Sin

Unless You Die

I almost didn't do my blog today. As I awoke, my phone's text screen said that Francis, a family member, had passed. She was a woman of faith. As she lay in Hospice, I was working on the death scene of the novel I am doing. I found myself revisiting about Jesus' words, a seed has to die to being a seed in order to be alive as a plant. Good way to think about death. 

 

In John 12, Jesus gives a profound explanation for our lives: We are seeds. We get planted on this earth as seedy-self-centered beings. What we were before is unknown, and who we have to thank seems an irrelevant question. We live seed-illy, bumping up against other seeds, facing rejection, misunderstandings, and a general shared ignorance about life. Then the hour comes when we are cracked open and transformed. The new life, the miracle, casts our seed-shell aside. Jesus asks, “Shall I say No to this hour?”

 

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Lent 5

Skilled in doing Evil

The people of Jeremiah’s day were used to the late summer breezes blowing hard. They separated the chaff from their grain by tossing it up into this September wind. They weren’t used to storms coming in fall and bringing devastation. They were used to petty wars and raiding parties worrying their borders, they weren’t expecting the well disciplined armies of Nebuchadnezzar and the loss of their nation. In a similar way, people today are used to an occasional bout of bad weather, but we are slow to accept the global consequences of climate change. Further, we don’t admit that the political climate seems a bit polarized. Wise and moderate people fail to be elected. Lives given to public service are disparaged.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (Yeats, The Second Coming). Are these things just bad luck, or the precursors of a social hurricane, such as the one that gripped Europe a century ago?

 

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Pentecost 19

Sin & Punishment

Let’s talk about sin. When the wayward youth in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son takes the money and runs, he sins in three ways: first against the mores of his village and second against his parents, that is, the relationship that he was commanded by God when He spoke through Moses saying, “Honor you father and your mother.” Regarding these first two sins, Jesus would be the first to grant a deferment to the youth if the reason for his trip was to fulfill his inner calling or to come and be a disciple of the Lord. But alas, the kid only wanted to get away to chase fast women and drink sloe gin. The third sin committed that day is one that Jesus never grants us a deferment from; the calling to be compassionate to my neighbor. Young people grow into an ever widening circle of people for whom they must show love and compassion. First it is their siblings and parents, then their playmates, then the people at school, especially those who are being bullied or ostracized. As we enter into adulthood, our calling to compassion must extend to those who are poor, or subject to abuse. The circle widens out, as it becomes for us sin to exclude those who come to our shores because of famine, persecution, or conflict in another land. Jesus challenges us to love even our enemy. To do less, is sin.

 

Sunday, March 6, 2016
Lent 4

Mistaken for a Dead Man

Guilt is a funny thing. Like humor, it depends upon ambiguity. Everyday we do things that are wrong, but we tend to only feel guilty about the ones that have some confusion to them. Remember the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus; the dude with a Rolex on his wrist and a Porsche in the drive, walks by the beggar at his door, never feels guilty, and doesn’t realize that he has contributed to Lazarus’ early death by his neglect. The rich man lives, we assume, a very purpose-driven life, with clear goals and no time for soft-headed things like charity. His approach to social ills is unambiguous; what’s this got to do with me?

 

Where we see great guilt in the Bible is in characters who allow ambiguity to creep into their worldview. This is the primary purpose of preaching. To insert ambiguity into people’s lives. This is the desired outcome of worship, to leave people feeling insecure about their prejudices and assumptions.

 

Sunday, July 12, 2015
Pentecost 10

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.

 

That being said, note a few advantages to this passage as a teachable moment in the discussion about drugs and other addictive agents in our society.

 

Sunday, May 31, 2015
Pentecost 2

Don't Declaw that Story

    Good story tellers aren’t afraid to be honest about how bad people can be. See Nabokov’s  Humbert Humbert or the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Great movies also have really bad villains, see Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs or Darth Vader in the first Star Wars. Then look at these words in the Bible, “[I, Paul, was] a man of violence.... I am the chief among sinners” (I Timothy 1:13 & 15). Then there’s this line that belongs on everyone’s resume, [I have become] skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good (Jeremiah 4:22). What’s with Jesus dining with prostitutes, corrupt officials, and outcasts (Luke 15:1-2). Does he really mean to imply that they too have a hope of being saved? These words come from the book that also gives us Herod the Great, who in a jealous rage, kills all of the infants of the region. Who can forget Jezebel, the Assyrian princess who seduced her way into Ahab’s palace, corrupted a whole generation with her Baal worship, and then hunted down God’s prophets until only Elijah was left alive? It’s in this context, that we have to consider Paul’s claim that he was a violent man, totally undeserving of the grace of God.

Sunday, September 15, 2013
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