Bringing the Words to Life

Lectionary Passage: Luke 4: 14-21
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Both this passage and the Old Testament lection for this week (Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10) have to do with reading Scripture.  Isn’t that interesting–a Scripture about reading Scripture?  So was it important to include these passages so that we would understand what the Scriptures should mean to us?  After all, we revere the world, processing the Bible in each week, the closest thing that we can get to a tangible representation of “The Word of the Lord.”  And when we reach third grade, we experience one of those all-important church rites when we receive our Bible.  And somewhere along the way, we somehow get the impression that this heavily-bound, often golden-tipped set of pages is itself holy, an instrument of worship, but, more than that, a set of words that can lead us to God.   It is that notion that led me to an almost sick feeling when I have walked into my house three separate times to encounter the chewed and tattered pages of a Bible strewn across the floor.  Yes, Maynard, the over-zealous Black Lab with apparently an unquenchable appetite for the Scriptures, has eaten three Bibles.  I had someone ask me if he had eaten the whole thing.  No, I responded, he’s really just like all of us–picking and choosing what he wants to digest and leaving the rest in disconnected pieces behind.  (Oh, admit it, how many of you have really read the thing cover to cover?)  I mean, I tried a couple of times when I was little (with my third grade Bible) but somewhere around Genesis 10, I’d get discouraged by people I didn’t know and names I couldn’t pronounce and what seemed an overwhelming sense of needless violence.  Hmmm!  I guess the Bible is about us, isn’t it?  

So in this Scripture (the one about reading Scripture), the hometown boy returns and, as was the custome, he stood in the synogogue to read.  Renita Weems contends that this is the way Scripture should be read–in a public gathering, out loud.  The words that Jesus read–“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news…to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring release…”–these words were his manifesto.  And in that moment as Jesus read those words that had been read aloud for centuries before by people he didn’t know named names that he couldn’t pronounce, something happened.  The words were brought to life.  Jesus was not reading mere words; rather, the Spirit was pouring into them.  That is what Scripture should do to us.  

This day, we’re in the third of four weeks when our older elementary students participate by reading Scripture in the middle service.  I’ve had the privilege of working with some of those kids during the week before each Sunday to better prepare them.  I love doing that.  There is a freshness, an eagerness, an almost hunger.  They are excited and afraid at the same time.  They sense the gravity of it all, even if they don’t fully understand it.  When did we lose that?  Was it when we finally learned to pronounce the worlds?  Or was it when we became satisfied with what we thought we understood of it?  Or has Scripture become so perfunctory that we have missed what it holds?  You see, the Scriptures contain more than words.  Read between the lines.  There is oh, so much more there.  Don’t focus so much on the words or even what they say.  Let us instead delve into not the words but the Word.  Let us open ourselves to the possibility that it means something more and let God’s Spirit come upon us.  

Scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed.  On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books.  But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom.  It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp.  Perhaps that is why one writer can say “Sounding in and through the human words of scripture, like the sea within a conch shell, is another reality, vaster than mind or imagination can compass.  God has chosen to be bound to the words of Scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near…It is not that the words magically or mechanically contain God’s Presence, but that as we allow the same Spirit through which the scriptures were written to inform our listening, the presence of God in and beyond those words becomes alive for us once more. (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast:  The Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville, KY:  Westminster-John Knox Press, 1995), 19-20)  

The Word of the Lord!  

Thanks be to God!  

Grace and Peace,  


Our Just Reward

Lectionary Passage: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
To read this passage online go to

This week is the first of several weeks that our Lectionary includes passages from the Book of Job.  I love Job so I have to warn you that you may get your fill!  Someone asked me the other day why I loved this book so much.  I’m not sure.  I also don’t really know what that says about me.  I think it’s because it’s real.  There are no pretenses that are left about God or about ourselves after we read Job.  In fact, Job takes all of those contrived images of who God is and shakes them at their core.  We stand there, like Job, stripped of all we know leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God.

The story begins like a fairy tale usually begins:  “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”  You could just as easily say, “Once upon a time in the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job.”  Job is depicted as righteous, blessed, and happy.  Every thing had gone well for Job.  He has a comfortable house with a large, roomy chef’s kitchen and a terrace overlooking a lush green valley.  His wife is happy and they’ve never had an argument.  His children are perfect.  There has never been a problem with drugs or behavioral problems or kids that just can’t seem to make it work.  And Job–he is healthy, happy, and has lovely straight teeth.  Life is perfect.  Job is righteous and upright and God has blessed them all. 

Really?  Oh come now!  Yes, my friends, it IS a fairy tale.  I mean, get real, no one’s life is perfect.  If they say it is, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves.  Life just doesn’t work like that.  Life is not perfect.  Instead, it is rich and deep and profoundly full of abundance and poverty, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, hope and despair, life and death.  And in those crevices between all of this emotion and all of this stuff, we find God.

We are uncomfortable with this idea of God “testing” Job.  I mean, really, do you like tests?  What kind of God does that?  But, remember, testing is not just about right and wrong.  If life becomes a focus only on getting the right answers, then there is no hope for any of us.  Think of testing more like a chemical test.  The outcome is not good or bad as outcomes go; rather, it is different, changed, something new.  So maybe God does allow this hassatan character to “test” Job a bit.  Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with either the first century notion of “satan” (notice there’s no capital letter–this is not a title or a person or even a being) or the later-contrived notion of a little red man with horns messing up our lives.  (I mean, personally, I do a good enough job of that myself!)  Rather, this more of an adversary operating on God’s behalf.  And the test proves that, even changed, Job’s integrity and Job’s love of God is intact.  When all that he knows and all that he relies upon is whisked away, Job still loves God.  But the adversary claims that Job would give all of this for his life.  He proposes a “skin for skin” challenge.  So, what would Job do if YHWH attacks Job’s life?  There is Jewish midrash that claims that God’s directive to spare Job’s life actually outwitted the trickster and skewed the whole question.  The command was like saying, “you may break the wine bottle, but you must not let the wine spill.” 
So the satan afflicts Job with foul boils that cover his body.  It was more than painful.  You remember the cultural understanding of that.  He would have separated from the community and shut away with the other unacceptables.  Job’s wife begs:  “Stand up for yourself!  Curse God!  DO SOMETHING!”  But Job remains steadfast.

SO, the prosperity gospel is not some new notion!  How many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we just live right, eat right, vote right, play right, act right, worship right, and pray right, then God will reward us with prosperity or ease or eternal life.  You can fill in the blank.  Whatever it is, we will receive our “just reward”.  But then the story of Job drops into our lives like a cannonball.  Job’s story reminds us that God never promised us ease and plenty.  Rather, God promises Presence, Grace, and a Love more incredible than we can ever fathom–now, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter.  No matter what we do, God keeps God’s promises.  Isn’t that better than worrying about whether or not we’ll be rewarded or punished in the future?

5th century theological St. Augustine of Hippo laid out two types of love–uti and frui.  Uti is essentially the love of use, the love for something because of what it gives you.  Admit it, you love money.  Now you’re not IN love with money.  You don’t look at a pile of green paper (or now a bigger number on your electronic bank statement) and love it.  But you pursue it because of what it will bring you.  That is “uti” love.  But “frui” love is loving something not because of what it will bring you but for the subject of the love itself.  It is unconditional.  Augustine maintained that our problem was that we often love God with “uti” love.  We love God because God will reward us (or because we are afraid of losing God’s support in our lives.)  But God desires something different.  God desires to be loved not because of what God can do for us, not because of any reward we hope to gain, but because in the deepest part of our being, we are made to love God and enjoy God forever. 

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen to bad people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen at all?  Job gives us no answers.  The story just reminds us to love the questions and the journey and the God who walks with us through it all.

So, go and love God…just love God.

Grace and Peace,


LENT 3B: Tablets From the Sky

“The Ten Commandments” Movie (1956)

Lectionary Passage:  Exodus 20: 1-3 (4-6) 7-8 (9-11) 12-17
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me…You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy….Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Things were hard.  Here they were in the middle of the wilderness, hungry, tired, struggling, quarreling, and wondering what in the world they were doing here.  Until now, they had no real identity, no purpose for being here, no point to life.  But this is the point where that all changes.  This is the point at which their lives and their long, horrendous journey become meaningful.  And God gives them a covenant.

Now, contrary to the name of this post, I’m pretty sure that the Ten Commandments did not just drop out of the sky.  It is much more likely that these specific laws were selected from among the gathered moral and social laws of generation upon generation.  In essence, they grew out of a people’s understanding about God and their own relationship with God.  The people are first reminded that God has already saved them before, bringing them out of slavery, bringing them into relationship with God.  But you can’t help noticing that these commandments are formative of who one is before God and how one lives in response to God.  The first four commandments related to one’s relationship with God and the remaining six have to do with the relationship between human beings.  It is really very simple:  You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (with all that you are, with every essence of your being)  And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But in our modern-day society, there are those who have tried to make these words “law” in the judicial sense, simply by displaying them in courthouses or public buildings.  But they are missing the fact that these are not laws to obey but the natural way that we are called to respond to the freedom of God.  In fact, these laws, unlike many others, do not sanction a certain type of government or a specific king.  Rather than dictating what we should do, they depict who we are as a people of God.  They are less about behavior than they are about identity—who God is, who the people are, and who we are as people of God.  It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and, even, how we provide sustenance and nourishment for our faith journey.  And regardless of whether or not we believe they actually dropped out of the sky, they are like manna in the wilderness, providing sustenance and life.  Think of them as declarations of freedom to become who we are called to be, rather than a set of rules or regulations that force us into becoming what someone else wants us to be.

Now, admittedly, I don’t think they belong on the courthouse lawn or on the walls of a schoolroom.  I think they’re bigger than that and I don’t think they can be contained.  They are, yet again, the very breath and essence of the God who dances with us rather than holds court over us to make sure we follow the rules.  The Decalogue is, once again, God with us.  And this Season of Lent is not about following the rules or being burdened with regulations. It is about experiencing the freedom of this God who dances with us—this one God, who, alone, drives our life with a Spirit of steadfast love and the integrity of respect; this one God who offers us rest and reflection that we might delight in Creation and that we might enjoy the best that it has to offer; this one God who knows that we can only understand the love we are given if we love in return, if we honor the ones from whom we came, if we honor life and love and all of Creation; if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, and if we want the very best for our brothers and sisters.  In this way we will understand this God who offers us life and all that it entails.  Hmmm…that’s fairly far-fetched for us.  Maybe it WAS written on a tablet from the sky.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this eleventh day of Lenten observance, let go of needing to have it all defined, of needing to have narrow rules that outline our moral and societal standards, and begin to live your life loving God and loving neighbor in the way that God calls you to live.   
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


On the Other Side of the Manger

This past Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to lead an Advent discussion with members of St. Paul’s Hispanic Congregation.  No, my Spanish has not had a sudden improvement.  We slowly went through the discussion and the questions and answers by translating back and forth between English and Spanish.  (Boy, I need to brush up on my Spanish!  The closest I could get is that I would sort of understand the “gist” of the question before Nataly or Mireya translated it for me!)  But I must admit that I also had to brush up on the subject matter.  I must have drawn the short straw or something because my subject matter was Joseph of Bethlehem, husband of Mary, earthly father-figure (for want of a better word) for Jesus.  Joseph?  What is there to say about Joseph?  I mean, Mary has a big moment with the top angel Gabriel, followed by the entire world that waits for her answer.  She even has a song!  And she remains a top character in the plot all the way to the bitter end.  But Joseph?  I think if I were Joseph, I would attempt to renegotiate my contract or something.  I mean, he doesn’t even have a speaking role!  He has no voice!  So, really, what is there to say about Joseph?

We don’t really know that much about him.  His family was probably of Bethlehem, even though he perhaps lived in Nazareth.  One might surmise that he was there for work and, yet, Nazareth wasn’t exactly a thriving metropolis with numerous opportunities for a struggling carpenter.  (That probably meant that Joseph was a builder, the Greek techton, perhaps a stonemason.  After all, how much wood is there really in Israel?)  His and Mary’s was probably an arranged marriage.  Some think that he might have been older.  OK, there’s no real support for that, but whatever…But we know that he was righteous, probably a faithful “rule follower” of the Jewish law.  And he had plans.  He and Mary would marry and have children of their own.  He would have a son.  He would have the privilege of naming him.  But that was not to happen.  Instead, the lovely Mary goes and gets herself knocked up.  Think of what Joseph felt–betrayal, embarrassment, hurt, regret, confusion.  This was not the plan.

And then the dream.  Oh, that’s dangerous.  Biblical dreams never seem to help one’s plan.  Seldom does an instrument of God show up in one’s dream to tell us how great we’re directing our lives!  So, whether Joseph dreamed of an angel, or God, or his own conviction, he realized that in spite of all the rules that had been broken, in spite of the way that life had literally spit on his plan, he loved Mary.  He realized that he was called to be a part of this.  He realized that regardless of what the world told him to do–divorce her silently or accuse her publicly–he could not.  And so, there’s Joseph on the other side of the manger.  The picture is in every Nativity image we have–the Blessed Mary, the mother of Christ looking adoringly at the infant in the manger.  And standing across from her in silent commitment is Joseph of Bethlehem.

This silent figure does not, I think, get his due.  After all, his entire life changed as much as Mary’s.  His plans had to be shelved.  His rules were broken.  He was called to offer love and support and to raise this child, this child that, regardless of whether or not Joseph had a hand in the conception, would never really be his own.  The other side of the manger has no voice.  Instead, he was called to a silent commitment.  He was called to hold the child’s hand, lead him from the manger, and then let him go.  And then Joseph drops out of sight.  He was there twelve years later at the temple when Jesus left his parents but chances are that Joseph was used to Jesus going down roads without him by that time.

Not all of us are meant to be the stars of the play. Some of us have no speaking roles.  In fact, some of us never even make it to the stage. But the story is never complete without each and every one of us.  And those that stand with no voice in silent commitment and humble devotion are the hardest workers of all.  The years of Jesus’ life that were spent with Joseph are not documented in known Scripture.  They are not a part of our canon.  But Jesus had to have someone that took him by the hand and led him to the beginning.  The Gospel story did not just shoot out of thin air–someone was silently leading the way.  Someone early on had to make the conscious decision to silence the world and listen to God.  Someone had to stand on the other side of the manger.

I wish that the other night my Spanish had been not quite as rusty.  We were able to tell the story.  We were able to talk about what Joseph felt.  We were able to place the story in the proper context.  But there was an almost overwhelming silence.  When you’re standing on the other side of the manger, it is only God that you hear.  When there’s nothing to say, when you have no voice,  God still calls you to something bigger than you can possibly imagine.

In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of silence that you might hear the song of God.

Grace and Peace,




Scripture Text:  Matthew 5: 1-18
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

I’m no real Bible scholar but I think this passage is indeed the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry.  This is the lynchpin, the place where it all comes together, and, sadly for this world and this culture, the place where Jesus’ message begins to turn away from an affirmation of what we do as “religious folk” to a calling to go forth and do something different.  This passage turns orthodoxy around.  Orthodox…what an interesting and misdefined word.  It has come to define the “accepted” beliefs of the church, the traditional views.  In essence, it has come to mean the opinion of the majority.  But history has shown us that that has often proved to be problematic.

Here’s a date for you:  April 15, 1947…on this day, 64 years ago, Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers and, against all odds, broke baseball’s race barrier and made history.  But, like most history, he had help.  Just before he was signed, the pastor of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn had a visitor.  The visitor’s was Branch Rickey, already well-known.  They didn’t have a deep pastoral care talk.  Rickey just paced.  And the minister went about his work.  Then Rickey plopped down in a chair and screamed, “I’ve got it.”  “I’m going to sign Jackie Robinson to the team.”  There were warnings.  A well-known reporter said that there would be riots in the street on this day.  Rickey instead believed that all of heaven would break loose.  (Check out Signing of Jackie Robinson )

The point is that it was time for a change.  It was time for a new way of doing things.  “Orthodoxy” actually means “right belief”.  What  is “right”?  What does that mean?  You see, I think of myself as “orthodox”.  I’m actually extremely traditional, even though I think that word gets a bad rap.  I mean, regardless of all of the church growth movements that profess to have the “ortho-statistics” for churches, I love traditional worship (I mean, REALLY traditional!) worship.  Give me a robe, a processional behind a crucifer, and a couple of Latin chants thrown in for good measure any day against screens and a preacher doing some sort of skit as he blocks my view of the altar.  But, really, that’s not belief.  That’s just where God meets me. The point is, we all think of ourselves as “orthodox”, as right.  But right belief is this…the Beatitudes…the antithesis of this world.  It is a moving forward.  Hmmm!  OK, maybe I AM a “progressive”. 

One thing to note is that the form of these Beatitudes uses two verbs: are and will. Each beatitude begins in the present and moves to future tense. It is the “orthodox” way of thinking.  The move to the future tense indicates that the life of the kingdom must wait for ultimate validation until God finishes the new creation. The Kingdom of God moves forward.  It is so far ahead of where we are, it’s not even fully visible at this point!  In essence, it is the new “right belief”, the new orthodoxy.  It is a way of living based on the sure and firm hope that one walks in the way of God and that righteousness and peace will finally prevail.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this: Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his word. He does not mean that it is to be discussed as an ideal; he really means us to get on with it.
The Beatitudes lay out a vision of a reversal of the world we know. Jesus calls us to a radical kingdom that is totally different than the world in which we live. And he calls us to “get on with it”.  Now don’t think that Jesus is merely laying out the conditions under which we would be blessed or prosper. It is rather a promise of a radical reversal, an upside-down (or right-side-up) world. It is a promise from a God that wants the best for us, a God that sees that we will indeed be blessed. That is the promise—a blessed relationship with God. So this is a picture of what that Kingdom looks like. It is the way it should be and the way it will be. The Beatitudes are meant to be descriptive rather than instructive.

So, where does that leave us?  We live in a divisive world, a divisive country, and a divisive church.  We all claim to be “orthodox”, “right”.  This is hard.  We walk a fine line between causing more division and proclaiming what we believe to be right.  Now, really, we need to realize that what we believe to be “right” does not make it “right”.  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  I keep hearing of person who profess to be “bridge builders”.  Well, that sounds really politically correct and all.  In fact, it even sounds attractive.  Sure, I’d like to join a bunch of bridge-builders, the peaceful ones, the ones who get along with everyone.  OK…here is the problem.  Where are you headed?  Bridges are not meant for permanent residence.  Are you going forward or backward, left or right, to the future or the past?  You have to CHOOSE!  That is the whole point of this passage that contains what we commonly call “The Beatitudes”.  You see, things are different.  (And if they’re not, this passage professes that they should be!)  What you think is, is not.  And that to which you’ve held so tightly is decaying away as we speak.  Orthodoxy has changed.  In fact, Jesus is the one that changed it!  “Right” belief has changed.  God did not come in Jesus with a message of “Great job, folks,  you have it altogether.  Don’t change a thing!”  No, the message probably reads more like, “You know, I love you more than you could possibly know.  But you are a mess!  Listen…come and see…there’s more to the story than you think you know!”

You know, until 56 years ago, women could not be ordained in the United Methodist Church. (And yet I still get assigned weddings that are upset because I am the wrong gender!)  And, as I said, the race barrier in major league baseball was not broken until 1947.  (But we didn’t have an African-American president until 2008.)  The truth is, things move very slowly.  So much for a reversal of the status quo!  And our churches still continue to exclude those in our midst who do not claim the “orthodox” sexual orientation.  I really don’t understand it.  Surely we know better.  Surely we understand that this depiction of the alternative way of being that Jesus depicted in The Beatitudes is not a pipe dream.  It’s really meant to happen.  It’s the vision of God that God brought into the world in Jesus Christ.  It’s the vision of the world that God holds for us even now.  It’s all the children of God in the whole Kingdom of God.  It’s called Shalom, or the Kingdom of God, or the Reign of God.

But on some level I admire bridge-builders.  They are those that play both crowds–the conservatives and the progressives, the establishment and the rebels, the pharisees and the disciples.  You see, all of us are right about SOMETHING.  But none of us are right about EVERYTHING.  Those bridge-builders can point that out.  The truth is, though, I’m probably too impatient to be one.  I want things to change.  I want the world to look like The Beatitudes.  I want the world to be what God envisions it to be.  But even bridges tend to decay, becoming weather-worn and rotten.  Life moves.  It moves fast.  And if you don’t keep walking, you’re no longer a bridge-builder.  You’re either in danger of falling fast into the underlying currents and being carried away into who knows where or you’re just someone that’s sitting in the way while people are trying to cross.  It’s better to keep moving.  After all, God is way out ahead of us.

OK, one more time…I really am orthodox.  I really do adhere to “right belief”.  I just think it’s a whole lot farther ahead than any of us imagine.  It’s a matter of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly.  Oh wait, someone already said that!  In other words, our faith is measured not in “rightness” but in relationship.  Orthodoxy, “right belief”, is about relationship.  It is about welcoming all of God’s children to the table as the reign of God, the Spirit of the most holy, spills into our midst.  Emmanuel, God With Us.  Isn’t that the crux of the story?

But lynchpins are threatening.  They change the direction.  They change what we think.  They change the world.  They change us and who we appear to be to the rest of the world.  Up until now, everything has pointed to this-the announcement, the birth, the baptism, the calling, this…–as if this was the message, as if this was what the world needed, as if this was the way to the vision that God for us.  Now we wait.  We wait to see how the world responds.  And we turn toward Jerusalem…

So, in this Lenten season,  begin to live a life of reversal, so that as the Divine spilled into earth with the coming of Christ, the earth might become the vision of the Divine in you.         

Grace and Peace,


Lenten Discipline: Picking and Choosing

I remember when I got my first Bible.  I was determined to start at Genesis 1:1 and read the whole thing through.  I was sure that was what I was supposed to do.  After all, that’s the way you read a book, right?  Well, I have to confess that that never happened.  In fact, it’s now more than forty years later and it STILL hasn’t happened.  I’ve taught Bible studies and got an M.Div. from seminary and it STILL didn’t happen.  In fact, I’ve never sat down and read the whole Bible at all.  (Shhh!)  (It’s sort of like the way you accidentally hit the wrong button and publish a blog before you’re ready, right?  So, for those who only got half an email, just call it a spiritual teaser.  I know you couldn’t wait for me to finish my thought and write the whole thing through!)
Maynard, the Bible Eater
One day a couple of months ago, I came out into the living room and was greeted with Maynard (my dog) eating a Bible.  Yes, he ate a Bible!  I’m not sure what to think about that.  When I told people what had happened, they just looked at me in amazement.  He ATE a Bible?  The question was always the same: Did he eat the whole thing?  No, I responded, he’s just like the rest of us–just picking and choosing what he wants to digest.  Actually, I’m not so sure that’s NOT the way that we’re supposed to read the Scriptures.  After all, it’s not meant to be a historical narrative.  We don’t plow through it trying to memorize each and every detail.  (Note:  This is not going to be on the test!) 

Spiritual reading is more about entering the text than it is memorizing it (or, for that matter, even fully understanding it!  Remember Nicodemus?).  And the place through which we enter is different for each one of us and is different from day to day or hour to hour for each of us.  We are reading to be formed and transformed.  We must enter in the place where God reveals Godself to us through the Scriptures.  And I suppose that involves a bit of picking and choosing.  Read the words and then let God’s Spirit wash over you.  Do not worry so much about becoming a Biblical scholar.  (After all, remember that this is not the whole story!)  Just read so that your heart, rather than your head, becomes full.

Plumbing the Depths

In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson says that “scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed.  On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books.  But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom.  It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp…God has chosen to be bound to the words of Scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near…Scripture is both God’s Word and human words.  It is part of God’schosen self-revelation, simultaneously familiar and strange…It is not that the words magically or mechanically contain God’s presence, but that as we allow the same Spirit through which the Scriptures were written to inform our listening, the presence of God in and beyond those words becomes alive for us once more.” (In Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie Thompson, p. 19-20)

So pick and choose the words where you can this day enter the Word.  Dive in and let God’s Presence come alive for you.  This is your story.  It is not complete.  Which chapter is yours to add?

Grace and Peace,



Lectionary Passage:  Matthew 5: 21-37 (Epiphany 6A)
    “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

     You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
     “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (NRSV) 

And yet another week of reading the Sermon on the Mount…So are you getting the sense that we’re actually supposed to be listening to it? This is not an easy discourse full of pretty little stories interspersed with a few light-hearted jokes to keep our attention. You see, we really ARE supposed to do this. Jesus, like any good teacher, begins where we are. He acknowledges the usual view of what righteousness was (and perhaps is)—that a murderer will be judged; that those who leave offerings will be rewarded; that adulterers will be punished…the list goes on. But the whole point is that it’s not enough. Jesus doesn’t frame his words as prohibitions or a list of rules to be followed. That would, in fact, be far too simplistic. After all, why would we really need faith to follow a list of rules? It’s not about rules; it’s about expectations. And there IS something more that is expected of us who dare to realize that we are children of God. The rules are there. They will stay there. They help us order our society and give us boundaries for our lives. But we are expected to go beyond them, to be better than the society we have ordered and the boundaries we have drawn. And here, it is not just about behaviors; it also applies to attitudes and emotions. Indeed, it is about every aspect of our being. It’s a pretty radical way of looking at things. But, really, it’s Jesus. Did you expect anything less?

This week’s reading reminds us yet again that God came in Jesus Christ not to enforce the rules, but to reorder the world itself. God does not have a checklist or a lucky-number scorecard. Rather, God became flesh, dwelt among us, and showed us what it meant to live with an ever-present God in our midst. So, what is it that you expect from God? More than you can possibly imagine. And what is it that you expect from yourself? Expect more. Expectations are funny things. They may not always turn out the way we envisioned, but if you don’t expect something, nothing happens at all. So envision what life would look like if it really was the way Jesus depicted it. And who knows? You might be surprised.

Most people see what they want to, or at least what they expect to.

                                                                                             (Martha Grimes)

Grace and Peace,