Archive for July 2018

Ephesians 4:1-16
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness...

  It’s helpful to imagine Paul in a prison cell as he writes the book of Ephesians, particularly chapter 4. To be imprisoned is to be divided off from humanity. So, Paul speaks about unity and provides a vision of what brings us together. He says that God considers us all to be one and that when we accept the Christian faith we all have the same baptism, even though some are sprinkled as infants and others dunked under the cold, muddy, waters of the Penobscot River. We are one, in spite of whatever wind of doctrine fills our sails. We are one, no matter what work fills our days, or what economic fortunes have befallen us. We remain united even though deceitful men have imprisoned some of us, have taken property from some, allowed others to be unjustly gunned down. We remain one people in Jesus Christ, even though racism roams our land and those who think themselves white use their political rhetoric to divide us.

  Hear how relevant Pauls words from prison are to today’s American landscape:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

  Careful now, I think Paul is talking about something more basic than going left verses going right. There is something more central, more at the core, than our political positions or our theological doctrines. What informs and unifies all of us, is our worldview and our God-given sense of moral conscience. Paul in his prison cell closes his eyes and sees clearly our creator God forming this planet and calling it good. He sees God peopling every land with human beings made of the same flesh and endowed with the same sacred value. A mother separated from her child, for instance, feels the same pain and deserves the same justice whether she is fighting for custody in family court in Pennsylvania or for the child she has carried in her arms from Guatemala to Arizonian to escape gang violence. Again, I am not talking about conservative verses liberal, both political positions are equally subject to the doctrines of deceitful men. I am talking about the worldview that sees all people united by the love of God in Jesus Christ.

  Paul sees God gifting each human being with a unique calling from God. To become who God wants us to become, we from time to time have to speak the “truth in love” (verse 15) to those who put barriers in the way of our calling. In many places around our globe, even in this modern age, if you are born with darker skin, or a woman, or a member of a despised religious tradition, you may have to speak your truth more shrilly, more insistently, and even put yourself at risk of imprisonment. We all, though, find it hard to say what God has put in your heart to say.

  Paul may be the only person in that jail that got there honestly. Paul knows that he has broken the law. He knows that he has offended the establishment and spoken something at odds with what the majority believes. He is in jail and will in time be martyred for speaking the truth about God’s love. He has obeyed his call, all the way to the jail cell. What about the woman whose calling from God was to carry her child from Guatemala to Arizona? It may seem, to those easily offended, that I have again meddled in political things. Look at the keywords Paul uses in this passage and the rest of Ephesians: humility, gentleness, patience, unity, truth, Spirit, and the high concept of God caring for all of humanity. Is it possible that many Christians have been blown into a false worldview by men who seek to hide the fact that their nature incorporates none of these things? If we continue to stand with such deceived ones, haven’t our cherished conservative doctrines become immoral?

Monarchs are called to migrate great distances over high walls
Pentecost 13
Typical Church

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.

Congregations, too, fall into ruts. Traditions can become so familiar and comfortable that small changes to the weekly ritual feel like mortal sin. Churches can become parochial, serving the needs of an ever-diminishing segment of the surrounding community. As they move deeper into their ruts, they become hidden, unnoticed edifices within their neighborhoods. Their programs and worship services lack relevance, creativity, and vitality. The emotional side of the congregation’s spiritual experience—that is, its passion—fades. Churches can treat the personal experience of God as an unnecessary interruption to the more important business of the church. The church prays, but lacks any expectation of being acted upon by God. The church praises holy and awesome God but sings ho-hum hymns. Worse yet, a church can travel so far within its own little groove that it can no longer look over its walls to see how much its neighbors long to know God. When congregations cease being excited about bringing the good news of Jesus to others, they cease to be exciting.

A Passionate Congregation: Prays with Expectation, finds Scripture to be Relevant, Witnesses with Joy, and is Inspired by their Worship

Which area is weakest in your church?

What are you going to do to lift it up?

post this tweet —> { A Passionate Congregation: Prays with Expectation, finds Scripture to be Relevant, Witnesses with Joy, and is Inspired by their Worship } use link —> your twitter



2 Samuel 11
Philippians 2:6-7
In the spring, when Kings go off to war…

I'm old, I admit it. The last time I preached about David and Bathsheba was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. I remember my trepidation. At the 11 o’clock worship service where there would be families with young children. I had been asked to take on the famous Old Testament story by parishioner that knew I was the lone democrat in a congregation of republican wolves.


The context of David’s scandal is set with the phrase, “In the spring, when Kings go off to war…” The story, as well as today’s application, begins with the understanding that there are certain things that people in power do. People in authority often feel themselves to be above the rules. This, and not David’s lust for Bathsheba, is the heart of the story.


It is very hard to be a godly politician. One has to respect all people and have a heart for justice. David had this mindset as a youth, but the further he shifted away from the shepherd’s worldview, the more he became corrupted by political expediency. 2nd Samuel 11, is the story of a fallen man. Even if he had never had sex with Bathsheba, he would still be a despicable anti-hero. His sin was to sit in his palace and do what everyone else in his position was doing. For a thousand years after this, whenever a king allowed their personal moral weakness to jeopardize the nation, people would say, "Well what about David?" This has a way of justifying sin. The same "what-about-ism" may soon be the ruin of American Democracy.


We know that in the next chapter, David finds forgiveness and grace. It is not cheap or easy. An honest man and an innocent child die. When we tell David’s story, we must linger over the way a shift in perspective can either save or damn us. How we see the world is important. The story adds credence to the claim of Liberation Theology (and the current Pope) that the gospel cannot be understood, without seeing the world as the poor and the powerless see it.


Every person, no matter what their role in life, needs to be aware of the temptation that power offers us. David was led astray, not by his view of a woman bathing, but by his desire to be a king (or a dictator) like other kings. Isn't it time that everyone in authority take on the mindset that was in Christ? "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant..." (Philippians 2:6-7). Now pause. Think about the roles where you are in charge. How have you allowed position to change you? Are you still humble?

Gifted people do stupid things when they cease to be humble
Pentecost 12
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus does an impressive number of miracles. He feeds five thousand people with five bagels and two fish, he walks on water, and he heals a multitude afflicted with diseases — just by having them line the road and touch the edge of his cloak. But, I am more impressed by what Jesus fails to do in this chapter.

1st, he failed to preach the sermon the home-town people wanted to hear. We all find ourselves in situations where nothing we say will make people happy. In those times its best to do what Jesus did and speak about the truth that we know. Let the chips fall where they will.

2nd, he failed to stop John the Baptist from being beheaded. We need to accept that God will not interfere with man’s capacity to do evil. Jesus could have prevented Herod from committing this injustice. Jesus instead gave us the tools to work for a better society. We need to remember that today as we work for political change.

3rd, Jesus failed to go with his disciples on their mission trip (Mark 6:7-13). Like a good parent, Jesus knows when to take the training wheels off of our faith bike.

4th, when the disciples needed a rest — they had wrestled with demons and were tired -- Jesus didn’t snap his fingers and heal them of their stress and exhaustion. Instead he tried, unsuccessfully, to find them a place to rest. God will never give us a red bull energy drink when we need to take a day off for our own sanity. There are no cheap fixes for the over-committed life. Even Jesus had to look for a place to hide his disciples so that they could recover their inner calm. The sooner we realize this, the more healthy we will be.

Jesus did not seek to rest his disciples so they could work more. He rested them because he loved them.
Pentecost 11
Mark 6:14-29
When Herod heard [about Jesus] he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Even the worst of people can have an unexpected attack of conscience. Call it the ghost of his dead mother, but King Herod starts to wonder if he’s gone too far, been too immoral, done one deed too foul for the universe to accept. He begins to wonder if there is such a thing as bad karma. In Mark 6:14-29 (see Remembering John the Baptist, last week’s take on the same passage) we read how Herod is haunted by the thought that his beheading of an innocent man, John the Baptist, might have been a mistake. John, or someone with the same miraculous powers as the baptizing prophet, has been seen in public. The rational response would have been for Herod to dismiss it. So someone else can preach, heal, and raise the hopes of the masses. Prophets and Messiahs are like weeds in ancient Palestine, you got to keep pulling them up and chopping them down. But, conscience isn’t always rational or convenient. Even the most hardened despots can find themselves going momentarily soft.

Then again it could have been all for show. Herod had political reasons to want to appear to be sincere and religious from time to time. By telling people that he feared that John the Baptist had been resurrected, and that he was sorry, he threw a sop to his religious right, while not committing himself to any real change. You see, even in the best of us, our conscience is but background noise unless it leads us to real repentance. Religious feelings are wasted on King Herod. Within a year he is given a similar situation, when Jesus appears before him in chains. Herod is as unwilling to listen to Jesus as he was to repent when John the Baptist was in his throne room. He sends Jesus back to Pontus Pilate with a note, “Execute this one.”

Even good people are in the habit of ignoring their conscience. We get busy in life. We get persuaded that we deserve things — that tax cut made possible by stealing from the next generation, that promotion at work which only requires us to forsake our principles, that secure life lived within a gated community surrounded by only our kind of people. Yes, we deserve to have our sins, our greed, our gluttony, our prejudices, free from any sudden attack of conscience. So we all, keep the inner voice of God on a short leash.


Separating mothers from children, but going to church the next Sunday
Pentecost 10
Mark 6:14-29

King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore. I think the spirit of John the Baptist (or the “Dipping Man” in my Mary Sees All novel) leads us to ask, “When is Government Sinful?”

Government sin has three forms (in descending order):

  First, bad policy — This may not seem like sin at all, but ill-conceived tax cuts and poor environmental regulation shackles the next generation and betrays the Genesis 1:28 commandment that we be good stewards over the earth. Prophets and journalists speak about this sin with the opening phrase, “History will prove…”

  Second, social injustice — Here kings and presidents stoop lower to betray the poor, the refugee, and the innocent. They sin by their silence when people of color lose their children to aggressive policing. They sin by their quiet approval of hate groups. They sin in their closed door dealings with other rulers who oppress their people. Jesus, John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, lifted their voice against those who sinned against the poor. Religion must speak.

  Third, greed and lust for power — This is the sin that is closest to Satan’s heart. John the Baptist lost his head because he spoke against the corruptions, self-aggrandizement, and moral failures of the Herodian dynasty. Those who reach for greatness, power, strength, and gold-gilded beauty in their own kingly reign, brag about the good deals they make at the expense of others. For them, their ends can justify any means. But God calls each of us in our daily dealings with those in authority to always witness to the importance of fair minded-ness, compromise, and compassion.

We remember John the Baptist by speaking for those who have no voice in our world.

(note this lection is really for July 15th, but those in America should shift to provide and appropriate message for the week)

John was always confronting those in power
Pentecost 11