Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Do We Do With Jesus In The Temple?

This week's scriptures are 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 and Luke 2:41-52.

The Social Science Commentary that many of us are so fond of reminds us in it's discussion of this passage from Luke that many ancient biographies included the story on an incident from the hero's childhood or youth that 'foreshadowed' what his (or less often, her) adult life was to be like. One can imagine that Luke, writing to a Hellenistic audience, would also utilize this literary technique.

This tradition, at it's worst, produced some horrible accounts of the 'Lives of the Saints' and those little orange biographies in my elementary school library (I read them all). Both presented pictures of individuals who were so perfect, or so gifted, or so 'something' that they were not human. One could only feel vague failure and shame if one compared ones self to them.

This Lukan story is further skewed when it is looked at through a present day lense instead of a historical/social context. One sermon I read was entitled "Jesus, A Normal Teenager." The truth is that there were no 'teenagers' in Jesus day. The age of 12 was a threshold into manhood. From this perspective the story is about Jesus in his new cultural adulthood gaining honor from the wisdom he showed in conversation with the teachers; and marking out his independence from his mother's influence. She addresses him as "child" and he responds from his new role as an adult.

There is another issue that arises. Jesus' parents have come back to find him. They've seperated themselves from the larger family unit they were traveling with, and so now their trip back will be more dangerous. An unspoken question that will hang in the air will be "what's with Joseph, can't he control his family?" And while you and I (looking at it from a distance) may understand the "didn't you know I must be about my Father's business" comment; it must have been not only confusing, but a slap in the face for Joseph.

While I don't think Luke intended this passage as any kind of lesson on parenting, I do think that Joseph earns some 'brownie points' in my book here. While Mary continues to present herself in scripture as having difficulty in letting go: even at one point sending his brothers to bring him home, since obviously he's lost his mind; Joseph once again responds with the least likely response.

Think about it. He finds that Mary's pregnant. He is going to 'divorce her quietly' so that she won't be shamed....that's something in and of itself. Then, when he is told that the child comes from God, he listens and marries Mary anyway. Now, once again, he is faced with a confusing moment. The natural response would be to upbraid Jesus and restore his own status and honor. He doesn't do this. Whatever embarrassment he felt, let let go of for the sake of his 'son-on-loan' and, we can imagine, simply turns and says some version of "well, for now, we need to head for home. Perhaps we can catch up with the others if we move fast for a day or so."

Laying aside ones honor and dignity for the sake of ones child. Does this in any way remind us of what God has done in becoming one of us in Jesus? Does this moment, in some smaller way, reflect God's attitude toward us? An attitude which culminates in the descriptive song recorded in Philippians 2 that "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness."

Joseph did not grasp at his dignity. He did not try to prove that he was in charge. He gave Jesus the freedom to be and become who he was as he moved into his new adulthood. Maybe that's not such a bad parenting lesson after all.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sing A Song Of A Subversive Savior

This week's scriptures are Micah 5:2-5 and Luke 1:46-55

In my reading as I prepare for Sunday I have been once again reminded that one of the themes that permeates Hebrew scripture is that of God reaching down to find the lowest and the least to carry forward the revelation of God in the world. Mary's Magnificat reminds us of this again.

At one level we shouldn't be suprised that God would act this way: using a peasant girl to bring an infant 'God with us' into the world to turn the power structure upside down. That's the way God's been doing it all along!

But the Gospel has too often been co-opted by those in power. So often that they actually come to believe that their money and their position is a sign of God's favor and the poverty of others a sign of God's judgement. This "Gospel of Prosperity" has many voices. They speak, directly or indirectly, of financial, social, emotional, and physical success as the things God loves. How many of us grew up with the sneaky suspicion that God loved the Prom Queen and the Football Star more than God loved us? That if we would only work harder, study harder, lift weights more, become more beautiful....then God would love us more too. The addendum to that striving was a belief that we needed to hide every blemish, every shortcoming, every fear, everything that didn't match the cultural picture of success and goodness.

And so we all (because the truth is none of us measure up; we're just afraid others will notice) hid those parts of ourselves away. All too often it affected the way we responded to those around us whose limitations or needs were obvious. All of us have, in some way, been wounded by the heresy of the cultural religiousity outlined above.

Christmas...Thank God...reminds that "God comes in through the wound." God comes into our world where the wounds of poverty and violence and oppression cry out for relief. God comes into our lives where the wounds of our weaknesses, our personal pain, our griefs cry out for healing. This is truly a "subversive savior"; coming unlike a powerful ruler, he is laid in a manger. Through the most unlikely means, to the most unlikely people, God continues doing what God has done throughout creation: redeeming, healing, loving, calling the world into relationship with God's Self in a way that turns The Way Things Are on its ear.

This little slip of a girl, Mary, is going to sing. She's going to sing for herself, and Elizabeth, and her baby growing in her. It probably wouldn't have been safe to sing this song anywhere else, to anyone else. But Mary was overcome with the wonder of it all, and she sang. I have to believe that God smiled...cause at least for that moment, Mary understood God's heart.

See you Sunday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Me?

This week's scriptures are Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Luke 1:39-45.

I was reading an article about the Lukan passage by Rev. Craig Barnes today when something he said stopped me short. What he said alluded to the idea that some of the most important words in this passage are "why me?" The whole quote spoken by Elizabeth is "and why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?"

Now let's forget for a moment all the stuff Luke is trying to do in this first chapter to establish Jesus (not John) as the Messiah. Let's just listen to Elizabeth. "Why me?"

This is not the anguished "why me?" of one whose suffering has become unbearable. There are those for whom this is a legitimate cry...and it is, in fact, that cry that is answered when God takes on human flesh at Christmas. The "why me?" of anguish becomes the "now we" of 'Emmanual, God with us.'

Nor is this the whiney "why me?" of those (myself included some days) who believe that they are entitled to avoid all the "slings and arrows of outragous fortune" and consider it a cosmic affront that they have to face whatever misfortune has come their way.

This is the "why me?" of extra-ordinary awareness in an ordinary moment. Two women. One old and maybe starting to wonder whether this late life pregancy stuff was all it was cranked up to be. The other, young and frightened; what would Joseph say? How would she face the neighbors? What about all the stories the women had told around the well and the cooking pots about pregancy and childbirth?
This is a moment as old as the beginning of social living and as new as this morning. And yet...in the middle of it, Elizabeth has a "why me?" moment. A moment of such awe and wonder that she forgets that her feet have gone flat, her back hurts, and the baby is constantly pushing on her bladder. There is life here! And what's more there is something special going on that I just can't quite fathom it is so incredible.....Why ME? Why do I get to see this?

Zephaniah was trying to spur the Children of Israel to such a moment. He described how, in spite of all of their failures, all of their sins, God was going to preserve a remnant of Jerusalem. He says on God's behalf, "I shall take away your cries of woe and you will no longer endure reproach." One proper response to such Grace is "why me?"

A mother and father look at their new born baby...perhaps even one as beautiful as Evan...and part of them must ask "why me?"

A person given a second chance at life, recieving a donated organ where once their illness would have been a death sentence: "why me?"

Every individual who has know what it means to feel forgiveness from a loved one they have injured knows the cry "why me?"

I wonder what would happen if more of our days began with the words "why me?" Why am I so blessed? Why have I been forgiven? Why have I been allowed to experience this moment, this day, this brilliant burst of love?

What gratitude would flow from us? How would it shape our day? What difference would it make in our lives and the lives of those around us?

Especially this season as we look into the manger; as we see God lying there tiny vulnerable one of us....let us ask in awe...Why Me?

See you Sunday.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Saying "Yes".....To What?

This week's scriptures are Malachi 3:1-7 and Luke 1:26-38.

Luke tells us that Mary said "yes." In spite of her confusion; in spite of her fear; in spite of how out right impossible what the angel was telling her was...she said, "yes." Simeon, the old man in the temple when Jesus was taken for circumcision (Luke 2:34-35), would give her an honest appraisal that this child would cause "the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too." Saying "yes"...even to being the mother of the Messiah, has a price to be paid.

This late fall and early winter have been interesting times for me of observing people saying "yes" to the uncertainties of life: my son got married in late October; three members of our congregation are becoming parents-two of them for the first time; a friend begins to think about returning to school. Each of these choices, each of these "yes" responses, is a moving forward in the face of uncertainty. It is, hopefully, a move forward to joy and fullfillment. But it is also a "yes" with a price. And it's a price that no one knows at the time what it will be.

Malachi and John the Baptist both present pictures of the "Day of the Lord" the coming of the One that has been promised. Their pictures are not gentle, pastoral scenes. Phrases like "refiner's fire", "fuller's soap", and "winnowing fork" run through them. This coming...though we look for it, thought we desire it, though we ache for it will call us to account and to change at the very core of our lives.

Malachi in particular paints a picture of the priests bringing second rate offerings to God. Sacrifices that were supposed to be "without spot or blemish" are replaced with ones that God declares are "tiresome"..."if you bring as your offering victims that are mutilated, lame or sickly, am I to accept them from you?" (Malachi 1:13). [This, by the way, is a struggle in humankind's spirituality and worship that's been going on since Cain brought a second rate offering to the meal with the Lord in Genesis] He goes on to say that God declares, "I shall appear before you in court, quickly to testify against sorcereres, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who cheat the hired labourer of his wages, who wrong the widow and the fatherless, who thrust the alien aside and do not fear me, says the Lord of Hosts." (Malachi 3:5)

Second rate devotion in my personal worship; and selfish injustice in my relations with others. How different am I from the priests and people to whom Malachi spoke? How often is what I bring to God in my own spiritual life less than what God wants and requires? I come to pray, but am I really honest-even with God-about what is going on in the depths of my heart? How much of my "social justice" is 'out there' where it makes no real demands on me personally? How often do I by-pass my neighbor in need...the one who would make a daily ongoing demand on my life...to pat myself on the back for helping the distant cause? These are my questions for me...they may not be yours-you may have an entirely different set-but I'll bet you have some.

But in Malachi God speaks after these words of judgement to say "I, the Lord, do not change, and you have not ceased to be children of Jacob" (3:6). After all this, God says that we're still family! The people in Malachi's dialogue respond with the question "how can we return?" How do we possibly come back from where we've gone to?

I would maintain that this is one of the primary truths about Advent for you and me: we don't return....we do say "yes" We say "yes" to the God who comes. Our response is to turn (the meaning of the word 'repent') and to say "yes."

That "yes" will be costly. It will bring the refiner's fire, the winnowing fork, the fuller's soap. It will engage us in an ongoing process of growth and repentance and moving toward what we were created to be (the meaning, I think, of the word "sanctification"). It isn't neat and clean. It isn't necessarily pretty. It's often painful. And it takes a really long time...a lifetime to be exact. I've often imagined that one of the reasons that we celebrate Advent each year is that each year we need to say "yes" again to this ongoing "coming of the Messiah" in our lives.

This week I listened to an acquaintance talk about picking up a "chip" for 17 years of sobriety in his 12-Step program. In the very next breath he was speaking about the struggles he was having with the next phase of his growth and emotional health and recovery. The "Day of the Lord" is not a 'one and done' proposition. It is an ongoing relationship that brings us incredible joy; but that also challenges and stretches and pushes us to our limits.

Let's be honest with one another. Advent isn't all about the soft and mushy underbelly of the coming of the Baby Jesus. I love the manger scene. I love the Infant Holy, Infant Lowly hymns...they speak to the lengths that God is willing to go to bring us home. But Advent is also about what it will cost us to say "yes" to this coming. Am I willing to stand in the refiner's fire? To bear washing with the fuller's soap? To have my life tossed skyward by the winnowing fork so that all that isn't truly valuable can be blown away?

It is an old image, but it bears repeating: the refiner, working with precious metal, knows that the refining task is done when she can look down into the metal and see her image. You and I are created in the Image of God...the Imago Dei. We can bend it, we can twist it, we can tarnish it til it cannot be seen by any but the Great Refiner...but we cannot destroy it. We are still part of the family, "children of Jacob." Advent calls us to the tasks of saying "yes" to the work of God in restoring that Image in us.

Advent is here. Let all the people say "yes".

See you Sunday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of Babies, Advent, and the Kingdom of God

This week is the first Sunday of Advent. Our scriptures are Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 1:68-79.

We're really blessed in our congregation to have three (count'em 3) babies on the way. And since it is a professional and personal habit (some would say liability) to be theologically inclined, I've done a lot of theological reflection lately on pregnancy, Advent, and the Kingdom of God.

It seems to me that the Kingdom of God is a great deal like having a baby. We're promised that it's coming. We're told that there is this wonderful thing on the way. We're even told what signs to look for. Listening to expectant mothers talk about all the things going on with them as they come closer and closer to their due dates can be really interesting. They're watching the signs.

Now imagine for a moment that when the baby comes, you have some ideas about who it's going to be and what it's going to do. But it's not doing them yet. The child will have to grow into what it is meant to be. Jesus had to do that too. In fact, one of the reasons that some gospel's didn't make it into the canon for inclusion into our Bible is that they had little Jesus and infant Jesus doing things that were reduced to magic tricks as opposed to expressions of the coming of the Kingdom.

I think the Kingdom of God is a lot like that: it's coming; it's here; it's unfolding; it will have a final expression.

For us at Advent, we celebrate that it's coming...even though we also believe that it's already here. Jesus has already come. And in that coming He ushered in the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now. Before you jump on me about this go look up Luke 17:21 where Jesus says, "the Kingdom of God is among (or within) you." He also taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Advent is a time when we focus on a coming Kingdom that is also already here.

One of my favorite Fred Craddock quotes is that there are a lot of 'second coming' christians who haven't dealt with the first coming. Advent is about preparing for and dealing with the 'first coming.' Not just the baby...but the cries for justice. The inclusion of the outcast. The healing of the wounded. And our place in the Kingdom's expression today...here...where we are.

We look at Jesus; at His birth, His life, His death and resurrection....not because they take us off the hook in our responsibility for the Kingdom; but because they show us what living up to that responsibility looks like.

Advent then is both celebration and challenge. Can we prepare ourselves this Advent for both?

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Of Locusts and Lilies

This week's scriptures are Joel 2:21-27 and Luke 12:22-32.

This is the last Sunday in this liturgical year-referred to as Year B. Year A focuses on Matthew, Year B on Mark, and Year C on Luke...all with some passages from John thrown in. Though there are some problems with using the lectionary, it does help us stay focused on the life of Jesus (from three different perspectives and foci). It also serves as a protection from the preacher circling round and round his or her favorite passages or issues like dishwater round a drain; hopefully challenging preacher and congregation alike to look at the passages that challenge them and not just the ones that make them feel good.

Joel, before the passage above, has described the misfortunes that Israel his brought upon itself with its disobedience. They are tremendous, damaging. But, as Joel points out they are not forever. One of the themes that runs through the prophets is made clear here: God's wrath does not last forever...there is healing available...Gods ultimate goal is restoration of Gods people.

I love the phrase "restore the years the locusts have eaten." I've never been around a swarm of locusts. What I hear and read though is that when they come, they come like a dark devouring cloud. They eat every plant in their path. There is nothing left behind. Have you ever had a time in your life like that? When all you looked out on was a barren landscape of your life? It was in a time like that that I first remember reading this phrase. And I have to tell you that one of my responses was..."yeah right" I did not believe that my life could ever be put back together. But it also gave me just a glimmer of hope....hope that God might have something left for me....that restoration and redemption might be possible. And I will also tell you that the past few years have, indeed, been ones of experiencing God restoring the years that the 'locusts' of my life had eaten.

Now I want to skip over for just a minute to Jesus' words about "lilies of the field." I've done a little research this week about the plants that Jesus was most likely referring to. I'll share some of that Sunday, but for right now I want to point out just one thing....they are perennials...they are bulbs...even if a swarm of locusts chews its way through the entire field....chomping stem and flower....there, below the surface....waiting....is the bulb that will bloom next year.

"Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin..." it isn't something that the flowers do....it is a gift. The gift of being a bulb. You and I are created in the Image of God. We carry within us that Image. We do not cause it; we cannot destroy it. Oh we can bend it like a pretzel. We can deform it til the only one who can recognize it is God's own self. But we cannot destroy what God has created in us. It waits. God will touch it. It will begin to make its way to the surface. It will flower.

I don't know what your 'locusts' were, or are. Unless you chose to tell me (and should you want to tell me, I will listen) it's none of my business. But what I do know, as sure as I know that Jesus loves you and me, is that God is waiting to restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.

It isn't like the old joke about country music (you know the one: 'what do you get when you play country music backward? You get your wife back, your truck back, your dog back'). Some things (at least for me this was true) are gone. But the vital things; the parts of me that I thought were dead, gone, and done; these are the things that God restores.

For some folks the 'locusts' weren't their fault. Others did things to them. But their lives feel just as barren. For others they can point clearly to how they fashioned from their own behavior the 'locusts' that ate their lives. In one respect, it doesn't matter. What does matter is this: God wants to restore to you the years the locusts have eaten. Think about the lilies of the field. And trust, as Jesus told us, that our Heavenly Parent cares for us so much more than even these.

See you Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Giving Out Of Our Poverty; Part 2

This week's scriptures are a partial carry-over from last week. They are 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:41-13:2.

I wanted to mine these passages a bit more together because I was struck with the layers of meaning that they can hold for us.

We talked Sunday-and in last week's blog-about the radical contrast between the scribes who manipulated themselves into positions of power and prestige and the widow silently offering her gift....giving, as Jesus described it, "out of her poverty."

Now Jesus re-emphasizes his point as He says to his disciples that the temple will soon be gone; the institution (the one He had just criticized for its corruption) would no longer be there. But the kind of commitment shown by the woman dropping her two small coins into the treasury: that would go on and on. The truth is that throughout the ages what has kept the Church (with a capitol C) going isn't the power brokers....it's those who 'out of their poverty' have given of themselves...not just financially...in fact, that's probably the least of it...but to visit the sick, touch the leper, work for justice, do acts of mercy in places of distress. The history of the Church has, at its best, also been the history of the voiceless ones who see in Jesus one who understands and is present with them.

Which brings us to our passage from 1 Kings. She is starving. It is out of her poverty...the grinding hunger that she fears will kill both her and her son...that she shares with Elijah. We also need to remember that Elijah is also starving. He is out of food. The ravens no longer come to bring him meat. His request is one 'out of poverty' to 'out of poverty.'

As I prepare this week's sermon I am still asking myself, "what would happen if I offered the pieces of my life to God that are 'poverty'...the places where I am at my least?

Maybe God doesn't need/want my 'great abilities' as much as God wants my weakness. Maybe it is out of our poverty that we are best able to relate to the world around us and to be Christ's Body. Scripture constantly reminds us that Jesus became poverty for us. What does that have to teach us about what we need to become for God?

The questions are tough and challenging to me. They call me to struggle with the very places in my life I most want to avoid. Perhaps, however, it is here that I will meet the action of God that will feed me and keep me alive.

Let's talk about it Sunday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giving From Abundance and Poverty

This week's scriptures are 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44.

In the great list of "most misused scriptures" our passage from Mark will have to go high on the list. Think of all the stewardship sermons you've heard that hold up the widow in this story, dropping her last two coins-all that she had-into the temple offering before moving silently along her way. "Be more like her" we were told; "This is the kind of giving God really likes."

Well yes; and no.

In most of this passage Jesus is condemning the religious leaders who push and shove for social status; who put themselves in positions to control the funds of the widow (a widow could not handle her own estate in that day and time, getting ones self appointed as executor was often a lucrative affair); and who were blind to the needs around them. Then, as if to make His point even further, Jesus points out this widow, dropping in the last money she has under the blind eye of the church leaders. I've been intrigued this week as I prepare for Sunday's sermon by the words of Sarah Dylan Breuer who asked if we could find one single indication that Jesus thought it was wonderful that this woman was giving the temple her last penny and going off destitute. It's an interesting question.

The story raises the question for me of what the scribes and company (and you and I) don't see. The church leaders are there in all their glory. Their money makes a huge noise as it is dropped into the temple coffer. They give out of their plenty, expecting to gain more; more money, more prestige, more status. Nobody noticed this woman. She is truly a nobody. She will slide silently into the temple, give her last cent, and then leave. Nobody stops her to ask how she's doing. Nobody invites her to their home for dinner. Nobody even smiles at her as she passes by. They're too busy and she's too unimportant. One doesn't have to look real far to be reminded of televangelists begging for donations...or church building committees sending out letters asking for help with the new church wing. I can, unfortunately, put myself all too easily in the scribes position of blindness to the needs of folks who are giving hugely and quietly and then go on about their business without really being noticed. If we stretch this image just a little bit to include more than money (time volunteered, etc) and the poverty ignored to include more than food (ongoing grief, loneliness, etc) the level of judgement in this story rises even higher.

What will she do now? Where will this destitute, penniless widow go? Where will she sleep, eat her next meal? Perhaps she will starve. That's not an image that we like to think of...but it is one the story raises.

The widow in our passage from 1 Kings is preparing to do just that. Her plans are to make one last meal for she and her son, and then to die. This isn't poetic language. There is a famine in the land. Elijah (and this is important) is suffering from the same famine. He's hiding out in the wilderness form Ahab the king who has sworn to kill him for speaking a prophetic word. The ravens have quit feeding him and the stream he'd been drinking from has dried up. He comes to this widow in his own poverty; as one starving person to another. He asks for her help in trust that his God will care for all three of them....Elijah, the widow, and her son.

Both of these widows can be described in Marks words as "giving out of their poverty." Their gift comes out of the very place where they are most needy, most vulnerable. It is here that they become a model for our giving. Do I give to God out of the place where giving is the greatest risk? The place where I really have to wonder if opening up will be the last thing I ever do? No, I'm much more like the scribes...or worse.

What happens if I let these two scriptures both judge me and guide me? What if they call me to examine my priorities of self protectiveness and social status and to look at taking the risk of offering to God the very places where I am most hungry, poor, and wounded?

Truly risky business. Let's look at it together on Sunday.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Difficulty Of Loving Our Neighbor

This weeks scriptures are Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Mark 12:28-34.

The big temptation with these scriptures for many of us, and especially for me as a therapist, is to focus on the 'love your neighber as you love yourself' in a way that stresses learning to love ourselves. For the truth is that many of us have great difficulty loving ourselves. Some of us were told from the time we were very small, in a multitude of ways, that we were either unlovable-or that we had to earn the love of others by bending our lives into something that others would like and accept. A great deal of my work as a therapist is helping folks escape from self hatred. A sermon focused on this would surely be an appropriate approach to these passages. And you might well hear that sermon sometime from me....but not this Sunday.

Jeremy's presentation last week on his visit to Georgia touched me in some powerful ways. His focus on the Inclusion/Exclusion that goes on within the church there was a painful reminder of what happens here in our country, in our churches, in our lives. I was so moved that my benediction was a charge that we reach out during this week to someone we have excluded. Have you got any idea how hard it was for me to respond to my own charge?

Jesus told the scribe that he was "not far from the kingdom." I was reminded of what that means while preparing for Sunday's sermon and reading an article by Maria Teresa Palmer describing a visit she made back to her native Peru. Her article reminded me how difficult it is to get past the 'not far from' into being where the Kingdom is...into being in the place where God's will is truly being done.

Being where the Kingdom is means struggling with the social and political impact of our choices. Being where the Kingdom is means thinking about how our actions and attitudes are experienced by our loved ones, our neighbors, the check out clerk, the woman with AIDS, the immigrant struggling to learn english, and the man returning from prison.

My problem with the "What Would Jesus Do?" stuff that was so popular a while back was that we too often don't take the question seriously enough. What does Jesus' love command us to do: about health care, about prison ministries, about our relationship with our relatives, about ........? How would taking this commandment seriously...and Jesus is crystal clear that these two commandments combine into one which is the greatest, the most important; that everything else is secondary.....how would my life change if I really, truly took this seriously. How would the life of our church change if that was our primary question: "How will this action/decision be an expression of our love for God with our whole being (heart, soul, mind and strength) and our neighbor as ourself?"

I don't have an answer. I have some thoughts. And those thoughts come from what happens when I take this passage and join it to Jesus' statement that "as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto Me." The imperative to love neighbor as an expression of loving God, as the primary expression of love for God, is not ambigious at all. It is a frighteningly clear command. Those thoughts challenge and judge me. I trust that God will also use those thoughts to guide me (and perhaps us as a congregation) as we struggle with how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor as ourself.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daddy Time

First of all, I want to thank Mary Andreolli for filling the pulpit last Sunday; as well as for the wonderful things she said about Broadneck Baptist in the October Connections.

Next, I want to say how much I'm looking forward to hearing Jeremy talk about his trip to Georgia and what it taught him. I am eager to hear how God is going to speak to us through him this Sunday. (I had to come back and edit here...because I think Jeremy is preaching Sunday and Joann the next. I get confused when I'm gone. What is going to happen is one Sunday Jeremy will talk about Georgia; the next Joann will speak about her experiences in Zimbabwe. In both cases I expect that God will have something important to say to us).

Even though I'm not preaching this week, I wanted to share with you some thoughts I've been having lately. These thoughts were triggered by the new addition at our house. Hannah is a 12 week old black lab puppy. Bert Taylor brought her up from N.C. last weekend with her sister (who quickly won Donna Farthings heart and now lives with Donna and Paul).

This morning, while playing with Hannah before work, I was thinking about how important this "Daddy Time" was. My mind moved pretty quickly to the new babies coming into our congregation....and their needs. Then, pretty quickly actually, I got to thinking about my own need for "Daddy Time" with God.

Though I'm a little chagrined to say it, I had this moment when I was rubbing Hannah's soft fur when I thought, "I just want to be God's puppy; and to feel this kind of love and care and joy coming from God toward me that I'm trying to give this puppy.

Now I know that God is neither male nor female. And I know that "Father" "Abba" "Daddy" (the word that Jesus used was 'Abba' and translates closer to 'Daddy') aren't the only way to look at God as a Parent. But because I am a father; and because (for reasons some of you know) it is easier for me to see God as a Heavenly Father than a Heavenly Mother, I'll ask you to bear with me here. If the idea of 'God the Mother' works better for you, feel free to make the shift in what I'm going to say below.

My point is that I need....really need....'Daddy Time' with God. I need to feel that unconditional love, that 'touch', that presence. And while I get a lot of that from the community that is the Church; I also need it in one-to-one time with just me and God. As I've gotten older, and struggled with various issues in my life, I've realized even more that this time is not a luxury-but a necessity-if I am going to be able move toward wholeness and health in my faith...not to mention be able to do the work as a pastoring person and therapist that I feel called to do.

But the catch is that I have to make time for this to happen. God won't swoop down, pin me to the floor and say, "we need time together and this is it." I have to make time to pray, to meditate, to sit and be still and let God be present to and with me. I have a responsibility in this relationship too.

It's an old story, but it reminds me of my own situation so often:

The old couple was coming back from town in the wagon; and the wife looks at her husband saying, "how come we never sit all cuddled up on the seat on the way back from town? When we first got married we always did that. It was so wonderful. Why don't we do it anymore?" Her husband looked over at her from his seat behind the horse and said, "I ain't moved none."

God's love is constant. God doesn't move in this regard. If anyone has moved to the end of the seat, it's me. I need to remind myself of this, not to flog myself with it...but to motivate myself to make the time, expend the energy, to grow in this relationship with the God who created me, loves me, and calls me to partner with God and God's church in deeds of mercy, love, and justice. All these things are rooted in, and grow out of, the personal relationship that we have with God in Jesus. We need to cultivate that relationship.

I'm looking forward to Sunday and hope to see you at church as we listen to Jeremy and Joann.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Do We Focus?

This week's scriptures are Psalm 26 and Mark 10:2-16.

The passage from Mark this week is very difficult for me. First of all, as a divorced person (and happily re-married) it is a judgement passage. It holds the failures of both my ex-wife and I up against the light of God's standard and desire for human relationships.

Second, it is a difficult passage because it is one of the most abused passages in scripture. For centuries it has been used to keep (particularly) women in abusive, harmful relationships. It isn't enough that they were being battered at home; when they brought their plight to other christians (particularly pastors) they were battered spiritually there as well.

So let me say this clearly....as a man, as a pastor, as a christian: if you are in an abusive relationship, if you are being consistantly harmed, physically or emotionally....LEAVE. LEAVE NOW. If you are a woman, man, straight, gay, lesbian....it doesn't matter....LEAVE. Find a safe friend, or a shelter (your local crisis hot line can direct you to one). All those promises...the ones that keep getting broken over and over...DON'T BELIEVE THEM....LEAVE.

Can people change? Absolutely! But let your abusive partner change while you're in a safe place. Let them do the work on themselves that they need to do while you're doing your work on you. Then you can do some work together. But Please, don't stay on that merry-go-round where you're walking on eggshells around your partner as the tension builds til they blow up, only to come back later and 'make up' with promises that it'll never happen again; only to start the cycle all over again.

We're talking serious stuff here folks. In the United States approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually. If you're one of them....LEAVE....Please....you're one of the "little ones" Jesus was so concerned about. Jesus wants you safe, healthy, alive. Jesus wants you to have the kind of relationship that he talks about marriage being truly created for in this passage. If your marriage can be healed, there are people who can help...if it can't, Jesus will stand next to you while you pack your bags.

If you're reading this and you're one of the women or men being abused; my prayer is that you will hear God speaking to you through this blog-calling...you to get the help you need.

If you're reading this and you're one of the abusive partners...let God speak to you as well. There is help for you. You can change your behavior. You can give up the rage and pain you've been carrying so long and become the loving, caring partner you were meant to be....but you have to STOP THE ABUSE NOW and get the help you need.

And finally, for those of us blessed to be in non-abusive relationships....we need to open our eyes; stop ignoring the signs; and reach out to those locked in this cycle of violence.

We can focus, like the Pharisees on rules and excuses and arguments; or we can focus like Jesus on the God given meaning of intimate relationships and the protection of the 'little ones'....whether they are the children of the violence ridden couple or the couple themselves. We can be true agents of "Shalom"-"God's Peace"....this isn't an easy task....but then, Jesus never said it would be.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Owns God's Power

This week's scriptures are Psalm 124 and Mark 9:38-50.

I want to focus on Mark 9:38-41 here today. And I want to focus on it because it involves a struggle that I have so often in my own life...the desire to be on the inside, to own the truth, to be able to indentify and delineate the way in which God's power is boundaried.

In this passage, John comes to Jesus and says, 'we saw this guy casting out demons in your name; and we told him to stop because he wasn't one of us.'

We can think of a lot of reasons why the disciples might have done this. One of them is closely associated with Peter's words to Jesus in Mark 10:28 about the disciples having "given up everything to follow you." The felt they were entitled. After all, they had turned their backs on a social structure which had provided them a place and an identity; they had given up what ever role and status they had to follow Jesus. And here this upstart was casting out demons in Jesus' name...and he wasn't even one of them. That was their power...not his! They had earned the right to be the 'chosen few.' In fact, some of them were already thinking about where they were going to sit at the parties when Jesus came into his kingdom.

Jesus' response was clear and crisp. 'If you're not against me, you're for me; it'll be hard for you to put me down if you've seen the power of my name at work.'

It's not a response that sits well....with them; or us. Think about how many good, helpful movements started out with the goal of dealing with the world's pain, healing a wound, fixing a problem....only to begin building fences around who was allowed in and out of the "kingdom." We're all guilty of it. We work hard, we sacrifice, we change our lives...and by golly everybody else ought to have to pay the price we've paid!

If they had done this in our day, they would have contacted the regional 'Exorcist Certification Board' who would have approached this gentleman and said something like, "Mr. Simon, we'd like to know what your credentials are for casting out demons...yes sir, we know you're doing it in Jesus name....however you need to be aware that without the proper credentials your possessed one will not be able to collect his insurance reimbursement for this casting out (after deductable of course)...you're not going to stop? Yes we can see that the demon is gone...that's not the point. Well just make sure that you don't refer to yourself as a Certified Exorcist. Huh, you think Jesus' name is enough? Well we've got some questions for him too."

If our concern is truly about God's healing power in the world, perhaps we need to remember that that power will not be bound by anyone or anything. God's Spirit blows where it wills. The test for discernment is not "do you have there right credentials?" "Do you have the right theology?" or "do you have the right politics?" They are, for us, just as they were when Jesus answered John the Baptist's disciples: "Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Luke 7:22-23).

What would happen if we as Christians made that the criteria for our lines of connection, our joint efforts in ministry? What if we were more concerned with whether the hungry were fed and the sick got care than whether the ones working with us agreed with our politics or our theology? Wouldn't we, in fact, come closer to the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?

It is a dangerous view. It is a scary view. Some days I don't like it much. But the truth is that if it leads us closer to what Jesus was teaching, whether I like it or not doesn't matter; whether it scares me or not doesnt' matter; whether it costs me or not doesn't matter. What matters is that the "little ones" that Jesus talked about don't stumble on my insistance that things be done my way. That's what Jesus cares about.

We'll explore this more on Sunday. Hope to see you there.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Promises at Baptism

This week's scriptures are Psalm 1 and Mark 9:30-37.

This week we're going down to the Little Magothy River for our worship service. We're going to baptize Matthew on Sunday morning and we're going to celebrate this milestone on his, and our, journey in Christ.

Baptism, like Communion, has been the source of some major controversies in the history of the historical church. Many of these controversies about baptism have had to do with the idea that one's sins were washed away in baptism, but that sins committed afterward would still be held to the account of the individual in question.
This was a belief that had some christians waiting til right before death to be baptized; lest they miss heaven because of sins committed after their baptism.

What has this got to do with us?

The first thing is that the cousin of the theological fallacy above is still with us. It comes in the form of believing that our coming to Jesus is a one time and done kind of thing. The idea that 'we're saved, it's done, shouldn't be any more problems' is one that creeps into the corners of many people's thoughts about their own faith or that of others.

The truth is that we are entering a relationship. It will last a lifetime. It will go through seasons, changes, ups and downs. Baptism is not magic. It is a symbol of both 'new birth' and the 'washing away' of sins. But it is a symbol of something that never stops. In Christ we are constantly being reborn, changed, (sanctified-if you want the old style word). And in Christ our sins are constantly being washed away. This is all God's doing...not the result of the symbol. God doesn't act because we baptize; we baptize because God has acted and will continue to act.

To bring this a little more down to earth....you and I are on a journey in God. Our entire lives are lived in God's love. Paul says that God is the one "in whom we live, and move, and have our being." I going to mess up. In my case, I'm going to mess up a lot. But the journey doesn't end because I mess up. Because my journey occurs within the Love of God, I am able to go on, to repent, to grow. And so are you. Consequently, I cannot judge you. I may have an issue with your behavior; and I may confront that behavior (or you may need to confront mine). But we do it in love, because we're both on the same journey. Think about that. If we really take it seriously, it radically transforms the way in which we look at ourselves and at those whose behaviors we find-to be honest-really rotten.

Baptism is where we welcome another onto that journey because they've made a conscious choice about being on it; and we commit ourselves to being fellow travelers with them on that journey. They do the same for us at their baptism as well. That commitment shouldn't change...ever. Let me say it again. Our commitment to supporting them on their journey of faith should not ever change.

If they become addicted; our commitment should not change. If they develop a rare disease; our commitment should not change. If they commit murder, robbery, or a sex offense; our commitment should not change. If they divorce, go insane, become senile, or quit bathing...it doesn't matter...our commitment should not change!

Why not? Simple. Because we are the Body of Christ. And when we accepted that task we gave up the 'right' to judge and exclude. That doesn't mean we don't hold people accountable. It does mean that we always seek their healing and act to sustain them on their journey.

We're coming to the water on Sunday to baptize someone. We're coming to make promises to him; and he to us. We're not going to always be successful at it; but that doesn't mean that the promises aren't there, or that anything ever releases us from the responsibility to try to keep those promises. They aren't a contract, but a covenant.

I'd be scared to come to the water if I did not come in the assurance that God will meet us there. For the greatest promises that will be made Sunday morning are the ones that God makes to us...now and forever more.

See you at the water.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

From The Rock to a Screaming Match-What It Means to Me

This week's scriptures are isaiah 50:4-9 and Mark 8:27-38.

This week's passage from Mark sounds so much like us to me that I can hardly stand it. Why? Because here, in the middle of all the misunderstanding in the preceding passages, and the arguing afterward with Jesus about what is going to happen....here is that singular flash of understanding. It won't last long. It won't stop Peter just moments later from screaming at Jesus-and Jesus screaming back, by the way-when He tries to explain what's coming. But it's there. For one brief, shining moment....Peter gets it. And that moment, I think, will carry him through the darkness that is to come. For one magnificent moment Peter knows. From the top of his tingling head, down his spine to his quickly beating heart, and through his toes curling into the sand at his feet......he knows.

And then.....it's gone.....sorta. It's a knowledge so great that he can't take it all in. But it's a knowledge that hangs around; hovering in the corners of his heart, whispering from the edges of his mind. It's a knowledge that will shape the rest of his life. From his "where else would we go, you have the words of life" in the passage from John a few weeks ago, to "You are the Messiah."

It's also a knowledge that will torment and judge him when he fails. When he denies knowing Jesus; when he moves away from the gentiles at table later in the early church.

But I also think that it is a knowledge that shapes his compassion. It opens him up to the dream he will get in Acts that convinces him that the gospel was for all; to go to the house of Cornelius; and when challenged by leaders in Jerusalem, to share his dream and his understanding. (Acts 10:1-11:18)

Peter was a man who was a mixture of anger and care; impulsivity and thoughtfulness; boldness and fear. He did not always live out the understanding that burst out of him that day. And he agonized over his failures. Sounds a bit like you and me doesn't it.

In our Isaiah passage we find the words, "The Lord God has given me the tongue of one who has been instructed to console the weary with a timely word; he made my hearing sharp every morning, that I might listen like one under instruction" (5o:4) We can 'console others with a timely word', and 'listen like one under instruction' because we both know who Jesus is; and know our own shortcomings. One gives us hope...the other gives us compassion. We find that in our journey...our rising and falling, our sudden, brilliant flashes where God breaks through...just for the moment, our struggles to reach toward what we're called to be...the experiences shape our response to others.

Two quotes for you. Two of my favorites (which means you've probably heard them before, and WARNING!-you'll probably hear them again):

"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to those that still suffer; and to practice these principles in all our affairs" (the 12th Step of AA and other 12 Step programs)

"He consoles us in all our troubles, so that we in turn may be able to console others in any trouble of theirs and to share with them the consolation we ourselves have recieved from God." (2 Corinthians 1:4)

I've rambled a bit today. But our lives ramble as well. There is rarely a straight line in our lives or our journey of faith. We fall, we rise. We tend our own wounds, we reach out to tend the wounds of others. Most of all...we trust....because we know. We've been given that moment when we too could say, "You are the Christ, where else could we go."

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Did Jesus Know? And When Did He Know It?

This week's scriptures are Mark 7:24-37.

When you get to church on Sunday you'll notice that I have divided this scripture into two readings: the first is the story of the curing of the Syrophonecian woman's daughter (an incredibly disturbing story) told in verses 24-30; and the curing of a gentile deaf-mute in verses 31-37.

The thing that makes the first narrative so disturbing is Jesus' response to this gentile woman who comes to him pleading for her daughter's healing. Her daughter apparently has a demon. We don't know what kind or what it causes her to do. That doesn't appear to be important to Mark. What is important is that she comes and throws herself at Jesus' feet, begging for his help.

Jesus' response is designed to send preachers and commentators running for cover. He says to her, "It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Whew! This isn't a statement we associate with the compassionate Jesus, Savior of the World, Cosmic Christ....take your pick. Frankly it's a crappy thing to say. So why did Jesus say it? And why does Mark tell us about it where and how he did?

One could make the case that Jesus, in his humanity, is just plain tired. Verse 31 tells us that he "went into a house and didn't want anyone to know that he was there." He's exhausted; and like you and I when we're tired and put upon and feel like the world is sucking us dry, he snapped at the first person who invaded his quiet time alone. I could handle that better if he snapped at Peter or James; screamed, "Can't you leave me alone for just one minute? Can't you see I'm exhausted? I can't take much more of this!" But this woman...suffering, seeking, begging. She doesn't even have a male relative to approach Jesus for her (a cultural requirement) which, like the woman who touched Jesus robe, indicates how truly alone and desperate she was. And Jesus calls her and her child a "dog"?

Some commentators make the case that Jesus, like you and I, had an ever growing, ever unfolding understanding of his call by God. They make the case that Jesus is growing in his understanding of what the Kingdom of God looks like, and who it includes. They say that this woman, in her challenge to Jesus (again, an incredibly feisty and couragous thing) when she says, "yeah, but even the dogs get the scraps off the table" brings Jesus to a new awareness of what it means to bring in God's Kingdom.

Now this is intriguing. What did Jesus know about the Kingdom? And when did he know it? Did a blaze of complete understanding come down with the dove that descended at Jesus' baptism? Or did the times that Jesus went off by himself in prayer indicate a growing understanding. One could make the case that right up to the prayer in the garden: "Lord, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me" that Jesus was involved in an ongoing dialogue with God about the nature of his call and his ministry.

I like that. I don't say that you've got to believe it; but the idea that Jesus, who was "tempted in all points like we are" dealt with the shadows and questions of what it means to be called to live his life gives me comfort. You and I don't have the luxury of a full picture of what it means to be called to live our lives as God's people. We move forward in the little patches of light we're given, one step at a time. We sweat and struggle with our choices and wonder 'is this right?' 'is this what I'm called to?' and we throw ourselves on God's mercy that God will take our efforts and bless them in love and mercy.

Now I think that Jesus was much more tuned in, much stronger, more obedient, totally God-in-the-Flesh. But....I also find comfort in the idea that Jesus listened and prayed and was obedient....even when he couldn't see past his little patch of light. That makes Jesus "fully human" to me and offers the possibility that my obedience might, possibly look more like his than my own selfish, bumbling, sinful efforts; and that Jesus understands my struggle.

But it still doesn't answer the question: why would Jesus talk to this poor woman this way?

I'm moving toward an answer. I don't quiet have it yet...and I don't want to let Jesus off the hook either. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to invite you to church on Sunday. I'm going to promise you that I'm going to study and pray and struggle with this question; and Sunday morning I'm going to give you my best response to the question. Please come join us at 10:00 a.m. at Broadneck Baptist. And if you can't be there, the sermon will be posted for this ocming Sunday in the sermons on this site.

I'm not going to duck and dodge and give you an easy answer. This passage is really troublesome. I'm going to give you my best. In the meantime; I ask that you struggle with it too. This is what Baptists mean by the "priesthood of all believers." That each of us struggles and sweats with scripture and with what it means to us personally.

If, after Sunday, your struggle with this passage has taken you somewhere different than me, or if you have ideas you think I need to consider before then, please respond here. Let me, and others, know what you're thinking about this passage. Join us in the unfolding of our identity as God's people in this time and place.

What did this incident mean to Jesus? What does it mean to us?

Hope to see you Sunday.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Whom Can We Go?

This week's scriptures are Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69.

These two passages can be viewed as either very much alike; or as radically different.

In her commentary on the passage from John DawnOtoni Wilhelm makes the point that Petere's, "Lord, to whom can we go?" can be interpreted as either an expression of despair or an expression of exultation.

The passage from Joshua is a well-formed covenant ceremony for a triumphant people. Joshua sounds out the challenge, "Chose you this day....but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." And the people respond, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord" and go on to recount the victories of God in bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, protecting them along the way, and driving out their enemies before them. Because of this they say, "Therefore we also will serve teh Lord, for he is our God."

The passage from John is most often read the same way. Peter's response to Jesus' question "Do you also wish to go away?" is heard as a shout of exaltation, "Lord,to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." The problem with that reading is that it is to read it back through the lens of the resurrection and 2000 plus years of the Christian Church's growing political and economic influence.

But there is another way to look at this passage. Jesus asks His question of the disciples in the face of His abandonment by many of his disciples. One can almost see Jesus sitting there, head down, as He contemplates this. He lifts his head, looks at those who are standing there, and asks, "Do you want to go away too?" And Peter...Peter doesn't miss either the difficulty of what Jesus has said, or the impact of the response of Jesus' listeners or the loss of the disciples. Perhaps there is catch in his voice, "Where else could we go?....You have the words of eternal life." Maybe Peter wished it was otherwise; that the "words of eternal life" had come from someone who wasn't so demanding, so offensive, so devisive. Yet give them their due, those disciples stayed. They stayed even when they didn't understand. They stayed even when others left. They stayed right up to the point where Jesus was arrested.

I have to admit that I am often more like Peter in the second reading. I wish it was easier. I wish that faith didn't put us in such strange positions. And most of all, I wish I could embrace a 'we know the good guys will always win' triumphalism. But the truth is that while I do believe that the final word will be God's, and that this word will be Love; I also know that too often in the here and now things are often more difficult.

And, like Peter, I know that there are other places to go. There are other values, other world views, other values. But I also know, even in the darkest moments of my heart, that the words of eternal life are only found in one place. Because, as Peter said, "We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God"....even when it seems like things are at their worst.

And so the hymn can sing:

"This is my Father's world
"O let me ne'er forget
"that though the wrong seems oft so strong
"God is the ruler yet"

and we can be reminded of the words found on a wall where folks had been hiding during the holocaust:

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining
"I believe in love, even when I am alone
"I believe in God, even when he is silent"


Thursday, August 13, 2009


This week's scriptures are Ephesians 5:15-20 and John 6:51-58.

"What is it that we really crave?" We've used this phrase for three weeks now in our Call to Worship. What is it that we really crave?

The coffee shop where I get my second cup on the way to work (first cup is at the house)...the one I drink on the way to the office...is called Cravings...and I definitely crave that second cup.

To crave: to have an intense desire for; to need urgently; to earnestly long for, to implore; to desire eagerly.

Martin Luther was said to have told his congregation that he wished he could get them to pray the way his dog went after meat. I can relate to that image. At 7 a.m. every morning...sometimes earlier, my dog Moses' craving for breakfast and a trip to the back yard kicks in.

First he jumps up from where he's been sleeping at the foot of the bed. Then he paws me. If that doesn't work, he jumps off the bed and goes to Carole, bopping her with his nose. If all that fails, he begins a noise that's a cross between an bark and a howl....and he keeps this up til one of us gets up, feeds him, and puts him out.

This scene is repeated in homes all over town. Many of you are smiling as you think about your dog doing his/her 'craving routine.'

Think about the way you and I pray. How much craving is there to it? How much longing? I'm embarrassed for myself when I ask the question. That I often do not bring as much persistance to my prayer life as my dog does to his breakfast and his morning trip to the back yard; or that I have for my second cup of coffee.

If you're offended by this image, think how Jesus' listeners heard his words. Jewish law forbids the eating of blood...and the Greek words here move from the polite ones about eating and drinking to more visceral onces about chewing and gulping. 'Chew my body, gulp my blood.' 'Crave me' Jesus says to us....do we?

Let's talk about it on Sunday.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Bread That Lifts Us Up

This week's scriptures are Psalm 34:1-8 and John 6:35, 41-51.

I was struck by this weeks Psalm. Like many praise Psalms it begins with words of blessing and exaltation. Then, suddenly, "Here is one who cried out in his affliction..." The Psalmist's praise is rooted in the experience of brokenness, trouble, and fear. It was in the middle of these things that he cried out and God responded in such a way that he says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good."

All too often we've heard things that lead us to believe that being people of faith is somehow protection against fear and trouble. Worse, we've sometimes been told that we shouldn't be afraid, that we should plaster a smile on our faces and ignore the problems that come our way. The truth is that this just isn't scriptural. It's not the way the biblical writers talked about the human condition, and it's not how Jesus did either.

Verses 18 and 19 go on to say:
The Lord is close to those whose courage is broken;
he saves those whose spirit is crushed.
Thoug the misforturns of who is rightous be many,
the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Both the OT writers and Jesus spoke about God coming close to us in our times of difficulty. God's people cry out....and God comes. In fact, both the Psalmist in this passage and Jesus talk about God coming so close that it's like the food we eat.
"O taste and see" "I am the living bread"....tasted, taken in, nurtured by. Food becomes a part of us. And Jesus said that He was the bread that would "raise us up on the last day"....the final word will be our being redeemed by the Living Bread of Life.

I'm reminded of the words of what has become one of my favorite hymns:

And He will raise you up on eagles wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

Come and celebrate the Bread of Life with us on Sunday. We look forward to seeing you.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

When Being Fed Is More Than Food

This week's scriptures are Psalm 78:23-29 and John 6:24-35.

I hope that you'll read Jeremy's blog below before you read this one. I found his blog amazing in a number of ways; one of which is that it is such a wonderful lead in to what I'd like to talk about that it couldn't be better if we had planned it...and I assure you, we didn't.

The people in John's passage come looking for Jesus and are confronted with Jesus' statement that they are looking for the wrong thing. Phrases like "more than this" and "beyond the miracle" could easily be attached to our discussion. Jesus is inviting them, and us, to look beyond the 'important' to the 'imperative'.

This passage can remind us that we all too often fall prey to what C.S. Lewis called "Christianity And..." He described this as the situation when we get focused on Christianity as a way to some other goal; whether that goal is Feeding the Poor or Global Peace. Pretty soon we make Feeding the Poor our focus and Christianity just a way to get there.

Please don't get me wrong; I believe that feeding the poor is important and global peace a goal worth striving for. And my relationship with God in Christ leads me to work for both of these things. But listen to the word of the Psalm talking about the manna in the desert: "Mortals ate of the bread of angels," and "they ate and were filled. for God gave them what they craved."

Now look at Jeremy's description of his meal again. This is much more than food. It is, if we believe that "where two or three are gathered in My name, I am present" it is also a place where God is. It is a 'filling' that goes beyond food. Jesus invites you and me to more than world peace or feeding the hungry or rehabilitating the criminal or caring for our neighbors in West Virginia. Though each of these things can be an outgrowth of what Jesus offers us, the thing that we are offered is a relationship. This is the "bread of angels" it is "giving us what we crave" because it is in relationship with God that we are truly "filled."

This week's lectionary reading begins a series of weeks in which we're looking at Jesus talking about himself as bread. Let's explore this together as we think about what it means to be truly filled...truly fed...to "eat the bread of angels"...of those who live in the presence of God.

See you Sunday.

Georgian lessons

Hey there, folks,
I'm currently sitting in the very nice offices of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, just outside of northwest Tbilisi. I am more or less on Georgian time, but not "Georgian time" as I wake up very early compared to most Georgians in the city.

After arriving in the middle of the night on Wednesday, I woke up to a find myself at the foot of a huge mountain. The lack of hot water and the truly open door policy of Georgia in some ways reminds me of Kentucky, the home of my Leonard grandmother. Within 2 minutes of seeing an elderly woman outside my door, she waved to me to table filled with breakfast, set for one. I can't tell you how touching that was (and remains). We couldn't really speak to one another - I don't know Georgian and she doesn't know English. I didn't know that she was the mother of the Archbishop, and I don't think she knew who I was, really. But it didn't matter to her - she invited me into her home to eat. Embarrassed, I ran to get some blackberry jam I made and brought as a gift, small though it was. When she saw what it was and tasted it, she went and opened her own can of fruit preserves, which she spread on local bread (puri) and handed to me. We pointed at the food, gestured, spoke the few names I knew of her family (see, I was starting to catch on!) and I used my baby-like Russian and Georgian to "explain" what I was doing in Georgia. Mostly, we just laughed and smiled and ate (though it took some doing to get her to stop worrying about me and eat some herself).

Despite the language barrier, we were able to communicate through sharing, through actions. This relates to what should be a familiar message of community fellowship and reaching out to people we hardly know. It makes me think that sometimes, words get in the way. People who know me well know that I ask a lot of questions and am all for talking - but perhaps I should concentrate on more "engaged doing."

Just some thoughts from a member in Georgia!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Jesus' gut reaction

Passage: Mark 30-34, 53-56

I was hoping I would be able to post earlier this week but life has been busy.

We all have weeks when we yearn to withdraw into a quiet place with Christ and rest away from the noisy crowd with its odd demands and ever-pressing needs. And yet, those needs press in just as much in the quiet of the wilderness as in the busy city, office, or home. It is as if need runs ahead of us and meets us at the next shoreline, stoplight, or front door. So often my response to need is to hide behind the words of Christ, the poor you will always have with you… There is so so much need. What difference could I make in a world where few people never earn more than a dollar a day, and most of them make much less? What is the point of wearing myself out when those suffering in the death-grip of HIV-AIDS still have no hope of recovery, or the child forced to carry a gun in the Sudan will have nothing to return home to but misery, starvation, and violence?

And then Jesus sees the crowd. Any thoughts of rest are pushed aside in the face of overwhelming need. He is moved with compassion. I like that phrase. In the Greek the word is “splagch-nizo-mai” (σπλαγχνίζομαι) and it literally means that Jesus had a painful feeling in his intestines when he saw the crowd. He saw the crowd and instead of getting back in the boat and going on to a more secluded place his physical reaction was to give these poor, lost, hungry sheep the shepherd their existence yearned for, even if they couldn’t collectively voice their specific need.

There is no way that we can ease the suffering of those we encounter tired and hungry, wandering like lost sheep in our world unless our “gut reaction” is that of Christ who offers (as he does in v.34-44) his Word to guide and his Body to feed and strengthen.

The people’s response in v. 53-56 reminds us that wherever we go there will be need. People are looking in every place and every way for the one thing that will meet their needs and calm their restless spirit. Augustine wrote to God that, “our heart is restless until it rests in You.” We live in a restless world. There are days when we will be overcome with the task at hand. I wish I had a handy remedy of psychological trickery to convince us all that there is no reason to get discouraged; there is no fool-proof mantra. I do see the example of Christ, though: going on before us, pained in his very core to see the need still at hand, and stopping at nothing to meet that need with the only remedy that will truly answer to the issue of human suffering in our world. That answer is his Word and his Body.

We have the Word with us always. We are his Body.

May Christ give us the faith to follow his lead.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our Cast of Characters for this Week... Mark 6:14-29

Hello, all:

I had trouble unpacking this particular passage this week. On the surface it seems pretty cut and dried (maybe not the best phrase to use). I've decided to simply elaborate on some of the issues and leave an interpretation up to you the readers. Our Dramatis Personae in this passage consist of a weak king, a conniving wife, a perhaps not-so-innocent daughter, and an incarcerated prophet.

I’ll start with the king: Herod.
There are a handful of Herods in the Bible, and if you don’t keep track of them all they can get a little confusing. This particular Herod goes by the name Antipas. His father, Herod the Great (a relative term), was the King of Judea that tried to have Christ killed and necessitated the flight to Egypt. When the great Herod died the Roman senate split Judea up between Herod Antipas and his brother Archelaus. Herod Antipas got Galilee.

Things started going bad for Herod Antipas from the get-go. He married the daughter of an Arab king, but then left her for the wife of his half-brother. This made his father-in-law quite upset and he and Herod actually had a small war over the issue. Herod lost. So that’s our Herod. A weak ruler (he technically didn’t even have the title of king), in relatively backwards part of Judea, with a dominating wife, and with the all-seeing eye of Rome watching his every move.

Then there’s the wife: Herodias. She left her husband in Rome to be with a man of real power and position (comparatively). She and Herod never officially married, and it was common knowledge that their union was adulterous. Her dislike of John the Baptizer is understandable, since the prophet publically condemned Herodias and Herod on many occasions. Josephus tells us that after the death of John and the crucifixion of Christ Herodias convinced Herod to go to Rome and beg Caesar for the title of king. Herod went and Caesar Caligula banished Herod and Herodias both to Gaul. Though the stereotype of the strong-willed woman manipulating the weak ruler may be overused in literature, this is one time where it holds true. A lot of trouble would have been saved had both Herod and Herodias stayed faithful to their respected spouses.

Herodias’ daughter was Salome. Keep in mind that Salome was the daughter of Herodias and her real husband Philip. It removes the air of incestuous overtones, but doesn’t make the situation any less creepy when she dances for Herod and his court. Not much is known about Salome. She married well, and twice, but there’s no indication that she was the demonic temptress and nymphomaniac that 19th century literature has made her out to be.

And finally there’s the prophet: John the Baptizer. The most unsatisfying element of this story is that John is only mentioned as the object of Herodias’ revenge. No lines, no stage appearance, just a name off in prison until his execution.

It’s hard for me to unpack this; harder still because this story has some familiar parallels with a later story in the Gospels. I’m referring to the crucifixion. Let me spell it out: There is a nation/wife that has been unfaithful to her husband/king/God, and deeply resents the one sent from God to warn her away from sin and adultery. Rather than listen and repent she conspires with the local ruler. Now this ruler would rather not execute this prophet, because he knows that he is a righteous man, and from God, but Herod/Pilot gives in for the sake of his image, and the prophet/Christ is executed.

I’d give this story a happy ending and some slick personal application notes, but the happy ending will have to wait until after the other execution later in the text, and I’m sure Steven will make the application clear this Sunday.

Until then muse on human nature, our own tenacity to hide and preserve our sin, and the hope of Christ who was, and is, and is to come.



Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Not-so-great Expectations?

Mark 6:1-13

Hello, all.

This is Peyton.
Stephen has given me the opportunity to take a crack at the sermon blog for the next couple of weeks --whether or not that was a good decision remains to be seen--.

This next Sunday’s passage is a particularly interesting account of a confrontation in Jesus’ own home town. Some of us who have moved away from home for school, work, or just other life opportunities can be challenged by the ghosts of our past when we return: Where have you been all this time? And, What have you done with yourself? Or the dreaded, I remember when you were just a little bitty baby!

Jesus encounters some of that here, and more. You see, when he began to teach in the synagogue he not only challenged the perceptions that his friends and family had of him but also the perceptions they had about God.

We know those perceptions well. Perhaps they even are our own.

God would never use that person to do His work…. Why, I remember when she was just a little girl. Not well-behaved at all… I’ve seen him do things I’d never do. How could God ever use him! …and the list goes on.

The sad thing is that until we accept that God can and will chose whomever He wants to do His work we are stuck on the sidelines watching amazing things happen to someone else.

“And he could do no might work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled at their unbelief.” -v.5-6

It scares me to think what I may be missing because I have yet to take God at His word when it comes to His agenda.

But wait! It doesn’t end there. Jesus goes on and sends those who are willing to take him at his word out to do amazing things in his name. Not only are the twelve not what I’d consider apostle material, but they don’t even get to take along the sort of stuff any good camping expert would recommend. But look at what they do! Casting out many daemons and healing sick people is no small task by human standards. I wonder what their families would have said if they could have seen those twelve about their master’s work.

What can we do when we take Jesus at his word and throw off our limited ideas about who he is? Do we take the time to even hear what he says about himself?

May the grace and peace of our Lord cover us, and may we see him for who he is and have the faith to go out completely dependant on him.

See you all Sunday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reaching For God

This week's scriptures are Psalm 30 and Mark 5:21-43.

My youngest grandbaby, Chey, is almost a year and a half. I spent a couple of wonderful days with her last weekend. She even says "Pappa," which is a magnificent word. And she reaches out when she wants to be picked up or held. (Mostly for her Mommy, but sometimes for Pappa too).

She can't jump into our arms; and we wouldn't expect her to. But reaching is important.

The people in our Markian passage were reaching. One on her own behalf and another on behalf of his daughter. It would be possible, and in once sense, correct, to say that there was nothing either of these two people could do. The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years had, in fact, tried everything there was to try. But they could reach...and reach they did.

Reaching for God is the hunger in our hearts crying out. Reaching is the prayer of "I don't know if you're there, God, but if you are, please...help me."

So much of the behavior we see, in others and in ourselves, that creates problems can be looked at as a reaching. Reaching for healing from pain, for connection to others, for an end to loneliness. All of these are, ultimately I believe, a reaching for God. But our response as the Body of Christ is to also help with the here-and-now issues involved in that reaching.

Would we respond differently if we could see these problems as the arms of a child reaching up to be held against the fears of life? Would we as the Body of Christ be more willing to respond by embracing, soothing, caring for the hurting, wounded fellow children of our Heavenly Parent (or even better, Grandparent)?

My grandbaby reaches for me and I am reminded of my own reaching for God. She stretches further and I am reminded of those around us reaching, stretching, straining to touch the One who brings solice. The world it reaching...what will we do?

Hope to see you Sunday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Father's Day Blog

I'm not going to be preaching this week. I'll be leaving this evening for Cape Cod where Carole and I will spend a wonderful weekend with my three grown children and my two marvelous grandbabies. This will be the first time that I've had all three of my kids in the same place for a while.

Father's Day and Mother's Day always stir in me issues about "God Language," the metaphors and images that we use to talk about God's relationship to us and ours to God. It's a very touchy subject for many; especially those who were abused or neglected by parents...to refer to God as Father or Mother can stir up old pains and memories and make it difficult to engage meaningfully with the God who reaches out to us in love.

But we can't escape language...it's all we've got to (well not totally, but for the most part) to express and share with one another how God has touched our lives. And scripture uses the language of relationship to talk about us and God.

God isn't just referred to as "Father" but as a 'nursing mother,' a 'mother giving birth,' and a 'mother teaching her child to walk'....to name a few of the feminine metaphors for God. God is presented in scripture as the one who nurtures and cares and guides and loves.

But the other truth is that many of us didn't have adequate parents. Some didn't even have loving parents. Some had abusive parents who sought their children's destruction at the worst; or used them for their own emotional, sexual, ego gratification at best.

Some of us had wonderful parents. Parents who, though not perfect, were "good enough" and honestly tried to give us the nurture and care we need. who show'd us that the world was a possible place for us; that we were valued; and whose love sustained us in both success and failure.

Some of our experiences; many of them I imagine, feel somewhere in between.

But Sunday is Father's Day. And as a pastor I want to say to every father who reads this: our responsibility is to live our life with our children in such a way that the idea of "God the Father" isn't a barrier to relationship to God, but a bridge. We need to remember that our children's first picture of God is on our face.

We fail so often to do this adequately-but we can try, and pray, and remember that we as fathers, as mothers, (even as papa).....have this sacred responsability. We are the first expressions of God's love that our children know. Let us represent that love well.

Happy Father's Day and I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Of Seeds and Young Sheperds and New Things Growing

This week's scriptures are I Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Mark 4:26-34.

We read the story from I Samuel looking back through thousands of years worth of positive thinking about David. David the Great Poet. David Slayer of Goliath. David King of Israel. But if we look at him in this story through the eyes of his father and brothers, we might get a different view.

Scripture is kind and says that the boy David was "handsome with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes" when Samuel first saw him. But remember, Jesse had paraded all his sons in front of Samuel...except for David. When asked if he had other sons, Jesse's reply had been a sort of, 'well yeah, there's David, but he's out with the sheep, don't worry bout him.'

If you had walked into Jesse's home and said, "your son, David, will be King" the answer would most likely have been "you've got to be kidding." David's family would have probably had trouble seeing their youngest son, or their little brother as the next King of Israel.

Jesus' comments about the Kingdom being like a seed growing...unseen and unnoticed...may speak to some of this. So much of what God is doing happens 'underground'...away from the expectations that we may have developed about the very people that God may be using to bring in the Kingdom.

At this time of graduation from high school or college can we look at our graduates with new eyes and perhaps see them as people God will use to bring in the Kingdom? Or will we, like Jesse, make the mistake of not seeing them as possible candidates for that role?

More that this, can we believe that the Kingdom is growing even when we can't see it? Can we trust that even in times of turmoil equal to the radical change Samuel was seeing with the replacing of King Saul with the newly annointed David God is on the move? When the Holocaust Museum is a sight for a terrorist attack and doctors are murdered by abortion opponents...do we still trust that the Kingdom is growing?

God's word to Samuel and Jesus' parable of seeds all call us to trust that God is moving. The power of God is lose in the world...sometimes in people and places where we have difficulty seeing it. Living in trust and belief that the seeds of the Kingdom are growing 'under our feet' is one of the great challenges of our faith. Another is to believe that we, and those we know, may well be the very seeds that God has planted.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Flinging Ourselves Into The Arms of Love

This week's scriptures are John 3:1-17 and Mark 2:23-3:6.

My wife forwarded me a set of email pictures today. They were all beautiful; but there was one that reached out and grabbed me by the heart. It's in an airport. The mother in the picture is in her military fatigues and backpack. She has scooted to her knees and has her arms around a little girl who is about three. The little girl has her arms around her mother's neck and her head buried in her shoulder. The mother has the tearful look of one who is back, holding the dream that kept her going while she was away.

Take that picture. Hold it in the eye of your heart and mind.


Let me say it again...


I have to confess that sometimes I lose track of this. In the midst of everything else, I can forget what is foundational. That it isn't right thought; or right action; or right worship; or right ANYTHING. Those are things I control...and this isn't about me.

Everytime I make it about me, I fall short and am afraid. Cause if it's about me, there is no hope. I'll never be good enough. I'll never understand enough. Jesus makes the point, though, in both Mark and the John passages that God is less concerned with 'rules' (pick your set, they're not that important) than with relationship. And that we can't do it for ourselves.

John 3:3 has an interesting word that can be translated "born again" or "born from above." Nicodemus makes the same mistake you and I do. He hears it as "born again" and wonders how we can manage it. When we hear it "born from above" we get the truth that being "born from above" is something that is done FOR us. It is a gift.

As I think about all this today, there are three phrases that keep running through my head (all from different places):

The first is my favorite paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:19, "God was in Christ hugging the world back to Himself."

The second is the one sentence summation of the 12 Steps of AA "I can't, God can, I'll let'em"

And the third is the answer theologian Karl Barth gave when asked the most important theological truth he had learned in his years of study. He replied, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

It is a simple and as profound as an embrace. God loves you. And that (not the hokey pokey) is what it's all about.

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living Tongues of Flame

This weeks scriptures are Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-12.

The comparison of images in these two passages is startling. In the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel, they make bricks. Hard, solid, unchangable. Their goal is a kind of emotional/spiritual/social safety. They will "make a name for themselves" and will "not be scattered." And to meet this goal they will make something so solid, so long lasting, that it will provide focus and security.

God's response is to scatter them. Now, we have to be clear that this story is a theo/political one. It is a story written against urban living (as opposed to nomadic) and against the technology of the day (firing brick and the art of building great buildings). The truth is that we are all on the side of technology and urban life (even the most 'back to the earth' of us would not go for the kind of nomadic lifestyle that the proponents of this story were advocating).

But beyond this, what does this story have to say to us? Perhaps the answer can be found in the reasons that they wanted to build the tower. It was a desire for security based in the self and in image. Though these are not necessarily bad things, in their place, as foundations for life they leave a great deal to be desired.

Now turn to the images of the story from Acts. In the first place, these were not secure people. These were the same people who had recently deserted Jesus. They were still struggling with the meaning of their sightings of the risen Christ: what did they mean? Was this a ghost? What were they supposed to do?

These were not great and powerful men and women who could decide to build a tower. They came from the poor, the working class, the formerly outcast. But they had gathered in obedience to what Jesus had told them, to wait for the Spirit that He promised would come.

And when the Spirit came, it did not come as something solid....something one could grasp and hold....it came as flame and wind. It did not come as something they called, or controlled. And when it came, it changed everything.

So much of our lives are spent in search of security. We want something tangible to hold on to. We want to not 'be scattered' and to 'make a name for ourselves.' We live out of a fear that what we do won't matter. As a man on the back side of middle age, it's often scary when I look at my life and ask "what did it all mean? What's it all about?" And philosophys and church doctrines that offer quick answers and firm securities are a great draw to many.

What God offers at Pentecost is flame. It is the same flame that guided the Children of Israel on their wilderness journey to the Promised Land. And now it is being offered to Jesus' disciples....and to us. It will posess us. It will call us to speak to people that we could not ever imagine speaking to before . It will create bridges across barriers. We will have a name for ourselves; and that name will be 'redeemed', 'christian', 'brother and sister to all Christ loves.' And we will not be scattered. For everywhere we look, there will be others....and we will find them in suprising places.

We have been offered flame. Will we accept?

See you Sunday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jesus the Revealer- Part 4- God as Teacher/Protector

Good morning, everyone! Jeremy here, writing from San Francisco (which means I will miss the sermon on Sunday, sadly). I'm looking out of our cousin's house at the mountains and the beautiful, varied landscape, which I think is influencing my view of this week's gospel passages, John 17:6-19. This is the last part of the series of meditations on what Jesus reveals about God in the book of John.

Throughout this passage, two main themes jump out at me - one of which is easier to deal with, the other is more of a balancing act maybe (i.e. Jeremy has questions - surprise!). The first theme I felt drawn to talk about is God as teacher. Those of you who know me probably know that I ask lots of questions and am generally pretty cautious about what I accept to be true or useful (well, I suppose they might describe me as being a skeptic). I want to learn all I can about something before I make a decision, so I ask a lot of questions. Which, oddly enough, can be pretty darn annoying.

A major part of this desire of mine is rooted in my belief that we live our finite lives in this existence in order to learn, and that we each need to learn different things and in different ways to reach our potential. There are many choices we can make in order to do so, too - some of which are fairly horrible (more on that in a minute). Jesus talks about how much he has taught the disciples and that it is from God - in other words, referencing content and source. As a teacher myself (formally and informally) and as a relentless questioner, these are two things that matter the most to me in connecting the reliable information with the learner's experience. Just as Jesus was teaching the disciples about God and God's kingdom and making connections, God continues to teach me as I sit here and look at the mountains (or as I watched with wonder and a bit of fear as we crossed the US at 35,000 feet). These are the "easier" lessons, perhaps. The painful lessons are there, too. Jesus even references the one doomed to help fulfill the scriptures, though I believe that Judas had choices on how this was to come about and how it was to affect him - and that these were lessons he needed to learn in this life in preparation for the next.

The second issue here is God as protector, and this one bothers me a bit. You might say, who doesn't like/want to be protected? Well, I certainly felt protected as we flew over to California! What bothers me is the stress on dividing the disciples and the world as a method of protection here. In fact, the same phrase is repeated nearly back to back in this passage - they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. Us and them. This passage is used in some churches and sermons to create/enlarge a separation between believers and unbelievers (which is a nearly useless distinction, in my view - who doesn't have moments of unbelief?). But yet we are to be in the world, too, as Jesus demonstrated time and time again by breaking social rules dividing the outside and the inside. The table is always open and everyone is invited, as Stephen says. So, what's up with the binary emphasis here? By repeating the same phrase, it seems to indicate a higher level of importance to this part of the text. Is this a way of God protecting or shielding us a bit as we learn? How do we balance these seemingly conflicting messages of being in the world and yet apart?

I'm sure Stephen will hash this all out on Sunday! 'Cause there's only one answer, right? The answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. Piece o' cake.

Peace to you all,


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jesus the Revealer- Part 3- God Commands Us to Love

This week we are focusing on John 15: 9-17 and 1 Corinthians 13. The theme that connects these passages is Love.

Most people know 1 Corinthians 13 and are probably most familiar with versus 4-7. They start: "Love is patient, love is kind." You've heard it before, most likely at weddings. In fact, I am going to my friend from college's wedding in 3 weeks and I am doing a reading during the ceremony. You can guess what I'm reading: 1 Corinthians 13. So that one seems pretty straight forward. But what about the passage from John and why are they together this week? What are we supposed to get other than the overarching theme of love from this combination.

John 15:9-17 has Jesus telling His disciples how He is loved by God and how they are loved by Jesus. They are supposed to serve and obey to keep His love. There is a lot of talk about commands: following commands as part of "remaining in his love," loving each other as a command, and doing Jesus' commands as an act of friendship. Following this command talk, Jesus says that despite this the disciples are his friends, and not his servants. Huh? I have a hard time rectifying all these commands with the title of friend. We usually don't think of friends as those who boss us around and say the only way I'm going to love you is if you listen to me and do as I say. That sounds a lot more authoritarian than friendly.

Setting that aside for a moment, what the passage from John doesn't have is what it means to love, what love is. Combined with 1 Corinthians 13, however, we get a better idea of love. Maybe the way love is described here is how Jesus loved his disciples> This was the good example He set so that when he said, "love each other," they knew what he meant. But why then the command to love? Maybe a hint is in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, "Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." Maybe Jesus knew something about the disciples (and by extension, us). Maybe He knew them fully, and knew that a commandment would get their attention, more than say, a recommendation. Maybe in being authoritative, He was giving them what they needed.

Just an idea...