Room for Us

Esther and King Ahsuerus
Dura Euopos, Syria, 3rd century
The Jewish Art Museum of Minnesota

Lectionary Passage: Esther 7: 1-10, 9: 20-22
To read this passage online go to and

The Book of Esther is a strange and difficult book for several reasons, first and foremost because it seems to be non-theological. There is no mention of God or God’s Presence.  There is no praying or worship.  But the book is very important to Jews because it records the deeds of a woman who was prepared to risk everything to save her people from the threat of genocide.  She is a heroine and her story is the basis for the Festival of Purim, at which time the whole book is read in the synagogue. 

On that holiday, the story is told of a beautiful young Jewish woman in Persia named Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Now the king has divorced his queen, Vashti, and wants to take a new virgin bride. Esther was taken to the King’s house to become part of the harem, where she was loved more than any other woman by the king and made his queen, because he did not know that she was a Jew. The villain is Haman, an arrogant advisor to the king, who plots to destroy the Jewish people because Mordecai will not bow to him.  Mordecai persuades Esther to intercede for the Jewish people with the king even though this was very dangerous for her. Esther fasts for three days to prepare herself and then goes to the King. The Jewish people were ultimately saved and Haman was hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther is depicted as a hero, a clever and faithful model of courage.  Rather than staying in the comfort and safety of her life, Esther stood up and spoke out in truth and love.

As I mentioned before, there is no mention of God.  There is no real religious motivation for anything that anyone does in the story.  So what do we do with a Biblical story where God is NOT inherently and obviously made know?  What do we do with a place where God is not?  Well, the truth is that God probably was not missing from this book at all; rather, God’s Spirit and God’s way of moving us to be who God envisions us to be is sometimes not as obvious as wind or fire but is rather embodied in the very Creation, the very humanity that God shaped into the image of the Godself.  It is, then, a story of God, embodied.  God is always and forever still God but maybe this story is a reminder that God does not control the world with seemingly robotic movement but rather breathes a piece of the Godself into each of us.  Perhaps, then, the will of God has nothing to do with fate or plans or some sort of pre-ordained destiny that is laid before us and on which we must tread but is instead handed to us for such a time as this.  Perhaps those places where it seems that God is not are the places where we are called to be.  Because, when you think about it, if we truly believe in God as an omnipresent otherness in our life, then how can there ever be places where God’s Presence is not?    

In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about another book by Hebrew scholar Richard Elliott Friedman entitled The Disappearance of God.   In it he chronicles what Taylor calls the “divine recession.”  “Working his way from Genesis to the minor prophets, he paints a portrait of God that fades as it goes.  Divine features that were distinct at the beginning of the story grow blurry as God withdraws, stepping back from human beings so that they have room to step forward.”

Room to step forward…maybe that’s the whole point.  Maybe that’s what the Book of Esther is about—the story of one who responded to the room God made to step forward, to act not upon our individual understanding of God but rather to respond to who God envisions God to be.  And maybe that’s what this dance with God is.  We don’t “get to” God and then check it off our spiritual “to do” list; rather, we let ourselves feel the rhythm of a God who sometimes holds us, sometimes takes us by the hand, and sometimes steps out onto the floor with a new beat and a new song and waits on tiptoe hoping that we might courageously and faithfully move to a place we’ve never been before. 

There is so much work to be done.  I don’t really think that God ever envisioned doing it all for us; otherwise, we would have been mere robots in the world and God would have instead sat there as some sort of divine programmer.  And, really, if that were the case, why would God have had to walk with us on this earth at all?  I mean, really, that was a whole lot of trouble for God to go to if God was just going to do everything anyway.  Instead, God created time and space such that we are experiencing now, stepped back, and called us to fill it with God’s love and God’s grace and the piece of the Godself that we are called to show to the world.  God not only gave us the gift of God’s Presence but with a wisdom only God could know, also gave us the gift of a holy absence that makes room for us.  You see, that IS the very Presence of God.  So what are you going to do with the room God made for you?

Grace and Peace,


The Wisdom Ideal

Arthur Kolnik
Woman Blessing Sabbath Candles

Lectionary Passage: Proverbs 31: 10-31
To read this passage online, go to

We often don’t know what to do with this passage.  It’s just so odd.  I mean, here we’ve had thirty chapters of these little snippets of wisdom, a veritable checklist of the characters to which we should aspire and now, in the last chapter of Proverbs, they start talking about “a capable wife”.  What is that about?  I suppose it would be easy to dismiss it as some sort of archaic remnant of another time, when women stayed locked in their domesticated, caring roles and almost never ventured beyond, when the ideal was the perfect wife and the perfect household and the perfectly well-manicured children.  And in doing that, we’ve set up an ideal that when set against our lives, we would surely fall miserably short.  But I’m not so sure that was the intent at all.  I mean, really, do you think things were all that easy for women when this was written?  Do you think that living in a culture where women were subordinate if not meaningless really made it easy for them to get to the “ideal” described here?  In fact, do you really honestly think ANYONE in the thousands upon thousands of years of humanity ever really got to this?  Doubtful, very doubtful… (I mean don’t you think those cave-dwelling women had just as much trouble keeping their abode clean as we do?  And they didn’t even have the advantage of a Swiffer or Pledge All-Surface Cleaner!)

So what if we thought about it another way?  What if rather than wondering what in the world this odd little passage laying out an impossible ideal has to do with all the depictions of Wisdom that came before it, we looked at it in light of it all.  I mean, think about it, Wisdom literature by its very nature is not random.  It’s very intentional and very all-encompassing.  Perhaps rather than some sort of odd little tag on, this passage was meant to be the climax of the whole Proverbs collection, a sort of all-encompassing depiction of what it all means.  In fact, maybe it’s not really meant to be gender-specific at all!  Yes, before you men dismiss this as having nothing to do with you, what if you think of it as a metaphor for the composite that IS Wisdom, that IS the ideal to which we should all aspire?  I mean, there are numerous places in Scripture that carry feminine imagery–Lady Wisdom, Bride of Christ, the mothering, nurturing God.  They are not talking about women!  Why, then, would this particular one be limited to females (and wives and mothers besides)?  I guess I just don’t think that the Scriptures were intended to be gender-specific or even that life-situation-specific. 

Maybe it’s a metaphor of who we are all called to be—trustworthy, of strong character, and deep and abiding faith.  The “capable wife” is meant to convey the full significance of the wise, well-run household, the household that is run within the wisdom of God.  It is the household that is a powerful emblem to teach and guide future generations.  It IS the Household of God, our very lives.  And Wisdom calls us to follow in her ways.  It is a portrayal of faithful living, a depiction of the ideal believer to which we can all aspire.  It is not meant to set us up for failure.  I mean, have you read the Bible?  Stuff just keeps getting in the way.  (Thank God that Grace stuff also continues to show her lovely face!)  But this is an image of a different way.  That’s what our faith journey is about–finding that different way to relate to others, to live, to love.  It’s about finding the way to become Wisdom, to become the very image of God in which you were created.  It’s about letting go of the “ideal” that this world has fabricated and journeying into the Wisdom of God.

Don’t think of the Scriptures as a perfect “plan” laid out by God.  Think of it as the story of a journey that sometimes takes us through wonder and beauty, and sometimes through muck and crud.  We experience joy and grief in the same lifetime or we just aren’t human.  And sometimes we don’t make our beds every morning.  Thanks be to God!  But always, always there is more to come.  The journey is not about perfection; it is about longing–longing to be with God, longing to be the one who God envisions you to be.

When all work is brought to a standstill, the candles are lit.  Just as creation began with the word, “Let there be light!” so does the celebration of creation begin with the kindling of lights.  It is the woman who ushers in the joy and sets up the most exquisite symbol, light, to dominate the atmosphere of the home.  And the world becomes a place of rest.  An hour arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts.  People assemble to welcome the wonder of the seventh day, which the Sabbath sends out is presence over the fields, into our homes, into our hearts.  It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.  (Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 66)

Grace and Peace,


Freedom of Speech

Lectionary Passage: James 3: 1-12
To read this passage online, go to

I love words.  I like them alone or strung together into some semblance of a sentence or just a random thought.  I like learning new words.  And I am well on my way to becoming addicted to online Scrabble.  Words are powerful things.  They can soothe.  They can heal.  They can encourage. They can show love.  They can also hurt feelings, belittle, incite violence, or cause irreparable pain.  Words can destroy life and they can give life.  That’s really pretty incredible, when you think about it.

This passage from the epistle James is the longest in the Bible about the role of speech in our lives.  In a nutshell, it is telling us to “bridle our tongues”. (Which, I suppose is a little odd that there is this much talking about it!)  (Oh, forget the semantics.  Yeah, it’s telling us to shut up!)  But lest we get offended by the writer’s somewhat austere and offputting choice of words, it’s also about something deeper.  It’s asking us to look at the base or the foundation from which our words come.  It’s about how we relate to others and how we depict who we really are in the deepest core of our being.  “Taming our tongue” is more than just shutting up; it is more than merely being tactful or knowing the right thing to say at the right time.  Rather, our words point to who and what we really are.

This an interesting passage to read in light of what goes on in our world today.  We read of bullying by children toward their classmates.  We know that there is bullying in the workplace, when one who has power inflicts that power in force rather than wielding power as a creative and life-giving force.  And in the midst of this campaign year, we know that the rhetoric that we hear is anything but conducive to good human relations.  There are often times when our speech and our words in this world and society are indeed toxic.

So, in light of this passage, what does it mean to exercise “freedom of speech”?  Does it mean that we are allowed to say whatever we want to whomever we want whenever we want and for whatever reason we choose?  Well, that’s sort of the way our society lives.  Is that OK?  Is it alright for a random real estate developer to make a movie depicting Islam as a hateful religion?  Well, I suppose in the words of our law, it is.  But what does that say about us as a people, as a country, as Christians?  Just because a word can be uttered does not mean that it should be.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.  Perhaps freedom of speech is not about saying everything that comes to mind.  The writer of James would probably say that it is more the freedom to say yourself into being.  Because, when you think about it, that was done once, way back there, before you spoke your first word.  God spoke you into being, bringing life.  And God gave each of us the freedom of speech to say ourselves into being again.

Words are indeed powerful.  They are an expression of who we are.  They depict our character, our knowledge, and our command of the language with which we have been gifted.   Who do your words say that you are?  What part of the Godself in you do your words depict?  Shhhhhhhhh!  Listen…You know, that’s as powerful a word as any you might hope to utter.  Perhaps the wisdom of words is about knowing when to use your tongue and knowing when to use your ears, or your brain, or your heart.  Words are deeper than we usually let them be.  They have power.  And in between them, in the listening and the silence, comes the voice of God saying you into being once again.  Shhhhhhhh!

Last evening, I received a gift.  I visited two people who know each other, who have helped and supported each other.  And while visiting the first, he gave me the gift of words–words of affirmation, words of thanks, words of respect, words of love.  They were not for me.  Rather, I was gifted with the opportunity to carry those words to the other person.  I did.  There were tears when they were uttered and tears when they were heard.  They were life-giving words.  That is what they should be.  What words do you utter?  What words do you hear?  And what words do you carry from one heart to another?  Do this in remembrance of me.  What we say and what we don’t say are part of who we are and who we are called to be.  The Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,


Open Table

Lectionary Passage:  Mark 7: 24-37
To read this passage online, go to

I love being a United Methodist.  I probably take what could be considered an almost unhealthy sense of pride in the fact that we believe in an open table, that we believe that the Feast of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is not “Methodist” but is instead an open table to which all are welcome.  It sounds good.  It makes us sound like a community in which one would want to be.

But this week’s Gospel reading begins to make us squirm a bit.  After all, we look to Jesus for this model of open invitation, for the depiction of compassion and mercy to which we all aspire.  And then we read this.  I mean, really, is he calling her a “dog”?  Now, with apologies to Maynard, my four-legged roommate, this was NOT a nice thing to say.  And yet, remember, Jesus understood his mission (in fact, EVERYONE understood his mission) as Messiah, the one promised to the chosen people.  Jesus’ mission was to the people of Israel.  There was nothing bad or closed-minded about that; that’s the way it was. So does that mean that this passage depicts a turning point, a veritable transformative moment for even Jesus?  Well, that’s bothersome.  After all, if Jesus needed transformation, where does that leave us?

Well, really, did we think that Jesus was just plunked down on this earth in ready-to-wear form?  After all, remember, he was human, “fully human” we are told.  Transformation is part of our humanity, being transformed is how we become fully human, fully made in the image of God.  It is how we become who we are supposed to be.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe Jesus was not pushing us at all here, but leading us out of the box that we have built, leading us to who God calls us to be.  Maybe Jesus was showing us that even well-meaning and well-constructed boxes are meant to come crashing down when the time is right.  And the time was right.  This was not a diminishment of Jesus’ power; it was an expansion.  At this moment, the mission began to move and God’s Kingdom began to spread beyond the tight shores of the Galilean Lake and into the Decapolis region.  The Kingdom of God was at hand!

God cannot be contained.  Perhaps this story was Jesus’ realization and affirmation of that very notion.  After all, if Jesus experienced transformation, we are called to do the same.  Once again, Jesus takes a cultural norm (actually several of them!) and turns them on their ear.  It was his awakening to a new reality.  And it was the impetus that pushed the morality police known as his Disciples right out of the box with him.  The walls crash down, the table is set, and all are invited.  Come and feast with your Lord!

But it’s still a hard Scripture.  I mean, really, who did this foreign nameless immigrant think she was?  She was the voice, a voice for all foreign nameless immigrants that dare to claim their crumb at the table, that dare to go where God calls.  You see, the table is really open–not merely to us but by us.  We are the inviters, the ones transformed by relationships with “them”.  What do you bring to the table?  And who do you invite to sit down with you and share the bread and drink the cup?  Who belongs in the Kingdom of God? The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ poured out for you. And you and you and you and you and you and you and you…..Well, you get the idea.  Did we think this was about us?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20, NRSV)

Grace and Peace,