Hope

Holy Immigrants

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.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Coward!

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.

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 6, 2017

Friendship and Risk

Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane. 

Lent 5
Sunday, April 2, 2017

New meets Old

It is a New Year. A new broom is sweeping. The fox is in the hen house. We  have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna are both older than eight track tapes. Yet, they don’t speak about the past, they tell of the future.

Presentation of the Lord
Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Psalm for the Oppressed

This past week was Martin Luther King Day. I think it is important that we remember him, not just as a leader of a minority group in our society, but as an example of how to respond to oppression. Sometimes oppression is systemic, like the racism is that still infects America.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 22, 2017

You want me to be nice?

Jeremiah hears God telling people to settle down, contribute their own sweat equity towards establishing of a healthy community, and be nice to the Babylonians. His actual words are, “Seek the welfare of the city.” God is speaking to his people. The same people who have just lost their home, seen their house of worship burned to the ground and their beautiful city invaded by the Babylonians. They have been rounded up like cattle and marched across the desert to Babylon. They are weary and resentful. They want to escape. They want to lash out and sabotage the plans of their captors.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 9, 2016

Things we take for granted

“Is there no balm in Gilead?” This is the moment after the iceberg has struck the Titanic when the fact that the boat will sink becomes common knowledge. Suddenly, the lifeboat that you dismissed when the “In the unlikely event of an iceberg hitting us…” lecture was given, becomes foremost in your mind. Is there really a life preserver under my cot? Or that moment after you accept the fact that your cancer diagnosis is terminal; is there no balm in Gilead?

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 18, 2016

Remember Where You Stand

The old New English Bible that I used while I was in college falls open to Hebrew 12. The page is ratty, covered with ink underlines hued red, blue, and black; minuscule notations cram the corners, and a box brackets verses 18 to 29. This was the rock that I clung to throughout my transition from free-spirited teen, to married man, to seminary student. It says, simply, “Remember where you stand.” I learned during that quartet of years that surrounded my entry into a second decade, that religion, and life in general, offered a number of places to stand.

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hope that does not disappoint

Recent psychological studies seem to reveal a disadvantage to being hopeful. In one, students were asked how well they thought they did on a test. Often, those who performed the worst thought that they did well, outshining their peers. They were hopeful. Whereas the best students tended to rate their work as average, assuming that half the class did as well as they did. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Incompetent people tend to be over-hopeful. One has to know something in order to have doubts. Dunning-Kruger is everywhere.

Pentecost 2
Trinity Sunday
Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hope that does not disappoint

Recent psychological studies seem to reveal a disadvantage to being hopeful. In one students were asked how well they thought they did on a test. Often, those who performed the worst thought that they did well, outshining their peers. They were hopeful. Whereas the best students tended to rate their work as average, assuming that half the class did as well as they did. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Incompetent people tend to be over-hopeful. One has to know something in order to have doubts. Dunning-Kruger is everywhere. Your coworkers, the current crop of politicians, your teenage children.

Pentecost 2
Trinity Sunday
Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rivers in the Wilderness

There is a wonderful refrain in Isaiah 43, “I will make [for you], a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is the promise that God gives to us just before we launch into a new adventure. This is the promise that we hear just before something traumatic upsets the fruit basket of our lives. It’s Lent and the disciples are following Jesus towards Jerusalem. Things are about to get interesting. For the last three years, the Jesus movement has been enjoying the quiet hills of  Galilee and steadily growing as people come out for picnics with the greatest story teller that ever lived.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 13, 2016

Past, Present, and Future

Psalm 126 is easy to outline: It starts in the past, with praising God, then touches on the present which isn't going so well and needs prayer, then sings about the future (prophesy)

Part 1 -- past & praise

There is a good remembering of the past, and a bad one. The church spends most of its time doing bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 25, 2015

What Changes and What does Not

One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 19, 2015

Speaking of Addiction

Here is a challenge: use these words, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Romans 8:13) to speak about addiction. I say this cautiously: first, because the passage speaks in a very elegant way about the Holy Spirit and most congregations need to hear that message. Second, because none of us want to repeat the judgmental, temperance, language of our grandparent’s church. Third, because only a few in the church will be ready to hear the message and act upon it.

Pentecost 2
Sunday, May 31, 2015

Old and New

We have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna, both older than eight track tapes, have to say their bit before we can get on with the story of the incarnation. And we say, ‘Oh I get it. Everything new gets old real quick.’ But we don’t get it. The exact opposite is being spoken by the Holy Spirit.

Christmas 1
Sunday between Christmas & New Year's
Sunday, December 28, 2014

A German Shepherd Teaches Psalm 23

v1) I have proven myself incapable of distinguishing between what I need and what I want. The Master lays down for me nutritious food and clear water. I beg for table scraps, wolf them down, and barf it all up on the carpet. I root through the garbage, I drink from the toilet. In spite of all this, the Master loves this shepherd.

 

Easter 4
Sunday, May 11, 2014

Consequences of Easter

A while back there was a song by Bob Carlisle which went; "We fall down, we get up... and a saint is just a sinner who falls down and gets up.” In I Peter 1, we are reminded of the three consequences of Easter: Eternal Life, Living Hope, and Glorious Joy. Our celebrations on Easter tend to focus on Eternal Life, because that is the ‘big sell’when presenting Jesus to our secularized, unbelieving, world. But to our friends, family, and even ourselves, Hope and Joy might be the harder sell. All three Easter consequences, have a “we fall down, we get up” quality.

 

Easter Day2
Sunday, April 27, 2014

John, Mary, and Mandela

In this season, as we remember Mandela, one of the great prophets of our time, we should be mindful of the parallels between his life and message and that of John the Baptist. Mandela, like John, was imprisoned for speaking truth to power. Be careful not to think that John lost his head, and Mandela spent decades breaking rocks in the sun, because they criticized the morals of those on the throne. The revolution that Mary, Mandela, and John were involved with went much deeper than a few sermons against marrying your brother’s wife. John was a thorn in the side of the Herodian dynasty.

Advent 3
Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Zerubabbel needed to see

The Sadducees were ‘sad-you-see’ because they didn’t believe in a better world to come. Haggai asks Zerubabbel to remember the former glory of the temple, and then compare it to how things stand today. I find it hard not to be ‘sad-you see,’ whenever I’m asked to make similar comparisons. It’s hard to be upbeat about the months to come when it’s November. Already, I awake hearing the furnace rumble and shiver as I walk the dog. It’s hard to believe that the best is yet to be when you get a senior discount with your coffee at McDonalds. It’s hard to believe in eternal life when everything you know rusts and falls apart. Yet Jesus came blessing people with hope.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fundamentals

One key fundamental is ‘soul.’ Soul was there at the beginning of my journey with Jesus. Even now, forty years later, I know that the reason I became a Christian is because something deep, true, and beautiful, resonated with my soul. But, soul is difficult to define. I am attending the funeral today for an 84 year old man. The priest is sure to speak about John’s soul. I will nod as I am reminded how the soul provides a much needed continuity to life. Over his lifetime John’s body and mind underwent many changes.

Well Placed Hope

The definition of faith as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV), has always felt to me like an algebraic equation. You just plug in faith as the unknown ‘x’ and the math leads to saintly people doing dangerous things. So you read on in the chapter and you find that by faith: Noah builds a really big boat, Abraham leaves Ur and sacrifices his son, Moses leaves the palace and splits the Red Sea, and Rahab the prostitute commits high treason. All this seems a bit mysterious until you circle back to the word hope.  Hope, not faith, defines the passage.

Summer
Sunday, August 11, 2013

What's It Like Not to Die?

+ Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... + + Therefore my heart is glad... because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead +

The good news is, death has been conquered! We shall not sleep away into dust and forgotten-ness. We shall share the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament provides some good places to reinforce the Easter message that people forget long before the dog days of summer. My favorite is Job 19:23-27:

 

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;

Pentecost 7
Sunday, June 30, 2013

Three Kinds of Faith

+ I have not found such great faith even in Israel +

“The Great Gadsby” is really about faith and character. Nick seems to be searching for something to believe in, a guiding-principle for his life. He has left the stable confines of his mid-western upbringing. New York is chaotic in its rebellion against prohibition. New York is problematic in its failure to deal with social issues or provide an examples of great persons living noble, charitable, lives. Nick begins the book (or the movie) in need of a Christ-figure. This is what makes it a good launching off point for discussing people like the centurion, and ourselves, that put their faith in Jesus. 

Pentecost 3
Sunday, June 2, 2013

What a difference a day makes...

‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’

Today I picked up a book about how blogs are changing the world. The book began with the story of 9-11-2001, as it unfolded in the blog-o-sphere. It was a day that changed many things in America. The day before 911, web pages that provided news content were valued less than the paper they weren’t printed on. In January of 2000, Time Warner had spent half a gazillion dollars to purchase AOL.  In March of 2000, the dot.com stock market bubble burst, making AOL practically worthless. Everyone associated with posting news on the web slinked off the stage in disgrace. On 911, all that changed.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 10, 2013
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