Spirituality

Ruts & Spiritual Passion

One of the great bug-a-boos of life is our propensity for getting into a rut. As individuals we fall into comfortable habits and become attached to familiar rituals. It may be the routine of eating the same breakfast every day or preferring a particular style of clothing. Our ruts can also have a more sinister side, supporting our prejudices, restricting our generosity, stifling our creativity, derailing our spiritual experience, and instilling within us a reluctance to implement needed changes. Those recovering from dangerous dependencies, such as drug addiction, know how high these walls of routine can be. If we were wise, we would choose our ruts more carefully, for we travel in them a long time.

Organic Process and God's Grace

Gardening always reconnects me with the grace of God. I have a hard time justifying it during the end of May, when I am busy with so many other things, both in the yard and with church meetings. In spring, time narrows. There a few precious hours to mow, till, plant, and weed, between the rains. And yet now, about a month into it, I find myself pausing and just looking at the vegetable plants. They are vigorous. Each one is a miracle. Jesus uses the pride that farmers have in their crops to talk about the graceful and organic way of the spirit. God scatters the seed of his word to the earth. It is received by the open heart of the soil. Good things spring to life. Everyone anticipates a bountiful harvest.

These images give rural people and gardeners an advantage in understanding the organic process of God’s love. The critical verse is Mark 4:28, “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Jesus says that the growth of holiness in our lives and in the world is an organic process, like the gradual transition of seed to plant to fruit to the easing of hunger. One could also speak of the process of acorn to oak to wood to house to home.

So the first question to ask may be, is holiness growing in your personal life in an organic and healthy way? You could ask the same question of your church. What about your neighborhood? Is there a healthy process of development; people needing shelter, to houses to homes and schools to young adults who leave the neighborhood to start lives elsewhere, remembering the values, missional mindset, and spirituality that they had been taught?

Sunday, June 17, 2018
Pentecost 6

Dan Harris and Daily Devotions

ABC Nightline anchor Dan Harris recently published an account of the panic attack he had in 2004, while doing the news live, before about five million people. I found myself feeling for him. I’ve embarrassed myself — drawn mental donuts — while preaching. My public ministry has been on a much smaller stage, but the bitter taste of panic and failure is the same. For me, ministry has often felt like a high wire act. We see those around us fall. Some falls can be fatal to our career or continued ministry in a particular location.

Wasted Seed

Anne Dillard whacks us on the side of the head when she says, “Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is…  Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.” Jesus likens God’s evangelism to a farmer who throws most of his seed away (Matthew 13:1-9). The profligate sower throws his precious seed out on the path, where the Devil and the birds whisk it away. Then there is the story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19-34). We would like to blame Esau for wasting his birthright, but it’s God who puts the red-headed man on the stupid path where the Devil steals his soul.

 

Genesis 25, Matthew 13, and Romans 8, all seem to be driving home the point that the people who enter into God’s kingdom, do so by grace. Most people in this world are not spiritual. I’m not talking about religious affiliation or church attendance. I’m saying that the seed of having a real love for God is wasted on most people. Jesus says that God is willing to play the odds and let most people live their lives with nominal affection for him. But the few seeds that fall on fertile souls, burst forth into miraculous fruitfulness. They respond and yield a hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or thirty times more seed than what was sown.

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Pentecost 10

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. The answer to the stupid question goes way beyond what the person’s (or the reader’s) capability to grasp spiritual things. In the end, John tells us that you can’t see Jesus unless you are really ready to see Jesus.

    The pharisees ask the formerly blind man to rat Jesus out. The man responds by telling his direct experience. They respond by telling the man all the things their great learning has taught them about people like Jesus. The blind man says, “I only know what I see.” 

Sunday, March 30, 2014
Lent 4

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.

    Jesus knows just the right thing to say to this woman to prepare her for spiritual transformation. He asks her to bring her husband. There is something in each of our lives that acts as a hinge. For some people its money. For others its status or the position they hold in their career. Still others are spiritually shut down because of childhood traumas or past violence. For this woman, the door that needed to be swung involved her relationship with men. Since the issue is between this woman and her God, John throws a veil over the specifics. He says simply that she has had five husbands and is living with a sixth. I’m sure that the conversation she had with Jesus included much more than what we have the right to know (see John 4:29).

Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lent 3

A Race of Ones Own

I intentionally shy away from sports metaphors when preaching. Too often they only serve to reinforce the winnings-the-only-thing and the ends-justify-the-means obsession of American unspirituality. Hebrews, like Paul (I Corinthians 9:2, Galatians 2:2), uses the image of a foot race to speak about the spiritual commitment needed in our personal lives.  She writes, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) and remember that we are being cheered on by an invisible crowd of witnesses (the saints of old). The flow of the unknown author of Hebrews’ thinking, reminds me how Jesus called us to pick up our own cross daily (Luke 9:23). We each can have a race, or a cross, of our own.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Food as Message

Amos gets a vision of Summer fruit (makes you wonder how ‘seasonal’ the Lectionary is in the southern hemisphere) and concludes that religious people can either be very good or utterly rotten. I’ve been picking blue berries as fast as I can this week. Why? Because I failed to keep up with picking the strawberries this year and most of them went rotten. There is nothing more delightful than a strawberry gently culled at its prime.  A day or two later and the strawberry gets soft, then turns black and inedible, unfit even for slugs (fortunately, they prefer beer). So, Amos would say, is the social conscious of our fine church members. Sometimes they can be good and generous and sweet. At other times, they fully blend in with the materialist herd of American culture, “Buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 8:6).

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013
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