Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogging my head straight into a sermon.

I'm hoping that putting my thoughts into today's post will help me get a start on this week's sermon. So far the texts have been simmering in my mind while I've read some very good commentaries. Leonard Beechy wrote very good stuff for Christian Century's Reflections, "Living The Word". These Advent One texts are not what people expect. I decided to preach them in agreement with what Beechy wrote, 'The outlandish language of apocalypse is for people like us."

Signs of time to come are all around us, Jesus said. Fig trees or any tree tell the story of what is to come. He saw the sign of his own destruction and like prophets before him, he saw the sign of Jerusalem's destruction. To this day Jesus 'sees' the sign of our destruction. We make our own destruction imminent when we vote for policies that legislate inequality. The sign of the ever widening gap better haves and have nots is as visible as a tree in leaf. The sign of people desperate for health care and willing to do anything to get medical attention for their sick family members couldn't be more visible. In fact the only less visible sign is that of war; a war we've been in longer than WWII. Even though it hasn't been 'in our face' it kills and destroys while we continue to suffer as we pay for it. What is wrong with this picture? Everything.

Where do we find hope in our world or in these texts? The signs of Jesus' advent are mixed in with the push to purchase Christmas gifts and stimulate the economy. The sign that God has entered into humanity in the form of a child, the weakest most vulnerable creature on earth is a promise to us still. There is hope in each person who faces another day and says I will make a difference in my world, even if it doesn't seem like much to others. Each person who offers aid, disaster relief or effort on a work camp gives us a positive sign. I believe that each recycled bottle helps to save the world. I believe that we graduate to larger acts of compassion from little ones and that each loving act helps to change us as much as others.

There is hope this Christmas because I am part of a community that works hard to reach out to people in need, locally and nationally. People who respond with care and compassion are signs of the times for me. I see the trees around me budding with leaves in the midst of winter and these signs are at the center of my hope. Jesus' people ARE signs of what can be. They- you, are my hope.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Looking At Advent

Today is the first day of Advent for me. I know Advent doesn't really start until Sunday, but today I begin looking at those texts in earnest. (Which means in greater detail than just choosing which texts I'll preach on and what hymns we will sing.)

I will try to embed the link to Prof. Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary talking about Advent texts for Luke (Year C) or put it to the side. Listening to him makes me glad I attended a Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg) because it helps me understand a context that is not always found in progressive Brethren churches; Christ's 2nd coming.

Now you wouldn't think the 2nd Coming would be a topic for the celebration of Jesus' 1st coming. But it is for Lectionary year C. My sermon title is planned to be, "This Year Give Hope" and reading Luke 21:25-36 I have trouble finding the hope. I have some ideas about making Christmas celebrations real and bringing our hope from 'Disney-movie' expectation to reality. My ideas need a good bit of simmering to reach the point of sermon delivery. Meanwhile, my life mirrors the chaos of Luke 21, or so it seems as I look around this morning.

I'm surrounded by boxes and have so many more to pack. (Getting the boxes takes as long as packing them.) I'm about to contract with movers for one week from today. There's a house to get ready for renters when all this does get moved. It all seems quite impossible and yet I'm living with hope. I still hope and plan for the move to happen next Monday. And, as impossible as it seems right now, I am working toward that day.

hmmmm maybe there's a sermon in there. . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Whole Truth

Consider Pilate. I want you to try to identify with him, not feel sorry for him, or get angry with him, but for just a few moments, try to put yourself in his shoes. If you will navigage to Ralph Milton's Rumors

you will find a great portrayal of Pilate's wife's version of Sunday's text, Jesus' trail before Pilate.

I can’t help but wonder if she was right. I wonder if Pilate and Jesus could have identified with each other if they had met under different circumstances?

On Sunday, 11/22, we end the Church year AND prepare for it’s beginning by celebrating the REIGN of CHRIST.

We do so by recognizing that Jesus’ reign wasn’t recognized during his time. His Kingdom, as he said, is not of this world. Hear the dialogue between the two: (now that you have the perspective of Pilate’s wife from which to hear the story.)

(John 18: 33-38)

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and said to him, “You are the King of the Judeans.”

34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be violently contending[i] to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.”

38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.

Pilate needs to know if Jesus is a threat to him and his little piece of the Roman kingdom. Perhaps others might see Jesus’ as a minor disturbance, not hardly a threat. But Pilate has faced trouble before from these Judeans. He is not above a little paranoia about how this particular disagreement could turn into a major revolt.

Can you put yourself in his shoes?

He sees that Jesus has incurred the wrath of the Judean Officials,

As the governing authority for ALL the people in the territory, he has a few options.

  • He can determine if there is a valid case against Jesus, for which he can apply punishment.
  • He can evaluate if Jesus is of any political use to him.
  • He can work WITH the Judeans, possibly making them indebted to him
  • He can even decide if Jesus really has a kingdom and how that fits (if it fits) into his world.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls Jesus a mirror (in this story):

She says the dialogue that day between Pilate and Jesus

“involved a collision between religion and politics. While Pilate and the chief priests conspired to solve their mutual problem

while managing to remain enemies,

Jesus stood at the center of the stage like a mirror in which all those around him saw themselves clearly for who they were.”

She challenges us to look into that same mirror, “One way we Christians have avoided seeing our own reflections. . . is to pretend that this is a story about Romans and Jews. As long as they remain the villains, then we are off the hook -- or so we think.”[ii]

We may not preside over trials, nor anything as significant as what Pilate faced, yet moments come when we are faced with the truth, and the opportunity to decide for truth.

All Thru Jesus’ trial, the world (as represented by the Judeans AND Pilate) operates on self-serving versions of the truth. The WORLD (THEIR world) “supposes it has placed Jesus on trial and condemned him by its own criteria. .” When we move from identifying with Pilate to identifying with Jesus, OUR KING, we recognize that it was “the world on trial that day and in condemning Jesus, it condemns itself.”[iii]

It all hinges on how WE view the truth.

For the Judeans, the high priests and leaders of the People who are Jesus’ opponents, the truth is expressed in chapter 11 when this same high priest, Caiaphas says,

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (11:50)

This is THEIR truth. They need to keep power and control because in their ‘truth’, only keeping control will protect the people. AND save their own interests. Therefore, no threat to their power can be tolerated .

For Pilate, Truth is the potential that any political situation can evolve into a revolt that will get back to his superiors and ruin his reputation. Perhaps even resulting in his removal from office. (Which history tells us does happen later.)

Truth is Pilate’s power over everyone in the territory, the power of life and death and yet it is THIS power that Jesus’ rejects.

Jesus’ compares the truth of the world’s kingdom and its violence when he explains that IF his kingdom WERE of this world, violence WOULD be used to gain his release. But that is NOT the case.

Jesus’ power is not based on violence, his kingdom is not from this world, his truth is not based on relative position or political power.

For people in power, truth is what they make it. We see it in our time too.

  • Truth can be any statement that is repeated enough times until people believe it.
  • Truth can depend on which news channel you watch or which newspaper you read. It should not be so, and in
  • a court, we trust that ‘truth’ does come out. But for people my age, we have learned to have doubts about what people call ‘truth’.

Truth is a major theme in John’s gospel.[iv] (25x’s in John)

Jesus says,

“Those who do what is TRUE come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (3:210

“The hour is coming , and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. .”

Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (4:23-24)

Pilate’s mistake is in assuming that truth is a ‘what’ that can be clearly stated.

This is not the understanding in John’s gospel.

Jesus’ doesn’t teach the truth, he doesn’t ‘have’ the truth, Jesus’ is not just a great teacher who conveys ‘great truths’.[v]

JESUS gives himself.

He said, “If you continue IN MY WORD, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free.” (v. 8:31-32)

TRUTH Is a ‘who, not a ‘what’.

“Truth is a personal encounter and a relationship with the Holy Spirit who guides’ ALL the disciples of Jesus into ‘truth’.

TRUTH is doing, it is ethics and following what we term, ‘God’s will’ or what is later called ‘Jesus’ Way’.

For Pilate, “Truth is not an axiom that can be proven. Truth is the one who stands on trial before him.[vi]

We have to answer Pilate’s question, What is truth?

We can not avoid choosing between the truth of the world and Jesus’ truth by saying this story is about Romans and Judeans.

We can walk in someone else’s shoes to see if THEY recognize truth.

We can analyze situations and make decisions based on the world’s truth.

But we can only Know What Truth Is by Knowing Jesus and Following Him.

Unless we know ‘truth’ in the person of Jesus’ - we will never understand the paradox that makes Jesus’ crucifixion ALSO his exaltation.

Jesus is ENTHRONED on the cross.

That contradiction in terms is as the heart of Jesus’ truth.

It makes this story that leads up to his crucifixion, the perfect story for “Christ The King Sunday.”

When we know Jesus.

When we are baptized into his community,

Then TRUTH is at the heart of WHO we ARE.

All The truth of Jesus life, his priority on the poor, his rejection of violence, his embracing people of all kinds and his ‘telling the truth’ to people who thought they had the power of life and death over him,

ALL this, is the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom.

This Truth makes a difference in our lives and they way we live it, and it comes at a very high cost.

Giving up the priorities of the world,

Even giving up life itself, is HOW Jesus’ Reigns.

Pilate, poor, poor Pilate, with all his wealth and power, he couldn’t pay the high cost of entering this Kingdom.

He didn’t see THE truth.



[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor Barbara Brown Taylor teaches at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. This article appeared in the Christian Century, March 18-25, 1998, page 283; copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

[iii] Boring and Craddock, People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2004) p. 349

[iv] Boring and Craddock, see above, p. 350

[v] Boring and Craddock see above p. 350

[vi] Paul Berge, Emeritus Professor of NT at Luther Seminary on Working

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good News Or Else

We talked before (at least I have) about the importance of telling our stories and telling them in light of the Bible stories.
For example;
How can we comprehend what it means to hear God’s call without knowing the story of the burning bush that wasn’t consumed.
How Moses asked God, “Who shall I say you are?” and God’s answer, “I am who I am”How can we hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message without the knowledge of Moses confrontations with Pharaoh asking him to, “Let My People Go!”
How would we know the appropriate response to God without Moses and Abraham or Samuel’s story, when he answered God’s call in the night with “Here I am, Lord”.
How do we deal with periods of confusion and feeling lost without having Israel’s history as part of our story, knowing they wandered for 40 years in the dessert to learn dependence on God.
How do we face tragedy and sorry without understand the Exile, and Israel’s cries to God for justice, and restoration and God’s steadfast response.
How do we comprehend the depth of God’s love for humanity without the Christmas Story?

All these wonderful stories that describe the major trauma and celebrations of our life are from this book, the B-I-B-L-E.

But (and but always negates what came before it) But, if this book doesn’t contain GOOD NEWS for you, then why revere it, or even read it?
And if you don’t find hope and help in these stores, can you even call this the Good News?
Because if you find no meaning here for your life this isn’t Good News for You.
And if these core stories don’t touch you, or speak to your life, then where DO you go for Good News? Where can you find it? In that case, You may just be categorized as ‘the lost’.

Today we lift up the Bible, our source book for guidance and wisdom, the place we go for meaning, and the stories of our faith. The New Testament is as close to a creed as Brethren get, saying we take the ENTIRE New Testament as our rule for faith and living. (which means we embrace the contradictions we understand are in there as part of humanity’s experience and varied understanding of God.)

Today I invite you to think about the Bible and how these words are Good News to you. We each have our own experience with church and pastors and the authority of scripture. I can only tell you what this Bible means to me.

This was my father’s Bible. It’s not the first one I remember him carrying. We, mom, brother and I, gave this to him on the 20th anniversary of his ministry in September 1979. Three years later, in September 1982, he died of cancer. For those last three years, and thru the 6 months of his illness, this was his source of comfort and questions. It was the place where he tried to make sense of life and what lay beyond.

As his young daughter, I remember Bible stories from SS and especially from VBS. Don’t all of us who had the good fortune to attend those special summer weeks, have memories of acting as disciples, or crawling around as sheep or some other lively encounter with these stories.
I remember having to memorize psalms that return to my mind at surprising times to this day. (From the ‘Lord is my shepherd’ to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’
My mother told me how afraid I was of Samuel’s story when I came home from VBS one year. “I don’t want God to talk to me in the middle of the night,” I said to her. I’m sure I spend a few nights in their bed after that particular fear.

As a young adult, I turned to words of promise in the gospel during difficult times, hearing Jesus speak the words,
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

As a young mom, working in the outdoor setting of a Christian camp, I listened again to the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the starts, which you have set in place…”
And over the years I heard God’s voice speak to me, and I wasn’t afraid of the sound any longer. It was a persistent call that grew louder and louder and came from friends and from this BOOK and from sermons until I thought I’d run screaming from the sanctuary. (Never something a preacher wants to see!)
Until one day, walking down to the camp lodge in the season before camp opened, the voice calling became loud and persistent until I feel to my knees and said, “OK, if this is what you want, you are going to have to make it happen somehow.”
And I soon found myself in seminary unsure of where I’d work next but knowing that each step of the way was working out, just as I leaned my weight onto the foot ahead.

(I used to complain that I wanted to hear the stories in this book as if for the first time. I wanted to hear them new, not with all the memories of childhood, but really fresh, like the disciples heard them. I found myself in GREEK class, not enjoying God’s sense of humor. Be careful what you wish for.)

Thru life and thru death, these words have offered me substance and comfort.
“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is MORTAL may be swallowed up by LIFE.”

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, endures all things. Love never ends;

These words, this book of books and letters, of poems and songs have offered hope and meaning to humanity for millenna. What has it given to you?

What is the good news of the Bible? Can you name it? Do you claim this as YOUR good news?

The Good News comes through all the stories in this book, that God’s love for humanity can’t be undone by human unfaithfulness.
Whether in a desert worshiping a golden calf or
Running away from arresting officers in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Good News came again when God entered into humanity in the life of one man; in a way difficult for us to comprehend, but that people experienced in Jesus.

And because of that story, HIS STORY, there hope for my story. And hope for yours for everyone who calls this book the GOOD NEWS, can ask for strength to live another way than most of the people around us.
When love seems far away, we can turn to the Good News and see the Love of God made human in Jesus, the Christ.
When the world calls us to concentrate on wealth, we can hear another voice that calls us to focus on people.
When the world is fixated on vengeance, we can find strength to reach out with compassion.
When violence rips through the fabric of your life, we can find courage to speak the words of peace instead. We can help others find this other way, the way of non-violence and non-resistance.
Because Jesus absorbed the violence that took his life, we too can lay ours down in trust that God can make sense of it all. That even death is not the last word.

All this, because the stories in this Book, The BIBLE, tell of the never-ending love of God for us. I call it, GOOD NEWS,
And if this is GOOD NEWS for YOU, then THIS – Is – YOUR- Story, too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Widow's Last Lepta; a Reality Check

What SHOULD it COST a congregation to conduct high quality worship every Sunday?
To put on good program? To enact mission that feeds the hungry, nurtures Christ’s disciples, and proclaims the Good News in word and in DEED?
And HOW should a church balance that cost without requiring a widow’s last lepta?

As we usually do, we look at the big picture of scripture, not just the few verses marked off for today. We began by reading of Jesus’ exchange with another scribe, one who was commended for his understanding. That scribe reminded us that everything starts with priorities, namely - by putting God first.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is ONE and you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. AND You should love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 29-31)
LOVE GOD. LOVE NEIGHBOR Simple words, but it is not so simple to keep priorities straight in a world where church can be as corrupt as financial institutions. Where the people entrusted to protect your money are found to have squandered it. Where those designated to care for widows, take their last penny.

Surely Jesus would condemn any church that teaches the poor to contribute ‘all they have.’ Unless a church is about caring for the most vulnerable of society and offering nurture for their body and spirit, today’s temples will face destruction too. Does that make a stewardship message difficult? I don’t think so. Jesus loved the temple. He went there daily when he was in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful place of worship; a holy place for loving God with ritual sacrifice and prayer. He hated the corruption of the ancient priesthood when it became infatuated with perpetuating itself instead of WORSHIPing GOD and CARING for neighbors.

We must constantly evaluate our priorities as we do in each budget season. We compare what we do with our mission remembering, As St. Francis said, to “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words”. We are entrusted with building up a community that lifts others up, that is why we are here. Our pledges and promises today are part of it. But they must not be ‘cost-less’ pledges. Unless our pledge cards include the promise of ALL we are, (heart, soul, mind and strength) we risk falling into the category of the scribes who were insincere and the rich who gave without any ‘cost.’

We need a regular reality check to keep our priorities straight. If we pledge our time, talent and treasure, (as we do today), to God’s Glory, Keeping our priority on Worship and Service, then regardless of the amount we give, small or large, God’s work will go forward. We can pray, like Jesus did, for God’s kingdom to come on earth, and trust that we – are – part – of - it, giving and receiving as we have need -- - Loving Our God and loving our neighbor.