Archive for August 2017

Exodus 3:5-12a

Have you ever noticed that Moses’ life was divided into equal thirds — each lasting 40 years. In the first third he was the adopted child of the Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. We can imagine Moses growing up in the competitive world of the palace. If you asked him what he wanted, more than anything else, I bet Moses would say that he wished to be successful. Many young adults today are driven by the need to be successful. They want to succeed at work, marry the best spouse, and achieve great things before they are 40.

Moses turns 40. We don’t know if he feels like he has achieved his goal. But, one day he sees an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave. Moses goes ballistic and kills the Egyptian. Now he’s a fugitive. He goes out into the desert, marries a woman named Zippy, and learns to herd sheep. He herds sheep for the next 40 years. Now ask Moses during this time what he wants from life more than anything else, he’d say he wants security. Now let me ask you — you don’t have to raise your hand — how many of you have noticed that when you shifted from being a young adult to being a more mature adult, that you found yourself looking to play things safe? Wild life is out. Security is in.

Then one day Moses sees a burning bush. At the burning bush, God calls him to leave his security focused life aside. God puts Moses on a new path. The word that describes this new path is significance.

What you need to realize is that this transition from wanting security to wanting to do significant things for God is the 2nd Midlife. Think about your life. Where are you?
Are you seeking success?
Are you trying to find some measure of security and to just get people to stop bothering you?
Or have you had a burning bush experience where you want nothing else from life than to do something significant for God? (Note. Moses was 80 years old when this happens)

Now are you ready for your second Midlife?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it this way: (Aurora Leigh )
Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries

Pentecost 17
Labor Day Weekend
Sunday, September 3, 2017
From my workshop and book: Finding Shalom
Exodus 1:8-2:10

Most of us have experienced about 1% of Exodus 1:8. We go to work and the person who supervises us changes. Suddenly we have a new boss who doesn’t know how loyal, trustworthy, and super we’ve been. They patronize us. They fail us. They give the good tasks to their friends and don’t give us the review that we need to be promoted. A bad boss is a pain. Some of you have lost a good neighbor and had the house next door bought by people who live like animals. A bad neighbor is a hassle. A bad king or pharaoh or president, however, is a humanitarian disaster. Think of the Hindenburg Zeppelin — “Oh, the humanity!”

Read Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

This is how a tragedy begins. Someone has your fate in their hands who doesn’t know you. It can be a new boss, a new neighbor, a new king. They remove the kindness you had come to expect from life. If they are your boss, there may be financial consequences. If they are your neighbor, you might lose sleep, step in dog poo as you get your morning paper, and begin to be concerned for your children’s safety. None of this compares to the problems that arise when the person who rules your land has forgotten the principles of Shalom.

Shalom is the peace, healing, and prosperity that God wishes to bring to every person on this planet. Shalom, often simply translated as peace, appears throughout the Bible. It is often paired with Justice, which is God’s commitment that every person be treated fairly. Human laws can be good or bad, but the divine purpose of human authority is to insure that every person is treated fairly, that no people group or race is disparaged, and that no one is denied life or liberty without due process.

Shalom and Justice should not depend upon who you know. It should not depend upon your financial status, your zip code, your religion, or the color of your skin. It should not be tied to a person being part of the majority class. It should not be denied to a people when they become more numerous than the people who used to be in charge.

This is what happens to the Hebrew people when they are in Egypt. A king ends up on the throne who doesn’t know their history or the relationship that they have with the God of all peoples. He surrounds himself with bigots. He maintains his base by stoking the fears of the mob. To the proto-white supremacists of upper Egypt he says, “Look at those *&%$*&. They are becoming more numerous than we are. They even had a friend in the Pharaoh on the throne before me. What will become of us if we let them become fully a part of our country?” (Exodus 1:9)

So what does Exodus 1:8 have to do with me? I think its important that we see how our own story fits into the story of others. The Hebrew people in Egypt are very different from us, and yet we have each experienced some of what they are going through. The nationalism and racism of ancient Egypt is still a problem in 21st century America. People do get oppressed. Historical monuments can be utilized as expressions of racial superiority. Mobs can be made to be afraid of peaceful people.
But also keep in mind, that God has a plan. He will raise up Moses for the Hebrew people, and leaders who believe in justice and shalom for our own time. It will be a struggle. God has his eye one a making it right in the end. His people will find shelter. His love will conquer all.

Whether you are dealing with a 1% problem person or a Hindenburg disaster this morning, take it to God. He will work his loving plan in your life.

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Monuments should honor those who love Justice & Shalom
Isaiah 56:1-8
Matthew 15:10-28

I don’t make this stuff up! The Common Lectionary - a decades old scripture chooser used by many pastors to keep them preaching the whole gospel - has four scriptures and a Psalm for August 20th; every one of these speak of God’s commitment to provide justice and mercy for all people. In Genesis 45, we read of a man who was once a slave and a prisoner becoming the hope and savior of people who once did him wrong. In Psalm 67, we read of how God judges all the people of the world with equity; his love is for every nation. In Romans 11, Paul explains that when God extends his grace to outsiders or a foreign people, he doesn’t diminish he love for those who knew him first. This is the same talk that parents give to their first born when they are expecting or planning to adopt another child. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has to address the Pharisees, whom he says are blind guides. What is the nature of their blindness? Not theology. But a commitment to racism, classism, and the practice of segregation.

If I were to preach in this post-Charlottesville week, I would find my text in Isaiah 56:1-8. I would use the whole text, and point out that like the Eunuchs of old, many who are single, divorced, transgendered, or gay, find themselves shunned today by our “family” oriented church. God says that he will give to such people special honor in his church (verse 5).

The scriptures speak about God’s commitment to Justice. I fear that few Americans think about that word as much as they should. Most people feel that justice is being done when their own property and personal security is being protected by the police and the courts. A few people extend this concept of justice to include honoring their ancestors, their history, their culture and class privileges. Some even march with torches proclaiming that it is time for us tip justice’s scales back towards white privilege. These definitions of justice are self-centered and unethical. Even people who don’t think of themselves as racist, can have a faulty definition of justice.

The justice that God speaks about in Isaiah is one where the rights of every person are protected. It expands the definition of neighbor to include the foreigner. It expands the definition of family to include those people of every race and nation on this planet. It links the doing of Justice with the showing of compassion.

When a community realizes that it has reserved a place of honor for a statue that represents the injustice of slavery, it needs to repent and reflect. It needs to consider what the presence of Robert E. Lee’s statue means to the descendants of former slaves. How can a community go forward in providing justice for all, if it gives a place of honor to a symbol of injustice?

When a statistical study shows that people of color are stopped, detained, and unjustly convicted at a higher rate in a particular city, is it not justice to find out why? When who gets hired and what they get paid for work depends upon being of the right race or gender, doesn’t justice need to be broadened to include our workplace? What about extending justice to housing and ending the segregation of our neighborhoods?

To make one’s definition of justice too small, is to make it wrong.

Pentecost 15
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Justice is an inconvenient goal
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

The story of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt begins by telling us that his father, Jacob, had just brought the family back into the southern region of what is today Israel. Geography is important, here. We have this typical family: father, two wives, two concubines, twelve sons, a couple of daughters, including Dinah who is in the kitchen with somebody, and a mess of sheep. Everybody crosses the Jordan River at night. They come across the border illegally, or at least in fear for their lives, because Uncle Esau plans to do them harm. Jordan at this point looks remarkably similar to the Rio Grande at El Paso.

It is important that you not think that I am importing today’s immigration debate into the Bible. Joseph’s story begins on this note because the people of God are constantly in motion. Some, like Jacob, Moses, Naomi, Elijah, Daniel, the baby Jesus, and the apostle John, leave their homeland as refugees. At the border, there is often tears. Exile is an common element in the biblical story. Compassion for pilgrims and travelers is foundational to biblical ethics. Those nativists, whether they wear white robe and burn crosses, or Armani suits, have not studied their Bible if they think possession is 9/10ths of God’s law.

Geography matters, but not in the way that you think it does. The promised land gets lost and found more times than my car keys. The people God loves are sent off to Egypt. They are imprisoned, like Joseph. Their children are put at risk. They are cut off from social services, like Moses was when he floated in a basket down the Nile. They often weep because their home has been destroyed, as Ezekiel’s companions did. They also learn new things, work hard, and become meaningful contributors to the new land they find themselves in. Joseph ended up saving the Egyptians from starvation. Think of Daniel in Babylon next time you hear some one say that immigration should be restricted to those who speak English good.

The theme that emerges from Joseph’s story, and our own, is that when we reach a place that we think is far from home, God does not forsake us. When we are in the pit. God is with us. When we have lost the place that we hoped to live in forever, God has a new life for us. We must work hard, learn new things, and seek to contribute to the new community we find ourselves in.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Can you tell if this is the border of Texas or Israel?
Genesis 32:22-31

I can still remember my shock when my Old Testament professor called Jacob a coward. “Look at what he does,” Dr. Szikszai said. “He sends his wives and children across the river, giving them as slaves, to save his own miserable skin. He waits in the dark, trying to find a way to sneak away.” This is how one of my favorite Bible Stories begins. Jacob, like us, doesn’t have the courage to live the life he is called to live. God has to wrestle with him. God has to bring pain into his life, putting his hip out of joint. God has to leave him limping with broken-ness. Out of broken-ness comes transformation. A new name. Israel.

 

The other thing that Dr. Szikszai taught me thirty five years ago, was that the name Israel is a pun. God likes puns, the Bible is full of them. This one hinges on the vagueness of the Hebrew language concerning who is doing what for whom. Israel can mean, the one whom God fights for. Showing us that the special relationship we enjoy with our God means that we can depend upon His strength for our earthly battles. The other meaning, however, is just as likely. Jacob the trickster becomes branded as the one that God is constantly fighting with. Our souls are defined by the way we fight with God. Even the great patriarch Israel, fought tooth and nail against God’s will for his life. 

 

A lot could be said about Christian hubris. We are quick to say, “God is on our side.” We are slow to admit that we fight with spiritual doubt, our own lack of courage, and the great temptation to do things the most efficient way, instead of God’s way. Similarly, we rarely speak about the awesomeness of a God who will enter into our darkest night and bring meaning and hope to our lives. God is always with us.

 

Genesis 32 is near the middle of the Jacob/Israel story. Unfortunately, the lectionary moves us on to Joseph next week and most people lack the patience to trudge with Israel into midlife. The narrative, however, is rich and rewarding. Jacob/Israel is both a shining example of faith and a dismal failure. God grace shines through on every page, reminding us that He will never forsake us.

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The stuff of life (see chicken) float around as Jacob wrestles with God