April 28, 2011


What are you afraid of?

I have an unnatural fear of insects.  I'll tell a story on myself.  Last night, after several days of two two year-olds going in and out, in and out, in and out of our back door, we found 14 flies in our living room.  As the night wore on and we got ready for bed the lights in the bathroom drew 5 flies into our bedroom, which made SHW none-too-happy and sent her on a fly killing spree.  One of the dazed, but not dead, flies landed on my pillow.

NOPE. Didn't like it.

Rather than squish the thing on my pillow, or flick it off, remember I'm afraid for insects for no real reason, I picked up the whole pillow and hoped to drop the thing in the toilet before it could wake up.  It was, without a doubt, a stupid plan, but in my fear it was the only reasonable one.

Fear does funny things to us.  It makes the illogical logical. It makes the rational irrational. It makes the smart dumb.

For the disciples, on that first Easter they huddled in an upper room, behind a locked door, out of fear.  Someone had either taken their beloved Rabbi's body or he was risen from the dead, and either way, they were terrified. Jesus enters the locked-up room and twice offers them shalom, peace.

As I reflect on the Gospel today, I'm struck by how often fear is a motivating factor in the decisions we make.  In God's economy, however, fear is to be replaced by peace.  How often does peace motivate my own decisions? Rarely.

It seems as though the only way to fix that tendency toward fear is a one-on-one encounter with the risen Lord.  Not just seeing, not just touching his hands, but a sticking my whole hand in his side sort of encounter. To do that these days, requires extra special vision, the type that allows one to see Jesus in the midst of troubling circumstances. The type that allows peace to reign over fear.  I've got a set of those glasses, thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, not if I would only use them more often.

April 27, 2011

walk the walk

Sorry I've been a little lax in posting the past couple of weeks.  Holy Week and now Easter Week (with dear friends in town to boot) have made my time better used elsewhere.  But, dear reader, I'm back, and ready to go, especially since I'm preaching again this weekend.


At St. Paul's Foley for the Great 50 Days of Easter, we will be embarking on a season of renewal, resurrection, and stewardship. We are repenting of our sin of fear and trusting in God for everything.  We are hoping to, in the great words of the Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter, "show forth in [our] lives what [we] profess by [our] faith."

In other words, we are hoping that God will give us the ability to walk the walk.  We've lived paycheck to paycheck as a Parish for the last three years. We've subscribed to either the laziness of band-aids or the falsehood of scarcity, and beginning last Sunday with an empty tomb, we say, "no more."

From now on, we will believe that "Jesus did many other signs" (John 20:30) and that "All things come from our LORD" (1 Chron 29:14).  We will name our doubts and fears.  We will repent of our lack of faith. We will, we hope, come to realize what amazing gifts God has poured out upon us; gifts that many of us don't even think to look for.

If my posts over these next five weeks seem skewed toward stewardship, please understand that it is where we are as a Parish, but I hope that even then, they might be fruitful to you as well.

Happy Easter! The Lord is risen! Alleluia!

April 26, 2011

Easter Day Sermon

You can listen to it here. (after 6:30pm tonight). Or read it down here.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So what? What difference does it make that the tomb was empty on that famous Sunday morning? What difference did it make for Mary Magdalene? For Peter and the disciple Jesus loved? For you? For me? For Foley? For Alabama? For the United States? For the world? For all of creation? What difference could an empty tomb possibly make?
Mary arrives at the tomb while it was still dark on Sunday morning. It is peculiar that John would include this detail, especially as it contradicts the stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But John has been all about light and dark. His Prologue that we heard read the day after Christmas, set the stage for where we find ourselves this morning, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it.” As Mary made her way to the tomb on that Sunday morning, however, the sky was very, very dark. Mary arrives at the tomb convinced that death has won. Her Rabbi and friend, Jesus of Nazareth was mocked, beaten, tortured, and executed. Her hopes for a restored Israel were dashed in the rolling of a stone. On Friday, just before sunset, the tomb closed on Jesus, on her hopes, on Israel's dream, forever. Her world is very, very dark when she arrives and finds that the unthinkable has happened. A situation that couldn't possibly have gotten worse, got worse. The body was gone! Rather than peek in to see what was what, she does what any sane person would do, and high tales it out of there. In this moment, the empty tomb has changed her life for the worse.
Mary comes to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, out of breath, heaving for air and gasps in a barely audible voice, “Someone has taken Jesus!” The disciples, without a moment's hesitation race back to the tomb. There they find the stone rolled back and the linens lying neatly folded. For Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, there is seemingly no immediate difference. John tells us that the unnamed disciple believed. What he believed, we don't know, John only says that he believed, but did not yet understand. Maybe he had to see the empty tomb with his own eyes to believe what Mary had said. Peter, we are lead to believe, felt nothing, and Easter Day, Scene One closes with both men returning to their homes under the cover of darkness, as of yet unchanged by that empty tomb.
The story, however, does not end there. For you see, Mary, in the midst of her sadness; cloaked in darkness, doesn't leave the tomb. Her world, shattered on Friday afternoon, has been crushed into dust this morning. She doesn't know what to do, where to go, how to live. And so she stands and sobs and sobs and sobs. And as she sobs, she leans over to look into the tomb, as if she still can't believe what is happening. And as she sobs and looks she sees, much to her surprise, two angels dressed in white sitting where her friend and teacher had once been laid out, wrapped in the clothes of burial.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask, as if they don't know. She answers, turns and finds herself standing before a man she has never before seen. “Woman, why are you weeping?” he asks, as if he didn't know. She answers, and he replies,
And in an instant, her dark world is made as bright as the noonday sun. Mary shrieks, “Rabbouni!” and reaches out to grab a hold of her friend who was dead, who was lost, and who is now very much alive. She once again finds herself running to find Peter and the rest, but this time it is not in darkness. This time she carries the light of the Gospel, “I have seen the Lord!”

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So what? What difference does it make? I'm glad you asked that question, because I'm here to tell you it makes every difference in the world. The empty tomb is the single most important event in the 13.7 billion years since God first said, “Let there be light.” From that moment forward, darkness has done everything in its power to snuff out that light, to return creation to chaos, and to end God's reign in the universe he created. Darkness has filled the hearts of angels and humans alike. Darkness has tempted us with power, prestige, fame, and fortune. Darkness has made a pact with each and every created being, except one.
Maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you've come here this morning, not even wanting to be here, forced by guilt or fear or the expectations of a loved one, reluctant to sing praises, knowing full well the power that darkness can hold. Maybe you're here with the dark veil of mourning covering your face, unable to shake the sadness that comes from losing a loved one: father, mother, husband, wife, daughter, son. Maybe darkness has lied to you and made you feel unworthy to be here: It's been too long, you've been to bad, your life is too messy. Darkness uses all sorts of ploys to keep us from seeing the light, but the truth is, in an instant, in an empty tomb, in one word, “Mary,” darkness was defeated for good.
In the midst of our messiness, the light of God's love breaks in and cleans up. In the midst of our sinfulness, the light of God's love breaks in and forgives. In the midst of our shattered lives, the light of God's love breaks in and picks up the pieces. In the midst of our darkness, the light of God's love breaks in and shines with a brightness that darkness can never overcome.
And while that is nice and good for us on that grand cosmic scale of good versus evil and light versus darkness, the light of God's love breaking into the world is especially important for me and for you. As Peter said in his great speech from Acts chapter ten, “God shows no partiality.” If God is there for Mary in her darkness, then he is there for you in yours. If God is shining light into the chaos of someone else's life, then he is there shining light into your life as well. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, not some, not a select few, not the chosen frozen or the frozen chosen, A-L-L, all. He is Lord of you and of me and of all creation. If Jesus is in the garden, calling Mary by name, then he is right here, calling you, by name, out of your sin, out of your despair, out of your falsified unworthiness, and into a resurrected life in him, right here and right now.
Mary didn't see Jesus and go home to pack her bag for heaven. Mary ran to find Peter and the rest. She would have shouted from the rooftops if she could have, “I have seen the Lord.” This resurrection, this empty tomb, this light means that God's Great Cleanup1 of the world has begun. We are invited to pick up a broom and sweep the floor, to take hold of a polishing rag and shine up the candle sticks, and in some cases, we are invited to grab a shovel and scoop up the crap. No matter the task, we who have been raised with Christ, are invited to roll up our sleeves, step in alongside God, and get to work.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
So What? So, quit feeling sorry for yourself, quit feeling unworthy, quit listening to the voice of darkness and rejoice in God's steadfast love, God's unending mercy, God's ridiculous grace! The problem is, of course, that darkness won't take no for an answer. Over and over again, weekly, daily, and sometimes by the minute, darkness continues to tug at our hearts, asking if it might borrow our light for just a minute. It is so tempting to give just a little bit of ourselves over to that darkness, but as those who have been raised with Christ, that is to say, every one of us, our light isn't ours to give. The resurrection calls us to a new way of living in every fiber of our being. It calls us to a new understanding of our time; it isn't mine, it is God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our families, they aren't mine, they are God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our skills and talents, they aren't mine, they are God's. It calls us to a new understanding of our money, it isn't mine, it is God's. All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own, have we given you.
Over the next five weeks, the clergy, Wardens and Vestry of St. Paul's invite you to join us as we look at what it means to live a resurrected life. We'll start, just like Mary did, with fear and trembling, doubt and despair. As the weeks progress, hopefully you'll find yourself ready to shout from the rooftops, “I have seen the Lord.” We'll talk about God's abundance and they ways in which a resurrected people respond to that overflowing gift of light and love, and I hope that you will join us these next five weeks. The work of restoration didn't end on Easter Day, but it has only just begun.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
1Thanks to Borg and Crossan for “God's Great Cleanup.”

April 20, 2011

Holy Wednesday

No post today. My day started when my alarm clock went off at 2:50am. There is something powerful in setting your alarm clock back 3 hours and 10 minutes.  I'm a little dazed by the long day, so I'll send you to my facebook photo album from today's events.

Click here.

April 19, 2011

Holy Tuesday Meditation

Here is my meditation for our Holy Tuesday Service of Evening Prayer.  It starts in an hour, so if you'd like to hear this sermon instead of read it, c'mon out!

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is a terrible story filled with greed, envy, violence, and death. The worst part of the story, however, is the stupidity of the land owner. He sends a slave to collect his share of the produce, but the tenant-farmers beat him and send him home empty handed. So, the landowner sends another slave. This one they didn't just beat up, but they hurled insults at him while they beat him up, and he too returned home empty handed. So, the landowner sends a third slave to pick up what is rightfully his, but this slave never comes home. The tenant-farmers don't just beat him up, they don't just dishonor him, but they kill this slave.
Most of us would have learned our lesson at this point. No more slaves, these people are too violent, too greedy, I'll just cut my loses and focus on my other properties. But that isn't the story that Jesus tells. Instead, Jesus says that the landowner kept sending slaves, over and over and over again. “And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed.” Many others. Many? How stupid can this land owner be that we would continue to send slave upon slave to seek out what he should have known he would never receive. He does this over and over and over again until there is but one man left.
The one. His beloved son. I'm not sure where this parable of Jesus goes from sad to tragic, but if it hasn't already, it is certainly tragic once the landowner decides to send his beloved son. It is tragic because we know what is going to happen. If the tenant-farmers killed his slaves, certainly they will kill his son. So why on earth would the landowner send him off to certain death? How could he be so dumb?
This is not an academic, head in the clouds kind of question, either. I hear this question a lot, often from young folk. “Why did Jesus have to die?” Part of what they are asking, I think, is “why couldn't the God of all creation come up with a better way to fix it all? Didn't he see the writing on the wall? Didn't he know that we are greedy, ugly people and that his son would get a three punishments inflicted on the slaves? He'd be beaten. He'd be insulted. He'd be killed. How could God be so stupid as to send his beloved Son?”
It is safe to assume, I think, that since we humans are part of the problem, we will never fully understand the solution, but it is equally safe to assume that God isn't dumb. What the story of the wicked tenants tells us, in all of its ugliness and tragedy, is that God is doggedly faithful, longing from generation to generation for his people to return to him. Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel call this quality of God “long-suffering.” I prefer to call it mercy. Something that Psalm 118 tells us endures for ever.
God never gives up on us. Even to the point of sending his beloved son to certain death at the hands of the very greedy, violent people he is trying so hard to save. Tonight, as we take another step closer to Good Friday, I invite you to remember God's unending mercy and faithfulness, and be thankful. Amen.

forgive to be forgiven

Or is it forgiven to forgive?

The lesson of the withered fig tree is one of my "top 5 things I wish Jesus had never done or said."  I mean really, "ask, believe, and it will happen," that makes my job as a pastor very, very difficult.  What happens when prayers go unanswered? Did I not believe? Did I not pray hard enough? Did Jesus sell me a bridge to nowhere? These are tough questions that hit at the heart of one of the mainstays of Christianity, intercessory prayer.  I'll go ahead and admit it here, I struggle with intercessory prayer.  What, exactly, should I be praying for?

  • God's will to be done?
  • The peace that surpasses all understanding?
  • Billy to be healed?
  • Sally to get that job?
  • Mikey's house to sell?
Where does the line get drawn? And if God is all powerful, all knowing, and never-changing, then what difference do my prayers make anyway?  In my mind, point three above seems to be a tipping point.  God's will and God's peace are always freely given. Healing sometimes happens only after death. But jobs and houses and other things of this world, well sometimes, I think, we expect a little too much from the God of All Creation.  All of this doesn't mean that I don't pray for and with people, I do, and I fervently believe in the power of prayer, I just don't understand it - kind of like I don't understand the Eucharist or the Atonement.  I'd love someone to sit down with me to share the tradition behind intercessory prayer someday, but, as the title above suggests, this wasn't supposed to be a post about intercessory prayer, it is supposed to be about forgiveness.

"If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Some manuscripts have a phantom verse 26 that says, "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions." That, my friends, is tough stuff from Jesus. Being a good Protestant, I'm all about grace and works flowing therefrom.  I'm of the "forgiven to forgive" school of thought, but here Jesus seems very clear that sometimes it works the other way.  I can't know God's forgiveness until I forgive my grudges. Here, like yesterday, I think Jesus speaks from a very human experience.  He's been red-hot with anger at the system of oppression that has defiled God's holy Temple. His grudge is righteous and yet, he can fell within himself a change. Anger brings contempt and contempt is not from God, forgiveness is from God.

It will take him three more days to reach a point where he can forgive.  He'll beg for a different way, he'll be tempted to take up arms, but in the end, as he hangs on the cross he'll call up to the Father and say, "forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." As he forgives, so is he forgiven, and with him, the whole world finds forgiveness and redemption.  Am I forgiven today, I hope so, but first, let me forgive another.

April 18, 2011

that poor fig tree

Monday in Holy Week - Mark 11:12-19

There have been times in my life when I have, very rightfully, been accused of projecting my stress, frustration, anger, etc. toward something or someone that did not deserve my wrath.  I'm certain that I'm not the only one who does this. It seems like a pretty standard human coping mechanism.  When the stresses of work get too great, and you can't flip out on a co-worker or your boss, you are mean to the Starbucks barista. When every check stand at the grocery store is stacked 4 deep, your cart has 3 items in it, the person in front of you in the express lane has two carts full, and your child asks you for candy, you lose your temper at the poor kid.

What? I'm the only one?


A lot of ink has been spilled on Jesus' rather odd encounter with the fig tree. Matthew and Mark both give us this strange event.  In Matthew, the fig tree withers right away, but in Mark, the Gospel of choice for our parish this Holy Week, we don't see the "fruit" of Jesus' curse until the next day (and we learn a second lesson from it, I think, two chapters later).

Looking at Mark's version and its context in the whole week, I have to think that Jesus' wrath is in some way unnecessarily transferred to the poor fig tree. He's come into the Holy City on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna, only to look into the Temple court and feel his heart break within his chest.  Nothing is as God intended. The sacrifice is the object of worship. The rules are keeping the poor enslaved to the Temple authorities.  Nobody is worshiping the one true God.

As the rag-tag group makes its way back to the Temple on Monday morning, Jesus is still angry. He knows that he's gonna pitch a fit, and maybe is afraid of all that power he possesses.  Best not kill everyone with a fiery rain of sulfur, so he takes the first swing of his wrath at a fig-tree that had no business having fruit that morning anyway.  Better to kill it than to destroy the Temple, or punch out a high priest, or something.

It is helpful for me and my faith to see Jesus as very much a human being at this moment.  This week, that by now he has to know will be his last, is going to be hard. Lots of stress, lots of confrontation, lots of emotions, and Jesus experiences all of that.  As I look ahead to a busy week, thinking about all the turmoil in lives right around me, my prayer is one of thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for being a human being, it takes a lot of the pressure off me to not have to be a god.

April 14, 2011


In recent weeks it has become nearly impossible to write these posts at home.  FBC has been waking up early since the time change and once she is up, there is no sitting down to read scripture, let alone to consider it thoughtfully and prayerfully, and even if I could do all that, the odds of getting anything coherent typed out.  My beloved mornings routine has been in turmoil for the last month or so. But this morning due to the budding pecan tree in the front yard and several stuffy nose related wake-ups last night, it is 7:06am and she is still asleep.

Matthew is the only Gospel writer who sets Jesus' Triumphal Entrance in a Jerusalem in turmoil. Not just the Pharisees who dislike what Jesus's disciples are saying, but the whole holy city is in an uproar. Speaking of uproar, FBC just woke up saying "achoo, achoo." Anyway, this morning I'm wondering about this turmoil and how it spread. As Eugene Peterson puts it, "Unnerved, people were asking, 'what's going on here? Who is this?'"


It is now 2:08pm, and the intervening hours have been full of turmoil. One of the parish freezers was mysteriously unplugged following last night's fish fry.  This morning, it was found almost entirely defrosted and having fully soaked the carpet. I was able to share that turmoil with several others who aided in sopping up the mess, brining in wet/dry vacs and carpet cleaners, and emptying the room.

Funny how turmoil spreads, isn't it.  I wonder how the turmoil of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem affected the people? Matthew says "the whole city" was up in arms. The whole city!?! Wow, that's a lot of turmoil. Maybe the cry of the crowd was the cry of the whole city, "save us, Lord God!"

April 13, 2011

Give thanks to the LORD,

For he is good.  His mercy endures for ever. (Ps 118.1)

I kind of feel bad for Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. Does it ever get read? Does anyone choose to read the portion of Psalm 118 assigned for the Liturgy of the Palms when All glory, laud, and honor is such a good hymn that only fits in that particular spot in that particular liturgy for that particular day?  I've never heard it.  Even during those early services, you know the one's where "we don't sing", I've never heard a congregation break in to Psalm 118 at 7:35 in the morning on Palm Sunday.

It should get read just for the first two verses, but unless it gets utilized on Palm Sunday, verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 118 are never read in the usual Sunday Lectionary, and it is quite a shame.  Read this aloud:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;*
His mercy endures for ever.

Let Israel now proclaim,*
"His mercy endures for ever."

Would that we believed that God's mercy endured for ever!  But I'm pretty convinced that we don't really believe that.  We think that at some point, God will lose patience with us, throw up his hands, and say "I quit."  But that's not the case.  God's pursuit of us is never ending.  Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, the list goes on and on as God strives to change our foolish hearts, to turn our stiffed necks around.  He is good. His mercy endures for ever.

As Jesus rides in to Jerusalem this coming Sunday, as your thoughts turn to the Last Week, as your liturgy moves from shouts of "Hosanna" to "Crucify him", as that good old fashioned Holy Week guilt begins to creep up upon you, please, please, please remember that God's mercy is everlasting.

April 12, 2011


The question seem to come up often, "Why can't we say Alleluia during Lent?"  Often the follow up to that is, "Well, then, why can we say Hosanna?"  The issue gets slippery with and educated laity. They get that Sundays are "in" Lent and not "of" Lent - that every Sunday of the Church Year is a resurrection day, a mini-Easter - so why then, especially on Sunday do we give up that ancient word of praise.

According to Stuhlman the Alleluias are omitted because "signs of festivity are customarily omitted."* In the same way the colors are subdued and flowers are replaced by greenery, so too is Alleluia omitted from our worship - a way of highlighting the fast that is at hand.  And that, I think, makes sense.  Even as Sundays aren't really counted in the days of Lent, still, we highlight in our whole lives, individually and corporately, the activity of self-denial, repentance, and preparation that is happening during the season.

So why do we say Hosanna? This is probably the better question, and one that should be repeated with all of those ancient words that the Church uses freely and often assumes her members understand.  Hosanna comes to us from our fore-bearers, the Hebrews.  Hoshana, found in the procession of the Feast of the Booths (Psalm 118.25-26) means "save, I pray" or "O save now!"*  Our common usage on Palm Sunday is the Greek version that eliminates the second h, giving us "Hosanna."

Jesus, as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey or a colt or (in Matthew's confused case) both, was seen by his followers as the hope of Jerusalem. He was to save them from the boot of Pax Romana. He was the savior of the world, the Son of God, over and above Caesar who claimed those titles.*

Today, as the world remains totally out of whack, we join with our ancestors in the faith, our brothers and sisters today, and those who will come after us and ask again (and again and again), "Save us now, O Lord." Hosanna. Less as a word of praise, though it sounds like that in context, and more as a sign of our hope in the power of God to restore all things to him.

So, my sisters and brothers, shout in expectant joy this Sunday as we once again lift up our voices and say, "Hosanna in the highest!"

* I am indebted to Byron Stuhlman's "Prayer Book Rubrics EXPANDED", "The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms", and Borg and Crossan's "The Last Week" for help with this post.

April 11, 2011

we are kind of weird

I am opposed to reading the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday. I prefer to walk the way of the cross with Jesus from his Anointing at Bethany on the Saturday before his triumphal entry all the way to the events of Good Friday.  Last year, we didn't read the Passion. Most people didn't even notice, but a few did, and objected to our omission. As liturgical scholar, the late Rev. Dr. Marion Hatchett said, "Don't make liturgical choices based on what you like."

This year we are reading the Passion, but we are saving it until the very end of the service on Palm Sunday. We'll process with palms singing "All glory, laud and honor." We'll hear the lessons from Isaiah and Philippians, and hopefully notice how they foreshadow and reflect on the glory of the cross, respectively. We'll hear the word preached, say the prayers, confess our sins, receive absolution and celebrate the Eucharist.

And then...

And then we'll sing the last two verses of "All glory, laud, and honor" as we make our way back to the pavement in front of the Narthex where, standing around a 10' cross, we will hear the passion read.  When one of last year's objectors (a person with whom I can joke about these things) asked if we'd be reading the Passion this year, I told them "yes, just for you, but not until the very end." They responded, tongue firmly planted in cheek, "why are we so weird?"

We are kind of weird. I get that. We do funny things to make certain nuances a little less nuanced. On weird thing we do is expect folks to walk the Way of the Cross, at least partially, through the days of Holy Week.  We expect that they will hear the Passion on Good Friday, the day the Passion was lived out, rather than on Sunday when we shout Hosanna and wave palm branches. We expect folks to wash each others feet and, while we've given up the Easter Vigil dream (for now), we hope that our people will spend an hour on Saturday afternoon waiting, albeit impatiently, while Christ lies in the tomb.

So this week, as I reflect on the Scriptures, you won't hear me pondering the Passion. It isn't time yet. I'll probably look at Bethany, where Jesus is anointed with nard. I'll surely give a nod to the Triumphal Entry. Next week, as our people walk, day by day, so will this blog, which, I suppose, is kind of a weird thing.

April 6, 2011

notable quotable

Have you ever said or written something and thought to yourself (with all due humility, of course), "Wow, that is really good!"  Has your next thought ever been, "Now, what does that mean?"

I had one of those moments in lectionary group yesterday morning. As we discussed the interaction between Jesus and Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and the crowd I said, "The strength of our faith leads to the depth of our doubts."

TKT echoed the thoughts bouncing around my head, "That's good, but what does it mean?" he asked.

I think what it means is that when we put our whole trust in Jesus we expect him to act a certain way.  Take the crowd, for example, they see Jesus weeping and ask, "couldn't this guy, who made a blind man see, stop his friend from dying?"

This is a believing crowd. They've heard stories of Jesus' signs. Some of them have probably been witness to one or two of them, and they know what Jesus is capable of. They expect that if he could save lives, wouldn't he choose to save those he loves? Family, friends, favorite barber - these folks should be on Jesus' short list of folks who won't die.

Their faith, however, leads to their doubts. When Jesus doesn't act like they think he should, they begin to wonder about his plan, his abilities, and maybe even the God that he represents.

You probably know what that's like. I know I do. It is that old law of momentum. When life is rolling along well, I begin to expect it to stay that way, and when it doesn't, my first instinct is to get irked at the Creator of the Universe for making things happen the way they did. "Why me, O Lord, why me?"

The good news, of course, is that our faith calls us up from the depth of our doubts, and new life begins, yet again. Sometimes multiple times in the same day (hour, minute), and sometimes, we're blessed with another long lasting smooth ride.

April 5, 2011


TKT has an amazing quality about his voice. It is deep and gravely and good for preaching. He has a lot of Keithisms (but don't all of us preachers), but my favorite thing he says from the pulpit is Ruach. That great Hebrew word that means breath or spirit. It is onomtopoetic words that sounds like what it is describing.

Go ahead, say it out loud.


Nobody says it a well as TKT, but I'll be darned if it just doesn't feel good to say it.


This weekend our little ones, say up to grade 5, will have the chance to write Ruach in Hebrew. They'll be studying the Dry Bones story from Ezekiel as they ponder in a child-like way, how does God give us life?

The answer, as you might guess, is Ruach. Not only does he give us breath, but real life, abundant life, well that is the stuff of the Spirit. The stuff that makes us more than bones and sinews and flesh, the Spirit gives us real life.

As Elisha says, "I'll take a double portion, please."

April 4, 2011

I once was blind but now I see

This is my 24 minute sermon from yesterday. If you prefer to listen to it, click here.

Close your eyes, and picture this scene:
You are blind, been that way since birth. Today you are in your usual spot, sitting on the steps of the synangogue begging. You hear a crowd approaching. It isn't the Passover, nor the Feast of the Tabernacle. It's not Yom Kippur. It is the sabbath, but this group isn't the usual Saturday crowd, and their timing isn't right. As you ponder why a crowd is approaching, you begin to hear the tone of their conversation. One you've heard over and over again in your years.
"Who sinned, his parents or him, that he is blind?"
Oh boy, here we go again. Another group of well-meaning religious types who have come to look at your plight in order to feel better about themselves. "Just keep the cup out and smile," you think to yourself, "this too shall pass."
Somebody pipes up from the crowd, "nobody sinned, this man is blind so that the glory of God's amazing works can be revealed."
"Nut job!" you mutter under your breath, "Thanks, but I'll take my parents sin as reason for my blindness over God's direct hand. How is God glorified in my being ignored at the very steps people use to enter his worship? Bologna!"
The man's voice continues, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
“We? The one who sent him? The light of the world? Who is this guy and what on earth is he talking about? How is me and my blindness some sort of work for him to accomplish? Who is doing this work? Who is shining this light?”
The sound of a man spitting on the ground startles you.
“Really, now you are going to spit at me too? Isn't it enough that you look at me with a blend of pity and contempt? Isn't is enough that you think God is somehow glorified in all of this? Haven't you done enough damage already?
All of a sudden you feel something cold, slimy, and sticky upon your eyelids.
"What the..."
Your blood pressure spikes, fight or flight takes over, you clinch your fist to swing at the unseen bully when you hear, calmly and with care, "Go, wash yourself in the pool of Siloam."
Emotions are spinning around your brain like flies at a Fourth of July Picnic. Anger, fear, frustration and yet there is hope and peace mixed in there as well. None of this makes any sense. What is happening? Who are these people. And then, without a clue as to why, you find yourself, with the help of some others on your way to the pool. They help you kneel at the edge of the pool, you lean over, splash water in your eyes, and...
"What the..."
You can see. And not just that, you can process the new found sight. Your reflection in the pool startles you for a moment. I really look like that? Not bad. I guess. Well, this is the first face I've ever seen. You look around, first to your guides to the pool. They look like people, well meaning people. You look further and see trees and they look like trees. As you make your way back to the front steps of the Synagogue, you wonder, “now what? I can't beg anymore. I can't go back home. What should I do now?”
Lost in your thoughts, you begin to notice faces again. These faces look less well meaning, more confused, some disgruntled. The closer you get the the Synagogue, the larger the crowd, the more the whispers grow into audible sounds.
“Isn't this the man who sits at the Synagogue and begs?” “Yeah, I think its him. It looks just like him.” “No way, it has to be someone who looks like him, blind people don't just start to see. Especially those who have been blind since birth. Can't be him.”
“It is me. I was blind but now I see. I am the man. I was blind but now I see. The syngagogue steps beggar, me, seeing clearly. I was blind but now I see. I was blind but now I see.”
“No way. How'd you go from blind to seeing? It just isn't possible,” the people respond.
“This guy, I guess his name is Jesus, a real strange guy, talking about works and sin and light. He made mud, spread it on my eyes,and sent me to Siloam to wash. For no apparent reason, I went and washed and received my sight. I was blind but now I see. I am the man born blind.”
“Where is this miracle man?” they ask, condescendingly.
“I don't know,” you respond, and with that they grab you by the arms and begin to carry you up the stairs into the synagogue. As fear begins to invade your brain you have a brief moment of clarity, “I've never been in here before,” you think to yourself.
“This man was healed on the sabbath,” the crowd shouts in protest, “what does this mean? What shall we do?”
You look up to see men in long robes with funny tassels tied to all the fringes sitting before the crowd. These guys must be in charge, the crowd is aiming their frustration and confusion at them. Their faces betray the thoughts racing through their heads. Some frustrated, some angry, some confused, some with a glint of hope. “How did this happen?” one of the bearded men asks you.
“This guy, I guess his name is Jesus, a real strange guy, talking about works and sin and light. He made mud, spread it on my eyes,and sent me to Siloam to wash. For no apparent reason, I went and washed and received my sight. I was blind but now I see.”
Some of the elders look discouraged, “This man, Jesus, is not from God, for he does not observe the commandments around the sabbath.”
As you think about it, there probably was a lot wrong with your miraculous healing. Jesus broke the sabbath in at least five different ways. First, He and his disciples surely walked more than the allowable sabbath day travel distance which equals WORK. Second, he made mud which you supposed equals WORK. Third, he sent me to the Pool of Siloam which is certainly more than the allowable sabbath day travel distance and thereby caused you to do WORK. Fourth, he healed you, you were blind but now you see and that has to be WORK. Finally, he disappeared into thin air when everybody started debating the issue of the sabbath. Disappearing equals magic and certainly magic equals WORK.
Others in the group, aren't as sure, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs? It just isn't possible.” The group is obviously divided, and clearly not used to being that way. There is discomfort, palpable unease, oozing from the men in charge.
“You are the one whose eyes have been opened, what do you say about this Jesus?”
“What do I say,” you think to yourself, “I don't know. I didn't even get a look at the guy. I thought he was a bully, a jerk of the highest degree, but that tone in his voice, soothing calm. And for crying out loud he healed me.” Finally, after a long silence to collect your thoughts, you speak up, “He is a prophet.” But you still aren't really sure what that means.
Things seem to settle down. The crowd disperses some, but the Pharisees hang around, still talking amongst themselves with the occasional sideways glance in your direction. Not really sure what to do, you slowly walk home, dazed, confused, joyful, and scared.
By the time your reach your house, you see your mother and father headed back the way you came. They don't look too happy, and neither do the two guys who are leading them that way. They don't see you coming down the road, there is too much going on. You decide to follow them and find yourself back on those steps: cold, hard, and yet the most comfortable place you could be right now. As you sit, you listen, and you can overhear what is happening inside. The leaders, after interviewing you, aren't sure the story is legit. Leaving the relative comfort of the syngagogue steps you head inside. The man who asked questions of you asks them of your parents now, “This man,” he points to you, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? How then does he now see?”
Your dad, fear in his eyes, responds, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; be we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
“Thanks Mom and Dad,” is your first thought, but then as you give the whole thing more thought, you realize just how hard all of this must be on them as well. They've carried the burden of your blindness for these many years. They've wondered what they did to deserve a son blind from birth. The only hope they've had has been coming to the synagogue to offer prayers, praying that maybe God's favor would rest upon them one day. To throw that away would be really, really hard on them. The leaders have made it clear that anyone who confesses Jesus as the Messiah will be banished. Not their best parenting moment, to be sure, but you understand why they said what they did, when, the sound of your name shocks you again out of your thoughts.
“Give glory to God! Tell us the truth! We know that this man is a sinner.” They want you to throw this Jesus character under the bus. A miracle like this is too hard to make sense of in their system. The devil pops up on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, “Just say that Jesus is a sinner and that this is a fluke and be done with it.” But you can't. You were blind but now you see. It is amazing. You open your mouth and out comes these words, words that you barely know you are speaking.
“I do not know whether he is a sinner. The only thing I know is that I once was blind, but now I see.”
“Then tell us again, what did he do, how did he open your eyes.”
“I already told you, but you would not listen to me. Why should I go through it all again? Do you want to become his disciples?” Woah! Where'd that come from?
The insults start immediately, the snears, the spitting, you remember what this sounds like, what this feels like. “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we don't even know where he comes from. Heck, you don't even know where he is.”
Your mouth opens again, before you can even think to keep it shut, “Well, I'll be. Isn't this an interesting turn of events. You don't know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. Everyone knows that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to those who worship him and obey his will. Never since the world began has anyone heard of someone opening the eyes of person born blind. If this Jesus fellow is not from God , he couldn't do anything, let alone this amazing thing he has done for me. I was blind, but now I see!”
The leader of the group leans in to speak, “You were steeped in sin at birth! And you would try to tell us how God works? No, we know how God works and it isn't like this, not with mud and spit and sabbath breaking. You, the man born blind, are banished from this place!”
As you walk down those old familiar stairs you think to yourself, “Isn't that something. I was never allowed in the synagogue when I was blind. They didn't like the unclean to set foot in their place of worship, and now that I am healed and whole, I'm not allowed in their either. I wonder what it takes to be allowed access? Nah, I don't really care, if they don't want me, I don't need them. I was blind but now I see!”
Just then, the sound of the crowd returns. A voice that is familiar to you, calm, soothing, peaceful, comes from the midst of the noise, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Even a blind man knows that Caesar is the Son of Man, but this guy seems to be talking about someone, something else entirely, “Who is this Son of Man? Tell me, so that I may put my trust in him.”
The man, now standing right in front of you, looks deep within your eyes and says, “You have seen him., and the one speaking to you is him.”
In awe and reverence and fear you fall to your hands and knees, bowing prostrate before the Son of Man you give him honor and glory the only way you know how, “Lord, I believe.”
The familiar grumbling of the Pharisees starts again, but you pay it no mind as Jesus continues, “I came into the world for judgment so that those who were blind might be able to see. Because of that, those who see so quickly become blind.”
The Pharisees ask him, “Surely we are not blind... Are we?”
Jesus responds to them, “If you were blind, what you did to this man would be excusable, you simply did not understand, but you claim to be able to see and in so doing sign your own confession of guilt. You knew what you were doing, and did it anyway.”
You can tell that he's riled up now, the words begin to flow like a great sermon, he's pointing and flecks of spit fly from his lips. The Pharisees have made this Jesus fellow angry.
“Here's the truth, only thieves and robbers climb over the fence instead of going in through the gate to the sheep pen. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and he goes in through it. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. He calls each of them by name and leads them out. When he has led out all of his sheep, he walks in front of them, and they follow because they know his voice. The sheep will not follow strangers. They don't recognize a stranger's voice, and they run away.”
The crowd looks confused. “Sheep, gatekeepers, strangers? What is this man talking about? He's lost his mind.” They murmur and mumble.
But you know, you get it. That voice. You know the power of that voice. You were blind but now you see. From swinging a fist to washing in Siloam, that voice has changed your life forever. You followed that voice when so many other voices had sent you running, fearing for your life in the midst of the unseen and unknown. This man, this Son of Man, this Messiah, this Jesus, you know his voice.
Jesus continued, “I tell you again, I am the gate for the sheep. Everyone who came before me was a thief and a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved, Through me they will come and go and find good pasture. A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I cam so that everyone would have life, and have it abundantly.”
Abundant life is something you've never known. Your life was closed off, scary, small. Confined to your house and the steps of the synagogue, you could sum up your existence as sleep, beg, eat, repeat. Abundant life. Full life. That's what made you listen to his voice in the first place. What will that abundant life look like for you? How has your sight changed anything? You still aren't allowed in the synagogue, you still have no discernible skills, and now you can't even beg because thought you were blind, now you can see and everybody knows it. Your sight may have made your life even smaller, but your relationship with this Son of Man, it has implications beyond your wildest imagination. Not only has he healed you, but when he heard you had been banished, he came back to find you. This is a love you've never experienced, a love that you now have to share with everyone you meet. A love that brings abundant life.
He's still talking, as you come out of your thoughts yet again, “I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep. Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don't own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. Hired workers run away because they don't care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep.”
He points to the synagogue steps as he continues, “I have other sheep hat aren't in this sheep pen, aren't tied up by your rules and regulations, and I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice, they too will follow my direction like Slomo here, the man born blind. There will one day be one flock of sheep and one shepherd.”
“Ah. He used my name. He knows my name. He calls us each by name.” The Pharisees are arguing again amongst themselves. Some shouted, “He has a demon in him. He is crazy. Don't listen to him!” But others, looking straight at you, ponder aloud, “How could anyone with a demon in him say these things. No one like that could give sight to a man born blind!”
“All I know,” you think again to yourself, “is that I once was blind but now I see. I don't know why I followed voice. I had never heard it before, but thanks be to God I did. There was hope and joy and freedom in his commandment to go to the pool and wash. What a ridiculous thing to do, to allow a man to cover my eyes with spity, slimy, goo and then listen when he told me what to do. And yet, here I am, free to live a new life, one of abundance and grace. I once was blind but now I see. I once was blind but now I see. I once was blind, but now I see.”
Open your eyes to Jesus, calling you forward into his amazing grace. Amen.

editorial additions

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am a rather hard to define type of person. I am an arch-conservative on some issues, while my heart bleed liberal blue on others. It is a really fun way to live; it means that most everyone will be upset with me at some point.

Usually, I stand on the conservative side of scriptural interpretation. Oh, I believe that we all interpret scriptures, I'm not that conservative, but I'm not all tied up in the historical stuff. If the Gospel says Jesus said something, I believe that Jesus said it. The Jesus Seminar is a waste of time and colored ink, if you ask me.

There are, however, certain passages that make me really wonder.  Passages that don't sound like Jesus at all. Passages like John 11:42. Jesus is standing before the grave of his friend Lazarus when, in verse 41, he looks up to heaven and says, "Father, I thank you for having heard me." That makes sense; he just raised a dead man to new life. I get that Jesus would give God the glory, that's what he does, that's how the Trinity thing works.

But then in verse 42, Jesus continues, "I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."

There are a few other examples of this type of verbiage coming from Jesus, but I'm not convinced that Jesus would really say something like this. It sounds way too much like John trying to prove his theological point. There must have been something sticky in John's church about Jesus' relationship with the Father. John seems to feel the need to make it clear that Jesus didn't have to thank the Father, he didn't have to worry that God wouldn't hear him. He did all that stuff for everybody else, as if raising Lazarus from the dead wasn't enough to make the people get that this guy was doing something special.

I'm not one to deny that Jesus said something that the Bible says he said, but, well, this really feels like an editorial addition to me.

I'm not so sure this little aside in verse 42, be it actually from Jesus' lips or, more preferably, from John's pen. It weakens the scene for me, makes it heady and theological rather than amazing and miraculous. Still, I'd never preach any of this; why take the story down the tangent of a tangent?