Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Focus On Waiting

Life moves fast. Christmas is less than a month away.

I hate overly busy days. I miss so much when I careen from activity to activity. I find it beneficial to take a few extra moments in the morning to set the pace for the day and I miss it when I'm pushed to 'do' something rather than 'be' someone. A time to focus allows me to remember my priorities, to spend time with scripture, with God and to read the words of others who are guides on my journey. This time to focus allows me to hear God's call. It's a time of waiting and listening. It takes time and I have to put off the things that beckon me to hurry and get on with the day but it's well worth it.

This Advent I will add a special devotional and try to spend more time in silence. I hope that I can focus and find focus so that I will be ready for the One for whom I wait.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dump Sheep

Ezekiel 34
Shepherd and sheep on Christ the King Sunday is a surprise, but in my ‘less liturgical’ setting we might choose to look at this fascinating passage and the verses excluded from the lectionary. Whenever I hear about sheep I think of the stories my husband tells of the days he managed a small farm. “Sheep are dumb!” he says, if their afterbirth wasn’t bright orange, they’d walk away never knowing they’d given birth.” Sheep may know the shepherd’s voice but they’ll pretty much follow another sheep anywhere, even off a cliff. I wonder when Jesus self-describes as the good shepherd, if he was implying that we’re typical sheep, its not very complimentary.

Ezekiel 34 offers us lovely images of well cared-for sheep, reminding us of God’s meticulous care. Yet, in one of the verses skipped over by the lectionary, there are less calming images. The accusations of verses 18 and 21 hold true today.

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

Must we foul the water to which we have been led preventing others from having the same satisfactory and life-giving drink? Have we not butted with horns to get to the front of the line when it comes to world resources? Whew, I stand guilty using more than my share of fuel in the plane in which I sit as I write this. And I’m headed back to a warm house (electricity) and a wood fire (pollution) and a full (hopefully?) refrigerator that has food trucked in from long distances (fuel again) and likely harvested by low-paid workers, possibly grown under environmentally destructive conditions. I stand convicted and all I’m doing is coming home from a conference.
I sit here wondering where’s the good news in this passage? My hope and trust is in the shepherd. That if I follow the good shepherd and ‘lay down in those green pastures’ to which the shepherd leads I will be following a path that is gentle to the environment and sustainable for others in the herd. At this point in our environmental mess, following the shepherd, closely, always, and not wandering off, is our only hope.

For a good sermon on Matthew 25, go to and scroll down to Faith, Doubt and the Via Negativa.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dealing with Fear

The lectionary texts for November 16 remind me of how our lives are influenced by fear. Our instinct is to withdraw or to hedge our bets and to act in self-preservation. Judges 4 has Barak hesitant to go on the offensive alone, not completely trusting in Deborah's oracle. 1 Thessalonians 5 contains words we read at funerals as does Psalm 90. Words intended to stop fear's damage, to put a halt to our tendency to react to our fears with careless abandon of responsibility or focus. We even lose our focus on God, the only One in whom we can trust.

5:5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
5:6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;
5:7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.
5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thess 5:5-8)

How wonderful and appropriate that these texts arise in a season of world fear. Certainly there is a level of hope following an American election at which the 'hope' candidate won. Still, watching the markets instills fear and we quickly lose any long-term perspective. Like the Thessalonians we forget that we belong to the day and need not live in the fear of the night.

The investors of Matthew 25 act out our fear on stage, each reacting in different ways and being rewarded or punished for faith (or lack thereof). How easy it is to read these texts with judgment and say, "Foolish men, could you not see the Lord's hand at work?" all the while we act in our own foolish ways. I worry about tomorrow, I watch the retirement balance fall, I change plans that sound too risky and I circle the wagons of projects and plans to return to a safe and defensive stance.

How very hard it is to walk in faith without sight. I know until I step off the cliff and place my weight onto the foot suspended in air, that I can't see God's bridge coming up to meet my foot. (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade image.) Still I hesitate to take the step - for fear. Interestingly, we only get better at faith by practice. The reckless stepping off of cliffs and trusting in God's bridge or hand to be there, is our calling. Recklessness and Christianity no longer go together like they once did when one risked their life to follow the WAY of the Lord. It's time to pair them up again.

I guess I'd better start with me

Thursday, November 13, 2008


An unusual post today as I'm using this site to post a video I made for the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence presentation next week in San Diego.
I'm hoping this will allow a few preview of our work on the question,
"How do image, story, and place create an opening in us for transformation?"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Promises, promises

Joshua 24 is about the transition of power, as defines it. I'm living in the struggle to be in the present moment while planning for the future and learning from the past. There are lessons behind us that we must not forget; lessons of which Joshua reminds the Israelites; lessons of which bloggers are reminding America in light of the historic election of President-elect Barack Obama. (See

These are lessons from the Israelites which we still struggle to learn two millennia later. Joshua told them they must choose and decide to leave their idols behind, just as Jacob said generations before Joshua. And like the Israelites we promise to bury our idols. We choose God with all the enthusiasm of the moment and with good intention. It's just that lives are full and intention gets put behind the demands of the day. Commitments, transportation, traffic, appointments, conference calls, the list is endless and it demands our time and sucks away our ability to act on intention. We really do mean to keep our focus on God, to maintain priorities, just as soon as we get through this project deadline. And so it goes.

We face the same struggle in all important relationships, the challenge of really being present to someone else. Listening to and really hearing someone, their words, their body language, their feeling, is the greatest gift we can give another person. One can spend hours in counseling just to learn this 'secret'. But when it comes to God, it is no secret only the heart of the first commandment; to love the Lord with all the heart, soul, and mind.

How do we do it? Well, Joshua says we can't. It is impossible to truly 'serve' the Lord with our complete devotion, and yet, God demands nothing less. Are we set up for failure? No, we are 'set-up' for a lifetime of relationship. We are to 'serve' or be devoted to God, not as an accomplished fact, but as a commitment to maintain constant communication. In our attempt to be faithful, to at least stay conversant, we experience God's grace as the Holy One recognizes our inability to be completely devoted. It's a circle of promise from the God who loves us.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I had the opportunity to listen to some new music this week. The cd, Going Up by ZEHNDER was different, there was something about it that made me want to listen again. So I did, I listened again and again and I loved it. The music is unique and new. It's music for emerging worship and I can't imagine using it in the current congregation I serve, but I wish I could. I love the use of psalms and scripture. I love the feel of modern music with 'sacred' lyrics. In some ways the sound is simple and I find it calls to me. (Visit their site at

It reminds me of first learning Greek. It was different, vastly different than the way I was used to reading scripture. But once I began to learn, I discovered I could 'hear' old scriptures with new ears. The stories with which I grew up now had new meaning and I hung on every word. Even now, returning to the original text brings new life to stories I used to think I knew well.

Maybe that's what we all need to keep from falling into the habits of the Pharisees in tomorrow's gospel text, Matthew 23:1-12. They listened to the law again and again and had come to focus on the literal interpretation; 'church tradition' and to emphasize the external showing of obedience. Jesus calls us to really hear the law and scriptures and in them discover the promise of God. Sometimes it takes new ears, old language, or new music to open our ears. Praise God for breaking into our sedate worlds with ever new ways to hear.