A Season for Pruning

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to spend in my yard.  I really want to.  My neighbor and I struck what turned out to be a good deal for both of us and he cleared all of the “dead” stuff out and now I want to plant and work and see what happens.  There just hasn’t been time.  But the roses seem to know what to do anyway.  Drowning in deadness for so long, they seemed to breathe a longed-for breath once it had been cleared away.  I did get out there one day and pruned them, deadheading, removing all of the old blossoms and dried up leaves that were no more.  Again, they seemed relieved, almost free.  And then I waited.  First the bush with the medium pink roses began to bloom.  It is now full of about eight roses.  After that, the dark pink one began to fill itself with color.  Then the two yellow-flowered bushes followed by the white ones.  My favorite bush always blooms last. (Isn’t that typical?  Does it bloom last because it’s my favorite or is it my favorite because it blooms last?)  Right now it has about eight or ten buds on it that are trying desperately to burst forth with the most incredible strata of yellow, coral, and red colors on every flower.  And so I wait a little longer.  I thought yesterday would be the day but last night there were still tightly-closed but expectant buds.  All I can do is wait now.  There is nothing that I can do to hurry the process along.

You know, we comfortably think of God as omnipotent, all-powerful, assuming that if we can’t or won’t get it done, God will somehow be able to swoop in and clean up our mess, somehow force our blooms out of hiding.  I don’t know.  At the risk of questioning the Almighty’s power, is that really the way it works?  Is God really omnipotent?  I don’t see it.  Because you see, God, in infinite wisdom and omniscience, gave away a piece of the Godself and, in turn, denied God’s own omnipotence.  God chose to give away the power to choose.  It’s called free will.  And so God lovingly and patiently waits.

But what God does is give us a season for pruning.  It’s called Lent.  It is the season when God with the profound skill of a master gardener shows us how to prune and deadhead our lives, clearing away all the dried up growth and giving us room to breath and grow.  And God waits for us to choose life, waits for us to choose to bloom into the most magnificent creation, waits for us to choose to walk toward God and become what God intended us to be.  And still God waits until even the last bloom springs forth.  There is nothing that God can do to hurry the process along except to wait with us everyday and try to pluck the deadness that we hold so tightly from our grip.  God gave omnipotence away so that we could choose life.  We cannot do it without God but God will not do it without us.  So ponder anew what the Almighty can do!

So, in this Lenten season, this time for pruning, choose Life.  God is waiting.

Grace and Peace,


LENT 4A: Images of Light

Lectionary Text: Ephesians 5: 8-14
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the art of Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter who is probably best known for his incredible landscapes and works of nature as well as for his paintings of those things that were a normal part of his own life. Probably the most fascinating part of Monet’s work are those paintings that he did as part of several series representing similar or even the same subjects—his own incredible gardens, poppy fields, a woman with a parasol, and those unusual haystacks.

The paintings in this series of haystacks were painted under different light conditions at different times of day. Monet would rise before dawn, paint the first canvas for half an hour, by which time the light had changed. Then he would switch to the second canvas, and so on. The next day and for days and months afterward, he would repeat the process. In each painting, the color of the haystack is different because the amount and quality of the light shining on the haystack is different. The subject is the same but the perspective from which it is viewed changes with the light. 

Up until this time, color was thought to be an intrinsic property of an object, such as weight or density. In other words, oranges were orange and lemons were yellow, with no variation as to the lens through which they were viewed. But with Monet’s studies in light and how it affects our view of life, that all changed. As Monet once said, “the subject is of secondary importance to me; what I want to reproduce is that which is in between the subject and me.” (I guess you could say he was painting hay while the sun shines! (sorry, couldn’t resist!))  But, seriously, Monet wasn’t merely painting images of haystacks; he was painting images of light.

I don’t really think of this light of Christ as a bright, blinding spotlight.  It’s really much more nuanced and subtle than that.  Think illuminating, rather than blinding.  And it doesn’t dispel the darkness but rather enlightens it.  It casts a different light, a light that illuminates all.  God, with infinite wisdom, gave us the power and the desire to see through the darkness and glimpse the light shining through, to see the Light that is Christ.  It is a light that is always present regardless of our view, that exposes all that is visible and makes that on which it shines light itself. 

There is a Maori proverb that says “turn your face to the [light] and the shadows will fall behind you.”  They are not consumed; they are still there, light streaming into their midst.  Shadows do not exist without light.  Light is what makes them visible.  We are like that.  Exposed by the Light of Christ, we become visible; and by becoming visible, we become light, children of light, images of the Light that is Christ, the Light that is God.  As I said before, what Monet painted was light.  He captured the visibility of a blank canvas and created a set of masterpieces.  Become visible; become light; become a blank canvas on which God can paint a masterpiece of light.

So, in this Lenten season, be visible, be light!

Grace and Peace,



Dancing With the Disciples

You know how you do those things that aren’t that terrible but that you would rather most people not know–like (a.) watching soap operas, (b.) eating a whole pint of ice cream, (c.) singing along to The Sound of Music, or (d.) all of the above?  Yes, my answer is, sadly, “(d.)” and that’s probably not all of the stupid things that I do!  So as long as we’re inviting true confessions, I have to admit that I love Dancing With the Stars.  I know it’s stupid.  But I love dancing and, perhaps even more than that, I like watching people that have never danced before, that are scared to death, that are sure that they are the next ones to be voted off by ten or so million of their closest friends, come completely out of themself and have the courage to feel a rhythm that they’ve never felt before.

I pray for all of us that we can do that this Lenten season.  No, not dance with one of the dance pros but, rather, to have the courage to feel a rhythm that we’ve never allowed ourselves to feel before. What would it take to allow ourselves to do that?  What would it take to put aside all of our preconceived ideas, needless inhibitions, and carefully laid plans and just dance?  What would it take for us to finally feel that rhythm of God that runs through us all and truly dance like no one is watching?  You know, I think that one reason my guilty pleasure “Dancing” show is so popular is not that people like to watch others fail (and sometimes even fall!), but that we admire someone who can get out of their element, who can step out of their role that they are “supposed” to live in their life.  Deep down, I am convinced, we all dream of that.  We all know that we’d be better for it.  We all know that there is a dance in our lives that we have yet to dance.  Part of what we’re called to do during this season is do just that–to let go of what we think we should be doing and listen for that rhythm that runs through each of our lives, the rhythm of God calling us to dance whether or not we think we’ve practiced enough.

When Jesus called the disciples, one by one, I’m pretty clear that none of them were practicing dancing in their room when everyone thought they were asleep.  The truth is, they were anything but prepared.  (Hence the continual competition to be the “favorite” and to make sure they understood!)  They had planned something else for their lives–something reasonable, something realistic, something sane.  But then the beat began and they couldn’t help themselves.  They could only dance.  I want to be like that.  I want to dance with the disciples.

I was watching Dancing With the Stars last night.  (Well, gee, I guess there’s no hiding that now so why bother anymore!)  In one of the pre-recorded “practices”, one of the “pros” told one of the “stars” that the reason he couldn’t do the Jive is because he was thinking too much.  She said that he needed to feel it and follow it.  Maybe that’s our problem:  We’re trying to think too much, trying to reason out what God is calling us to do, trying to figure out how to fit it into our carefully-planned life.  The music has already started.  We need to start dancing!

Do you remember the T-Mobile Dance in Liverpool Station, UK about two years ago?  Look at it at: T-Mobile Dance and THEN, go to how it was made: The Making of the T-Mobile Dance.  Enough said…I guess life really is for sharing!  Perhaps we disciples could take some lessons!

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.”  (William W. Purkey)

So, in this Lenten season, dance to the music that’s been there all along and live like it’s heaven on earth.  Who’s stopping you?  What are you hiding?

Grace and Peace,


LENT 4A: You’re the One!

Lectionary Text:  1 Samuel 16: 1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Once again, God has called the most unlikely, the most unexpected, and the most unprepared candidate to do God’s work.  There seems to be a pattern here.  This time, God’s choice is a young, but apparently good-looking, shepherd, an eighth son, from the village of Bethlehem, and from a family with no real pedigree or appropriate ancestry at all.  And with this person, God lays the road for the hope of the world.  No pressure there!  But the unlikeliness doesn’t stop there.  What about Samuel? God called him to go to Jesse the Bethlehemite and anoint a new king. Well, I’m pretty sure that Saul (i.e, the King!) would not have been impressed with that had he found out. What if Samuel had just said, “You know, God, I would really rather not. That just doesn’t work into my plan.”?

In this Lenten season, what would change about our journey if we knew where we would end up, if we thought that we might end up in a place that we didn’t plan? And what would change about our life if we knew how it was all going to turn out? I mean, think about it…the boy David is out in the field just minding his own business and doing what probably generations of family members before him had done. He sees his brothers go inside one by one, probably wandering what in the world is going on. Finally, he is called in. “You’re the one!” “What do you mean I’m the one?” he probably asked in his teen-age sarcasm. “What in the world are you talking about? Don’t I even get a choice?” “Not so much.” And so David was anointed. “You’re the one!”

What would have happened if David has just turned and walked away? Well, I’m pretty sure that God would have found someone else, but the road would have turned away from where it was. It would have been a good road, a life-filled road, a road that would have gotten us where we needed to be. But it wouldn’t have been the road that God envisioned it to be.  We know how it all turned out. David started out by playing the supposed evil out of Saul with his lyre. He ultimately became a great king and generations later, a child was brought forth into the world, descended from David. The child grew and became himself anointed—this time not for lyre-playing or earthly kingship but as Messiah, as Savior, as Emmanuel, God-Incarnate. And in turn, God then anoints the ones who are to fall in line and follow him. “You’re the one”.

Do we even get a choice, you ask? Sure, you get a choice. You can close yourself off and try your best to hold on to what is really not yours anyway or you can walk forward into life as the one anointed to build the specific part of God’s Kingdom that is yours. We are all called to different roads in different ways. But the calling is specifically yours. And in the midst of it, there is a choice between death and life. Is there a choice? Not so much! Seeing the way to walk is not necessarily about seeing where the road is going. So just keep walking and enjoy the scenery along the way!

So, on this Lenten journey, look for the unexpected and walk toward it!

Grace and Peace,


Lenten Discipline: Meeting and Welcoming

“Come Unto Me” Window
 St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston

At first glance, hospitality seems like an odd suggestion for a Lenten practice.  After all, meeting and welcoming others is a way of being or acting like a Christian, but what does it have to do with our own spiritual walk?  The truth is, hospitality is more than making cupcakes and hosting a great party (although if you do that, I’m always open for an invitation!).  It’s more than making a guest feel comfortable in your home (which is, after all, the mark of any good host).  In fact, it’s about more than welcoming anyone, friend or stranger, at all.  The spiritual practice of hospitality is about entering another’s life and, perhaps even more difficult, allowing an other to enter yours.  It is walking the way that Christ walked–welcoming all unto himself and then allowing them to see him in the deepest and most profound way.

We struggle with this.  Our society teaches us to protect ourselves, to stand up for our place, and to not let anyone in who we do not trust.  And so we put up fences around our borders and walls around our lives all in the name of protecting what we have and who we see ourselves to be.  OK, really, at the risk of sounding trite, is that what Jesus would do?  I doubt it. After all, while we’re arguing over how many additional persons to allow into this country of “respectable” immigrants (most of which are probably descended from illegal immigrants themselves!–I know my great-great-grandfather probably stowed away on a boat to get here from Germany!), Jesus is welcoming the Samaritan woman at the well and giving her life. So, let’s see–respectability vs. life.  Sounds like there’s a winner to me!

Maybe we’ve forgotten what hospitality is.  What is it to you?  For me, I think at the very least its civility.  Dr. Jim Bankston, our Senior Pastor, mentioned in today’s sermon Mark DeMoss, a conservative evangelical Republican that partnered with Lanny Davis, a liberal Jewish Democrat to work on what they called The Civility Project.  They came up with a 32-word Civility Pledge that says:
            (1) I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
            (2) I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
            (3) I will stand against incivility when I see it.
They sent the pledge and asked for signatures from the 585 sitting members of Congress and state governors.  Well, apparently, these 32 words are pretty divisive, because they got a whole 3 signatures.  Yes, 3 SIGNATURES!  First of all, I would encourage you to write and thank Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.), and Rep. Sue Myrick (NC).  Secondly, I would encourage you to read the letter at http://www.demossnews.com/resources/civility_project.pdf.  And then, maybe we need to start talking a little more about civility.  This is amazing!

As I said, civility is the LEAST, the starting point.  I think good hosts go a step farther and welcome.  And maybe those among us who do care about others will develop a spirit of tolerance and respect toward one another’s lives.  But those who walk the way of Christ do more.  Those who walk the way of Christ accept one another not in spite of what they are but because of who they are–a child of God, a brother or sister in this big human family, a co-worker in bringing the vision of God to be.  You know, you don’t have to become friends.  You don’t have to agree.  In truth, you don’t even have to like each other.  Just be open to what you can offer each other.  Just be open to the way that you can encounter God in the face of another.  We are all children of God, immigrants to this earth, visitors for a time until we finally return home together.

So, as your Lenten disciple, go and welcome a stranger and be open to what he or she can bring to your life.     

“People do not enter our lives to be coerced or manipulated, but to enrich us by their differences, and the be graciously received in the name of Christ.”  (Elizabeth Canham)

Grace and Peace,


Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

I saw a kite flying today.  It dawned on me that it had been a really long time since I had seen one.  Do people not fly them anymore?  Is it because I live in the inner city where everything is sort of on top of everything else and there’s no room?  I used to love flying kites when I was little.  Mine was blue and red.  I probably wasn’t that great a kite-flyer because mine crashed a lot.  But I still loved it. I loved running along on a windy day trying to make sure that my kite stayed airborne.

Kite-flying is an interesting phenomenon, when you think about it.  You have to know how to control it against the wind and, yet, you also have to realize that you really can’t control it at all.  It’s more an exercise of response than control.  Really good kite-flyers have to learn that they really don’t have control at all once the kite is up.  Keeping the kite flying is a matter of steering with the wind; in essence, you have to relinquish the control that you have and follow where the wind takes you. 

Maybe kite-flying would be a good Lenten practice!  So much of our lives is about control.  In fact our society implies that if we don’t have control, if we’re not in charge, then we have somehow failed.  That completely flies in the face (cute pun intended!) of our walk of faith.  Walking this walk of faith, this Way of Christ, is not about control; it is about response.  You have to follow where the wind takes you.  Now don’t get me wrong, you still have to DO something or you’ll crash into the ground (another cute pun intended!).  You still have to stay with it and sometimes run to keep up but, always, always, there is something more that will allow you to fly.

So, for one of your Lenten practice, go fly a kite! (cute pun NOT intended!–Just do it!)

Grace and Peace,


LENT 3A: On The Outside Looking In

Lectionary Text:  John 4: 5-26 (27-42)
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

What was she even doing there, this woman of Samaria?  Here she was walking the streets alone, coming to the well in the heat of the day hoping that she wouldn’t run into any of the regulars.  She was tired of being taunted, tired of having to try so hard to ignore the cutting remarks and the cold stares.  And so she comes to draw water hoping against hope that no one would be there, to draw water from this old well steeped in history.  She was surprised when this man appeared.  He was a Jew.  What was he doing here in her city?  She put her head down, hoping that he would just pass by and be on his way.  She didn’t want any trouble.

The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

But this is not what Jesus saw in the woman.  He asked her for a drink and began a relationship that cut through 1,000 years of prejudice and hatred and outsiders.  Jesus saw her not as a Samaritan and not even as a lowly woman but as a fellow human, a sister, a child of God.  And somewhere in the conversation, the woman saw who Jesus was too.  He was no longer a Jew; she was no longer a Samaritan.  He was no longer the insider looking out; she was no longer the outsider looking in.  They were instead part of a shared humanity with a shared vision of what the world looked like.  The woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ identity.

Now I don’t think that Jesus had some grand evangelism plan.  He was not trying to add numbers to his membership.  If you read the whole lectionary passage (I cheated and shortened it a bit!), the woman does not convert to Christianity (which wasn’t really invented yet!).  She doesn’t even convert to Judaism.  She is still a Samaritan.  In fact, it says that she drew other Samaritans into who Jesus was.  The point is that Jesus was not trying to build a flock of followers; he was trying to show people how to see that which illumined the Way to God.  The fact that they saw it was enough.  Perhaps the woman and her friends left after this and went to Mt. Gerizim to pray.  Thanks be to God!  Making disciples of Jesus Christ is not about increasing our church’s membersip.  It is not about forming people to look just like us or expecting them to change so that they can join our partying and praying clan.  Jesus didn’t expect the woman to change.  In fact, he didn’t even expect her to join him.  He just showed her what God’s love poured out into the world really looked like.  And from the outside looking in, she saw him.  And then she went to tell others.  Isn’t that what it’s about?  Maybe our problem is that we’re on the inside looking out.  Jesus is here, come to give each of us life.  Maybe when we’ve finished counting the offering and figuring out how many people were here today, we’ll finally look and see the One who offers us life, the One who brings all of the world into God.

So in this season of wandering and wondering, just learn how to see.

Grace and Peace,