Thursday, May 27, 2010

Love comes before understanding

Our Scriptures this week are 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and Philippians 1:3-11.

I liked how these two segments of Paul’s letters work together to say something about the role of emotion and wisdom in building a relationship with God. In writing to the early believers in Corinth, Paul reminds them of his initial interactions with the community. He writes that he spoke to them of Jesus and the crucifixion, full of fear, trembling, and weakness. He remembers that he did not come using “lofty words” or persuasive rhetoric, but rather let God’s power take center stage.

In his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,” Paul tells of his great joy in praying for them and how they hold him so closely in their hearts. He prays that their “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight” (Phil. 1:9) as they come closer to Jesus and God.

These passages taken together, Paul seems to be saying that an emotional connection with God takes primacy over well reasoned logic. Emotions, whether knee-weakening fear or overflowing love, pave the way for us to connect to God’s power. Paul says to the Corinthians that a slick speech would have distracted from the message he was bringing. The humble approach he used allowed for their faith to “rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). He wanted them to come to Jesus not because he was a good speaker but because his message was so powerful.

In the prayer for the Philippians, we see how emotion leads the way to understanding. But this time it’s not the painful emotions of fear and weakness, but joy and love. The joy Paul feels for his friends and the love of the community provide a basis for their continued learning and growing understanding of God. I might be putting words into Paul’s mouth (or letters into his pen, as it were), but I think he might have thought that building a relationship with God follows this path: 1) experience the pure power of God’s message, 2) come to love one another as your love for God grows, and 3) human wisdom of will God will follow.

Or, put another way, love comes before understanding.

With love and hope,


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A (Not So) Simple Request

Our scriptures this week are Acts 2:1-21 and John 14:8-32.

The main focus of our passages is Holy Spirit: Jesus’ promise to the disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit (John) and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts). No doubt Stephen will preach a great sermon, something very fitting for Pentecost, on Sunday. But I want to touch on part of the reading that is just calling out to me, John 14: 8-14.

Jesus has just told the disciples “I’m the truth and the life…if you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 8:6-7). Phillip then asks, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8, NIV) or "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied" (John 14:8, NLT). Jesus’ response basically is, “Haven’t you been paying attention! I come from the Father- He’s in me. I’m standing right here, aren’t I!”

Why is Phillip’s question so out of place? It is just a little request, right? Just a quick look will be enough. But in reading the footnotes to my copy of the Harper-Collins Study Bible, I was pointed to other passages in John about the Father. Turns out, no one has seen the Father. It hasn’t been done (unless maybe you count Moses’ brief glimpse as God “passed by” in Exodus 33:20-23). “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18) and it is only through the Son that the Father is known. So it turns out that what Phillip is asking isn’t a little request at all—it is a big deal! He’s saying that if you give us the ultimate proof of God, show him to us, we will be satisfied. Let us see Him, then we will have enough to believe.

But Jesus says in response, “I am here. If you need proof, that’s it. If my standing here isn’t enough, then look at all the works I’ve done. Believe.” Just believe already! How many times in our lives has this message been brought home to us? How many times do we need to hear “Believe” until we finally believe with no more doubts, no more questions?

See this post by Brent Kercheville on the Christian Monthly Standard for more thoughts on how there is never enough proof.

See you Sunday,


Monday, May 10, 2010

Overwhelmed By Need

This week's scriptures are Psalm 95:1-7 and John 6:1-14.

Before we take a look at this week's passage from John, I need to say some "thank you" 's, a welcome, and a good bye.

First, the welcome. On the weekend of May 2nd, the congregation at Broadneck voted to call Rev. Abby Thornton as its new pastor. I want to welcome Abby and wish her the best in this next step in her career in ministry. The folks at Broadneck are excited about your coming and look forward to what God will do in both your and their lives together. You're in my prayers as you prepare for your first Sunday in June.

The "thank you" goes to all the folks at Broadneck who have made this Interim period such a wonderful growing, healing time for me. Many of you I have come to know and care for in deeply personal ways. You have shared parts of your journey with me and honored me by sharing deep parts of your story. In the three years I've been here we have shared births and deaths; joys and great tragedy. God has shown us a lot about what true community can look like and I'm very grateful to have been part of this experience.

A special thank you goes to Susan Foutz who will taking over the Blog temporarily after this week. While my last Sunday preaching will be May 30, by graciously taking over the blog Susan gives me, and others, the chance to make the transition in a smooth and clear way. Thank you Susan; I believe you have a lot to say that folks will appreciate hearing.

And finally, a good bye. To all the folks who have been reading this blog over the past years; both those who have commented and those who have been's been a real pleasure. Sharing the my thoughts about the upcoming week's sermon has helped me tremendously. I also hope it has helped you. My goal has been that between the ongoing Bible study which focused on upcoming scriptures (if you were able to attend) and the the time we got to the Sunday sermon we were actively engaged in a dialogue which drew us together into the biblical story and challenged us to both find ourselves in that story and to see where God was/is leading us by that experience.

Now on to this week's passage in John 6:1-14. This story of the 'feeding of the five thousand' occurs following Jesus' healing of the man at the Pool of Bethzatha and his conflict with religious leaders over his authority.

Now Jesus goes over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee; an area that many commentators and scholars suggest was a largely gentile area.

Jesus looks at the crowd and asks Philip how they're going to feed all these people. Now John says that Jesus already knew what he was going to do. Philp responds that the task is impossible. The amount of money that would be needed was beyond their capacity. All they had, Philip tells Jesus is this "five loaves and two fish" that some boy's mother must have packed him for lunch...apparently the boy, overhearing the conversation, had offered to share what he had.

The temptation must have been for Philip and the other disciples to do their best 1st century version of W.C. Fields' "go away kid, ya bother me." To decide that the little bit available just wasn't enough and to send the people away.

Jesus' response, however, was to take what was available, give thanks for it, and to distribute it to those in need. Out of that gift and that blessing we're told there came an abundance beyond the needs of the much so that they gathered up the rest so that 'nothing should be wasted.'

We live in a day when the needs we see around us are often overwhelming. We look at ourselves and/or our congregations and our first reaction is 'Send these folks somewhere else. We'd like to help, but our resources are just so small in the face of such need. Why even try?'

I think it's also important to remember that these people were fed so that they could then hear. It's hard to hear the Gospel when you're hungry (literally) or burdened with shame or guilt or sadness. It is in these instances that the Gospel becomes food for the stomach, forgiveness for the guilt, comfort for the sadness, acceptance in place of shame. It is only then that the words about God's love become hearable and believable.

What this says to you and me about the needs we see around us is that we need to identify those needs, look at what we have to offer (not in terms of quantity so much as quality) and then hand that gift to Jesus for His blessing. When we do this in faith, God will multiply the gift. We will be amazed at the overflow that comes from having moved out in faith.

Early in June, Broadneck Baptist will be taking a 'Needs Survey' in an attempt to identify what folks in Cape St. Claire and on the Broadneck Penninsula see as the most critical needs currently. In biblical imagery, we will be able to 'see the crowd.' I have no doubt that one of the first reactions will be to think "what can we do? The need is so great." I say this, not because I believe Broadneck will duck the issues, but because this is a very human first response. What I hope, and pray, and truly believe will happen then is that this congregaton will look around for who is holding the 'loaves and fishes.' Then, coming together as the Body of Christ they will offer that gift up. When they do, I believe they will be amazed and how Jesus takes what initially appears to be a impossible task and lead into a new and enlivening expression of the Gospel.

The good news for me in all this is that as a member of Broadneck I'll be around to see it and be involved in it. I'm looking forward to that next adventure that God has for this community.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Was This Man At The Pool?

This week's scriptures are Psalm 67 and John 5:1-17.

I'd like to focus on two verses from our Psalm and apply them to our work with John's story of Jesus healing of the man by the pool

"May God be gracious to us and bless us, may he cause his face to shine on us, that your purpose may be know on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, God: let all peoples praise you.

Back in the late 1980's I heard Fred Craddock preach on the passage from John, and I've been struggling with it ever since. This passage really hadn't bothered me much before, I'd read it but not paid it a great deal off attention. Ever since then, though, it's bothered me a lot; and the questions that Dr. Craddock raised (or at least that were raised in my mind) continue to haunt me. So while I want to give Dr. Craddock credit for the origin of some of my concerns, he's not responsible for where I've gone with them.

One of the things that was pointed out is that this passage is, in fact, a judgement story. According to many scholars, there were in Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus, 480 synagogues. 480 places dedicated to the idea that "your purpose may be known on earth, you saving power among all nations"....and yet, this man wound up at the pool.
He wound up spending his days in a 'para-church' setting. Why?

Does it sound in any way familiar to our day, does it speak a word of judgement to us as the Body of Christ that people hurting around us "go to the pool" instead of the House of God? Think of the places you and I know of where people go to seek healing....are these people that we as the Body of Christ should be serving? Are they going elsewhere because the church has failed to respond to their needs?

Another point of judgement worth considering is the man's comment, "I have no one to help me into the pool." Who gets the help in our culture, our society? If there are places and ways for persons to find healing, are we as the Body of Christ doing our part to make sure that folks can get to that healing? Or are the deeply wounded pushed aside by the 'minimally uncomfortable' who have power, money, access?

The final point of judgement I hear in this story is the religious establishment's problem with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They couldn't rejoice in the healing cause it happened on the wrong day. If I'm honest, I have to admit that there are times I withhold my joy at someone else's healing because it didn't happen the way I thought it should. I'm embarrassed by that, ashamed of it, but there it is.

How can we hear this story and use it to challenge us to reach out to those who sit, unhealed, by the "pool"....desperate for someone to help....needing what the Body of Christ has to offer. Can we find in this story the motivation to look beyond our rules or our old ways of doing things to live in creative relationship with Christ in reaching out to these who sit for years in their pain, their illness, their need.

I hope you'll join us Sunday as we let these passages challenge us together.