Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Act Like Family!"

1 Corinthians 13 is most often heard at weddings, but it is not an ode to love, certainly not romantic love. Paul is lecturing wayward children, admonishing them for engaging in petty divisions. The behavior of the Corinthians is not unlike that of siblings engaged in all out rivalry. And the Corinthians could surely see themselves in all those things "love is not."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Good Books

A member of this congregation was browsing through the church library today, looking for something good to read. I happened by and she asked for suggestions. I had to admit that I don't know the contents of our library very well, but like a lot of church libraries, you have to wade through a good bit of junk to find the good stuff.

I helped her find something but agreed that it might be helpful to post a list of "suggested readings." I'm going to do just that, but first I'd like your thoughts. What are some good books that every person of faith should read?

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's reading from John, Jesus continues to speak to the religious authorities. Jesus notes that they "search the scriptures." The problem is not that they don't know their Bible. They know it exceedingly well, and in their minds, Jesus can't be doing the work of God because he violates Sabbath, because he claims authority no human can claim. Jesus says that he will not condemn them when they stand before God, rather, "your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope." (Jesus uses "Moses" is a metaphor for the Law as he was thought to have been the author of the first 5 books of the Bible.)

What a curious thing. Jesus says that those who know their scripture forward and backward, who seek diligently to live according to what it says, will be condemned by the very Law they revere.

I've not met many serious Christians who don't in some way seek to follow the Bible. We Presbyterians say it is "the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ..." and "the rule of faith and life." Yet even among Presbyterians, we come to wildly different conclusions about what Scripture says. Is it possible of us to be ones who "search the scriptures" and yet then find ourselves condemned by those same scriptures?

Surely Jesus give us a huge warning about any arrogance or certainty regarding our particular interpretations. But still we must read and interpret Scripture if we are to be people of faith. And in this task I think we would be well served by doing the best we can to let Jesus be the lens by which we read the Bible. After all, to be Christian is to claim Jesus as the truest revelation of God and God's will for us. Christians do not worship and serve the Bible. We worship and serve God whom we have encountered in Jesus. Our desire is not to follow the Bible, but to follow Jesus. For me, the Bible is the unique, authoritative, and inspired guide to doing just that, but it is still only a guide. And if I use it to justify something that Jesus would not condone, then surely the Scripture condemns me in the very same way Jesus says it condemns those religious authorities in our reading today.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's gospel reading Jesus addresses his critics who are upset at his healing on the Sabbath, and who are even more incensed that Jesus has called God "My Father." This marks the opening conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, laying out themes that will repeat throughout John's gospel.

Jesus response seems odd to me in a way. He says he's only doing what God shows him to do, that he can do nothing on his own. It's not really developed here, by I hear echos of similar statements in John where the amazing works of Jesus are seen as self evident. How could he be doing some of what he does if he's not empowered by God in some way.

To me, this raises an interesting question about who is and isn't doing God's work. Very often, we use doctrinal litmus tests to weigh whether or not someone is sufficiently Christian. In my own denomination, we continue to struggle and fight over the issue of whether or not to ordain gays and lesbians. Within these arguments, I've heard it said that it doesn't matter how much evidence there is that God is doing great things through a particular person. If that person is in a gay relationship, the church cannot tolerate that.

I realize that issues of biblical interpretation can be complex and difficult, and that people of deep faith can come to very different conclusions, but at times it seems that we are more interested in our positions and the labels that go with them than we are in the work of God.

And so in my denomination there are many conservative churches who won't support the mission budget of the denomination because that denomination is "too liberal." And many liberals won't support the aid work of agencies they deem "too conservative." And very often, these decisions are not based
in any way on the mission work or aid in question. They are only about philosophical or theological labels and divides.

I don't have any easy answers to this situation, but it gives me some pause about the way I sometimes label and judge others.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Connective Tissue"

Brett's sermon from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a can be found on his blog. Check it out at

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

In today's gospel reading, Jesus heals a man who has been an invalid for 38 years. Surely this is something to celebrate, but Jesus has healed him on the Sabbath, and some of the religious authorities are fit to be tied. Run ins over the Sabbath are featured in all the gospels, so clearly Jesus has something of a reputation for being a religious rule-breaker.

But while it is easy to smugly laugh at the wooden, rigid adherence to rules by Jesus' opponents, rules are essential for any sort of society. And Jesus never speaks against keeping the Sabbath, on having a day focused on God and rest. Jesus' conflict is not with keeping Sabbath, it is with a faith that worries more about Sabbath than about honoring God, that makes an idol out of Sabbath keeping.

Sabbath keeping was a central part of Jewish identity in Jesus' day. It allowed them to maintain an identity distinct from the Roman, pagan world around them. For the devout, it was central to what it meant to be God's people.

Being over zealous about Sabbath keeping is not much of a problem for American Christians, but we have others things that help us stake out our identity as people of faith. For some, going to church on Sunday is the end all and be all of faith. For others, having a "personal relationship with Jesus" is essential, the thing without which their identity is impossible. For still others, if someone has not been "born again," he is deemed not to be a genuine Christian. The more serious people are about their faith the more likely they are to have some essential element of Christian identity that is non-negotiable. But such elements can easily turn into our own idols.

I think that most American Christians would do well to embrace a few more rules and religious disciplines. Our unwillingness to do so often lets us fashion our own personal religion constructed to fit our preferences and tastes, with little there to shape us into the sort of people God wants us to be. Yet religious disciplines and rules must always serve God. No rule, no spiritual practice, no religious experience can become the things we love and serve, for when it does, it then stands between us and God.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I've always been struck by how many of the Psalms cry out in pain. These "lament" psalms make up the largest single type. And Jesus' cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" quotes the opening verse of Psalm 22. Today's Psalm 57 also cries out to God, seeking refuge. "I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords."

Besides being a source of great comfort to faithful people who struggle and suffer, the existence of so many lament psalms also says something about the nature of faithful life. For one thing, being a person of faith does not insulate you from the pain and suffering of this world. The notion that people who suffer somehow deserve it is common, but given how common suffering by good people is in the Psalms, a biblical faith would seem to say otherwise.

Additionally, these psalms point to God's special concern for the suffering. Almost all the lament psalms cling to the hope that God will save those who suffer. And when Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross, he clearly knows that the psalm ends with the promise of deliverance, and the hope that all the faithful will praise God's saving acts.

There is much suffering in the world that is hard to understand. Often there is no good answer to the question, "Why?" But faith clings to the promise that suffering does not mean God has abandoned those in pain. Faith clings to hope that only faith can see, trusting that God will indeed bring forth life from the worst tragedy, even from death.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not preaching but still have something to say

I'm not preaching today, but I still found myself drawn to the reading from Luke. Jesus is in his hometown of Nazareth shortly after beginning his ministry. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and reads from the scroll of Isaiah where it says, "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."

When he has finished reading he says, "Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In Luke, this is Jesus' first public teaching. Jesus seems to see himself inaugurating a new day like that promised by the prophet. And most everything about this new day seems to be a blessing for people who are struggling. The poor, captive, blind, and oppressed are singled out, and there is the promise of "the year of God's favor."

This year is surely the Jubilee year found in the Old Testament, where everything and everybody participate in a year long Sabbath. Key components of this Jubilee were the canceling of all debts and the return of all property to its original owners. All of this was about restoring community, helping those who fallen to once again fully participate in the common life of the nation.

Right now, there are some calling for the canceling of debts in Haiti. And while many people are sympathetic to the plight of Haiti, a lot people who have sent contributions to Haitian relief draw the line at things such as canceling debt.

There are some really troublesome attributes to the Kingdom of God. How are we going to teach personal responsibility if we call off debt? How are we going to encourage the sort of risk taking that builds companies and creates jobs if we have a Jubilee every so many years that starts everything over again? Jesus' vision of the Kingdom looks like a threat to much that we take for granted in our world.

And maybe that is precisely the point. The Kingdom is a threat, a threat to all forms of status quo, to all systems that diminish our true humanity. It is a threat to the view that says, "I am totally unimportant and of no worth," instead insisting that all are gifted and called play their part. And it is a threat to the view that says, "Some people don't really matter. They are just workers or statistics or consumers or commodities." Instead the Kingdom features the last entering first.

On a fundamental level, Jesus' notion of the Kingdom calls us to examine what motivates us at our very heart. When we think about whether debt relief for Haiti is a good idea or not, do we decide based on what is best for Haiti and others? Do we make our decisions out of a deep love for those who are suffering, or are we motivated by something else.

I am convinced that people of faith can sincerely come to very different conclusions about the best courses of action in rebuilding Haiti, or ending homelessness in our own community, or dealing with the healthcare crisis. But I suspect that people on all sides have some vested interest in a status quo that is threatened by the Kingdom Jesus brings.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I've always enjoyed the way John's gospel has Jesus play with words. He will say a word that has one meaning, an obvious, literal one and a figurative one. The person Jesus speaks to will always hear the obvious, literal meaning, and this misunderstanding will provide an avenue for Jesus to speak further. It happens when Nicodemus gets confused about being "born again." There Jesus uses a word that can mean either "born again" or "born from above." English translations have to go with one or the other option, and so we miss the word play.

Today Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well about "living water." It is possible for us to miss the word play here as well. "Living water" was a colorful way to speak of running water, a flowing stream. Wells, obviously, don't produce living water. And the Samaritan woman's confusion over where Jesus is going to get this refreshing water is understandable. But it is because of this confusion that she raises the question of whether Jesus is greater than Jacob. And her confusion also provides the opportunity for Jesus to speak of the living water he gives that quenches a much deeper thirst.

In John's gospel, understanding Jesus literally is a sure fire way to be left in the dark, and Jesus' opponents are never able to comprehend the deeper level on which he speaks. We modern folks tend to be literalists by nature. We think of myths as untrue and aren't all that good at metaphor or imagery. For many of us, truth means fact. But not in John. In John truth is, "I am the bread of life... I am the vine... I am the light of the world... I am the gate." These phrases are familiar to many of us. But obviously they are not literally true.

I wonder what other truths in the Bible I miss because I don't look beyond the literal.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti Update

A strong aftershock measure 6.1 on the Richter scale hit Haiti this morning, adding to the misery there. If you are still looking for a way to help, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has already be sending in funds to mission partners on the ground in Haiti. Learn more about PDA's response and donate online at

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Exploring in my grandmother's attic, I once came across some school work done by my father in the late 1940s. The lesson was from a Bible class (they used to have those in public school), and it covered the Noah story in Genesis. I was startled when I saw what the lesson taught, even though I was born in the still segregated South. The lesson explained that Ham, one of Noah's three sons, was the forerunner of dark skinned people who were forever to be subservient to whites because of the curse found in today's lectionary story.

Considering that there is no mention of race or color, it seems quite a stretch to use this story to justify the treatment of African Americans. And I suppose that should stand as a stark warning about how easy it is for those in power to use the Bible to justify the status quo.

It seems to me that the Noah stories come in for a lot of misuse and misunderstanding. Because of the ark and the animals, people think of them as children's stories. But in truth the Noah stories wrestle with a huge theological question. How will God deal with a Creation that has gone horribly awry. While on the surface the answer might seem to be, "Clean house and start over again," that is not the case. The story is quite clear that this does not happen. The "inclination of the human heart" is not improved at all by the flood, and today's story shows a drunk Noah and a dysfunctional family where relatives end up slaves to relatives. It isn't exactly clear what Ham does that is so bad in the story. (There is some heavy duty sexual innuendo here.) But if Noah and his family were the new start that was supposed to put humanity back on the right track, things have gone to pot almost instantly.

Clearly things are no better off after Noah's flood than they were before. The only thing that really happens in these stories happens with God. God makes a covenant with Creation and humanity. Despite humanity's horrible failings God will not abandon us. The only thing fixed by the Noah event is the elimination of the destroy-and-start-over option. God commits to us, with all our brokenness and sinfulness. Sometimes, when I look at all the horrors that we humans can do -- even the terrible tragedy in Haiti was largely the result of government turning a blind eye to shoddy construction -- it seems like we humans are a hopeless case. But even when we give up on ourselves, God has decided to stick with us. And I guess that is pretty good news.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Gifted"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

I used Psalm 146 for the devotion in our staff meeting this morning. We did a form of lectio divina, listening for something in the text to speak to us or grab us, and then seeking to understand why. I and one other person found ourselves drawn to the phrase, "plans perish," which was rather striking when you consider that we were in a staff meeting to make plans.

The psalm speaks of not putting our trust in human rulers whose plans disappear the moment they die. Only God is permanent, eternal. But don't we still have to make plans?

Two thoughts came to me regarding this. The first is how we should strive to connect with God's plans. Too often in churches, plans reflect the personalities and preferences of those doing the planning more than they do what God would want. How do we let God direct our plans?

The second is to accept the fragile and temporary nature of our plans. Because we associate what we do at church with God, we
sometimes act as though our worship style, our structures, or our ministries are permanent and eternal expressions of how things should be. And how we've always done it becomes an idol that we serve.

God, what plans are you calling us to make? And what old plans should we let die?

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Gifted"

Some school children get labeled "gifted." While all are gifted in some way, we value some gifts more than others. We label as gifted those with certain gifts. Sometimes we even think that those with the "better" gifts are better individuals. The Apostle Paul thinks otherwise.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

This is only vaguely about today's lectionary verses. None of them seemed all that well suited to what many are thinking about this day, the terrible suffering in Haiti. The gospel reading does speak of those first folks who responded when Jesus said, "Follow me." And I imagine that a lot of Christians, and non Christians, are wondering just what following Jesus means right now.

Pat Robertson apparently thinks it means pronouncing blame. He flatly stated that the devastating earthquake occurred because the Haitians made a deal with the devil centuries ago in order to throw off their French masters. Thus they are under a curse. How the apparently demented Robertson knows about this "deal," I have no idea. But his callous lunacy emerges from a question that many are asking. Where is God in this?

Sometimes people of faith seem extremely worried about protecting God's reputation, and the two easiest outs available are (1) blame the victim or (2) insulate God. Robertson finds it amazingly easy to do the former. Others take the tack of moving God far enough offstage so as not to incur any divine culpability. It was only natural forces at work. And yet such forces are presumably from the creative hand of God, and surely God could have intervened if God wanted to do so. And so at the very least, God has chosen not to help.

For me, a more faithful response is to stop making excuses for God and acknowledge that we often do not and cannot know the mind of God. Sometimes the only answer available to us is the one given to Job. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth..." And sometimes the best we can do when we encounter terrible suffering is to stop trying to determine cause and start trying to help. Jesus says this in so many words when he is asked about whose sin caused a man to be born blind. Jesus says no sin caused the tragedy, but that it exists as an opportunity to reveal God's works.

Perhaps that is the best Christians can do in the face of the suffering we see on our televisions today. Let followers of Jesus simply do what he did when he encountered pain and suffering. He reached out to heal and to make whole. There isn't a soul reading this who cannot do so in some small way.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

If you were asked to come up with an image to represent power and strength, what would it be? I guessing that it would likely not be a lamb. Popular images of strength and power when I was growing up included John Wayne, Superman, and any number of cowboy and military heroes. Not a lamb among them.

John's gospel presents Jesus very differently than in the other gospels. Jesus is always in control. Jesus never prays to be spared from the cross in John. Instead, the cross is portrayed as his exaltation. And John narrates Jesus' trial before Pilate in such a way that Jesus is much more in control than Pilate. Pilate is driven about by forces beyond his control while Jesus oversees the event.

And yet, one of John's primary images for Jesus is "the Lamb of God," a lamb who is slain along with the other Passover lambs. Strange that the gospel which depicts Jesus as the least human looking and the most god like would choose such an image. Perhaps this should challenge me to reexamine my own notions of power and strength.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalm 42 repeats this phrase twice. This is a prayer that longs for God's presence, the cry of one who has known God's blessings, but feels far from God now. It is an internal dialogue that calls the self to remember.

It is interesting how there are times in my life when God is so real to me, so present to me, that I have altered plans and headed my life in a new direction, sure that God was calling me there. But then there are times when that seems a distant memory, when life's experiences almost seem to taunt me in the manner of the psalmist's opponents who say, "Where is your God?"

Strange how easily time can rob a profound faith experience of its substance, how it can seem unreal, like a dream. Surely a part of faith is about a good memory that can say to oneself, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in the Lord, my help and my God."

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Solidarity, Identity, and Call"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today's Genesis reading is the second of two creation stories in that book. This is the so-called "Adam and Eve" story, a story with very different points to make than the earlier seven day account of creation. A saw a quote recently that said this reading contains the first thing in God's cosmos that is "not good." You may recall that everything in the seven day account was declared "good" or "very good" by God. But in our reading today, after the man has been created, God says, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."

It's worth noting that some folks have used this verse to argue for a subservient role for women, but the word translated "helper" is normally used to speak of God in the Old Testament, and I've never heard anyone claim that this means God exists to serve us.

God thinks we need to be in relationship, that our nature requires community. That's not all that stunning. Humans are clearly social creatures, although we sometimes seem to pay much more attention to career, success, etc. than we do to relationships.

God also seems to think that we need help. I think we resist this one even more. We like to think of ourselves as independent and self-sufficient. We like to do it on our own. The movie "Invictus" has called to attention the Henley poem I had to memorize in the eighth grade. It ends with the lines, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."

The words may be stirring and they may have helped Nelson Mandela withstand 27 years in prison, but they are fundamentally untrue. Our fates are inextricably linked to others, no matter how great or heroic our achievements.

I think one of the hardest things for me to do is to ask for help, especially to ask for help in an area where I think I should be fully competent. It's as though I think such help would point to a personal failing on my part.

We Presbyterians are Calvinists, and Calvin said that the human tendency to idolatry was at the very core of humanity's sorry state. We think ourselves masters when we were created to be servants. We imagine ourselves sovereign when we all need to be rescued, to be saved.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Solidarity, Identity, and Call"

Like Cecilia in The Patron Saint of Liars, we sometimes want to think that we are not one of "them." But in his baptism, Jesus aligns himself with sinful humanity, says that he is one of "us."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

"We will not fear." So says Psalm 46, but I and a lot of other folks have trouble living this. The mountains might not be shaking or the waters roaring, but there's the economy and ever present fears of terrorism. Not to mention politicians and commentators on TV screaming for us to be afraid.

The Bible may insist that God is in charge of history, that even those forces that seem to be opposed to God are actually, in some mysterious way, moving things toward God's purposes. But it can be difficult to see that. Perhaps God is in charge of my spiritual well being. Perhaps God can safeguard my soul, but God seems pretty far removed from stock market tumbles that affect my retirement account, from political rancor that polarizes and paralyzes, from rogue nations bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

As human knowledge has advanced over the years, the things we attribute to supernatural causes have steadily diminished so that God is directly in charge of less and less. And we sometimes seem to think that God can only be in charge of those things that we don't understand how they work. That makes it pretty hard to trust that God is our refuge, that we will not fear no matter how messed up the world might seem.

I suppose it's a good thing that God's faithfulness is not dependent on our trusting God. God's love for us simply is. 1 John says that we are able to love only because God first loved us. It also says "perfect love casts out fear." Hmmm. There seems to be an awful lot of hate, anger, yelling, and screaming in our culture. Is this because we're afraid, or is it actually creating more fear. If love casts our fear does hate add to it?

What if loving our neighbors, even loving our enemies, is less an ethical command and more a statement of faith, something we can do
only if God's love transforms us, becomes so much our refuge and strength that we are no longer afraid.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today is Epiphany, which officially ends the twelve days of Christmas. The word epiphany means an appearance or revealing of the divine, and the Christian festival of Epiphany celebrates Jesus being revealed to the Gentile Magi or Wise Men. (We celebrate twelve days after Christmas, but it is unclear when the Magi actually arrived. From reading the story in Matthew, Jesus might have been as old as two.)

The Daily Lectionary readings don't include the story of the Wise Men because it is found in the readings from another lectionary, the one used for Sunday worship. This lectionary has a full set of readings for an Epiphany service. However, the Daily Lectionary readings do speak of God's glory being revealed, a theme that fits the day perfectly.

One of those readings is from near the end of the book of Revelation. Revelation is likely the most misunderstood and misused book of the Bible (with Daniel a close second). It is not a book of predictions and timetables for the future. Rather it is an artistic and poetic call to hope. It reminds suffering First Century
Christians that God is still in control, no matter how bad things seem. God controls history and it will move toward God's appointed end.

This promise is described in a wonderful vision of a new Jerusalem. "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb." There is no temple in the city because nothing is needed any longer to draw near to God. All that separates humanity from God is gone. The vision also says that the city's "gates will never be shut by day -- and there will be no night there." In ancient times, city gates were shut for safety, closed when an enemy attacked and closed at night to keep out bandits and robbers. But Revelation hopes for a day when this is not longer necessary, when God is literally present with us, and all danger is gone.

We live in a world filled with fears and anxieties. Polls say that Americans are no longer optimistic about the future. But Revelation's hope for the future is not based in human ability to make progress, but in a faith that God ultimately controls all things, even the flow of history. And today we celebrate, remembering that God's love entered into human history as a baby born in Roman occupied Palestine, all those years ago.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

Today's gospel reading contains part of the raising of Lazarus story. Jesus, who has delayed coming when he hears that Lazarus is ill, arrives after Lazarus is 4 days in the tomb. And when Martha - one of Lazarus' sisters - comes out to meet Jesus she says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." She goes on to say that "even now," she knows that God will do whatever Jesus asks, but I found myself lingering at her opening complaint.

I know that this story has a "happy ending," but I keep hearing Martha's first words, "Lord, if you had been here..." I have to confess that I often go about my daily tasks as though Jesus were not here, as though my difficulties and struggles occur, in part, because God isn't present, because Jesus has tarried somewhere and left me alone.

I think a lot of mainline, Protestant congregations can feel the same way. They remember glory days from the 50s or 60s, and wonder what happened. Where is God now? Lord, if you had been here, things wouldn't have gone like this.

Jesus' response to Martha is often heard at funerals, but Jesus' words aren't really about hoping for resurrection after death. They are about God's power for new life that is present now. Jesus tells Martha that resurrection is not about a far off hope, but about a present reality. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to see where the power of resurrection is present and at work in my life and in the life of this congregation.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Sunday Sermon - "Becoming Children"

Musings on the Daily Lectionary

A blind man who sees and religious leaders who don't; that seems to be a theme of today's gospel reading. It contains part of a longer story about Jesus' healing of a blind man. We hear how some people who have seen the blind man begging have a hard time believing that the sighted man before them is the same fellow. And in the part of the story left out, the religious leaders throw the man out of the synagogue for stating the obvious, that if Jesus can heal a blind man, surely he is from God.

It is interesting how, when we are certain of something, facts to the contrary are difficult for us to see. "
Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up," goes one comical take on this phenomenon. Our certainties can make us "blind" to reality, even when we have the best of intentions.

The Pharisees are often depicted as the bad guys in the gospels. In truth, the Pharisees were a reform movement in Judaism, one that emphasized living by God's law over religious ceremony. I imagine that most of them were motivated by genuine religious passion, and they certainly had a lasting, positive impact on Judaism. But it seems that many of them couldn't fit Jesus into their religious certainties. What they already knew blinded them.

I think that the "blindness" caused by religious certainty is more difficult to overcome than other sorts of certainties. And yet many of our religious certainties are of questionable origin. Many Christians and non-Christians alike are absolutely convinced of the "immortality of the soul," but there is nothing in the Bible about this. Probably all of us have deeply held religious convictions that are either not true or half true; which might not matter much except when these convictions blind us to what God is up to.

A spiritual director once suggested a reflection exercise where I asked myself, "Where have I seen God at work in my life today, and where have I missed God at work in my life today?" But how does a blind man know what he hasn't seen? Perhaps I might pray the old hymn, "Open my eyes, that I may see..."

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Becoming Children

"Children of God" is often used as a synonym for human beings, but John's gospel says Jesus lets us "become children of God." Being adopted by God through Jesus means that we become more than we are by nature.