We think a lot about time as we transition from one year to the next. Was it a good year? Will I find more time to do the important things in the next? We are such busy people. Will God have room to enter into our fullness of time? I have a relative who is due to give birth in the in next month. Her pregnant shape gives added meaning to the fullness of time. When her time is full, the child will come. We each came into the fullness of our mother’s world. We each interrupted the normal. In the fullness of our own time, we will each exit this world. Unless the Lord returns before then. In the final getting up day, we shall all see the fullness of human history and its final transition to something new. Until then, we need to be mindful of the time that has been given to us to do thing of eternal value.

Jim Collins’ book, Built to Last: Successful habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business, 1994) speaks about how successful business leaders are “clock builders” as opposed to “time keepers.” That is, instead of merely trying to manage a situation, they set out to build a new reality. This new reality requires steady and selfless work. Flashy, manipulative, and creative individuals may achieve short-term success, and detail oriented, skillful managers may coach the maximum revenue out a lack luster situation, but neither brings about the systemic change that leaves an organization better than what it was before they came. 

For: 
December 31, 2017
Galatians 4:4-7
Christmastide
New Years Eve

It’s like something out of Star Wars or the Matrix. God (or the Force) hovers over a fourteen year old girl. She’s the one. Something evil has taken over the galaxy. Mary is our only hope. So the story is very old, and very new. Its familiarity makes us forget what lies at the core. The world is in the hands of powerful people (mostly old white men). The wealthy pass themselves lavish tax breaks. The Romans rule Palestine. The 1% deny children healthcare (CHIP program). As much as things change, they remain the same.

So what do we know?

  1. God is willing to enter into our world. Hope means looking for what God is doing and aligning yourself with it. There is no hope, unless we look for God and trust that He will come. We each will see God somewhere. Watch. Do what God is doing. Take His side.
  2. God has forsaken the powerful and chosen the insignificant to be his instruments. There was nothing less likely to succeed than a peasant girl from Nazareth. Who am I to doubt that God can use me?
  3. The fact that our world is so similar to the one we read of in the Bible does not mean that God’s rebellion has failed. It means that hope is as relevant now as it was then. Our parents may have lost hope. We must not.  

Oh, and like I say every week, choose to be compassionate.
 

For: 
December 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38
Luke 2:1-14
Advent 4
Christmas Eve

All Christians believe certain things. Jesus is Lord, for example. Lately I have felt a need to say that my "brand" of Christianity parts company with some (I'm not going to name, names) who are in the news. What makes me different boils down to seven basics:

Today is a day of reversals. Those on top are tumbling. Take that, Mr.Harvey Weinstein. And yet still, the rich get richer and no one speaks for the poor in the halls of government. But, Jesus spoke for them. When asked to give the sermon in Capernaum, he took for his text the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He put his finger on this passage and read:

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed…” (Isaiah 61:1). 

Jesus also echoes much of Isaiah’s “good news” in his day to day teaching. As he walks among common folk he says:
Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied…
And,
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
        - Luke 6:20, 21, and Matthew 5:4-5

We should look at what is happening in today’s news and rejoice. Those without a voice are now speaking up and saying, “Me too!”

A line from Isaiah gives me hope: “For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them [the poor, the abused, the meek] their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them (Isaiah 61:8).

This is the shocking statement of Advent: The Lord God cares about Justice.

For: 
December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-11
Luke 4:16-21
Advent 3

Sometimes we are sent out into the wilderness to learn things. It wasn’t until the people under Moses in the Exodus reached the middle of the Sinai dessert that God taught them the ten commandments. Jesus went out into the wilderness to prepare for the active portion of his ministry. He also sought out mountain retreats and desolate spaces on a regular basis, so that he might be ready to learn, to pray, and to  renew his commitment to God’s will. The crowds that Jesus would teach, had to first go into the wilderness and there, be taught by John the Baptist. We, yes each of us, are sent out into the wilderness to learn things.

There’s a bit of new age (popular) philosophy that runs, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” The biblical version of this is, “When you get yourself to the wilderness and have nothing, then God will send someone to teach you.” Sometimes we are sent to the wilderness by trauma, loss, or grief. Sometimes we intentionally have to choose time away, just as Jesus often did. We are too busy to be taught. We don’t have time for spiritual things. When a disruption comes, an accident, an illness, a loss of the ability to go-go-go; then we stamp our feet and pray “Lord, get me out of this wilderness.” If God answers our prayer, it is our loss. We will never learn.

If you are in the wilderness, take hope. If you are in the busy place, be ready.

see also wilderness voice
 

For: 
December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11
Mark 1:1-8
Advent 2

I have a neighbor with a bumper sticker on his truck proclaiming, "Vehicle ready for the Zombie Apocalypse." Advent begins this year with a plea to be ready for the Jesus Apocalypse. The day is coming when we will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. The question Jesus asks is will you be ready?

 

Many people skip the apocalyptic passages of the Bible. Historically, religion in America cycles through periods of high apocalyptic awareness about every fifty years. The most recent peaking being thirty years ago, as captured in the book title, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Occur in 1988. These times are always followed by decades of exhaustion, when main line churches forsake the Book of Revelation like it was the actual plague, not just the messenger. Popular culture takes up the banner that religion drops, so we have Y2K, the Zombie Apocalypse, and the tragic over-response of the Bush administration to 911. This leads me to wonder if our failure to consistently incorporate eschatology into our personal theology won’t have real consequences. Why do we fail to involve our church in saving the planet? What if our lack of concern about Global Warming is related to our dismissal of all apocalyptic thinking?

For: 
December 3, 2017
Mark 13
Matthew 24
Advent 1

Jesus once story about how on Judgement Day God will sort us all out, like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. John Doe has never spent a day upon a farm. He wonders what is so bad about goats. He gets the bit about how people, who are only nice when they know that there’s something in it for them, deserve Hell. But, what’s this talk about all of humankind being brought before God (Jesus) and given only one chance to make it into heaven? Hey, even Babe Ruth got three strikes before he had to go to the dugout.

Judgement is really not about punishing people for their sins. Its about providing justice for those who are oppressed. A day is coming when nations who go to war with their neighbor for sport will be made to pay for their violence. A day is coming when the masters of slaves will answer for their ownership of other human beings. There will come a day when the racist, the abuser, the usurper, and those who cheat the poor out of their daily bread, will find themselves in torment. Those who have been victims of wicked people will have their day in God’s court.

Jesus’ point is that the judge of all the earth won’t have a hard time distinguishing who is the victim and who is the accused in his courtroom. The two tables are separated by a courtroom aisle, the way shepherds used to separate their sheep from their goats. On that day the distinction between good and evil will be easily made. If you don’t know animals, think about any two other groups that can be easily sorted. The heaven bound and the hellions are as different as eggs and potatoes, Porsches and Yugos, diamonds and coal.

For: 
November 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31-46
Pentecost 34
Christ the King Sunday

I once preached about David and Bathsheba on a dare (II Samuel 11). It was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The dare was that I had to preach about the President’s problem at the 11 o’clock worship service where there would be families with young children. The parishioner that challenged me knew that I was the lone Democrat in a congregation of Republican wolves. I don’t recall much of what I said, except that the issue wasn’t sex, but the misuse of power. Whenever someone shows a habit of abusing their status, office, or public trust, they should be considered unfit for that position. That clearly applies to more than just politics. I support all of the victims that are speaking out today.

Abuse of power lies behind: domestic violence, sex trade, lack of political integrity

There is a thread that runs through most Bible stories. Someone is always underestimating God. The prophetess Deborah tells the Israelites that God has their back. They should fight against the Canaanite king and his general Sisera, who are keeping the nation hostage. People underestimate Deborah and Jael, because they are women. In doing so they underestimate God. God gives to Deborah the wisdom to lead the battle. God gives to Jael the strength to drive a tent peg through the sleeping head of General Sisera — you try lifting a sledge and using blunt stick to pierce a watermelon (Judges 4:21).

In Jesus’ famous story of the servants and the silver coins (called “Talents”), the servant with one talent underestimates the expectations the master has of him (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus urges us to make use of whatever resources God has placed within us to serve his kingdom. Just because you can’t play cello like Yo Yo Ma or play ball like Michael Jordan, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect great things from you.

The ultimate story relating to people underestimating God is found in places like Zephaniah 1:7-18 and the book of Revelations. People always underestimate the Day of the Lord — not just how quickly it is coming, but how much they personally will be called to account for. There is a day coming when all who have ever lived on this planet will be called to judgement. The test question then we be, have we used the time and position that God has given us to do good and show compassion to our fellow man?

For: 
November 19, 2017
Judges 4:1-21
Matthew 25:14-30
Pentecost 24

I write this on election day and there are a number of judges on the ballot. There’s a whole book about judges in the Bible. Justice is important to God. It is fair to say that we don’t think about it until we need it. Going to court is a scary thing — I feel fortunate in never having to appear in court for anything that concerned me personally. I have been to court to testify for a parent wanting custody of their child. I have been to court to support friends charged with minor crimes. I have even taken notes for bankruptcy and property title proceedings. I have observed, as you have, a wide variety of court proceedings on TV. As scary as it is to go to court, it is even scarier to be denied the right to go to court and be fairly judged.

In the bible we read about widows who were not allowed to appear in court and receive the inheritance that they needed. Even today, there are those in our society that are denied economic justice.

There are many places in the world where persons can be jailed and/or executed without a trial before a jury of their peers. We should be concerned when our president blusters about denying infamous suspects their day in court. If justice is denied to the those we read about in the newspapers, how long will it be before justice is denied to the rest of us?

Many people of color have a personal story of when our justice system failed them. Our country is not a level playing field. We as a people are engaged in a long march towards a time when gender, race, age, or who you fall in love with, will not effect ones freedom, opportunities, or respect in the eyes of the law.

For: 
November 12, 2017
Amos 5:18-24
Pentecost 27
I discovered this week that I share certain religious views with Steve Bannon (the man responsible for Trump). Like Bannon, I have a religious appreciation for the work of social historians Strauss and Howell who developed generational theory (the bit about boomers and millennials, etc). S&H wrote in the 1990s about how American culture changes as each generation comes into adulthood and then fades away, and that these generations discharge their leadership in a predictable ways. Generations cycle, according to a great 300 year calendar. There is now an Unraveling and a Fourth Turning (our current era). S&H predicted that a wise elder would leads us out of this chaos. Where I part with Steve Bannon is that he believes that Trump is this messiah.

In the past week we have witnessed the fall of filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, the humiliation of actor Kevin Spacey, and the arrests of men who may have conspired for treasonous ends. I am not going to speculate if these treasons were against our government or the Ukrainian people, if Spacey’s confession was honest or self-serving, or if Weinstein’s victims deserve a pound of his ample flesh. What I think needs to be said is what Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Note Jesus’ use of the word “all.” Some pride, is not forgiven. Some misuse of power, is not justified. Some abuse of one’s authority to satisfy one’s own needs, will not long go unnoticed. Why? Because the ends never justify the means. Every great man who gets caught with their pants down reasoned themselves into their compromised lifestyle by thinking that the great project they are undertaking (be it a creative thing like a film, a political thing like a tea party, or simply the accumulation of ungodly riches), justifies them becoming a bad person. The people in the news this week are bad people. Let us be honest.

For the Christian, the means is always love. The end is that our lives be worthy of God's grace. Paul says, “As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:11-12). My parents always encouraged me to be a good person. It is job one. You may strive for great things in this world, but job one is being good.

For: 
November 5, 2017
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12
Pentecost 26
All Saints Day

I have always appreciated Psalm 90, even when I was young and thought the three score and ten endpoint for a standard life to be incredibly far away (Psalm 90:10 KJV). This is one of the few passages of the Bible that justifies keeping a King James Version on your computer. Read aloud, it is sonorous, and justifiably long because of its depth. It doesn’t deserve to be abbreviated by the lectionary or Powerpoint bound preachers, for it speaks to the big question; the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

How can my life have meaning? (and the related question, How can I stop sweating the small stuff?) By viewing it in the context of the eternal. In weekly worship our thoughts are made to return to the one who was before the mountains were born. We wrap our souls in His eternity. (insert blank powerpoint slide here and pause for thirty seconds).

The payoff for taking this psalm slow is found in the last verse, where we forsake lesser translations and find beauty and a firm foundation:
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. (90:17)

What we really want and find for the our joy of life, is having what we do matter. I don’t want fame or royalties from my writing, so much as, the sense that I have spoken the truth. That for those who read me, what I have written matters. In every occupation, and even in retirement, there is a quest for meaning.

For: 
October 29, 2017
Psalm 90:1-17
Pentecost 25

Which is harder? Giving to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or giving to God the things that belong to God? Until recently, I thought it easy to list the things that belong to Caesar, or in my case, the United States. They are things like paying taxes and… Wait a minute. We now have a president who has taken pride in the fact that he has avoided paying taxes. In Jesus’ day, the tax structure was even more whimsical and unfair than our current one. Rich people paid bribes to avoid higher taxes. This was considered smart, but Jesus was blunt. Simply give to the government your taxes. Being fixated on lowering your tax rate or what deductions you can claim should never distract you from your real debt, which is to God.

Jesus was asked about taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) while he was teaching in the temple during his last week on earth. He knew that his time was short and that his real listeners wanted spiritual truth. We are told that when the Pharisees came to ask Jesus about taxes, he saw through them. He knew that they intended to trap him. For the Pharisees, money was an important thing. Giving it away to Rome, offended them. Not because Rome had stolen their nation’s freedom, but because they wanted to keep the money for themselves. They looked at their tax form and saw themselves as losers. They didn’t see the roads, civic buildings, and financial gains that Roman rule had brought to what was just a hundred years before this, a very backwoods part of the world. When we give our coin to Caesar today, we rarely see social good. A larger portion of our taxes go to that today, than what they did in Jesus’ day.

For: 
October 22, 2017
Matthew 22:15-22
Pentecost 24
I like to be the critic. People from time to time will give a list. They will say, “here are the three things you need to know before you set up a blog,” or, “here are ten things I hate about the Patriots.” Paul gives us that kind of list in Philippians 4:8. Being the critic, I ask, is he choosing the right things when he says, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Here is the top 8 things you should think about: 1) truth 2) honor 3) justice 4) purity 5) being pleasing to God 6) earning the respect of others (commendable) 7) exampling excellence 8) being worshipful (my translation) Why eight, not seven or ten? 2), 6), and 8), are a bit too similar. What about simplicity or charity? That Blogger Paul, he’s a real amateur. But here I miss the point. Paul is saying that Christian character matters. We develop character by focusing on the right things. By setting our minds on always being truthful, just, and excellent in our dealings with others. At the end of the day we evaluate ourselves by how well our behavior has matched the character we hope to develop in ourselves. Today it has become common to make Christianity all about the doctrine. The great theologian Paul, says that character is what really matters. What do you think? More importantly, how do you act?
For: 
October 15, 2017
Philippians 4:1-9
Pentecost 19

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