September 02, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Christian life is a supernatural life. When someone is a Christian, we see an observable difference in their life. It shows up. Scripture tells us that we are miraculously, though we may not feel it, new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. Our Epistle today gives us a tangible example and exhortation of how our Christian life is different and observable…or not…
In this reading today, we hear about our actions, handling our emotions, and the importance of the state of our hearts.
“Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
And a great word picture: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away immediately forget what they were like.”
The Christian life is one of response and action to all that God has done for us. As we relate to God and one another, simply put – Love is something you do.
But this is not an expectation to live up to from God…we are not saved by any works we do and cannot make God think any more of us than God already does. Salvation, like all things from God, is a gift.
James asserts: God gave us birth by the word of truth and we are to welcome this word implanted in us with meekness.
We live in the midst of profound miracle through God’s power and provision for us, but we still – still - are plagued by limitation. We sin, we fall short…and we do this, at times with great creativity.
James also asserts: if we are mere hearers of the word we “deceive ourselves” and become like one who walks away from a mirror and forgets what they looked like. James strongly says, religion lived from a deceived heart is worthless…worthless.
The word for heart in the Greek James uses will sound familiar: Kardia. Cardia. Cardio. We think of our hearts physically. However, in the Greek this is a big word conceptually and, in our context, refers to the center of our physical and spiritual life. From the New Testament Greek, Lexicon sees that this involves the mind, the will and character, and emotions or appetites and desires. Great inclusivity in its meaning.
August 12, 2018
Not a word we hear much in our daily life these days…another related word we think about more – character. Character being in simplicity the habits of our lives.
Integrity is related. Integrity has to do with the quality of our behavior. C. S. Lewis in his essay “Men without Chests” gives a helpful glimpse as he criticizes development of people that is cerebral – the mind, and visceral – the appetites, but neglects the importance of the chest – that which links or tames our thinking and our appetites. Lewis calls the chest the seat of the sentiment or place of magnanimity in our lives. Magnanimity is the quality of our behavior – it is noble, generous. Lewis asserted boldly, “by intellect one is mere spirit and by one’s appetite mere animal.”
The biblical idea of integrity is wholeness - completeness, moral innocence. It has the idea of soundness of character and adherence to moral character. Often in scripture, it also is coupled with the idea of ‘walking’ in integrity. This implies the habitual manner of life as being bound with integrity.
Do you see David or Absalom in this? For both we’ve seen over the past few weeks lives lacking integrity. In the language of C. S. Lewis, David, and Absalom were literally “men without chests” - making choice out of appetites – lust, violence, selfish ambition, anger, greed.
Let me sum up – because we’ve missed a few headlines in our Sunday propers:
David had many children – 20 are named in scripture – and David had many partners. There was struggle relationally among the four oldest – all from different mothers – for Absalom, 2nd in line for succession, this was personal between him and Amnon, 1st in line for succession.
May 06, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Over the last several weeks we’ve been hearing of many miraculous stories from the book of Acts and through John – both his gospel and letters – we have been very repetitively hearing about love, and this last two weeks abiding and obeying commands. It’s an easy time as we’ve reached week six in celebrating Easter with all these repetitions to zone out…to miss it…but there’s some stuff going on here…
The word love is getting thrown around a lot. It’s a word we hear all the time.
We think about it a lot.
The Beatles asserted – All you need is Love
In the musing on love all is not good news – the J. Geils Band in the 80’s exclaimed – Love Stinks
Tina Turner asked, What’s love got to do with it?
The Captain & Tenille claimed (before their divorce) – Love will Keep us Together
Huey Lewis is wowed by the Power of Love
What’s funny in the English language is that we have one word for love: Love. We use the same word to say to our spouse or significant other to express ourselves that we say to express our feelings about pizza: I love you. I love pizza. Love. This concept can seem so vague while being so significant.
No wonder it's befuddling when we hear that God is love.
It helps us to consider the word love in the Greek – the language of it’s writing in the New Testament. In Greek, there are four words for love – Eros, Philos, Storge, and Agape.
In our readings today, the repetitive use of the word love is actually 2 kinds of love (Strong’s concordance helps us here) they are cognates of Philos – friend love or confidant, beloved and the other is a cognate of agape – in its meaning it is wide: a benevolence, unconditional – transcending circumstance or behavior…it just is.
March 29, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Here we are. Maundy Thursday. The tipping point as we go into the Triduum – the Great Three Days of Easter.
It’s challenging for us to do this remembering. Bunny trails of thought can distract us. Or we can get hyper-focused on one idea or concept. As we approach things in our lives often we may think – “If I just do this one thing” or “change this one thing.” We tend to make things singular.
But here, now as we enter the institution narrative – the place where Jesus is declaring the “already but not yet” through the cup of wine and loaf of bread. Jesus is at once mediator, sacrifice, servant, friend, and Lord. There is a multiplicity of things going on. These involve Jesus’ roles, but they also involve the timing and convergence of symbols and ritual.
This comes from two directions for us in this night: the institution of sacrament stated as “new covenant” and Jesus declaring himself as mediator and sacrifice.
Covenant and sacrifice.
Scripturally these two streams, though really important in the followership of God by Israel are not connected. We hear of both throughout the Old Testament with great detail but not paired. They are promise and provision but are separate practices and concepts.
But here, in this night suddenly they are connected together.
Covenant serves to provide a means of right relating.
A covenant is something that binds parties together. Historically, covenants were made between people groups and nations as a means of relating. And through redemptive history covenants with different focus took place to bind people to God:
Noah and the rainbow
Abraham – land, and descendants
Israel at Sinai – Moses and the 10 commandments
David – a generational promise of a King…lineage to the Savior.
Each of these had a flavor of a sovereign and a servant and a binding of parties together.
Looking at covenant’s in scripture we often see an animal killed and displayed…but don’t confuse this. This animal killed and dismembered in the context of a covenant was no offering. It was a gruesome symbol. A symbol saying to each party: so be this done to me if I do not keep this covenant. The dead animal displayed symbolized consequence for breaking the covenant.
March 04, 2018
May I speak to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In today’s gospel, we see Jesus’ outburst…how startling!…our God has an emotional life – and those emotions are not just warm fuzzies. There’s anger, there’s yelling.
But what is happening? In the passage, we see that the Passover is approaching and through lack of detail the passage makes it sound pretty neat and tidy, but at the time of the year of the Passover festival, there is great chaos in Jerusalem.
To understand this chaos, we need to consider both the crowd and the temple. During the time of Herod, while Jerusalem was under Roman rule, many changes took place to accommodate the festival crowds and, perhaps seek both efficiency and benefit to Rome. As we read the Old Testament our understanding of the temple may get lost in descriptions of sacrifice and instruction of how to do things, but we need to remember that after the Babylonian Exile, there was a re-start of practice and location that emerged over time. The dispersed Jews began to pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three major festivals each year - Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As time went on changes continued and things became modified. Not unlike today in our culture as we use Amazon to mail order our shopping needs instead of physically going to a store or read on a Kindle instead of using a bound book – culture changes, and behaviors change.
That’s where we find ourselves in today’s reading. As I said, Passover was a Pilgrimage feast where Jews, who had been dispersed would return for worship. The population of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus has many estimates, anywhere from approximately 100-200 thousand people – less than half the size of present Little Rock, but on the three major festivals per year the population would swell, some assert to close to a million – but at least double in population…you can only imagine how hard it was for the city to cope – food, accommodations, animals, offerings, ritual facilities. So, Herod began work on the temple: we hear it intimated today – “This Temple has been under construction…” Herod renovated both the city and the Temple to accommodate these times of massive influx – these changes in the Temple were not changes in what took place there, but in approach for greater ease of number of people and their needs – it had to do with bridges of connection, building a large plaza around the Temple that linked some aspects of commerce to the location of the temple for the ease of the city as pilgrims descended for the festivals. We can glimpse the chaos of this Passover festival: crowds, animals, sounds, smells, chaos…and Jesus comes into the Temple…
Jesus’ angry outburst is interesting and instructive to us. It might show us more of who God is – that God has an emotional life, but it also shows us more of who we are.
February 14, 2018
Lent is here…this special season of preparation – historically this predominately preparation was for baptism, but for most of us having been Baptized, it’s a season of preparation to encounter Christ’s resurrection. This means we seek to understand who we are as sinners, and who God is in God’s Holiness and God’s Extravagant love and power.
There is a juxtaposition in Lent. The word Lent in his root meaning is “spring.” Springtime…a time of life, of a new beginning. This life and a new beginning are found as we focus on sin and death and need for forgiveness…the making of a right relationship. Here we find the contrast – life and new beginning is found through a focus on sin and death. Through this, we move to reconciliation with God, self, and others. From separation to union.
This is a season of gazing, really looking. It’s also a season of remembering: to remember – to re-put together – re-member Christ’s suffering and death – as we look, as we remember it gets in us. As we with intentionality enter into this ritual of Lent, it helps us know our need for God and God’s power and love.
We’re exhorted about motives and behavior for the Lenten season – listen carefully as we are called to a holy lent in a moment.
With all of our hearts we heard in our scripture readings – we are called to come to God in this season: this is both corporate and personal and without fear. And let us be reminded: this is not a season to earn something from God or about making commitments to our self-care by diet and exercise – the ever popular giving up chocolate for Lent. It is about ordered self-control to let go of something that may draw our heart from God and pick up something that may draw us toward God.
Drawing near to God
How might we demonstrate this? We hear in scripture several things:
Prayer- perhaps picking up a prayer time personally or corporately – this may mean we let go of something else that currently occupies time in our schedules.
Alms – intentional giving of our money
Time alone “secretly” with God to pray and read scripture
Fasting – abstaining from a food or foods remind ourselves as we hold from a food or foods – perhaps weekly or daily - of our need or desperation for God.
What does this do? This letting go and taking up?
It makes us aware…aware of whose presence we are in every moment of every day. God who is Holy, powerful, perfect, the King, and love. We see God’s faithfulness and our limitations. We experience grace.
So, let us consider our returning to God with all our hearts. To God who is gracious, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love…and may God bless us with a fresh revelation of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.
January 21, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve moved at warp speed from the nativity and beholding little Baby Jesus, to adult Jesus. BAM! What does that mean for us – how do we not only catch up but how do we enter in?
This season in the church calendar following Advent and the 12 days of Christmas is Epiphany. An author I appreciate and a former seminary professor of mine lend help in understanding where we are on the calendar: Jan Richardson has written devotionally on Advent and Epiphany. She provides definition and description:
Epiphany means “manifestation,” “appearing,” or “showing.” Epiphany refers both to the appearing of Christ in the world and to the arrival of the wise ones who followed the star and welcomed the child.
We hear from Richardson a nativity focus.
J. Neil Alexander, Dean of the School of Theology at Sewanee’s University of the South asserts an almost contradictory point of view in his writing on liturgical time – the seasons of the church year:
Epiphany is something of a fulcrum that shifts the balance from the incarnation of God seen in relation to the nativity of Jesus, to the incarnate one being manifest in new ways as God’s anointed one whom we will come to know as teacher, healer, and miracle worker, and ultimately as the Crucified and Risen One.
…the present shape of things often makes Epiphany seem only the end of Christmas, it is important to recognize…that Epiphany is also about looking forward, about beginnings, about what is still to come.
Alexander and Richardson both challenge us in our understanding and approach to Epiphany. It is not merely the end of Christmas, but a season to engage this adult Jesus and what he’s showing us – how he’s manifesting himself to us…and perhaps be willing to be surprised and welcoming.
Epiphany is a season of recognition. As we hear the readings, we are shown Jesus in his character, nature, and commitments – we heard of Christ’s baptism last week, and this week we see the beginning of the call of the disciples.
November 12, 2017
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The coming of Christ.
We are on the verge of the Advent season and the change of year in the church calendar in both the daily office and the lectionary. We are in the place of change – and it’s a change we see all around us in the fall weather. Leaves have changed colors and mostly dropped from trees. We have some blustery days, and with the time change last week, we are more conscious of the darkness of the season.
The calendar also highlights this change. Recently we have celebrated Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. A three-day cycle that is often described as a “thin place.” A place where the now and the not yet are most transparent to one another. This transparency may show us that we are with those who have died, and they are with us. We are all journeying together.
Cynthia Bourgeault – a modern day mystic and Episcopal priest - in her essay “Fall Triduum” articulately speaks of our place in the calendar. This term “Triduum” may be familiar to us as associated with Easter. The Triduum of Easter refers to the “Three Great Days” beginning Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday. Days of reflection, prayer, preparation. Bourgeault says:
…fall offers us a Triduum in those great three days encompassing Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day...they do in fact comprise their own sacred passage, which is not only authentic in and of itself, but also a powerful mirror-image of the energy flowing through the spring Triduum. Both spring and fall Triduums deal with that passage from death to life which is at the heart of the Christian mystical path…But they do so in very different modes, with a very different emotional and spiritual coloration. At Easter the days are lengthening, the earth is springing forth with new life...In the Fall Triduum, the movement is more inward, against the grain. The days are shortening, the leaves are fallen, and the earth draws once again into itself. Everything in the natural world confronts us with reminders of our own mortality. The scriptural readings as the time just before Advent approaches are more and more preoccupied with the end, not only personally but cosmically: the last coming, the end of time. In this dark and inward season, there is little that encourages us to somersault over death right into resurrection; we must linger in the dark, allow the dawning recognition of how fragile we are.
August 27, 2017
The readings today from both the Old Testament and the Epistle of Romans are timely. They show people groups in conflict where one is acting with superiority and imposing limitations on the other.
This intersects with some things going on nationally. We think of the recent violence and protests including neo-nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. There has relatedly been the destruction of historic statues. Additionally, this week the building of a wall as a barrier between the United States and Mexico is again in the news.
In the wide lens the book of Romans is a courtroom drama of salvation, who God is, and what to do to live this Christian life. The emphasis of salvation is Paul’s step by step overview of who we are as humanity. The passage begins, “Therefore...” and whenever there is a therefore, we must ask: “What is it there for?”
July 23, 2017
This week we continue our journey through parables. Last week Amber’s contrasts helped us understand parables by describing what they are not. She also helped us see that they are not something that’s tidy; that we solve or interpret in neat and clean ways.
We can see that parables are stories with meaning and that they often reveal or illustrate the kingdom of God.
A big take away from last week is that God is extravagant toward us. The parable of the sower was illustrating God’s generosity as seed was generously scattered on all on kinds of soil without discrimination.
Today our parable begins: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.”