Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31, 2009, "Home"

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, * "Let us go to the house of the LORD."

There are Sundays when I feel like not going to church. I have a favorite editorial cartoon. It shows a man in a bathrobe sitting in a Lazy boy recliner, with a newspaper spread on his lap, a remote control at his side, with a football game on the television screen in front of him. He’s holding some papers in one hand and a small microphone in the other. The caption reads “Pastor Smith was able to make Sunday mornings much more relaxed when he realized the wireless mike worked from the pastors residence.”

Sometimes getting up on Sunday, getting out the door, getting to church takes a huge amount of energy. It can feel like there is some invisible force field trying to slow my every move. Reasons to skip church come to mind: “Too much to do, need time for myself, I loose my whole morning”, and others flood my mind. And I’m the pastor!

I think there is an invisible force field that tries to prevent us from worship. It uses tiredness, busyness, sadness, hurt, frustration, and anything else it can to prevent our meeting with other Christians to worship the living God.

The irony is that sometimes the mornings that I find most difficult to arrive for worship turn out to be the most profound. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Christians who lived in parts of the world, where going to worship put them in danger: An Anglican bishop in Pakistan who lost a son who was shot and killed to send a message to his father, a bishop from Nigeria, whose family has been assaulted twice, and their home robbed twice, a priest from Vietnam who spend 5 years in a “re-education” camp, a woman from a middle eastern country who would be killed by her male relatives if she ever sets foot in her home country again, a priest in the Sudan who was kidnapped and held at gunpoint twice, and survived air raids on several of the church buildings where he served.

All of them could have been free from this persecution if they would stop worshipping. Yet for each of these people, it is worship where they discover the strength to persevere. When you worship with these people, you know that they are glad to be in the house of the Lord. Their lives are full of joy.

I take freedom to go to church for granted. I may experience some mild hostility for being a Christian. I may experience some spiritual warfare trying to prevent me from showing up for worship.

But when I arrive I am glad to be with my brothers and sisters at the house of the Lord. It is in worship that I again hear Jesus voice, know his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. It is in worship that I get strength to serve and follow him again.

Psalm 84:10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009 "Open my eyes"

John 9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Writing a blog for Lent has been an eye-opening experience for me. I've missed a couple of days and I actually missed writing. I usually read the lessons for morning prayer each day. And occasionally I think about one of the verses or passages. But when I write, I notice things more. I'm more aware of places in the scriptures that move me and also the ones that bother me. Today I'm aware of the things that bother me.

All three lessons today deal with the “why” of suffering, sin, and evil. And none provides a particularly satisfying answer. Jeremiah simply states, that this is how things will be. Paul writes to the Romans speculating that God creates some people who he allows to do evil, and endures their evil, to show how great is his goodness to the others.

And in Jesus answer to the disciples, who essentially are trying to figure out a tragedy and come up with the “right answer” Jesus give an answer that may have satisfied them, but has never satisfied me.

“Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents?” The presupposition is that individual illness is the result of someone’s sin. And Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents did anything wrong; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Perhaps the reality is that the mystery of the answer to suffering is always individual. If we read the rest of the blind man story, we discover from the dialogue that the man is at least thirteen years old, and probably older.

And the blind person seems to be truly grateful for being healed, and does not seem to resent the years of blindness that precede his healing.

I’ve been privileged to pray for physical healing for people. I have known cancers to disappear, a severe spinal injury to be healed, a destroyed joint to be instantly restored, and other healings. And in all the cases, the folks healed were grateful. And in several, they gave thanks for what they learned from being ill.

I’ve also been privileged to pray for healing when people were dying of cancer, injuries, and illness, and seen them not be healed or restored. In many of those cases, the people were peaceful and grateful. And in several, people gave thanks for how their terminal illness had blessed them.

Jeremiah doesn’t fully answer the question, Paul can only speculate, and Jesus gives an answer that may only make complete sense to the blind man himself.

God give me grace to have compassion on those who suffer, and to put my suffering into the hands of Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009 "Glorious Food"

Pizza ranks high on the list. So does ice cream. But there are surprises. Salad sometimes makes the top ten. And once oatmeal ranked high.

When I teach children who are preparing to receive communion, one of the first things we do is talk about food. And of course an easy intro is to get the kids to list their favorite foods.

Food holds a high place in the scriptures. God tells Adam and Eve about the foods they can eat. And it is a forbidden food that gets them in trouble. A few generations later Esau sells out to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. That same Jacob tricks his father Isaac with another dish.

When the people of Israel are called to leave Egypt, God tells them to hold a special meal. And when they are in the desert and need food he gives them manna six days a week.

In today’s reading from John 6 we read: 57 (Jesus said) “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.”

John’s gospel is full of allusions to the first five books of the bible. In today’s lesson, we run into another of those allusions. Jesus claims to be the new manna, the new bread from heaven.

When I was a child growing up in the Episcopal Church, communion was forbidden to children until they had been confirmed, usually as late elementary or junior high kids. But I can remember desperately wishing that I could have communion. When I asked, the answer was, “not until you are old enough to understand it.”

I am 54, and I still don’t understand. But I do believe. I cannot explain how the forbidden fruit of the garden is redeemed by the fruit of Christ. I cannot explain how the Passover lamb becomes Jesus the Lamb of God. I cannot explain how the sin offering in Leviticus become the crucified Christ. And I cannot explain how the thank offering in the same book becomes the living bread, the living presence of Christ.

Oneof my favorite movie scenes,(click here for the Youtube clip), of all time is from "Antwone Fisher". In the clip a young boy stands in a field before a closed barn door. Then he is ushered in past ranks of people, and seated at the head of a vast table. For me it is image of what happens to us when we come to the Lord’s table.

When I come to communion, I know that I am being fed and nurtured, mothered and fathered by God, united to a great host of people, living on earth and living on heaven. I know that as we celebrate the Lord’s supper that somehow we are connected to the great table in heaven, and that Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit stand, eyes blazing with joy and love saying, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009 "A Universe reborn"

Romans 8:18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

I remember reading in elementary school that someday in a few billion years the entire universe will be reduced to just a large, cold, dispersed low level energy field. It made me sad. I thought of all the glory and majesty of the universe, galaxies, our solar system, the amazing planets in our system, and all the trillions of other stars and systems. I could not imagine that it would all someday be reduced to just electron buzz.

In 1824, the second law of thermodynamics was originally called Carnot’s principle. “Energy flows from highly organized and concentrated forms into less organized and dispersed forms.” Or you can say: “The total entropy of the universe is always increasing.”

In practical terms this means that the universe is slowly running down. All the matter and energy will slowly be turned into a huge very low energy level blob.

Paul seems to know this same thing, although not in terms of physics. He rights in Romans 8:21”…that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage to decay, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The Universe is declining. Our bodies decline. All is headed for death and decay. But Paul says that this time is actually not death, but labor. The universe is groaning with labor pains. She is about to give birth to a new creation, new creatures.

“The whole creation is waiting for God to reveal himself and his family, his children.” I think that Paul is telling us that there is a day coming when the second law of thermodynamics will be repealed! A day, when the universe becomes herself, in all her glory and entropy will be nor more!

Lord, help to appreciate the beauty of creation, and to carry within me the hope of the redemption of our bodies in your NEW Creation. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009 "Announcments"

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. When the Church calendar set Jesus birthday as December 25th, March 25th became the day to celebrate the Incarnation. We celebrate Mary who said yes. And we celebrate Jesus who said yes.

John 6:38 (Jesus said) “…for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

"I have come down from heaven." Apparently so did the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Mary. The Chariot of fire that picked up Elijah came from heaven. The angel that touched Jacobs hip, and others, apparently came down from heaven.

But what is contained in those words of Jesus. “I have come down from heaven.” Come down, but not like the angel, able to simply zip back to wherever they came from. He has come down from heaven binding himself to the flesh of Mary, and through her to the flesh of each of us. In some mysterious way he has tied himself forever to our humanity.

Our wounds, illness, joy’s, triumphs, sorrows, trials, sins, and all we are contained in these bodies, he binds to himself. He takes our flesh upon himself, and begins to transform us.

“I came down from heaven.” Not a tourist, not a temporary visitor, but as one who lays claim to every atom under heaven.

“Come abide within me; let my soul, like Mary, be thine earthly sanctuary” **. Amen.

** Verse 4 of "God himself is with us" Hymn 475, Episcopal Hymnal, 1982

Colossians 1: 15* He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16* for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 17* He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18* He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

Philippians 2 5* Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6* who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7* but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8* he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 9* Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10* so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11* and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Ephesians 1: 9* he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10* as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 24, 2009 "Shabbat"

Jeremiah 17: 24 “But if you listen to me, says the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but keep the sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited forever.”

When my brother Peter moved back to the States after a number of years in Israel, I asked him one day what he missed most. Without a pause he said “I miss Shabbat.” (Sabbath) One of my favorite books of the last few years is Lauren Winter's "Mudhouse Sabbath". I think we Christians need to listen to the centuries of wisdom about Shabbat from our Jewish grandparents.

When God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses, the fourth is to keep Sabbath. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he does not mean not to keep Sabbath, but not to over legalize it. In fact he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

God intends that we keep a time of rest, of worship, of family. Working too many hours, too many days, too many weeks, too many months, with no breaks is not a badge of honor. We have made it so, but God intended a different rhythm to life.

The first people to observe a 7 day week seem to be the Jewish people. The first writing to set the week at 7 days belongs to the Jewish people.

Weeks in the ancient world varied from 4 days to 10 days. In the New World before the Conquest, they were between 10 and 13 days.

In the lesson, God speaks to Jeremiah and says if the people will stop and keep Shabbat, then the destruction coming will not occur.

Could it be that when we don’t keep Sabbath, work and money cease to be tools, and become gods?

I have deliberately tried to slow down this Lent. My blood pressure is lower. I enjoy reading the scripture, rather than racing through it. I actually listen when people are speaking without thinking of what I am going to say next. I pray with thoughtfulness.

We need to learn to keep Sabbath, to start the night before, to begin slowing down. It doesn’t affect God, but it keeps us whole.

Slowing down in Christ. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009 "Mushy movies"

Psalm 89:1 Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. 2 For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; * you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

Mushy movies move me. Not bad for alliteration and also true. My brother Matthew and I recently sat through “Marley and Me”, a movie about a family and a dog based on the true dog stories of Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, John Grogan

There are scenes in the movie that are very touching. By the end, we were both sniffling, but as I looked around the theater we weren’t the only ones. I loved the movie, because it was a story of love and faithfulness.

I love stories where love and goodness triumph. The writer of Psalm 89 writes “For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever...”

Not every story in this life or this world has a happy ending. It is not self-evident that a) there is a God, b) that God is good, and c) that God is love.

Perhaps that is why the writer says “I am persuaded...” Because it is not immediately obvious that God’s love is established for ever. It is not obvious that God’s faithfulness is firmly in place.

God must persuade, for if he forces, then he is not love. John said it simply “God is love.”
God will use all the force in the universe to make us seek that love, but will never force us to accept it. God will demonstrate that love over and over. And if we will let our hearts open up, and be willing to be “mushy” on occasion, we may find ourselves persuaded, that despite all the evil to the contrary, “that your love is established for ever.”

John the apostle said it simply. 1John 4:8b “God is love.”

Shakespeare was talking of his own love, yet it holds true for God as well.

Sonnet 116

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

(1564 - 1616)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22, 2009 "Rescue Me"

I like to write skits for children’s sermons. Sometimes the characters are puppets and sometimes they are people, and sometimes both. I often have skit ideas in mind even when I can’t find a cast or puppeteer to work with.

In my mind, this Sunday’s readings deserve a true “Monty Python” style skit. In my minds eye it would take place in one of the dining rooms on the Titanic. A reserved Englishman sitting at a table, that’s begun to list, is completely unfazed by the panic around him.

A steward approaches urging him to get to the deck and get a lifejacket on. “Well I haven’t finished the second course now have I?” he’d reply. And the skit would go on from there. There would be all kinds of reasons raised to stay on the ship.

“But, sir, the ship is sinking!” someone would say. “Now, now,” my "Monty Python character would reply, “Just a bit of list, sure the captain will get it straightened out, what.”

Eventually, in my skit, my Englishman would drown, clinging to his after dinner port.

The lessons for this Sunday, remind us that we are on a ship that is sinking. We’ve collided with the iceberg and need a lifeboat.

Following his description of Nicodemus and Jesus conversation, John says that the rescue operation is underway. Jesus himself is the lifeboat. God’s Son is the rescue operation. But John says, there are some who are unwilling to be rescued. They want to hang on to their pleasures and agendas. Some in fact might even see that the ship is sinking, but can’t bear the thought of giving up some pride or pleasure, and would rather sink, than be rescued.

But the rescue is ongoing. God’s desire, God’s hope is that everyone believe in the Son, and not perish, but gain eternal life.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21, 2009 "Warfare"


Ephesians 2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

From 1967 to 1971 my family lived in Guatemala City, Guatemala. During that time there was a protracted guerilla war between various communist factions, the army, and right wing death squads.

There were bomb scares, and bombings, people gunned down in the streets in broad daylight. People you knew were killed or “disappeared”. You kept your guard up and were vigilant and protective. To this day, certain sounds can put me on instant “alert”. There were times of calm, but you never forgot there was a war going on.

The New Testament says the world is in a spiritual war. Paul says that some of us were combatants on the enemy side, serving an evil power, until we saw the light and came over to the good side.

The Church has gone through times when it pretends it is not at war, or times when it mistakes the enemy’s human combatants for the real enemy who has deluded them.

Blessedly we are not always aware of the war, and certainly God grants us many times of peace. Even more blessedly we are given opportunities to see some of the victories in this combat.

But we must never forget that we are in a war against “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now at work in those who are disobedient.” There is an enemy who hates all the people God has made.

Our mission is to reach out to those who are still deluded into fighting for the other side, with the same forgiveness and charity that won us to the army of the crucified Christ.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March 20, 2009 "Humility"

When I was a child, I heard the phrase, but didn’t know what it meant. “Don’t argue about religion or politics.” Age has brought me enlightenment. If you want to make people mad, argue politics. If you want to make them rabid, argue religion!

I remember in high school reducing a couple of sincere Christian kids to tears. I was vicious in my arguments and attacks on Christian belief, and the foolishness of believing in God. My hostility was visceral. Of course it turned out that I was hostile because I was beginning to wonder if maybe the Christians were right.

In the 8th chapter of John’s gospel Jesus is arguing religion. He is passionate and seems to be goading his opponents. And his opponents have a visceral response. Jesus has just said “You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

He’s met with instant defensiveness. “You think we don’t know the truth! We’re children of Abraham.”

Jesus is not going to win any popularity contests. John’s description of this dialogue puts Jesus one pebble away from being killed by stoning. He keeps provoking people!

But he seems to have a purpose in provocation. He’s trying to reach people who are so sure they are right, they have no room to examine other options. He has to provoke them to the point that they want to kill him. But he is trying to break through to allow new thinking and new living to transform them.

I have a t-shirt that each male in my family got last Christmas. It reads “I may be wrong, but I don’t think so!” It is not a badge of humility! And when I am so sure I am right, it can distance me the very truth that can set me free. I may not be able to hear.

But if I humble myself, God might teach me something new, or help me to see the old in a new light.

“John 8:47Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.' "

God help us to hear your Word, Jesus who you have sent.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009 "Stupid Shepherds"

Jeremiah 10:21 For the shepherds are stupid, and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Verses like the one above, reach up and slap me in the mornings when I am reading the lessons. Before 1992, I might have thought a bit about them. But after ordination as a pastor, a “shepherd”, the words are like a double shot of expresso, They perk you up.

All through Jeremiah he talks about the sins of the people. They’ve made false Gods. The people who know that every grain of sand, and every star in the heavens were made by the true God, have surrendered to worshipping trashy trinkets. And God is not pleased.

But it is the shepherds who have missed the boat. God says “They’ve become dull of heart, and stopped seeking the LORD.” That is the reason why things are going wrong and now the people are being scattered.

It is as though God is saying, “If the clergy had been really doing what they were supposed to do, the flock would not be doing the things they aren’t supposed to do.”

Of course the shepherds of Jeremiah’s day include the king, and the other officials of government as well.

Yet the visceral impact remains. Do I really want to inquire of the LORD? He may ask me to say some things that aren’t going to be popular. He may ask me to challenge certain cultural certainties. I may even have to use the “S” word. Sin!

This coming week I’m headed to the annual Lenten Clergy Retreat. It’s always in the third or fourth week of Lent. Unlike some of our other clergy gatherings, it is optional. It is a very inconvenient time. But my hope is that I will spend time and “inquire of the LORD.”

Perhaps the prayer at the end of today’s passage is because Jeremiah himself is one of the shepherds and knows all too well his own weakness.

Jeremiah 10:24 “Correct me, O LORD, but in just measure; not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.” Amen. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 18, 2009 "Perfect timing"

Timing is everything. I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. Sometimes people were talking about selling a house, or starting a business. Sometimes they were talking about avoiding an accident, or bemoaning an accident. Occasionally they were discussing a happening in a sporting event.

In today’s lesson from Romans, St. Paul writes: “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

I don’t understand God’s timing. Why not have Jesus come and die for Adam and Eve the day after they’ve ruined their relationship with God. Or why not have Jesus come and heal things before Adam and Eve’s two sons behavior gets to bad that one kills the other.

Years ago, my wife Anne and I were in Salta, Argentina. We met a couple we did not know, who had coincidentally come to Salta and overlapped with us one day. During that one day we discovered that we’d had some amazing coincidences and relationships in common. And we discovered that we had a critical piece of information that would relieve a great burden this couple had carried around for more than a decade.

Timing is everything.

I don’t understand why God allows so much that is not good to happen. Yet there have been enough moments where timing has been very good to me and for me. When that happens I’m sure God is still in charge.

“At the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The beauty is that the effects of that death are not confined to time as we know it in its linear fashion.

Christ died for the ungodly, past, present, and future. Since I have enough in my life to qualify me for the ungodly category, I can only bow my head and say “Thank you Lord.”

And may I have enough faith to trust my times to God. And may I seek to use that time to show God’s love “all the time.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009 "Fill my cup"

When I came back to Christ I went for a while to a small Assembly of God church. One of their favorite songs was an old gospel tune, "Fill my cup Lord" Each time I heard it I would weep, knowing that my life which had been so empty was being filled with new life. The music was often sloppy and sentimental, but that didn't matter. The song would overwhelm me each time.

In today’s Gospel Jesus stands up during the last day of festival, the feast of booths. We can’t be sure, but it is probable that the Jewish people of Jesus day celebrated Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on that day, which is really the day after the days of Sukkot, the feast of booths.

Shmini Atzaret is a day to remember the special love God has for the Jewish people, and a day when prayers for rain were offered, since rain is essential to life, and always one of the signs of God’s love. And on Simchat Torah, the yearly reading of all five books of Moses is completed, and starts again. If you’ve ever been to a synagogue on that day, you will see people rejoicing, and the rabbi carrying the scroll around as people give thanks for God’s word and kiss the scrolls, with dancing and singing.

John 7:37* On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38* Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39* By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

For John the meaning is clear. He writes in the first verse of his Gospel that Jesus is the Word. The active, living, breathing, and incarnate Word always being spoken by the Father.

And so when Jesus stands and declares “If you are thirsty come and drink” he is proclaiming that he is the love of God for God’s people. He is the heart of the Torah. He will give new life to those who believe in him.

John then explains that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, who would be received by Jesus followers, but not until Jesus had been glorified: crucified, dead, buried, raised, and ascended to the Father.

Jesus proclaims that those who believe will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet many Christians today are like the believers described in the passage below. They have forgotten or perhaps not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:1* While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2* and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John’s baptism," they replied. 4* Paul said, "John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5* On hearing this, they were baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6* When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

As we go through this Lent, let us pray to Jesus, asking that he send the Holy Spirit so the dry places of our lives, where unbelief and sin live, will become a place where rivers of living water flow. Pray that we become springs of living water for the thirsty people God brings to us.

Fill My Cup Lord
Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
And then I heard my Savior speaking:
"Draw from my well that never shall run dry".

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

There are millions in this world who are craving
The pleasures earthly things afford;
But none can match the wondrous treasure
That I find in Jesus Christ my Lord.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

So, my brother, if the things this world gave you
Leave hungers that won't pass away,
My blessed Lord will come and save you,
If you kneel to Him and humbly pray:

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009 "Spiritual Immunity?"

Microscopic pathogens, viral and bacterial, are the most dangerous animals on our planet. So small, and yet some of the most dangerous infections can kill 9 of 10 people they infect.

Yet in many other cases, such as typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, and a host of others, we actually have learned to harness the power of the infection and our own immune systems.

After some simple inoculations some of the most dangerous animals on the planet cannot hurt us. The vaccinations usually work without us ever knowing we were under attack!

Years ago, I met several young parents. They had small children who had never been vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, and other potentially fatal diseases.

The parents claimed there was no need, because those diseases weren’t a problem anymore, and besides we now had antibiotics and other medication that could take care of those problem diseases.

When I pointed out that there was still no cure for polio or tetanus, they smiled at me condescendingly. They had an irrational, blind faith in the power of medicine. I could only pray that none of them discover the danger they were putting their children in.

Medical science has made significant progress in healing and disease prevention. But for medical help to be most effective, we need to use that help responsibly. Just being around people who have been vaccinated does not give you immunity!

In the lesson from Jeremiah, the prophet writes on behalf of God:

Jeremiah 7: 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD." 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

The people of Israel believed they were safe from harm simply because they were God’s chosen people, and lived where God’s temple had been built.

They had a false sense of security. Their behavior was seriously wrong, and un-Godly, yet they thought there would be no consequences, because they hung out near the temple!

They were like the young parents I met who thought because they lived near well people and good doctors they and their children were safe. But the people of Jeremiah’s day had not “inoculated” themselves with real faith, with real obedience, and with real devotion to God.

Responsible faith and blind faith are not the same. Responsible faith is a faith that is responsive to God’s call to truly amend our ways and our doings, to truly act justly one with another, and not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood ... or go after other gods to our own hurt.

God may I have faith, responsive and responsible faith. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 "Lost and found"

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It was just after lunch when the call came in. It was midsummer and although the church was large with many clergy, there were only two of us in town. The church secretary said, “There is a young man on the phone who’s in the hospital and wants to talk to a priest. Joe’s still out and I don’t think he’ll be back for a couple of hours.”

“I’ll take the call.” I replied.

The voice on the other end was hesitant, and young sounding. “You don’t know me” he said, “The nurses said that your church was pretty close to he hospital. I need to talk with somebody about God.” “That’s sort of a main interest of mine.” I said, “Tell me what is going on.”

What unfolded was a story of a 23 year old man. He was dying. He’d found a Gideon New Testament the day before and had begun to read.

He had no church background or religious background. His parents had divorced when he was young, and neither of them had ever been religious. He’d been reading the Gospels and some of Paul’s letters.

“I always thought there might be a God, but never really bothered to find out anything more. But in this letter of Paul’s he lists some things that are serious sins. I found some of my behaviors on this list. I’m worried about what might happen to me when I die.”

After a little more discussion, he got more specific, and a life of teenage and young adult dissipation poured out. I asked if we could continue to conversation in person, or if he’d prefer to talk to an older priest friend of mine.

“I’ll talk with anybody. I need to know what to do.”

At that moment the secretary appeared at the door, indicating that I needed to take another call.

“Can you hold on a moment? I promise I won’t hang up, I’ll be right back”


I picked up the other line, and it was Father Joe. In his northern English accent he said “I just popped round hospital, saw a parishioner and am about to head out. Thought I’d best check to see if things are OK before I go on.”

“Well, as a matter of fact…” I began.
A few moments later, Joe was at this young man’s bedside. After about an hour of conversation, the young man asked if he could pray and invite Jesus Christ into his life. Joe led him in a simple prayer.

Joe visited each day for the next four days. The afternoon of the fourth day, the young man passed away.

A couple of days earlier he told Joe. “All my life, I’ve searched for love and happiness. There were times when I thought I’d found them, but they never lasted. Thank you so much for coming. Because of you, I found Jesus.”

Joe said to him gently, “No lad, he found you. He’s always got his eye turned toward the lost sheep. Trust me, I know, for I was one myself.”

What Wondrous Love Is This
By: American Folk Hymn ca. 1835

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free _I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March 14, 2009 "Family Feud"

When I got serious about God, I can remember being teased mercilessly by one of my younger brothers. And my cousins thought I’d gone crazy. They’d make fun of me, and say things like “Be careful drinking that water, it might turn to wine.”

Sometimes it was funny, but usually it was hurtful. I remember one day reading the passage from John’s gospel appointed for today. I realized that Jesus’ family was unkind to him. For a teenager trying to hold onto his faith, it was a real encouragement.

In today’s reading it is probably near September or October, as the gospel says that Sukkot (the Festival of Booths) is at hand. Many observant Jewish families still celebrate Sukkot, often living outdoors and at the very least eating their meals outdoors.

It should be a time of family closeness. Of course if you’ve ever gone camping with your own family you know that sometimes there can be too much family closeness! This seems to be one of those times. Jesus is getting on his siblings nerves.

We don’t generally think about Jesus family, and the images we do have tend to be romantic images from Christmas pageants. But the little we do have in the New Testament shows Jesus family as pretty normal, perhaps even jealous of his new found fame and popularity.

John writes to show that Jesus teaching and actions were not universally received, even by the people closest to him. In the first part of Chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers try to get him to leave town and go to Jerusalem. It seems that even Jesus siblings, (or possibly cousins), did not believe in him.

“Why don’t you head down to Jerusalem to the festival and show all your disciples that you’re a real leader. Don’t stay up hear in the north where nobody knows what’s going on.”

Jesus replies to his brothers “Go there yourselves. I’m waiting for the right time, but your right time is now, because you’re in sync with this world, while I’m challenging this evil world to change.”

When family is frustrating or hurtful, it might help to remember that when Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, (and our enemies!), he personally knows what that means when it comes to loving family.

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13, 2009 "Now I see how you really are"

Jeremiah 5:5b “But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.”

Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin…”

John 5:39 “'You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40Yet you refuse to come to me to have life…”

“You’re no good”
written by Clint Ballard, Jr.
© Edwin H Morris & Co Inc

Feeling better now that we're through
Feeling better 'cause I'm over you
I learned my lesson, it left a scar
Now I see how you really are

You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Baby you're no good

Today’s lessons stack up to persuade me that the problems of the world start inside, not outside. Jeremiah looks for a good person, and finds that rich and poor alike are ignoring God. Paul charges that Jews and Gentiles are both caught in bondage under something he calls “the power of sin”. And Jesus tells the crowd that the one person they need help from, is the one person they refuse to ask.

This Easter we will be baptizing some folks here at Christ Church. One of the baptism vows is: “Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” The vows assume that the power of sin lives inside each of us.

The danger is to move from recognizing sin in others, and calling people to legalism instead of repentance. That is why earlier in the same letter Paul writes about circumcision. He himself knows how tempting it is to believe that because we do many good things, that we are good; or even worse, to believe that we are actually better than others.

In Psalm 69:6 & 7 the psalmist writes: “O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.”

God wants us to recognize both our good and our evil impulses and to live is such a way that we seek to do good, seek justice, love mercy, and when we fail in these, repent and return to the Lord.

Let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009 "Soul Food"

Soul Food

Thursday mornings at 9:00 I go to church. Each week, our congregation gives groceries to those in need. Since the need is so great, we ask that people come once a month. Just before the food distribution we worship.

The people who come for food are not obligated to come to worship, and they don’t get more food for coming to worship. But about half the people for food do. They come an hour earlier, to go to church before waiting for their turn to get groceries.

About three months after arriving at Christ Church, I began to see people that I’d seen the week before. I asked them, “Did you get mixed up? Weren’t you here last Thursday for food?” “Yes, Padre” one man said. “I’m not due for groceries for another three weeks. But this Thursday I need groceries for my soul.”

Lent is a good time to remember that much of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. If we give up a coke, a cup of coffee, a half a gallon of gas, and give it to hunger relief, we can literally double someone’s livelihood somewhere in the world.

Lent is a good time to remember that the world cannot live on bread alone. If I give up 1 coke, a cup of coffee, a half gallon of gas, and give it support missions, I may be giving someone the bread of eternal life.

John 5:24 (Jesus said) Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25'Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March 11, 2009 "You are what you eat"

“You are what you eat.” “Eat it today, wear it tomorrow.”

Two expressions that quickly capture to truths. First, what we eat affects our health. Second, how much we eat affects our health.

Food is essential to life. But too much of the wrong kinds of food, or too much food period actually become detrimental to life, and can even shorten our lives.

Recently our local paper told of a young man, a hit man for a drug gang, sentenced to death for two murders. After killing his teenage victims, he collected some of their blood and drank a toast to “Santa Muerte”, “Holy Death”. Santa Muerte is the invented God of many of the drug cartels.

Worship is not just fun and games. It shapes our being. Today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Romans and John, raise the issue of feeding our spiritual life. To paraphrase the expressions above. “You are what you worship.” “Worship today, wear it tomorrow.”

Jeremiah uses metaphorical language, comparing God’s people to a wanton woman. Many had ceased to worship the true God. We forget or perhaps don’t know that many of the local Caananite gods required temple prostitution, and child sacrifice. God’s people began to give their sons and daughters up as prostitutes and sometimes sacrificial victims.

In Romans, Paul catalogues the behaviors that afflict us when we worship false Gods. Wickedness, evil, envy, murder and a whole catalogue of others follow.

In John, a lame man is made well. But when Jesus finds the man in the temple, he challenges him to stop sinning. But the man, who has received a great gift of healing, runs to the authorities to tell on Jesus. The man’s body has been healed, but his heart is hard.

The good news is that in all three lessons, God calls his people to return. God calls us to give up the things we worship. God asks us to soften our hearts and let him back in.

The gods of this age are easy to see: greed, sensuality, apathy, coldness. Does my worship lead me to generosity, self sacrifice, action, charity?

When I come to eat the Lord's supper, do I pray "Lord, make me what I eat. May I eat and drink today, and wear you tomorrow."?

Finally, do I pray for those who have gone astray, like the young man I mentioned above? God is still working, seeking the lost. May our worship lead us to do the same.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009, "Sign language"

Sign language

If you are reading the daily readings the Episcopal Church appoints for each day during lent, you are reading most of John’s gospel in sequence. There is a first miracle of Jesus at a wedding party, where he takes water that is supposed to be used for washing feet and transforms it into wine. John calls this event Jesus first “sign.”

A bit later, he encounters a political opponent, Nicodemus, who comes to see him at night so that no one knows he’s coming.

Next Jesus engages in conversation with a Samaritan woman, the equivalent of a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Serbs and Croatians in Kosovo, or Indians and Pakistani’s in Kashmir.

And in today’s reading, Jesus is being sought out by a Roman Centurion, a leader of a company of men, enemies of the Jewish people. Imagine if you will, a Shiite Iraqi itinerant preacher, who has his rally interrupted by a U.S. Army Captain, who begs the preacher to heal his son.

Jesus audience was not people who loved the Roman invaders. They were people whose lives had been made difficult by their heavy-handed invasion, by puppet rulers like Herod, by blackmail, by heavy taxes. They were people whose sons and fathers had died fighting the Romans, whose daughters had been raped.

John says that the people in Cana were glad to have Jesus back. Imagine the damper the Roman Centurion’s appearance put on the crowd. I’m sure the air was electric with tension. The officer, a man used to commanding, begs Jesus to come with him as his son is about to die. And Jesus refuses, saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Again the official pleads, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”

Jesus replies “Go, your son will live.” As the father leaves, his slaves find him on the way and inform him that his son has recovered. The centurion figures out when all this happened and he and his whole household believe. John says that this is Jesus second “sign”.

When C.S. Lewis wrote his radio talks that later became the book “Mere Christianity” he wrote this introductory sentence to his talk on forgiveness:

“I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is on even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Because in Christian morals "thy neighbour" includes "thy enemy", and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies."

Jesus second “sign” is not the miracle of healing, but the miracle of loving our enemies.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009 "A whole lot of shaking goin' on"

In today’s lesson from Jeremiah, God is raising up Jeremiah to warn his people one last time to return to him, and to abandon their false Gods. And God warns Jeremiah that his will be a painful, difficult task, full of opposition. But he also says that he will give him power and make him as strong as iron.

Prophets are dangerous people. They remind us that the world we live in physically unstable place. The politics of our world are unstable. And as we’ve seen, the economies of our world are unstable.

The prophets among us remind us that the only real stability is found in God. They call attention to our sins, and our flaws. And they remind us that God is not above using the instability around us, physical, political, and economic, to shake us and call us to return

In 1972, I heard a young wild eyed Pentecostal preacher. I’d never actually been to a service with a real live revival preacher. It was different from TV. It was also more discomforting because I knew that the person preaching was not a fake, but a genuine believer. I was not.

This preacher had some very uncomfortable things to say to people like me, who were drug addicts, and hedonists. It was not vindictive, but it was passionate. It sounded and felt prophetic. It was the beginning of me seriously searching for God.

I’d sensed the same power when I’d heard Martin Luther King on the radio or TV. I’d heard it occasionally in my own church. It was not volume, or passion, but some intangible reality, where I sensed that the preacher had some unseen power.

Now I know that the power I sense in these “prophets” is something God gives to them. They see a future where God’s kingdom is becoming a reality, and they challenge us to live like that now.

May God give us grace to look at the instability of our world, and realize that God allows things we think are stable to be shaken. He reminds us that the only thing that cannot be moved is God. And when we are called to be the prophets may we have grace to do our work with boldness and charity.

This prayer is from the second Sunday of Advent, but it fits well for the second week of Lent.

Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 8, 2009, "Peculiar, Painful, Faith"

I love Chapter 17 of Genesis. We read a small section of it for this Sunday’s lectionary.

In the first lesson this Sunday from Genesis 17, we skip over some of the verses. We leave out the fact that God asks Abraham to demonstrate his commitment to God by circumcision.

It has been a long time since God spoke so dramatically to Abraham. The last time it was so dramatic, was 24 years ago, when Abraham was 75. At that time God promised him descendents, and Abraham struggled to believe then. Now he’s 99!

Yet he’s so in awe of God’s presence that in verse three it says he fell face down. After all he’s in the presence of Almighty God.

But a bit farther along, after God tells him the sign of his convenant will be circumcision, God tells him that Sarah, his 90 year old wife is going to have a baby.

“17Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"

Abraham on his face twice. First out of awe, and a second time trying not to laugh out loud at God. Who can blame him? Even in our day of Viagra, it seems pretty strange to believe that a 90 year old woman and a 99 year old man would actually find themselves in a position where pregnancy could occur!

I suspect that is why Abraham is laughing! When he gets his composure, he suggests to God that maybe just blessing Ishmael, his son by Sarah’s slave Hagar might be the best solution.

But God says “Nope, Sarah is going to have a baby, a boy named Isaac in just about a year.”

In this passage it doesn’t say Abraham believed, but it does say that right then and there they had a circumcision party for every male in his household including him. (I suspect it did not increase Abraham’s popularity with his hired hands!) But it was this action that proved his faith, in a peculiar and painful way.

In the passage for today from Romans, written centuries later, Paul explains that Abraham’s faith is one of the great keys to understanding the scriptures. Abraham did not do a particularly good job keeping all the rules and regulations of good behavior, but he did believe that if God made a promise,. God would keep it.

Paul realizes that this one of the great principles of the entire bible. God approved of Abraham not because of his behavior, which was a bit erratic, or because he was circumcised. Instead God approves of Abraham because of his faith. Circumcision was the proof of his faith. And Paul then says that our faith is what binds us to God, not our good deeds.

I keep trying to remember this. And I keep trying to remember that if God makes a promise he will keep it. May we all have an increase of faith this lent.

March 7, 2009 Jesus: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is a popular movie. If you have not seen it, you may want to stop reading now or this might spoil the plot. The heart of the movie is a profound love story. Jamal, the hero, spends his life seeking his true love, Latika.

The movie carries us through all kinds of scenarios where Jamal has every reason to forget her, and to stop loving her. Yet there seems to be nothing that will stop him from demonstrating his love for Latika.

That is how Jesus feels about us. He has every reason to forget us and stop loving us. We are not faithful, and even when we wish we could follow him we are often unwilling to take the risk. Yet that does not put Jesus off. Eventually he will sacrifice all he has for the chance to show us that he will not stop loving us. We are as precious to him as Latika is to Jamal.

In the daily lectionary reading from John’s Gospel Jesus loves the Samaritan woman at the well. As the story unfolds Jesus breaks taboo after taboo. He talks with a woman he does not know, he talks with a Samaritan, he talks with a woman about whom the cultural cues of Jesus day tell him that even her own people consider her an outcast.

Here’s a woman, a community outcast in a group of people that most Jewish people of the day considered outcast. So socially she is at the bottom of the barrel.

And Jesus seeks to draw her in. He uses her curiosity to begin a conversation with her. In a wonderful dialogue he manages to slowly bring her in.

Jesus ignores certain very important taboos of his day: a man talking with a woman he does not know, the cultural and racial barriers between Jew and Samaritan, and the barrier of talking with a sinner. Does he approve of all that she has done? No. But he knows that he will not win her with moralizing, but by love.

I’m not very good at that kind of charity. But I hope to get better. I’m better at it when I remember that I am the Samaritan woman, the thief on the cross, the tax collector, and yes even the Pharisee. Jesus came for them and he came for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009 "To boldly go..."

“Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The author to the book of Hebrews argues that Jesus managed to get through the obstacle course of life without blowing it. This means he is the best person to come to for help, support and comfort when we’ve blown it, made a wrong turn, aren’t sure which way to go.

The original Star Trek motto, or the slightly altered motto of Star Trek, the Next Generation goes in part ‘…to boldly go where no one has gone before.” But the author of Hebrews says that “someone” has gone before. **

In these first few chapters , the author of the book of Hebrews warns people to not fall away from faith, to not give up. He (she?) sounds very legalistic, and moralistic until we reach this verse. Suddenly we realize that the author is reminding us that we are not alone on our faith journey. We follow a Jesus who looks just like us, with one exception. He was tested in every way, but did not sin. This is not someone who can’t sympathize with us, but someone who is intimately like us.

Bruce Olson, was a 19 year old missionary to the Motilone-Bari indigenous people of Colombia and Venezuela over 40 years ago. He has spent most of those years living among this small group of people. He lived with them almost 7 years learning their language, their customs, and their stories. He knew that to share what he knew of Jesus, without knowing them, would be premature.

After many of the particular tribal group he was with became Christians, he asked them one day what they thought Jesus looked like. “Like us” they replied. “Jesus is a Motiloni, just like us.”

When I had the privilege of working with homeless people at the St. Francis Center, near downtown Denver, one of our volunteers brought in a large, wooden carving of Jesus head and face, bearing the crown of thorns. It was made of ebony, and Jesus was clearly ebony too. Tom, the donor, said that he needed to see a Jesus who looked like him, and believed that perhaps others might too.

A few days later, an elderly African American gentleman came in and looked up at the image of Jesus. With tears in his eyes he simply said “Thank you. I need a Jesus like that today.”

“Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Amen.

** (Before I hear negatives from all the Trekkers please know that I too worship Star Trek! Gene Roddenberry was a saint!)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

John 3:16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! (Contemporary English Version)

I still occasionally see the signs. Held up in the end zone during a field goal try, or in the crowd behind the backboard when someone is trying a foul shot. They read “John 3:16”

The irony of course is that the signs seem trivial and silly, but the message of the verse is profound.

God holds up a sign too. But his sign is a bloody cross, a broken body, a life extinguished. The cross is a sign that says “Look. Here is what all your best efforts and worst deeds have accomplished.”

Some theologians dislike the cross so much that they reject it. One calls it, a grotesque parody of divine child abuse. How could such a violent symbol be the sign of a loving God, they ask?

I suppose it might depend upon how much guilt we carry around. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had accumulated a lot. There were people I’d lured into my addictions (drugs) who had previously been “straight”. Some had their lives ruined, and at least one later overdosed and died.

There was no doubt in my young mind that I had caused great injury. But addiction, geography, and death made it impossible to right the wrongs.

Inside I asked “What can heal that sort of guilt? Who can grant absolution, remission, and forgiveness of such sins?”

One evening it dawned on me that I’d heard the answer many times. The old Episcopal prayer book contained a series of bible verses read before each communion service. One reads:

“Hear also what Saint Paul saith. This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim. i. 15.

Somehow I realized that Jesus died to save sinners, that God loved the world in spite of its evil and horror!

I became a primitive. I needed a sacrifice to offer to God for the wrongs I had done. And when I asked the questions “What can heal that sort of guilt? Who can grant absolution, remission, and forgiveness of such sins?” I suddenly knew the answer. “Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I remember taking the SAT test back in the dark ages of High School. It was 1971, and I was a junior at the Colegio Americano de Guatemala. It was a cool morning, and I was anxious.

Tests are an inevitable part of life. There are formal tests like the ones in school. There are events that test our character. There are people who evaluate us, and we them.

God seems to put tests in front of us. God is all knowing, and must know the result even before the test. The test must then be for us.

I did well on the language skills of the SAT, and not so well on the math skills. The test revealed what I already knew.

But there have been other tests in my life that have shown me things about myself that I did not know. Sometimes I have discovered hidden strengths and virtues. Sometimes I have discovered hidden flaws and sin.

In Deuteronomy 9 verse 13, Moses is talking with the people of Israel before they enter the promise land. He is reminding them of the events of the last 40 years. He says “The Lord said to me, "I have seen these people. They are so stubborn! 14 Do not try to stop me. I am going to destroy them. I will wipe them out from the earth. Then I will make you into a great nation. Your people will be stronger than they were. There will be more of you than there were of them."”

In verse 14, God says to Moses, “Do not try to stop me, I am going to destroy them.”

What is going on here? Is God playing mind games with Moses? Or is God testing Moses?

God seems to be testing Moses, to see if he has really adopted God’s people, as stubborn, unfaithful, sinful as they are. Moses is offered a chance to replace Abraham, to be the new father of a great people. Yet he turns it down, instead devoting 40 days to intercede for the people and for his brother Aaron.

What just happened? Did God change his mind when Moses prayed, or did God show Moses how much God had changed him?

As Christians, we face the same test as Moses. Will we love God’s people, and intercede for them, even though they are stubborn, unfaithful, and sinful? Or will we be swayed by the temptation to believe that we can do better than the people God has gathered and called the Church?

For me, I know the answer. The tests in my life have shown that I am stubborn, unfaithful, and sinful. And yet, despite repeated failures amid occasional success, God still loves me. May I have grace to love and serve his people as he does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Some of us have a tendency to believe that actions don’t have consequences. Unfortunately I am one of those people. My mind says things like “Sure I can stay up and finish this movie. I won’t feel too tired tomorrow.” Or “Hey another serving of dessert won’t hurt, I’m sure I’ll burn it off tomorrow.” Folks in Twelve Step groups have a word to describe that type of thinking and subsequent behavior. We call it denial.

Isaac Newton codified the law of consequences in the physical world. His third law of motion states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Newton’s third law applied to physics, but the same principle holds true in other areas. What I do or don’t do results in an effect in the physical and emotional world, and yes, in the spiritual world.

All three lessons in the daily lectionary today warn that certain behaviors damage and harm, and can even destroy our relationship with God.

People like me tend to minimize the warnings. “Oh well if I do this, God will forgive me, he always does.”

The truth is that God will forgive me. But what I fail to see is that if I persist in certain activities, there will come a day when I prefer my sins so much I won’t want forgiveness anymore.

And who knows what I will miss while I am indulging myself? Years ago, when I was actively getting high, I came home late one night. I discovered that I had missed a birthday party for one of my siblings. I’d promised to be there. Instead, I had gone with a friend, scored drugs, and forgot the event and my promise.

My brother forgave me. One would wish that because of my gratitude at that forgiveness my life changed. It did not. In fact the shame made me decide to go out and get high again!

Fortunately, eventually God mercifully brought me to a place where I wanted God’s help and health more than anything else. Through the help of many people I began to move from death to life.

May God give me grace to continue to want him more than anything else.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Deuteronomy 8:11-18
Deuteronomy 8: “18But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 19If you do forget the LORD your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”

I had picked up our guests from Texas A & M International University that afternoon. Both men were from Korea and were part of a Fulbright Scholars teacher exchange program. While living with Anne and I the next two weeks, they were to be in various schools learning and observing how our local schools offered English instruction, and they were to share some of the cultural wealth of Korea with their host schools.

As we were headed home, I was working hard to listen and to understand, since their English was somewhat accented. But while concentrating on their speech, I neglected to focus on the road sign that warned me that the speed was going to go from 45 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour.

Our guests got a lesson in me trying to persuade the law enforcement officer to give me a warning rather than the $200 plus ticket that I wound up with.

In Deuteronomy, Moses warns people that not paying attention to what God wants and to God’s commands, will begin a two fold process. First we will let the distractions of wealth and comfort creep in. Then we will begin to serve powers that the bible describes as “other Gods”. Finally if we keep on that road we will perish.

Just like traffic signs, God places warnings in our lives. He gives us a conscience, he gives us the scriptures, he gives us his Son as an example and teacher, and he gives us the Holy Spirit, to live inside of us, to bring our conscience back to life.

Lent is a time to get our eyes back on the road, to pay attention to the warning signs. What are the “other Gods” that distract me? What are the warning signs that I am not paying attention to?

My traffic ticket was actually a great gift. It was a reminder that excessive speed is dangerous. What if my distraction had resulted not in just missing the sign, but an accident?

Just like traffic warnings are meant to protect us and others from harm, so too are God’s warnings meant to keep us healthy and safe.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

1st Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2009

Mark 1: 9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

The call came in one morning. My secretary said someone had asked if they could talk to the pastor about baptism.

I got mentally prepared to tell the person that yes I would love to baptize their child, but no we could not do so unless they were willing to start coming to church. After all, when you baptize a child or an infant, the parents and godparents promise to raise the child within the Christian community, teaching them to attend worship, to become an integral part of the Body of Christ.

So, getting my mental script ready I took the call.

A friendly male voice was on the other line. "You don’t know me" he said, "but you do know people I know. I live near the East Coast, but I am coming to Piedras Negras, Coahuila in about a month and a half and I would like to see if you would be willing to baptize me."

I threw away my mental script.

After a few moments of conversation I discovered that “Frank” came from a faith background that was not Christian. However a year earlier he’d come down with a friend to help on a veterinary mission trip that was working with a wonderful ministry in Piedras Negras called Constructores Para Cristo.

As the conversation unfolded, “Frank” told me that he’d enjoyed the trip very much. He’d gone back to his home city and thought a great deal about his time there. A few weeks later, he’d run across a book of apocalyptic Christian fiction. On a whim he’d decided to read it.

While reading it, he became convinced that Jesus was really the Son of God. That Sunday, he went with his wife, who was a Christian, to her Episcopal Church. After church he spoke with the rector.

Following a brief conversation, “Frank” prayed, asking for his sins to be forgiven, and committing himself to Jesus as Lord. Then the rector said, “Now Frank, you need to be baptized.”

Frank asked the rector if it might be possible to get baptized in the Rio Grande in a few months time, since he was going back to work with Constructores Para Cristo. He said “It was really crossing that river that was the first step for me in this faith journey.”

A few months later, I was standing in the river, when “Frank” and his daughter, who had also become a Christian were baptized.

As I gently immersed them, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I thought to myself about the power of the Holy Spirit, gently leading this man and his daughter to faith; about a wife and mother praying for their conversion for many years, standing smiling and weeping on the banks of the river, with a teary eyed crowd.

And I thought about Jesus, stepping into another river, many years before. As “Frank” and his daughter came up out of the water, I sensed that God was once again saying “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter. I am well pleased with them.”