this world because in and through that new life is born again and again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reformation Restoration: Ordinary 30, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 or Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) or Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52
Restoration 5 by Mike Basinger

The Week's Reflection:
In Job's text this week, Job responds to God's smack-down. Remember last week's text? "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Job is reminded of who is ultimately driving the car. In the passage for this Sunday, we are told that Job's fortunes are restored and that he went on to live a happy, healthy, and wealthy life. The restoration that seems more important, though, is that Job was brought to a place of saying, "Yep, that's right, God. I forgot for a minute, but I'm back on track now. I know that there is nothing that you can't do."

Golden Blind Man by Darren Levant
The Jeremiah text points us toward restoration as well with promises from God about gathering the Israelites together and restoring them to a home where water will flow and the paths will be straight. And, of course, the Psalms go hand in hand with their lectionary counterparts with praises sung to God for caring for God's children and songs of praise about Zion's restoration.

In Hebrews we are pointed toward a restored Christ, a high priest that will have no need of a replacement. And, Mark leads us to the story of Blind Bartamaeus who is literally restored from blindness to sight. Of course, we know that there was much more to this restoration than meets the eye (pun intended). Bartamaeus was told to shut up, to leave Jesus alone. They tried to push him to the sidelines, keep him an outcast on the margins. But, he didn't believe them. He had the audacity to believe something that no one was telling him. He had the audacity to believe that Jesus would listen to him too. He had the audacity to believe that Jesus could restore him. And though everyone around him tried to keep him quiet and along those margins, he called out. Not only did he call out, but Jesus stopped and called to him too. Bartamaeus threw off his cloak - rid himself of all that was old, all that was keeping him in the gutter - and ran to Jesus. Jesus restored his sight. But, Jesus also restored his life, his meaning in society, his value as a member of the community.

Still from Luther a movie directed by Eric Till
Bartamaeus, though the one who was physically blind, was able to see that things must change. Those following Jesus couldn't see it and tried to keep the status quo by telling him to be quiet. But, this blind beggar could see better that a reformation needed to happen in order to have restoration in his life. I haven't listed the texts for Reformation Sunday, but that is upon us once again. Certainly, Martin Luther had visions of restoration as he nailed those 95 theses to the door. Certainly, he saw a community in pain and a Church who was blind and he sought the power of Christ to restore her. Today it may be important to look at ways we need to continue to restore the Church Universal, to seek unity where there is none, so that we will truly be the One Body of Christ on earth. In other words, did we protestants protest too much? Can we restore the Church to unity?

Where do our congregations need to be reformed? Where do we need to be restored. May we call out to Jesus from wherever we find ourselves along the journey. What a glorious moment it will be when he stops and calls to us too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Backseat Drivers: Ordinary 29, Year B

Backseat Driver by Bob Dornburg
This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 38:1-7, (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 104:1-9, 24-35c or Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

This Week's Reflection:
Okay, I'm about to use the word awesome, but I don't want to do so until you understand that I'm not using it in the way that every Christian rock star used it in the early nineties. God is an awesome God. Yep, I said it. God is an awesome God in every sense that the word awe means "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like."

Backseat Driver by John Magnus
This week's lectionary texts practically call out from the page, "God is an awesome God!" The Job passage is that amazing moment when God has had enough of Job's questions and complaints. I imagine myself with my children in a similar situation, let's say, driving down the street. And, these two beautiful angels speak up from the backseat, "This isn't the right way, is it?" or "Are you driving over the speed limit?" or "Why did you go through that yellow light?" A ten and seven year old who just now learned to ride their bikes suddenly become experts on driving! And, I have very mixed emotions about how to respond because on the one hand, I am incredibly frustrated and just want them to leave me alone and let me drive. But on the other hand, I also want them to understand that I am older, wiser, and know more than they do. I want them to understand that they can rest and relax and know that their mother will get them where they need to be as safely as possible. I want them to trust me.

So, Job has been asking all these questions. Everyone around him has told him he may as well just give up on God. Elihu, his friend, has been prattling along for a while and then "out of the storm, the Lord speaks." And, what does God say? Regardless of whether God is addressing Elihu or Job himself, the message is clear. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" In other words, sit back, relax, shut up, and know that you can trust me!

In God We Trust by Kevin Dooley
The Isaiah passage says the same thing with different words. Foreshadowing the torment and killing of the Christ, the prophet encourages us to trust that God is wiser, stronger, and has been driving a lot longer than we have in this world. Even the Christ in the midst of so much suffering will not "open his mouth."

Psalm 104 fits nicely (like a group of people planned it or something) with the Job text as it reminds us that God "stretched out the heavens" driving home that God is awesome and we can only begin to understand a tiny bit of how awesome God really is. And, Psalm 91 echoes the images of the Christ suffering but ultimately knowing that "angels will bear you."

The Hebrews passage points us back to the Christ, Jesus as our High Priest, but a High Priest that does not seek to be God's equal. Once again, the Holy Narrative is reminding us - through the actions of Jesus - that God is the one driving this car and we should trust that we will get where we are supposed to be going. If Jesus didn't seek to be God's equal, how could we ever even think to give God driving advice from the backseat?

Angelic by K. Williams
And that, of course, brings us down to the gospel lesson in which James and John act like two spoiled kids in the back of the car. I can't help but wonder if they had to work up to this. The text makes it seem that they just jump right in with the question. And, this is immediately following Jesus trying to be as clear as possible about his coming death, not to mention all the stories leading up to this one where he seems to be practically beating them over the head to change the preconceived ideas they had of what the Messiah is. "Hey, hey Jesus, dude, we got a question for ya. Yeah, yeah, we know we are tight with ya, see, and we don't ever want to be too far from you. So, could we ride shot-gun for all of eternity, man?"

Backseat Driver by Seth Stoll
You know the rest. I get tired on behalf of Jesus just reading about this idiocy. I know they didn't know any better. I know they were only living out of their own cultural and theological contexts, but man, if that had been me they were asking, it would have been a whole, "I WILL PULL THIS VAN OVER RIGHT HERE!" moments.

God is an awesome God. So awesome, in fact, that God simply reminds us of who is driving, of who has been driving longer than we have been alive, and of who loves us so much that we will get where we are going and we'll get there on time. God is so awesome that God makes us sit in our booster seats with our seat belts fastened even though we think we could do a pretty decent job of driving ourselves.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Be Bold!: Ordinary 28, Year B

This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 22:1-15 or Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

This Week's Reflection:

When I began to reflect on the lessons for this week, the word that came to mind is "Boldness." It can be found right there in the midst of the Hebrews text - telling us to "approach the throne of grace with boldness." This led me to see boldness in the other texts as well.

Job was certainly bold. I'm always fascinated by the general population's understanding of Job. Where did "the patience of Job" come from anyway? He definitely endured much and remained faithful as he did; however, he wasn't patient and he certainly didn't live into that faithfulness without questions. In this week's text, his anger is clear. He longs for the darkness rather than to continue to live through the nightmare that his life has become. He was bold enough to claim this, to own his feelings, and to ask God the really tough questions.

Mazatlan Cliff Diver by Lisa Andres
The Psalmist does so as well. "How long, O Lord?" and "Why have you forsaken me?" Bold questions from the created to the Creator. Where does that boldness come from? Is there something about our despair that creates in us a bolder faith?

But being bold doesn't necessarily mean we have the faith that God desires for us. The man in the Mark text was quite bold in his willingness to approach Jesus and ask what was required of him in order to have the eternal life he was hearing so much about. He was even bold enough to claim to have been a perfect follower of the commandments. But, when Jesus speaks those words of giving up his possessions, he seems to be unwilling to do so. He walks away sadder than when he came. This, in itself, is bold in my opinion. Without hemming or hawing, he simply walks away from the life that Jesus is promising him. He doesn't try to explain what a good person he is. He doesn't remind Jesus that "some of my best friends are poor," he simply and boldly turns and leaves.

Be Bold Decal
So it would seem that we can have a type of boldness that brings us to the very throne of grace or we can have a type of boldness that leads us away from the Christ. And it seems that Jesus is saying neither of these paths will be very easy. As Peter boldly proclaims, "We have done it, Jesus! We have left everything and followed you. When will we see the benefits?," Jesus reminds him that receiving eternal life is absolutely and completely impossible - when we try to manage it on our own. However, if we will boldly approach God and allow God to manage things for us, Jesus says, "Nothing is impossible for God."

That is a pretty bold statement in and of itself. Thank God for a bold Jesus!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mind. Body. Spirit.: Ordinary 22, Year B

Found at
This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 or Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

This Week's Reflection:

I didn't post last week, but if I had it would have been more about John's gospel and all the references Jesus makes to eating his flesh and drinking his blood. This week, we move into Mark's gospel where in Chapter 7, Jesus tells the Pharisees that it is NOT what we ingest, but what we exude from our bodies that really and truly matters.

Okay, this is the problem when we try to read things as absolute and literal. On one Sunday we preachers are to stand up and proclaim to our congregations that "You are what you eat," then the next Sunday we are compelled by the texts to stand up and proclaim "Don't concentrate on what goes into your body!" If we are not very careful, our churches will quietly and politely send us to the psychiatric hospital or, worse, just stop listening.

Luckily, Jesus turns to scripture himself to explain what he means, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Ichtus at Trinity Church, Boston
In other words - I think - we can say from this focus of Jesus that we aren't really talking about food here or washing hands. What we are really talking about (and should be preaching on) are the ways in which we humans have of taking traditions created to protect God's children and turning them into anchors around the necks of all those we don't like. It feels like Jesus may be at his wits end. Exasperated, he says, "Could we please focus on what is really important here?" I'm sure there are none of us who have ever felt that way in a church meeting!

Maybe, just maybe, the lectionary texts this week are calling us to a more healthy approach to living the life God has given us. At the same time that Jesus says it isn't about what food we eat or how we wash our hands, James speaks of looking into a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what we saw there. The Song of Solomon certainly focuses more on the body than mind while Deuteronomy tells us to make sure we follow the rules!

I think it all comes down to James' proclamation to be "doers of the word." Or is it "doers of the Word"? If we have some kind of understanding that what is happening in every aspect of our lives effects our relationship with God and with others, then we will seek to follow Jesus in every way possible. Focusing on washing hands instead of feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel without actually living it day in and day out are ways in which we get out of whack. And, that is the medical term for it. Our bodies are not in agreement with our minds. Our minds are not in agreement with our spirits, and so on. In order to truly be disciples of Jesus, we should be seeking to be whole, to be the children that God created us to be.

Found at
I recently read a book called "How to be a Woman" by Caitlan Moran (if harsh language offends, do not read this book!) and in a chapter in which she was describing herself as an obese teenager, she says she thought of herself as "a brain sitting in a jar." In essence, Moran says that she considered feeding her brain a healthy diet much more important than feeding her body the same. She goes on to discuss the ways in which she was liberated once she became attuned to understanding her body better and treating it as well as she did her mind.

Balance. I guess that is what I am getting from these scriptures today. We can carry our traditions and rituals so far that they become detrimental to us. On the other hand, we could also use these words of Jesus to make ourselves feel better about eating an entire cake in one sitting or drinking ourselves into a black out. "Well, Jesus said that it isn't what goes into the body!" Mind. Body. Spirit. With all that comes with those three - intimate love, feasting with friends, studying the word, keeping the rules that are for our own good, and serving our neighbors because we want to put into action our faith. Mind. Body. Spirit. I can't help but wonder if reaching equality of effect among these would be heaven on earth.