Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts to the Future

I greet you in the name of one of the ancient wise ones!  In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Merry Christmas! 

We imagine the scene easily: a family huddled together for comfort in a difficult time, animals wandering in and out, perhaps some neighborhood children peeking in to see what's going on, and then come some strangers who look out of place.  They are dressed for travel and there is something different about their demeanor, something that you recognize right away as foreign.  It's not that their look is unfamiliar.  You just know that they aren't from around here.

In our Bible, the wise ones have come to see the child who their dreams have shown will be great among the nations.  The child will in his time become wise himself.  Events and personal experiences will reveal in his time that he has a message for all people.  For some of the people he meets in his brief life, it will become clear that he is the message.  In order to explain it to each other, they will say that he is the promised messiah.  In  our time, we will call him Christ and see in him what a life beloved of God looks like.  We will see what a life loving God looks like.

Those wise folk bring gifts for the child.  It was the child who came to be a gift to all.

This year, as you give gifts, I suggest you keep in your mind how precious and unknown the future is for the one to whom you give the gift.  Even if what you are giving is a simple pair of white socks to a homeless person unknown to you, trust that life may bring something amazing out of that person in days to come.  Trust God to do a new thing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Sort of Church Do You Want?

The following comes from Sharon Kenrick, a dear person who loves the church I am part of now.  Her words, which I have augmented ever so slightly, are hopeful, specific, insightful, challenging, humorous, realistic, actionable, and, basically a T-shirt I'd be proud to wear and empowered by if I were wearing.  It is one of those written moments that captures the power of living Spirit and makes it available to other people.  She doesn't mention Jesus but isn't Jesus walking beside her (and beside you and me) hoping we'll embrace the world the way Sharon's words describe?

I want to answer the question, "What does our town and the world need from Grace Congregational UCC?"
How do I say it?   We need to be what we have always been - out front!!!!    That means that we will be small because we don't fit the mold.  We push the edges.  ALSO though, we have the ability to get the other churches to work together.  And that may be our next mission.  We are not a threat so we can, may ask them to work with us.

When I was last in church with Brooke, I said to her that Grace was a church that reflected the church that God would have wanted.   We don't match!!!   We are old and young, black and white, smart and challenged, moneyed and poor, very religious and learning, etc.    I would not be the person I am today if I had not been a member of Grace.  And who am I?   A person still becoming a child of God and still learning!!!  I am so blessed to have walked to that church and found all of you.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Right Now

There is a book in the Bible that we call First Peter.  In the greeting of this "letter," verses 1:3-9, the writer claims with joy:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Within this selection, there is a lot to talk about!  There is the burst of praise, the reference to our "new birth,"  the promise of something wonderful that sounds like eternal life, an acknowledgment of suffering, an explanation of suffering, and the assertion of believing in what we do not see.  Whew!  That's packed!
For many centuries, the promise of life everlasting was a powerful force drawing people to Christianity.  Here was an offer to counter the ever-present fear of death.  The decay of our bodies, which starts while we live, was upsetting and frightening.  Here, however, was a promise that death would not be the end for those who were saved.  Our salvation would be being saved from death.
My question today is, what is your salvation?  From what will you be saved when you receive your salvation?
The writer of First Peter doesn't quite go so far, in this section, as to say that salvation is being saved from death.  This writer says, when we are born again as Christians, we are born into "a living hope."  In the last part of this passage, we are told that "now" we "are receiving the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls." 

Right now?
The author Mitch Albom wrote The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  The main character, Eddie, has died and we follow his afterlife encounters with people who are also dead and who have been waiting for him, to help him grasp the meaning of his life: to see if he can accept freedom from his bitter grief and freedom from his sense that his life has meant nothing.  For Albom, salvation lies along this path of accepting that yours is the one and only life and making peace with yourself about that.  That's one person's understanding of salvation.  Is it yours?
Let's suppose that you agree.  Let's suppose that your hope for salvation is that all the broken parts of your life will be made whole, all the estrangements reconciled, all the hopes finally proven to be well-founded.
Now consider what the Bible says in the passage which I've quoted in this note.  We "are receiving" our salvation now.  In light of this promise from our holy scriptures, I suggest to you that the salvation of wholeness, reconciliation, and hope is within your grasp.  This is Good News.  This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Right now!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Whose Role is it?

I am reading Psalm 85 today. In the portion of the psalm at the end,
the singer says how it will be, how it will work when God has revived
us and the realm of God has come again:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
...and it struck me that this pairing is the great pairing of God and
us. It helps to answer the question, "What is in God's power to
accomplish, to do? What is God's role? What is our part and what is
not our part?" In this poem, God is in the sky and we are on the
God: steadfast love
Us: faithfulness
God: righteousness
Us: peace
God: righteousness looks down from the sky
Us: faithfulness springs up from the ground
God: gives what is good
Us: our land will yield its increase.
So, we are not righteous - righteousness is not ours. Righteousness
belongs to God. Our response, our work, is to be faithful.
God's job is not to bring peace to the nations, that is the work of
Our role is to root ourselves in life, in the tangible, in the
ground. We are incarnate.
God is the one who gives what is good.
Our work is in rootedness, faithfulness, and peace. These are the
prerequisites for the relationship. All by itself, then, our land
will yield its increase.
Our work is to cultivate peace, faithfulness, and rootedness. Then
the soil in which we are rooted will yield spiritual, numerical, and
service fruits.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour
out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your
hands to God for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at
the head of every street.

- Lamentations 2:19

The Book of Lamentations is not the only Hebrew text where we find
laments. There are other laments throughout the Bible. Loss and
fear, pain and despair are such a normal part of life that this is
not surprising. Some listen to the voices of lament in the Bible and
hear that humans have cried out to each other and cried out to God
for thousands of years. Philosophers and poets, and the philosopher
and poet in each of us, have always asked why there is suffering and
what meaning can we draw from it.

Where do you hear lament in our contemporary world? I hear it in
country western songs and pop love songs. I hear it in ballads and
in the blues.

Our 21st century lives are not appreciative of lament. We dismiss it
as useless, as whining, as weak, as complaining, and as
embarrassing. Lament has to go disguised as outrage or ranting. We
see these as strong. When the disguised lament asks for a particular
redress, it sounds demanding and, again, strong. We dismiss as
beneath our compassion someone who "just complains and never does

When we dismiss and denigrate lament, we are skipping an important
and probably necessary step in our emotional and spiritual health.
It is no accident that lamenting passages can be found in the sacred
texts on which we base our own encounter with the divine. Some see
the Bible as a carefully constructed explanation of the cosmos. I
see it differently from that. I see the Bible as the collection of
encounters with the essence seen through the lens of specific
writers, their world view, their vocabulary, their societal norms,
their time, and their experience. Further, the Bible is the
collection of those encounters in which people in other times and
places, thousands of years ago and still today, have found meaning.
I say that "it is no accident" that we find lament in the Bible
because I believe that lament is part of the way humans deal with a
world in which bad things happen. I believe we skip this part of the
path at our peril.

One of the times in which our God is present for us is in our times
of sorrow and pain. When you have some lament that rises from your
soul, the healthy and appropriate thing to do is to let it out.
Problem: To whom will you let it out? Perhaps you have a partner or
a friend, a counselor or a pastor with whom you feel safe enough to
reveal your lament. For many of us, there is no one like that or we
don't want to burden that person for most of our lamenting. We may
know "she's always there for me." We also know that we don't want to
overdo it.

Call out to God with your lament.

God is the one who has always listened to lament. God is the one who
hears your cries.

Mind you, I'm not talking in this letter about asking God to fix
what's wrong. I'm not referring to "intercessory prayer" for someone
you know or some population you've heard of who needs your prayers.
That's another topic for another time.

It's the baseball playoffs in Major League Baseball in the United
States and Canada. There is bound to be some lamenting ahead! Let
me borrow a metaphor from baseball.

When you pray, asking God for help is like getting to third base.
What about first and second? Well, try this. You get to first base
by addressing God, identifying yourself, and thanking God for what
you see as blessings. You get to second base by uttering your
lament, laying it all out there between you and the one to whom you
pray. Then, as you get to third base, you are asking God for
specific strength to carry on, help through difficulty, aid to an
ailing acquaintance, world peace, etc. Bring it home by telling God
that you trust that God's holy power will be at work, whatever happens.

Of course, that's only one way around the bases.

As I think about you, I pray for you. I pray that the Spirit will
visit you in a special way and make clear to you, if it is not
already clear, that you are loved and known.

Peace and Blessing,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Prayer Day 1

I set aside time yesterday to start a prayer discipline I found by
Herb Miller at

I pray with some frequency and Herb's format is not unfamiliar. I
very much appreciate his practical focus, the simple-sounding how-
to. I know that faith is for some of us a matter of deep
commitment. For others of us it is a matter of having been found,
again, deeply. For still others, the depth comes with the richness
of theology's conversation between reason, experience, the nature of
humans, and the nature of God.

We also have available the trap that leading a good life is
sufficient for whatever purposes we claim our God has for our lives.

Somewhere in the midst of those is the practice itself. The habit of
acknowledging God and daring to enter a conversation with God.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elijah, the Angel, and You

What scenes from the Bible do you love?  What images are moving, inspiring, tender, and meaningful to you?
I love the scene where Elijah gives up.  It's 1 Kings 19:3-9.  He has been pursued to a wild place and he is exhausted, at the end of his rope.  He settles down to die, hoping for an end to trials, an end to contests, and an end to the difficulties attached to being a God's prophet.
"I have had enough, LORD," he said.  "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." (Which is to say, "I'm as good as dead.")
Can you picture that?  I picture a man worn out, lying on the ground, with his head on a stone and his eyes closed.  When I picture that, I don't only see a character in a story.  I see the face of defeat that I have seen in the eyes of so many people.  I see the disappointment, the fatigue, the moment of turning away from the tasks ahead.  Furthermore, I know what that looks like because I've seen it in my face too.  So, what I'm picturing is not just Elijah in the story but you and me in our own story at those moments when we turn away, weary and "done."
… And you remember don't you?  That's not the whole scene.
All at once, an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat."  He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water.
The angel brings a message of new life, new energy, and more purpose for Elijah's life. That image is the promise Jesus has made to each one of us, in Matthew 11:28.  "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  It's the promise of Jesus, the promise of the angel, and the promise of God.
Good promise, right!  And that's not all!  That is the promise of each of us!  We are called to be the one to bring a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water, to those who labor and are heavy laden. Just as we sometimes find ourselves done in, like Elijah, we are at other times nothing less than God's own angel! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Farming on Tiptoe

I had a vision of a farmer in a war-torn land.  

This farmer's fields contain unexploded bombs, bomblets, explosive rounds, and land mines.  The farmer knows some of the locations.  There are several other spots where the farmer just believes there is something that could explode.  Nonetheless, these fields are the only ones the farmer has for the work that must be done.  These are the fields, the terraces, the irrigation system, etc. with which the farmer can grow crops.  To accommodate these possible explosive places, the farmer has cultivation patterns, paths, etc. that carefully avoid the potential danger.  When the farmer hires help, the farmer has to train them to the way things are and must be.  The farmer's children also know how to navigate the growing areas to conform to the explosive possibilities.  The farmer is frustrated because the size of the harvest is less than it needs to be to sustain the farm, the farmer, the family, and the workers.

The analog to the farmer's fields, in my vision, is to my church, any church really.  A church has areas into which we fear to go.  Congregational life includes ways of relating to each other and to people currently outside "the walls" that reflect paths people have used in the past.  Like the farmer, most church families have been able to cultivate our fields and produce fruits of our labors.  Like the farmer, most churches have a degree of health.  Like the  farmer, some, and perhaps most, people people in churches feel that there is a greater fruit possible from our efforts. 

To the farmer, walking the circuitous routes, avoiding certain places, and farming on tip-toe, is common sense.  It is what the farmer teaches children and newcomers.  To those in a church, the way we conduct ourselves seems like common sense too.  We teach our children and newcomers and, eventually, new pastors to navigate what will soon become plain to anyone is the common sense way to deal with each other.  In our tendency to adapt, and perhaps for the farmer too, we do not even see or acknowledge where the explosive places are, after awhile.  We just naturally shift our path to avoid them.

If the farmer could find a way to explode the explosives, remove the explosives, deactivate the dangers, and free up the farm from the necessity of avoiding all those places of danger, then the farmer could liberate whole sections of field, dig different irrigation ditches, and rotate crops more effectively.

I I picture the farmer looking out across the fields one evening when the work is done and the sky is glowing with the evening sun.  In the relaxed fatigue of a long day's work, the farmer's vision seems to shift and eddy.  The farmer sees the fields in a different way.  The farmer seems to see the farm with no danger spots, no explosions anticipated or dreaded, no paths that avoid part of the fields, no areas left uncultivated.  The farmer smiles.  Having more usable land will bring bigger harvests.  Having easy access to the whole farm will allow the farmer to do more work with less effort.  A smile comes to the farmer's face and the farmer begins to sing a song with the family all around of the better days to come.

I believe that the transformation waiting for any of us will involve changing some of the paths and irrigation ditches of our life together.  I accept as normal; I expect to step on some land-mines.  You too, you can expect to witness some explosions.  You can anticipate that, with courage, compassion, and work, you will be able to disarm some dangers.  I also believe that like the farmer gazing into that evening vision, we will look at our life, or the church, or our community, when the danger spots are gone and see that it is the same life/church/community that it has always been; recognizable and beloved.

Monday, August 11, 2008


One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

by: Author Unknown, Source Unknown, Widely Quoted on the Net

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beyond the Golden Rule

I hope you remember that Jesus has led us all beyond "the golden rule."

That's right; he has led us beyond, "Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you."

In a recent worship service, we heard these words from the young Jew
of Galilee in the Gospel of John 15:12.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Perhaps we should make "John 15:12" signs to hold up at sporting events.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Find a Moment

September 2007

Dear Ones,

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, around about verse 35,
you can spy Jesus in a brief moment all alone. Here it is, the first
chapter of Mark and Jesus has already been very busy. Then:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out
to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

It is a tender image and I urge you to draw your own mental picture.
Draw a real picture, if that helps. See Jesus as you wish. Is he
kneeling, like the old painting one sees of a white, bearded Jesus
with flowing brown hair (by Heinrich Hoffman, 1880)? Add some detail
to your image. It is morning and it is "still very dark." Perhaps
your image has this man walking in the early dew, feet getting a
little damp while he walks. He could have found his way to a rise, a
little hill, from which he could see out a bit. They were in
Capernaum, a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, so a view would
have been a water view.

We have a story of how Jesus taught his disciples, and taught us by
extension, to pray. In our 1611 prose we say, "Our Father which art
in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

We have a story of how Jesus prayed in that dimly lit garden just
before he was arrested, saying, "Father, if you are willing, take
this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

How would he have prayed that morning in Capernaum?

Make a prayer like you think Jesus might have prayed alone at dawn by
the Sea of Galilee. Make it as long or short as you wish.

This story is your story. You don't really need the model of Jesus
to tell how a few minutes to yourself early in the day can be a
precious time. For some of you, doing a little chore or two before
the rest of the house is stirring can be satisfying and useful. Some
of you will know the rewards of getting to work before anyone else
and having time to do some work in that silence.

In a physiological way, you know that there is a difference between
prayer and not prayer. I suggest to you that there is a unique
experience open to us when we "take a moment" and experience taking a
moment. A chore done in the silence of the morning is good but it is
different from stopping the doing, the reading, the eating, the
organizing, and the other important tasks of life. Stopping for a
brief time and noticing that you have stopped is very close to prayer.

Would you take that moment today? … and tomorrow? Take the moment
to notice the moment and in that moment, turn your regard to the holy
place where you find or you guess or you hope the Spirit waits to be
noticed. Just like Jesus.

Peace and Blessing,