In the middle of Luke chapter 9 we hear Jesus giving his followers some harsh news: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” He is telling them, and telling us, that we can’t save our lives by trying to save our lives. If we hold on too tightly, if you try to keep everything under control, we will lose our lives. The liveliness will be gone. We’ll squeeze out the vitality.
Then, a few verses later, Jesus says something really strange. He says that some of the people listening to him will see the “kingdom of God” before they die. Actually he says, they will see it before they “taste death.” They will “see” before they “taste.” It’s an interesting way to put it. Continue reading “To the Mountain, with Nobodies (190)”
One of the most persistent pieces of spiritual advice is to “trust in God.” Like so much of the spiritual life, what initially seems simple and direct, becomes more profound and more challenging as the years pass.
What does it mean to trust God when experience tells us that this does not mean our lives will unfold in the way we had hoped? What does it mean to trust God with loved-ones who we know will not escape suffering? Continue reading “What does it mean to trust God?”
[Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Mark 12:38-44 – Peace Sunday]
The fourth chapter of Luke tells how Jesus went to the meeting place of his home congregation on the Sabbath. He entered the cool limestone building, and as was his habit, stood up to read the scripture. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled it, scanning until he found this passage, which he read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
After reading this Jesus sat down, but all eyes followed him. He was expected to say more, so he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus went on, and as he spoke tension began to swirl over the room’s tiered seats. Something sparked it and Jesus was driven out the door and out of the village. Jesus had declared the year of jubilee. He had declared himself a prophet. And he had declared that nobody in his hometown had the imagination to see it.
Cultivating peace requires imagination. Continue reading “Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)”
[Ruth 1:1-18; John 11:32-44]
We’ve just heard two biblical stories. We heard the story of Naomi, from the book of Ruth, and the story of Lazarus, from the gospel according to John. Let’s think, for a moment, about the wider context of these stories. There is one part of this that is easy to overlook. It’s this: if we believe that scripture is in some deep way inspired by God (not mechanically, but in a deeper way) then part of the context of our hearing any scripture is a Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer whose very being is relationship. One of the unique and wonderful things Christians believe is that God doesn’t just have relationships, God is a relationship. Part of what it means to know God is to be brought into this divine relationship. Continue reading “Lord, come and see (177)”
[Job 41:1-11; 42:1-6]
In July of 1840 Søren Kierkegaard took a ferry to Jutland. He would have been 27 at the time, decidedly not the influential philosopher he would one day become. I assume that the ferry would have taken him from Copenhagen across the shallow Kattegat strait to that big hunk of mainland Denmark that sticks up into the North Sea. In his journal Kierkegaard says the trip seemed terribly long and boring, even though the regulars said it was abnormally fast. What made the trip worse was that there were four pastors on board. Continue reading ““I Have Uttered What I Did Not Understand” or Blessed Are Those Open to Reason (176)”
[Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45]
Most people today do not have spiritual conversations—at least not very often. We don’t talk much about God. We don’t talk much about prayer. We don’t talk much about theological virtues. Most of us are not comfortable with spiritual language. This is all according to a study outlined recently in the New York Times. Continue reading “Something about Humility (175)”
[Esther 7:1-6, 7-10; 9:20-22]
Every week we are given several possible texts that might anchor our worship service. One of options this week is a passage from the book of Esther. At a point in time when the public conversation keeps looping back to the ways many women have been mistreated by men in positions of power, it would be strange not to take this opportunity to sit with the story of Esther. This is the story of a woman who chose to step off the path her life seemed to be on. She chose to take a risk, and not a selfish risk, not a risk for herself, but a risk for others. There is a lot we can learn from Esther’s story, but one thing is surely how to live a life of significance—even in very difficult circumstances. Continue reading “A Meaningful Life, Even if it Doesn’t Make the Forbes List (173)”
[Song of Solomon 2:8-17] Earlier this summer my family and I spent six days canoe camping. Over the past few years, we’ve been working our way up to spending a whole week in the backcountry. It always takes a few days to adjust to being so exposed to wind, sun and rain. Our six days this year were what I would call “honest.” By that I mean the weather was a mixture of rain and sun (with a few odd thunderstorms); the bugs were not unbearable, but they were present; our food was good, but we had to hang it in a tree at night; our sleeping bags and tent stayed dry, but we had to pack them carefully, carry them over the portage and paddle them across the bay. Continue reading “Until the Day Breathes (171)”
The fourth chapter of Mark ends with the great story of Jesus calming the storm. What we don’t always notice is that when they were caught up in the storm, Jesus and his disciples were heading toward a part of ancient Palestine known as the Decapolis. It was the “other” side. The Decapolis was a group of cities culturally distinct from the area Jesus and most of his disciples called home. This area was so deeply influenced by Greek culture that many devout Jews would have considered it morally suspected, or possibly even depraved. For them it was the kind of place, that if you went at all, left you feeling contaminated.
As soon as they got out of the boat on this side of the lake a naked man with broken shackles and chains rushed at them. This would have confirmed the darkest of the disciples’ suspicions. Yet Jesus met the man, spoke to him, calmed him . . . and healed him. The locals were intimidated. They asked the group to leave. Our reading (Mark 5:21-43) comes right after this. When Mark says that Jesus and his friends “crossed again” it meant they were coming back to their side of the Galilee. Continue reading “He Saw a Great Commotion (168)”
In the beginning of Isaiah chapter six we find an account of the prophet’s vision of the heavenly throne: Isaiah sees the Lord, he hears the seraphs, he is cleansed and called. I wonder how you experience reading a biblical passage like this. My guess is that many of us love the majesty and the smoky mystery of the vision. At the same time, we find it hard to take the actual substance of the claim seriously. Isaiah saw God? Isaiah was called by God personally? It may seem more like an excerpt from a fantasy novel than a historical report. Continue reading “Holy, Holy, Holy or Whatever (164)”