Thursday, April 30, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Strange the things that strike you when you read a passage of Scripture. When I looked at today's reading - Luke's version of the calling of Peter, James, and John - two things jumped out at me. The first was Simon Peter's reaction to the miraculous catch of fish. "But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!' " It' s the same sort of reaction Isaiah has when he encounters God's presence in the Temple (Isaiah 6:5). And it is the standard, biblical response to encountering divine presence. It speaks of awe, wonder, and the common Old Testament phrase, "the fear of the LORD."

I don't hear much about awe in current Christian experience, and I hear much less about "the fear of the LORD." I wonder why this is, especially if "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." (Proverbs 1:7)

The second thing that jumped out at me in today's Luke reading was the ending. On what had to have been the most incredible success of their fishing careers, Peter, James, and John hung up their nets. I really don't know why this contrast struck me so, but it did. Many of us long for success more than just about anything. These fishermen have a catch for the record books. Surely they would be inducted into the Sea of Galilee Fishing Hall of Fame. But they walk away from it all. I assume that someone else collects and sells the fish.

It makes me wonder a bit about the things that I count as successes in my life.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

A lot of Christians take for granted that Jesus performed miracles, healing people such as we read in today's verses from Luke. But I've always found it hard to preach from miracle stories, and I know that a lot of people find these miracle stories big obstacles to faith. Thomas Jefferson produced a "Bible" that edited out all the miracles of Jesus. And for much of the 20th century it was popular to give rational explanations for miracles. I heard more than one sermon as a boy where the miraculous feeding of the 5000 turned out to be a miracle of sharing.

But if the supernatural aspect of miracles have posed difficulties for modern, scientific people, the biblical story nonetheless greatly limits this miraculous power. Jesus can only heal you if you can get to him, if he has time, if he isn't too tired, if he hasn't already left and gone on to the next village. If you happen to be sick or demon possessed but you live in first century Europe, you're not getting healed because Jesus ain't coming to your town.

Theologians refer to this as the scandal of particularity. In Jesus, God's power is present in a particular place and time, and not in another. Near the end of "Jesus Christ Superstar" the voice of Judas sings, "Every time I look at you I don't understand Why you let the things you did get so out of hand. You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned. Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land? If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication." And when I get most upset with God it is usually because God won't act in the grand way I'd prefer. Rather than waving a magic wand and ending war, poverty, and injustice, God more often seems to work through the small efforts of faithful people.

I suppose that I'm still struggling to embrace "God's power made perfect in weakness," as Paul describes Jesus' death on the cross. Perhaps at times, faith is largely about trusting that God knows what God is doing, even when I'm sure there's got to be a better way.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also." 1 John repeats this refrain over and over. We cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters. "Brothers and sister" likely refers to fellow believers and not all humans, but I'm not sure this makes the reading any easier to live out.

Some of the worst fights are church fights. And they can be over the most trivial things. In most congregations there are stories about arguments over carpet color or some other aesthetic issue that left feelings so bruised that people left that church. And churches often have more than a few members who can be awfully hard to love.

It should be noted that loving our brothers and sisters is not the same as agreeing with them, endorsing their views, or tolerating aberrant or destructive behavior. But it is about having their best interest at heart, caring for them, seeking what is good for them, even when we find them difficult to like. Perhaps it is precisely when we love those whom we find hardest to love that we become most Christ-like, in some small way mirroring his love that would die for sinners - would die for a world so bent on resisting God.

Lord, teach me to love more like Jesus.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus a lot on the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew uses the latter term. As a good Jew, he avoids saying "God" when possible.)

Modern Christianity seems to have lost any real expectancy of the Kingdom. If we speak of the Kingdom it often refers to the afterlife and not to anything here on earth. What a contrast to our gospel reading, where Jesus' arrival is connected with God's new day where the poor find good news, the blind are restored, the oppressed and captive are freed. Jesus also speaks of the year of jubilee or "the Lord's favor." In the Old Testament this was supposed to be a regular occurrence where debts were forgiven and land was returned to families who had to sell it because of bad economic times. Imagine the outcry is something such as this was suggested in our country. Charges of socialism would surely fly. And yet the Kingdom Jesus proclaims speaks of a leveling, of a lifting up of the poor and downtrodden, and and parallel pulling down of the well-off.

Now I don't believe that human beings can bring the Kingdom. Only God can do that. But while we cannot produce the Kingdom by anything we do, we are still supposed to be living as citizens of that Kingdom. Our congregations are supposed to be provisional outposts of the Kingdom, living in ways that help the world catch a glimpse of God's coming day.

But I am very much a part of this day, of its economic structures and its inequalities. And I must admit that I often am at a loss as to how I can reconcile my citizenship in the Kingdom with my citizenship in a world that is far from that Kingdom. O God, please guide me in how I am to live in this world but not be of it.

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Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Simon son of John, do you love me?" The risen Jesus asks this question to Peter three different times. Peter insists that he does, growing a bit more exasperated each time the question is repeated. And each time Peter says yes, Jesus commands him to feed his lambs or tend his sheep.

On one hand, the threefold pattern of this story conforms to Peter's threefold denial of Jesus just after his arrest. These verses seem to serve as a reinstatement, a rehabilitation forPeter. If other Christians had questions about him, thought his denial had disqualified him, here Jesus restores him as a shepherd of the flock.

But additionally, the pairing of love for Jesus with the command to care for others speaks to all Christians. As Jesus says before his death, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." And of course Jesus has given his disciples a "new commandment, that you love one another." And the word Jesus uses for "love" is not about feelings so much as it is about caring for others, giving oneself for others, etc.

Our culture often thinks of faith as a personal and private thing. But Jesus says that loving him shows up in our relationships with others. Lord, help me to love those you place in my life.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Semon Thoughts on a Non-preaching Sunday

Today's gospel reading features another post resurrection appearance by Jesus. This one, in Luke's gospel, is just after the risen Jesus joined two of his followers on the "road to Emmaus." As the disciples receive a report from those Emmaus travelers, Jesus suddenly stands in their midst. And Luke makes a great deal about pointing out that Jesus is flesh and blood, going so far as to report that Jesus asks for and eats something, a piece of broiled fish.

Luke seems intent on not letting us miss the flesh and bones nature of resurrection. In our day, people often think of resurrection as virtually the same thing as life after death. But for Luke, resurrection is not about escaping fleshy existence, and the problem with this fallen world is not that we are made of fleshy substance. Jesus was quite able to dwell in human flesh, and the risen Jesus is flesh and blood, too.

Luke sends a powerful message to those who would locate all Christian hope off in some spiritual realm. God's kingdom is real, physical, not something wispy and ethereal. And we are called to give witness to God's power to redeem all creation, including flesh and blood.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

" O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day." Those who are familiar with the Psalms will recognize the opening of Psalm 96. "A new song?" What's wrong with the old songs? Religion often seems enamored with the old and uncomfortable with the new. That certainly got Jesus in trouble. He even spoke of his good news as new wine that couldn't be held by old wineskins. Of course Jesus also said that his coming would not "abolish the law or the prophets," that "not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law." (I've always loved the King James translation that says "one jot or one tittle" will not pass away.)

It seems that faith which is true to the Bible must always wrestle with this tension between old and new. The traditions that we have should not be too easily dismissed simply because they are old. They are, after all, a repository of faithful living that have been handed down to us. But neither are traditions to be followed simply because they are old. That "old time religion" may have been good enough for a lot of our forbears, but that does not insure it is right for this time.

The Church Reformed, Always Being Reformed is the motto of my theological tradition. God, keep me in touch with those traditions that have sustained the faithful over the years. And help me to see where you are making all things new in Christ.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth." (Psalm 47:1-2) Sometimes, riding my motorcycle on a beautiful spring morning, it is impossible to miss the grandeur of God's creation. It is impossible not to feel joyful. And I have had to do nothing to experience this joy but to be there. It is a wondrous gift, not of my or anyone else's making.

"Thank you." That is what most of us have learned to say when we receive a gift. Most of us probably do not say it enough, but most of us know what it means to feel deeply grateful. Most of us at times take stock of the ways others have blessed our lives. And I think I feel the most pity for people who are unable to feel gratitude, who think of everything as deserved or earned, who don't know the sheer joy of feeling truly thankful.

Theologically thinking, all that makes us who we are is a gift. Our talents, our quirks, our personality, our capacities are all given to us. We may use them well or poorly, but none of us created ourselves. How does one say, "Thank you" for all that we have been given?

The word repent has some baggage, some bad connotations. But I think that John the Baptist's call for people to "Repent" can be read as a call to realize how much we have to be thankful for, and, in gratitude, to live differently. How? John suggests, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." His list goes on, but you get the picture.

I wonder what opportunities I will have to say, "Thank you"
this day.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. God gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. (Psalm 147:7-9)

I don't suppose anyone thought about Earth Day when the Daily Lectionary readings were chosen. If they had, perhaps Psalm 24 would be today's morning psalm. "The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." But I suppose the same is implied in the few verses culled from Psalm 147 above.

Sometimes when questions about the environment, global warming, pollution, and so on are discussed, a basic assumption of these psalms seems to be missing. People speak as though the earth was ours. But the earth is not ours. It does not belong to us so that we can simply decide what to do with it. It belongs to God. And we have been called to tend it as stewards.

You can witness human arrogance and hubris on both sides of environmental debates. And certainly there are sometimes complex scientific issues that resist easy answers. But if the earth truly is God's, perhaps we would do well, when dealing with these issues, to ask ourselves whether God would be happy with our actions. If the earth is the LORD's, and if God is indeed pleased and delighted with this good creation, shouldn't we want to please God in our calling as earthly stewards?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Whoever says, 'I am in the light,' while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness." (1 John 2:9-11)

Presbyteries, the regional governing bodies of the PC(USA), are nearing the ends of votes on whether the ratify a change to our constitution that would remove an ordination requirement that church officers be either chaste in singleness or faithful within a marriage between a man and woman. While the current rule obviously bans
from office singles who are sexually active, the real intent of the requirement is to keep out gays and lesbians who are in relationships.

This question of who may be ordained has raged in our denomination for years now, and it can be terribly contentious. There are people of deep and committed faith on both sides of the issue, and it can be all too easy, not only to disagree, but also to feel a deep loathing for those who cannot see what is so obvious to me. People on both sides of the issue can fall into a downright nastiness toward their opponents, which begs the question of how the reading from 1 John applies. And I don't think an easy out can be found by claiming that my opponents have so badly misunderstood scripture that they shouldn't be categorized as "believers."

Love is easy when we all agree, but what about when we don't, and especially when our disagreements are about things that are very important to us? And for that matter, what about loving our enemies as Jesus calls us to do?

Lord, show me how to love.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." These words from 1 John are often used as a "call to confession" in Presbyterian worship. I've always been struck how these words connect with AA and other 12 step programs where the starting point of recovery is admitting that you're an alcoholic, or drug addict, etc. If you've ever seen an AA meeting, you'll know that people often introduce themselves with, "Hi, my name is Joe, and I'm an alcoholic."

I think it strikes many of us as odd to constantly remind yourself of your problem, to claim it so openly and frequently. I know that many worshipers would prefer not to have prayers of confession each week in our worship. They have told me so. "It's such a downer," they say.

John Calvin, the theological parent of my theological tradition, wrote in the opening of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." The recovering alcoholic had discovered that true wisdom includes never forgetting that he is an alcoholic. And those who are in Christ discover that true wisdom includes never forgetting that they are sinners.

Like those alcoholics who refuse to admit their problem, many of us don't want to claim the label sinner. We like to think that human beings are basically good, that those who are "bad" must have had something go terribly wrong in their lives. We are loathe to admit that we have within us the capacity for evil, that it seems to be a part of our makeup.

Strange that recovering alcoholics find claiming their identity as alcoholics to be so helpful, an integral part of their recovery, while so many Christians find claiming our identity as sinners to be so distasteful. I wonder how often I distance myself from forgiveness and salvation because I want to insist I don't need them.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Sermon - "Church: Proclaiming the New Age"

The story of the remarkable community of believers found in Acts 4:32-35, is about the power of resurrection ushering in a new age. In Acts, the Church is proof that Jesus has really been raised, shattering sin and death's power, and inaugurating the Kingdom of God.

Sermon 4-19.mp3

Friday, April 17, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." Jesus speaks these words to his disciples just prior to his arrest. And the subject of truth arises again during Jesus' trial. Jesus tells Pilate, "For this I was born... to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate responds with a question that receives no answer. "What is truth?"

What is truth? Modern people are prone to think that truth is a matter of facts and figures. Many who insist that the Bible must be literally true get caught up in this modern understanding, imagining that the truth of the Bible rests on it being reliable from a historic or scientific standpoint. I find it mildly amusing that the very people who understand faith in opposition to science, nonetheless have a scientific understanding of what truth is.

If it takes the Spirit of truth to guide us into the truth, then it seems likely that the nature of this truth is much more than facts and figures. I wonder what truths the Spirit it trying to teach me that cannot be discovered simply by learning the right Bible verse or Church doctrine?

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones..." So goes the spiritual rooted in today's reading from Ezekiel 37. In that passage the dry bones are Israel, and the picture is bleak. The scene is horrendous, an apparent battlefield where the dead have been left as they fell, with no burial. It is a scene of utter devastation in which God raises the question, "Can these bones live?"

In a day when the membership numbers of traditional denominations seem to be in perpetual decline, when reports of the waning influence of religion in America are cover stories in Newsweek, and when some are writing the Church's obituary, it is easy to transfer God's question to our day. "Can these bones live?"

Too often, however, this question is primarily about institutional survival. And much energy is expended talking about what venture or program or new worship gimmick might inject life into dying churches. But of course the dry bones live only because Yahweh acts, because Yahweh bestows the life giving Spirit on them.

I'm all for doing new things, for trying new programs and so on. But I hope we don't forget that it's not about us. It's about what God is doing.

Lord, show me where your Spirit is at work, and draw me into that work.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

When I was young, my grandparents had several grape vines, scuppernongs and muscadines which we would sometimes use to make jelly. But these vines were no longer producing by the time I was an adult. One time when I was at my grandparents with my toddler aged daughter, I said something about how it was too bad she couldn't eat those grapes or help make jelly. My grandfather responded by telling me that the vines probably just needed a good pruning. He had not kept up with that as he had gotten older. He couldn't prune them any longer but he said he could show me how.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2)

It was the time of year for pruning so my grandfather found the shears and we went outside. I never would have done enough pruning had he not been there. He kept insisting that I needed to cut away more vine. It seemed a harsh and severe task to me, but I did as he directed. Later that year we had a huge crop of grapes, and with my grandmother's tutelage, my daughter and I made grape jelly.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." More often than not, I want God to be there for me, to work in my life, but not to cause me any problems, not to make things difficult for me, not to change anything very much. Pruning sounds harsh and severe, not what I want done.

May God help me be a little more trusting of vine-grower's skill.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments," says Jesus just prior to his arrest and death in today's reading from John. There is a lot of talk about love in the Bible. We hear that God is love and that God loves the world. We are told to love God and neighbor. But I wonder if our understanding of love isn't sometimes overly colored by our culture's notions of romantic love, of love as an intense feeling.

As a pastor, I regularly conduct weddings where couples ask me to read from 1 Corinthians 13 with its soaring words about love that conclude, "and the greatest of these is love." These words are certainly appropriate at weddings, but often not for the reason that couples assume. Paul, like Jesus, is not speaking of a warm and mushy feeling, but of an absolute commitment to another, of doing what is best for the other even when you don't feel like it.

In Jesus, we are called into relationship with God, a relationship built on love. But I know that I often attempt a very childish relationship with God where I expect God to give me lots of things in return for my occasionally saying, "I love you." But Jesus shows us the meaning, the depth, and the cost of love.

Help me, O God, to love you with more than my words, to do as Jesus calls me to do.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

These words from Psalm 22 are certainly appropriate on Good Friday, even if Jesus only speaks the opening line. On this day when many Christians contemplate Jesus' suffering and death, I also wrestle with its meaning. I've shared here before that I am not much comforted or impressed with mechanical, formulaic understandings of Jesus' passion. The notion that Jesus had to suffer terribly in order to pay enough of a price for all of us has never seemed a very compelling one to me. And while there are scriptural passages that will support such a view, I don't see the bulk of scriptural witness doing so.

As I've pondered this, it strikes me that viewing the cross primarily as a formula for providing personal salvation can become a way of minimizing Jesus' call for all his followers to embrace the way of the cross. If the cross is the preeminent example of God's power made perfect in weakness, then the cross is much more about the ways of God than it is about formulas.

If the cross is God's ultimate weapon against sin and death, what does that say about how we are to bear witness to the victory that God has won?

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ...Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." Psalm 27 is once again the morning psalm in today's readings. But to me its words take on more profound meaning when I consider Jesus celebrating a final Passover with friends, knowing what the next day would bring.

Today many of us will in some way reenact that "Last Supper." And as we do, I am drawn to today's epistle reading from First Corinthians. Paul is speaking of the Lord's Supper, the only time he mentions it in a letter. He has been prompted to discuss the meal because of abuses of it at Corinth. The wealthy folks who could come early were sitting down to eat without waiting for the poorer members. They were enjoying their food and wine, often to the point of there being none left to share when the poor finally arrived. In this context Paul writes, "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves."

Now it is easy to see how these words can be read to speak of a mystical presence in the meal, of discerning the body of Christ in the elements. But read in the larger context of Paul's instructions to the Corinthians, the body mentioned here is clearly the body of Christ that is the Church.

As we gather for Maundy Thursday services this evening, I think it is all too easy for American Christians to think about these events
mostly from a personal perspective: Christ dying for me, the Spirit giving me strength to follow Jesus and not be afraid, etc. But I hope to sense the body that Paul calls me to discern. May tonight's service join me, and you, to the great story of God's salvation, and to all those who are part of it.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

As Paul comes near the end of his letter to the Philippian congregation, he writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Oh if only I could embrace these words as a way of life. But my gentleness is often hidden. I worry about many things. And I find it difficult simply
to trust in God's providence. At times, however, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding," does sweep over me. And then it seems that it might just be possible to follow Paul's other instructions.

As we draw near to Easter, and the impossible story of the resurrection, perhaps the power of resurrection, of the impossible, may draw me once more to what God can do, to the peace God can give, to the life that is possible in Christ.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also." So says Jesus in today's reading from John 12. These words come as Jesus speaks of his "hour" being at hand, referring to his impending death on the cross. But his words also speak to the larger issue of where Jesus is to be found, not seeking his own comfort or benefit, but doing God's will, wherever that may lead.

During Sunday worship, I have a somewhat different perspective than most of the folks because we face in different directions. And on one Sunday, I watched as homeless gentleman came into the narthex while we worshiped . (Windows along the back wall of the sanctuary give me a good view of this area.) This man had barely gotten into the narthex when an usher came up beside him and gently, but firmly, ushered him out of my view and presumably out of the building. I later learned that the ushered assumed the man was looking for some assistance and told him to come back at some other time.

Now this usher meant well. He was generous in his giving to the church's mission, but thought this gentleman has chosen an inappropriate time. But I can't help but wonder about whether our congregation was "where Jesus is" at that moment. I would never denigrate the central place of worship in the life of faith, but I wonder if our church buildings don't sometimes become fortresses
, insulating us from the very people and situations we are called to serve.

"Where I am, there will my servant be also." What does that look like for me? What does that look like for you, and for your congregation?

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

When I was in seminary and was learning Greek, one of the Greek words that stuck with me was skubala. It is found in today's reading from Philippians. Skubala not only has a catchy sound to it (the accent is on the first syllable), but it is one of those words that turns out to have been "cleaned up" in translation.

Paul writes of how knowing Christ has made everything else seem worthless by comparison. "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish..." Rubbish is how my Bible translates skubala, but while it can mean rubbish, its more literal meaning is dung or excrement. In seminary one smart alec thought it funny to translate this verse "...and I regard them as sh--." Everyone laughed, but the professor then added that this humorous translation likely came closer to what Paul meant than our Bibles did.

No doubt Paul is employing a bit of hyperbole, but still I find his words striking. Very often in our world, religion is an add-on or a pick-me-up. I know that in my own life, it is easy for faith to live at the edges, not making significant contact with a great deal of my day to day activities, even though I am a pastor. But to know Jesus so deeply that this experience dwarfs all of life, puts everything else in a distant second place...

Perhaps Holy Week would be a good time to reflect and meditate on this. As we consider the events of this week, may they become so real to us as to move everything else aside.

(Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sermon for April 5, "What Have You Done for Me Lately?"

A basketball coach's job security may ride on the answer to the question, "What have you done for me lately?" And the quick move from "Hosanna" to "Crucify him!" has a similar feel to it. But there's no need to point fingers at the folks in Jerusalem. I have my own ways of joining the parade but avoiding the cross.

Sermon, 4-5.mp3

Friday, April 3, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Because Jesus repeats these words from the cross, many of us are familiar with the opening of today's psalm, Psalm 22. But we may be less familiar with some of the other lines. " I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death."

Clearly the psalmist's predicament is dismal. But, as the conclusion of the psalm makes clear, even while experiencing this terror, the psalmist does not doubt that God is still God, and God is sovereign. "Future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it." Presumably Jesus also recalls these words during his utterance from the cross.

Before I read today's psalm, the issue of how people understand suffering and tragedy was already in front of me. A person requesting prayers pleaded for help so that "Satan wouldn't win." But I think this psalm, and the resurrection, insist that no tragedy can be so severe as to be a "win" for Satan. Even in the midst of the worst that can happen, somehow, in ways that we often cannot understand, God is still God, and God is still sovereign.

(Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

With Holy Week fast approaching, thoughts naturally turn to the cross, resurrection, and the meaning of it all. For me, the meaning too often gets reduced to, "Jesus died for you and then rose again. Believe this and you're saved." Thus "salvation," whatever particular meaning a person has for that term, becomes about recognizing the right formula and plugging yourself in.

But Paul's words from Romans 11 are a bit hard to fit into the formula. Paul is clearly bothered by the fact that so many of his Jewish kindred have rejected Jesus. Yet he is unwilling to see this simply as them not "getting it." He sees the whole episode as somehow a part of God's plan, and he also sees no evidence that God has rejected the Jews. Surely this means that the cross is much more than formula. It is a part - indeed the central part - of God's plan to redeem all Creation, a plan that is often incomprehensible to human beings.

Many years ago I was having lunch with a fellow pastor who was part of our neighborhood, ecumenical clergy group who had conducted a funeral earlier that day. And he said to me, "Boy it sure is hard doing a funeral for someone you know isn't saved." I told him that on this point I washappy to be a Calvinist, and to trust that God saves whomever God saves. Who is and who isn't is known only to God, and I'm more than content to leave that in God's hands.

The cross is a pretty strange way for God to go, when you think about it. And I suspect that easy formulas seek to make simple what are the inscrutable purposes of God. In the meantime, I will meditate on Holy Week, the cross, and the resurrection, and continue with my own feeble efforts to have my life conform better to what I see God doing there.

(Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

When I was in seminary, I had the chance to go to the Middle East. While riding in our chartered bus through the West Bank, I looked down in a valley and saw a young boy - he looked to be 9 or 10 - walking along a path with a little group of sheep following him, single-file, down the path. I've learned that this is the typical pattern of Middle Eastern shepherding. The herds tend to be quite small, and the shepherds don't drive the sheep; they call them and the sheep follow after them. Jesus as the Good Shepherd adopts a rather gentle metaphor for leading his people. He calls and walks ahead.

Contemporary Americans often expect more of their leaders. We want forceful leaders, people who take the bull by the horns. And I think that I sometimes let such images shape the way I think Jesus/God should be: powerful, assertive, commanding, etc. But a shepherd simply calls, and his own who hear, follow along behind.

(Click here to learn more about the Daily Lectionary.)