The New Reality

There is strange contrast between Matthew’s telling of the first Easter and John’s. For John, seeing the miracles of Jesus requires faith. In each of John’s so called ‘signs,’ two people stand side by side seeing the same thing, and one believes and the other doesn’t. Like the wedding of Cana, the servants who pour the water that has become wine, believe and see. The master of the feast doesn’t see and thinks that some strange trick has been done, causing the best wine to come last. So John tells every miracle, dividing the seeing and believing from the merely confused.

Easter Day
Holy Week
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Leaving in the Wake of Change

There was a time when most pastoral moves were easier on the congregation than on the clergy family. Denominational officials used to be able to handle pastoral calls and appointments as a game of musical chairs; Alice leaves seminary and goes to church A, Henry leaves church A and goes to the slightly bigger church B, Kim leaves church B and goes to a position in the denomination’s head office. Note that in the past, change meant change in pastors. Today change means new roles and new relationships for both parties. While you, as the pastor, are praying and prodding yourself and your family through the mess of moving, your parishioners may be preparing for an even more challenging change.

Sometime those who stay behind have the biggest transition

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Judas is given a specific amount, thirty pieces of silver. Jesus is the most unquantifiable presence in our lives. In the passion story, irony drips blood. We often trade the invaluable for the known quantity. We leave open ended grace and head for the certainty of written doctrine. We trade mercy for law. We trade the joy of seeking for the security of our life with the 99 in the fold. We move from being children of a heavenly father who owns the sheep on every hill, to the employees of an institution that provides us with a weekly allowance. We take our thirty pieces of silver and walk away from the mystery of what lies beyond door number 3.

Lent 6
Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lessons from a Dark Room

In the dark places of our lives, exhaustion gives way to self pity. Our desire to have the time and resources to accomplish what we want becomes a road block in the way of doing what we can. Our demand for always, as in, ‘he always should be there for me,’ or ‘she always forgives me this,’ or ‘I always get to have…,’ blinds us to current reality. We want our lives to be a perfect fairy tale and can’t adapt to the pervasive presence of mess in the story that God has cast us to act in. We no longer see the beauty in this chaotic moment of life, or the hope that lays beyond death.

Moonrise over Hernandez by Ansel Adams, 1941

Really Believing

We don’t know when Jesus begins his friendship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. I suspect (and have written it into my novel, “Bethany’s People”) that they’ve known each other since before Jesus was in ministry. John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’habit to stay there. 

Lent 5
Communion
Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prayer and Process

I often repeat the motto, ‘In a transition, the process is always more important than any one result.” For example; If you are moving your family to another city, you may think it is important to pack your glassware so that your cups don’t chip. In reality, the process of getting everyone in the family to make the transition, have their concerns recognized, and feel positive about the move, is more important. Surrounding any result we wish to achieve in a transitional period, there is a greater process. Sometimes by sheer will power and the cunning manipulation of others, we achieve our desired result.

Shift happens - do we practice good process in it?

Seeing

The story of Jesus and the Blind Man in John 9, is very ‘John.’ It’s funny and deep. Like the stories of the Cana Wedding (expectations), Nicodemus (rebirth), the Woman at the Well (understanding), it plays with a one word spiritual theme, in this case blindness. Like some super-Socrates, John crafts the dialogue so that we come to see that we don’t really see what we think we see about the spiritual theme. I remember reading this passage in seminary and for the first time, I got John. I had read his gospel many times without noticing that each thing Jesus says is misinterpreted and that leads to someone asking a stupid question.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Misuse of the Straw Poll

Straw Polls are meant to gauge opinion in order to see if an idea has enough popular support to go forward. In times of transition, however, they can get us into serious trouble. Say, you are in moving to a new leadership situation or pastoral appointment. Early on, you will run into something that the outgoing leader or current pastor instituted that seems unpopular. You weigh in and say, “That’s something we should reconsider.” Before you know it you’re conducting a straw poll and finding seven or eight people in agreement with your first impression. Here’s where you get in trouble:

You may have more options if you do more research

Essential Jesus

There’s nothing churchy about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. It takes place outdoors and on the road. We know the location, but the importance of the place is in its current insignificance. The well is mostly empty. The disciples, who act like the ushers at the back of the church handing out bulletins and taking attendance, are gone. The crowd is absent. There are no rules, no social protocol. Just Jesus and this woman. Anyone who takes this text and tries to say something from it in support of institutional religion, or to get something done in their church, is doing the gospel great harm.

Lent 3
Sunday, March 23, 2014

Three Step Transition

Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This fact becomes obvious when you are stuck listening to someone who can’t tell a story. It’s not just that the order of events gets mixed up in bad stories, it’s that things don’t happen when you need them to happen. Good story tellers begin with something that hooks your attention. They develop plot and character in the middle. They end with a memorable conclusion. 

 

From where you are... the road has a beginning, middle, and end

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