Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jesus Is Calling

Facebook has been reminding me that five years ago I was the Holy Land with a group from the church I last served. I have loved the pictures that have popped up, reminding me of what a powerful trip it was. I have especially been drawn to the pictures of the Sea of Galilee. Traveling around Galilee, it is easy to imagine Jesus walking around, teaching, healing, and, especially, inviting people to follow him into a new way of living.
Those first disciples—fisherman going about their business—found their daily tasks interrupted by the One who broke through the darkness to bring light and life. They dropped their nets to join him in this new way of living, and invited others to do the same.
Since that time, all sorts of people have found their lives interrupted by Jesus. The broken have found restoration; the sick have found wholeness; those pushed to the side found themselves now in the  center of God’s love and care.
And each time someone has responded to this call, the world shifted as God’s Beloved Community took deeper form. By embracing the life Jesus offered, embodying his teaching and remaining faithful to loving God and loving others, these people have shared the Good News. As a result, others have joined this movement Jesus created.
The biblical story of the call of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee gets replayed in every life. Do you remember when Jesus first touched your life and invited you to follow him? How did your living change? How were the lives around you changed because of the ways you shared this love of God and neighbor?
Each one of us is called to join in this journey with Jesus. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are called to ordained ministry, but you ARE called to some form of ministry. How you choose to live as a disciple of Jesus will determine whether or not others will find their darkness turning to light because YOU lived the love of God so fully.
I will never forget reading, “The only Jesus someone may meet today is YOU.” Jesus has called you to follow him. May you follow him so closely that your life is a reflection of Him. And may others find themselves curious to discover more about the source of this light, life, and love.



Saturday, January 11, 2020

Remember Your Baptism!


Today was a travel day, leaving Denver by plane for Helena, and then heading out from Helena to Salmon, Idaho, where I will be preaching in the morning. I love traveling through our area and stopping by our churches for a quick prayer. Unfortunately, we were trying to outrun a snowstorm so I had to pray from the highway as we passed by!

Tomorrow is one of my favorite Sundays of the Church year: the baptism of Jesus (okay, being totally transparent, I have a LOT of favorite Sundays!). This Sunday, we remember Jesus coming to the Jordan, where John is baptizing people. Jesus asks to be baptized and John pulls back, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by YOU.” Jesus is insistent, and so John pulls him down into the Jordan and when he emerges from the water, the Spirit of God descends on him and a voice is heard, saying, ““This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Every time I go to the Holy Lands, I look forward with anticipation stopping at the Jordan. However, I can’t say that the setting is especially pretty--the Jordan is a muddy river. In fact, it looks fairly unremarkable, as rivers go. But it is the longest and most important river in Palestine. Standing on its banks I couldn't help but recall all the songs and stories of my Christian upbringing that taught me about its important place in religious tradition: “River Jordan is deep and wide, Alleluia! Milk and honey on the other side. Alleluia!” “Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.” “On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan's fair and happy land, where my possessions lie."

The heart of the Gospels begins at the Jordan River. It is where John the Baptist came out of the wilderness to preach the coming realm of heaven, offering to cure the people not of physical illness but of moral sickness, and that they should bathe in the Jordan and repent of their sins. He was preparing the people, Jews and Gentiles alike, for a future baptism to be administered by one who is greater: "the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

And it is at the Jordan where Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Upon his baptism, Jesus began to pray, and we're told that the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended to Jesus like a dove, and God proclaimed Jesus as God's beloved child.

From the original Greek, the traditional words, "with you I am well pleased" can be better translated "in you I have willed the good." Jesus is not simply pleasing to God. In Jesus' baptism and openness in prayer, God proclaimed and empowered him for God's purpose--to be God's liberating agent of Good News of great joy for all people.

Because Jesus now baptizes with the Holy Spirit, baptism marks us also as God's beloved children and agents of God's goodwill in our lives today. When you were baptized, God claimed you as God's own, and said to you just as God said to Jesus, "In you I have willed the good."

Through Jesus' life and ministry, we have seen the power present to do good--Jesus opened himself fully to God's will and strengthened that relationship through prayer and times of renewal. We today still are inspired by the good that he demonstrated. Whether it was healing the sick, or standing up for the outcast, or challenging oppressive powers, in all that he did, Jesus reflected God's love and power.

Nothing deterred him from his mission to spread this goodness. Even when faced with death, he refused to break solidarity with God. So strong was this relationship that not even death could put a stop to it. Through the resurrection, God's goodness has been made available to all people.

We are called, no, we are claimed by God in our baptism to follow in the example of Jesus and let God's goodness flow through us. This is why, when we reaffirm our baptismal vows, we are told these words: "Remember your baptism, and be thankful."

Even when we backslide and break relationship with God and others, remember that God isn't going to leave you. In moments of despair and doubt and desolation, the great church reformer Martin Luther would say to himself as a reminder, "I was baptized." I was baptized. This makes a difference in my life and in what I can do in this world.

Tomorrow, be sure to stop by the baptismal font and let your hands dip in the water. Bring that water to your forehead and let it drip down your face, remembering your baptism and all that was promised. May you seek to strengthen and deepen your relationship with the Divine, that in all you do, in all that you say, in your work, in all your relationships, God may be seen in you. And in everything you do, may you work for the good.






Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Ending of Innocence




The sanctuary—on this fourth day of Christmas--now looks a little worse for wear—while it was all spruced up for Advent and Christmas Eve, the poinsettias are beginning to wilt and the Christmas tree is beginning to let go of its pine needles. Wax from the Christmas Even candlelight service is still on the pews and carpet. The truth is, we feel that way, too. The anticipation of Christmas, the glory of Christmas Eve, and the excitement of Christmas Day has worn us down a bit.

It is interesting to read what happens from one chapter to the next in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter one ends with a brief telling of Jesus’ birth. And then chapter two begins with the Wise Men from the East following the star to find Jesus, their journey interrupted by Herod who is so threatened by Jesus that he wants to know where he is located so he can have him killed. He enlists the aid of the Wise Men, but they betray him and don’t tell him where Jesus is to be found. Herod, in his rage, orders all boys under the age of two to be murdered, hoping that the act will include the killing of Jesus. But Joseph has been warned of Herod’s plans by an angel, and flees the violence by escaping to Egypt. While Jesus is spared, Matthew reminds us, it was as Jeremiah foretold:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Each year, I am startled by this violence, coming so close to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. How could we be proclaiming, “Joy to the world” and then read this text? Scholars call this reading the Slaughter of the Innocents. Perhaps, it should also be named the Ending of Innocence.

How tempting is it, to stay at the manger scene. Even though Jesus was born in a lowly stable, there was a host of characters to welcome him and to sing the wonders of his birth. We still sing about the holy night, of how he laid his sweet head in a manger, of how this cattle stall became a throne of glory. It is tempting to stay cooing at this child, to hold on to an innocent and naïve hope that all is right with the world. But just like the slaughter of the innocents, reality creeps in. All is NOT right in the world. There is violence and hatred and division. Some homes resemble battlefields, with broken and wounded lives. Individuals are weighed down by the unholy trinity of oppression, greed and injustice. The angels’ song of peace on earth has been drowned out by the discord found in our world.

Perhaps we need to have our innocence ended, so we can see the world’s brokenness for what it is and, as the Body of Christ, continue to bring love, healing, hope, justice and wholeness in the broken places of our world and lives.

Perhaps we need to see clearly where the hungry still wait for food, where children seek safe refuge, where those in prisons or those who are sick still wait for hope, where the oppressed are yearning for liberation. Until we dare to look honestly and critically at all the corners of our communities, there will continue to be wailing and loud lamentation.

It is time, my friends, to arise from the manger, shake off the dust, and roll up our sleeves. Truly, as Howard Thurman once said, the work of Christmas has begin.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED IN DARKNESS...

All this past week I found myself returning to the Hebrew scriptures, to the prophet Isaiah’s words, “The people who walked in darkness…” and I realize that he is talking about more than the longest night of the year, but a dark night of the soul that is filled with feelings of paralyzing hopelessness, with no escape.
The people who walked in darkness…
This week, the political fault lines of our nation were drawn as starkly as the theological divisions of our denomination. It feels as if we are without a moral compass as we make sense of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, of respect and accountability. How do we hold these things in tension and find right action and right relationships?
The people who walked in darkness…
This is also a difficult season personally for so many. We become acutely aware of the loss we have experienced. Death of loved ones, the alienation and rejection of family, our personal failures that we carry, causes us to wander in a darkness which can’t be pushed back by Christmas lights.
The people who walked in darkness…
Thank God Isaiah doesn’t leave us hanging in the darkness of despair. He says: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…for those who lived in a land of deep shadows—LIGHT! Sunbursts of light!
I need to be reminded of this promise this Christmas. Even when we are in the darkest and longest night, the promise of a sunrise will never fail. When things feel most helpless, we will find a strength that we didn’t know was there. When we are feeling most hopeless, there will be an inbreaking of love when we least expect it.
This is what Christmas is all about. God didn’t come when all was right with the world, but in spite of all that was wrong. God showed up to say, “I’m not going to leave you in darkness and despair.”

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah foretells the birth of Jesus:
“For a child has been born—for us! the gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal One, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.” (Isaiah 9, The Message)
When this truth breaks into our lives, we are filled with a joy that gets us through the darkest days and nights of despair and hopelessness. I am reminded once again that God doesn’t come into the nice, clean, safe, sanitized places of our lives but chooses to meet us in the stench and filth and hazardous conditions of our world. Came into the world as vulnerable as we come, as a baby, to love and be loved, to offer us a wholeness we can’t even imagine.
Seize joy this Christmas. Cling to it as if your life depends upon it, because it does. When the world feels so overwhelming remember: We are the people who walk in darkness, who will see a great light. We will see the star shining in the sky. We will hear the angel voices, singing their songs of peace on earth. And we will experience the birth of love into our lives and into our world yet again.
Joy to the world, my friends. Joy to the world.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

MARY, ENGAGING IN GOD'S REVOLUTIONARY ACTION




This is the Sunday where the pink candle of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit. You might wonder why the third week’s candle is pink when the others are purple (or blue). True confession: for many years I thought that the pink candle stood for Mary (wow, that blue/pink gender theme really does get ingrained, doesn’t it?). In fact, it is pink because the third week of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, which means joy and marks that Advent is more than half over.


But I want to come back to Mary. 


How is it that God chose Mary, a teenager from a town of no importance, to bear God’s-Love-Made-Visible into the world? What does this say about who Mary was? What does this say about who God is?


My nativity sets (for there are many!) all depict Mary in such serene forms, arms either extended matronly towards the baby Jesus, or folded across her chest as if still trying to take in the miraculous event. But the Magnificat Mary sings in the first chapter of Luke shows another side of Mary. It is the song of one who is not a passive performer in God’s saving work but an active participant. Mary sings boldly of God’s revolutionary actions and her role in it: 


My soul lifts up the Lord! My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
For though I’m God’s humble servant,  God has noticed me.
Now and forever, I will be considered blessed by all generations.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me; holy is God’s name!
From generation to generation, God’s lovingkindness endures for those who revere God.

God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.  The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power, God has brought down low.

And those who were humble and lowly, God has elevated with dignity.        

The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
To Israel, God’s servant,  
God has given help,
As promised to our ancestors,  remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.  (Luke 1: 46-55—The Voice)



Three decades after this song is sung, Jesus overturns tables in the Temple. But here, with this song, Mary tells of a God who is also overturning tables of power and privilege, of wealth, pride and ego. These are not the values that make for a rich, full, and holy life. The life God invites us to is marked by humility, service, dignity, and lovingkindness. In order to help us receive this life and enter it more fully, God becomes Emmanuel—God With Us. Through Jesus, God shows us what makes for a whole and holy life.



During this Advent season, what are ways God might be turning over the tables in your life? What values might God be asking you to give up because instead of promoting individual and communal well-being, they are divisive and cause dis-ease? As you prepare your heart and our world to once again receive the Christ Child, are you willing to follow closely as he

grows from a demanding baby in a manger to a demanding leader, who has spoken to those on a Galilean seashore and to generations hence, “Come, follow me”?








Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Warm Up Act


I am in Helena, Montana this weekend for the ordination and consecration of the Episcopal Bishop of Montana. The congregation of St Paul’s UMC hosted the service, providing great hospitality for our Episcopal kin. This morning, when I got on the hotel elevator, I realized Kenny G was on the elevator with me! I did a quick google search to make sure it was him—sure enough it was! What was missing from the concert listing was who the warm-up act was.



Warm-up acts are interesting—they play second fiddle (so to speak!) to the people you really have come to see. Most of the time, they don’t have name recognition. But they did get a crowd ready for the main act. Warm-up acts have a very important role to play, as they help get people realy to enjoy the show, and then they fade out of the picture.



Every year in Advent, we set aside one Sunday to remember the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. John had his own unique role and mission. As I consider John in relation to Jesus, I realize that John was the warm-up act. John prepared the way, and then fades away, yielding, as he said he would, to Jesus, the main act.



John could only take people so far.  He led people to the point of departure from the old life, but could not help them enter into the new.  His warm up act included a baptism of water, a cleansing of the past in which a person was made ready for a fuller, richer word to come, the abundant life brought by Jesus Christ.



He told the people, “The real action comes next: the star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kin-dom life.  His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.” (Matthew 3:11-12. The Message)



John isn’t preparing people to coo over a baby lying in a manger or cuddle a child. John is preparing his followers to encounter a man who will transform their living, and ultimately, their dying. Jesus, as the main act, will care and comfort us in our brokenness, and confront and challenge us in our sinfulness. People through the centuries have encountered his words, his life, his spirit, this wonderful counselor, this mighty God, this everlasting One, this Prince of Peace, and their lives have been changed forever.



They have felt something being born within them, a spark of hope, a flame of love, a passion for justice, a desire for wholeness, that is truer and purer than anything they have ever known before.  Ever since he came into the world, there have been “countless different kinds of people who in countless different kinds of ways have been filled with his spirit, who have been grasped by him, caught up into his life, who have found themselves in deep and private ways healed and transformed by their relationships with him, so much so that they have had no choice but to share this Good News with others…that in this man is the power of God to bring light into the shadows of our lives, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life to anybody who turns toward him in faith, even to people like you and me.” (Frederick Buechner)



The warm-up act is just about over. Have you been able to clear you life of the past, so that Jesus might come and enter in, be born in you, transforming your life so completely your future will look nothing like your past?  May we welcome Destiny’s Child onto the stage of our lives and hearts and discover the power this One possesses to change us forever.




Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

This is a prayer for indigenous people, who bear the scars of intergenerational trauma for being displaced, dishonored, dislocated 

This is a prayer for all those who produce our food: farmers and field hands, factory workers and truckers, shelve stockers and checkout clerks

This is a prayer for people sitting at full family tables, yet unseen and alienated 

This is a prayer for people sitting alone, wondering if anyone, anywhere cares

This is a prayer for homes filled with conflict and violence

This is a prayer for homes where love and laughter flow freely

This is a prayer for children separated from their parents

This is a prayer for the mothers who worry about the safety of their children whenever they leave the house

This is a prayer for those experiencing the joy of unexpected reunions and reconciliation

This is a prayer for those whose cupboards are bare

This is a prayer for those whose tables groan with the weight of many dishes

This is a prayer for those who sleep in alleys on cardboard 

This is a prayer for those who care for those who sleep in alleys on cardboard 

This is a prayer for those who ask “Why?”

This is a prayer for those who see a world of plenty and seek to share 

This is a prayer for the justice-seekers

This is a prayer of thanksgiving