Lent

  • At the Center

    Little is known about the Prophet Joel, who probably wrote these words that we heard in our first lesson tonight around 586BC. Yet with bold - even challenging - language for our modern ears to hear, Joel calls the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent and return to the Lord during a time of national disaster (from the Introduction to the Book of Joel, ESV).

    Mmmm...a time of national disaster...we don’t know anything about that, do we?

  • Bodies and Buildings

    Today I want to invite us to think about our bodies and buildings, especially our corporeal, or physical bodies and our church buildings. And I want us to think about change. Most of all I want to invite us to think about how Christ’s radical work of resurrection on the cross not only makes change possible, but claims us and this whole physical world, including our personal bodies and buildings, for the purpose of change.

    Now…the Church has not always been so good in our approach to human bodies. We haven’t always been so good with our buildings, either, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The scriptures were codified and written down during periods in history when people such as the ancient Greeks and Romans and Jewish peoples had radically different notions about how bodies work, and therefore these fantastic treasures we call scripture have murky and mucky human handprints all over them with regards to perspectives on human bodies. Places where scripture makes it sound like the body is all bad, and we should hope and aspire to spiritual purity untainted by the body.

  • Hard News, Practical Wisdom, and Hope

    Today’s gospel lesson starts with some hard news, then shares practical wisdom, and finally a larger than average dose of hope.

    Folks are gathered around Jesus – there was just something about Jesus that made people want to get close to him; folks are gathered around Jesus and some of those who are present tell Jesus about some Galileans – Jewish people from Galilee - whose blood had been “mingled (by Pilate) with their sacrifice.” In other words, Pilate had killed these Galileans as they were making their sacrifices at the Jewish Temple, fulfilling the practices of their faith.

    (deep sigh) It’s hard to hear about people getting needlessly killed. These Jewish Galileans in Jesus’ time, or the Ukrainians and Russians being killed in this current war, or the Syrians and other people being killed in the ten-year civil war that has been raging in that country, or how about when we hear of all the children dying of hunger and malnutrition in too many places around the world.

  • Invitation to Renewal

    A beautiful red cardinal landed under a nearby shrub as I was hustling the kids out the door to school one morning this winter. It only registered with me a few hours later that I‘d seen this wonderful bird, red coat stark against the white snow and brown branches, a sign of life and spring around the corner. 

    That I noticed and remembered this special moment at all may be proof that God works miracles! After all, it can be so easy to go on autopilot and travel through life distracted and without noticing the blessings of the present moment.

    And the present moment is full of potential gifts. 

    The season of Lent marks the time in the Church year intended to help us especially focus on renewal and restoration, spiritual growth and deepening of faith. During this season we are invited to turn away from things that distance us from God, and allow God to open our eyes and hearts and lives to see God’s gracious love in Christ poured out in forgiveness - for us. Lent is a present-tense opportunity to ponder and pray on how the resurrection of our Savior Jesus gives us new life and new birth and new eyes and ears to see the world around us.

  • Skipping With Joy

    One of my fellow pastors here in the Hudson Conference of the Metropolitan New York Synod, Pastor Paul Britton, recently told us a story about a young boy receiving Holy Communion for the first time. As this boy received God’s gift of grace in the body and blood of Jesus, he beamed with joy and then turned and skipped exuberantly back to his seat. Pastor Paul wondered aloud, after telling this story, if, as Christians desiring to be reverent with the precious and holy gift of Holy Communion, we sometimes become overly earnest and serious and forget to let God help us experience the light-hearted joy of knowing that we have been fed and freed by the living Christ.

  • There is Room at God’s Table

    Today’s gospel lesson is one of parables from Jesus shared most often. Sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son (placing our focus with the younger son who goes off to waste his portion of his father’s fortune on dissolute living), or the Reliable Brother (placing our focus with the older brother who has always done what he was supposed to, and is jealous when his father not only forgives his younger brother, but kills a fatted calf in his honor), or the Merciful Parent (placing our focus with the father, or parent, whose love for both sons knows no bounds).

    Of course, all of these readings of the scripture text are true. That’s one of the wonderful things about scripture, namely that there is always more to be discovered with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the gathering of community to let these texts wrestle with us, and an open heart and mind. There is always more. Today, though, I’d like to draw our attention to how Jesus is using this parable, the story that he tells in order to reset the focus of the community and to remind us of the restoration power of God through community. Let’s dive in by considering why Jesus tells this parable in the first place.

  • Warring Visions

    We are called to build a prophetic Church for an all too often warring world.

    Yes! We are called to be prophets and peacemakers and to lift before the world a vision of what could be possible, were we to confess our sin and brokenness – all that separates us from the love of God and from our fellow humans. We are called to lift before the world a vision of what could be possible if we lay claim to the love that transcends differences such as race and class and culture; age, gender, sexual orientation; citizenship in different countries and even religious differences, with the help of God.

    As Christians the foundation of our prophet and peacemaking identity is found in how God in Christ has connected us to God’s own self forever – through the promise made possible by baptism that grafts us onto the promises made by God to Abraham so long, long ago, when God said that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than the stars.

  • We Are Not In Control

    I think that when things get overwhelming in life and the world, there is a three-prong approach that can be helpful for us to utilize. First, we need to give ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings. Second, we need a plan to begin to approach the things we can manage, and to let go of all of the things that we can’t. And the third prong is giving it all to God and Jesus, who intimately knows the suffering and temptations of this world and our lives.

    As to giving ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings: My wonderfully imperfect parents did many things right and made plenty of mistakes when we were growing up (as they themselves would admit). When I was young, there wasn’t a lot of room for a complex variety of feelings in our household. We were mostly supposed to be happy, or at least act that way. Nowadays I believe it’s very important to try to give room for myself and others to have our feelings, even when they are messy and uncomfortable.

  • Welcoming Home Love

    Christ’s welcoming home love – what a gift we have been given!

    What do we do as individuals and communities, as we become aware of Christ’s welcoming-home-love? What do we do as we come to see again that Christ has freely purchased our lives with a ransom from the cross that makes of us a new creation? What do we do now that we know that no matter what ever might be lost from us, or however lost we might become, God will never stop trying to bring us home?

  • Wilderness

    The wilderness can take many shapes. Maybe it’s the challenges of home, family and work. Or perhaps it’s illness, be it physical or mental, our own or those we love.

    Or perhaps it’s the wilderness that arrived for people in Alabama, with the loss of home and life from recent storms that like so many others, have been made more extreme by climate change.

    Or there’s the wilderness being faced by the people of Western Congo as they fight not only the Ebola outbreak that began in August, but the violence that has interrupted the work of healthcare folks who have otherwise successfully beaten back previous Ebola outbreaks.

    The wilderness, in these and so many other forms, can bow our shoulders and foil, get in the way of our efforts to practice joy in life.