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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Eve Luke 2:1-4 Year B

Today my family & I delivered groceries, something we do once a month with the local Catholic worker house. It is a chaotic sort of crazy event, esp. the Christmas delivery. About 30 people fill over 200 bags of groceries & then we divide up and deliver them all over the city.

We are given lists of people who have requested food. Today we approaced a door that had a padlock on the outside. The mail was overflowing from the mailbox. Obviously there was no one home. What to do? The next delivery was a duplex. I knocked on the wrong door. "They are over there." She pointed. Four tiny children ran outside, one a 3 year old boy in only a shirt & underwear. It was 38oF. I asked her if she needed food. She said yes. We brought the bags we had left.

The grateful thank yous from the children break my heart. Last month some kids came screaming to the door when we delivered, so glad to see us.

Our leader calls this organized anarchy. It's called Food Equality and redistribution. Whatever it is, it feeds hungry children at Christmas.

So different, the two views I've had this weekend. Last night I shopped at SuperTarget with the rest of the city. Lots of last minute runs for toys and stocking stuffers. I saw no tree or lights at the house where the hungry children lived.

I ask, which is closer to the stable where Jesus was born? What child understands Christmas better, the one receiving food in their hungry belly, or the one seeing a pile of gifts under a fancy tree? Don't get me wrong, I love giving & receiving gifts...but my heart is breaking today. Because I saw Jesus with a runny nose and bare legs run out in the cold, so glad to get a box of Rice Krispies 5 days before Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38

"For nothing will be impossible with God." This is the message of Advent. I have witnessed a true miracle this week. A situation that looked hopeless, God worked. He set someone free who was in chains.
Sure it's a miracle that God's son came to earth...that he lived inside a girl's womb for 9 months and came screaming into a cruel world, represented by a dirty stable and a feeding trough. We hear it every year and we don't get it.
Do you get it? God came screaming into the world through a peasant girl! God crashed into an occupied land where his own people were being oppressed! God can break chains and make highways in the wilderness!
I was at ToysRUs last night and found empty shelves everywhere. Apparently the whole city had been Christmas shopping. Sure we want to make sure our kids find toys under the tree. But let's make sure they find peace on earth too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Great Place to Be

Tonight was the annual staff Christmas party for our church. Can I say I am so glad to be a part of great team of pastors!!! I LOVE IT!! I admire my sisters who are out the solo pastoring. I did it. But I love being part of a team.

"Just Because it is doesn't mean it should be."

I saw the movie "Australia" last night. What a statement against racisim. LOVED IT. "Just because it is doesn't mean it should be" is my new favorite quote. It also explores the importance of song and story in creating a culture and a people. I am so full of new sermon illustrations I may have to write a sermon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What I want for Christmas

1. No more hurting children. When will adults learn that children are the most treasured gift anyone could ever receive? When will we learn to treat children as people with feelings? When will we learn to take our children to church when they wake up and cry Sunday morning to go to Sunday School?
2. No more hatred. Jesus talked about murder beginning in the heart with hatred. If people learn to forgive and control their feelings by giving them to God, there would be no more violence.
3. No more hunger. According to the United Nations World Hunger Program, every 3.6 seconds someone in the world dies of starvation. I see my Christmas wish coming true when I see a community willing to help its hungry people.
4. No more gossip. Nothing can be more destructive to a church or community than idle words that spread like wildfire. This Christmas have a deaf ear and a mute mouth. If you don’t hear it you can’t spread it. If you do hear it, don’t spread it. If you hear an item of concern about an individual, ask that person, not everyone else in town. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
5. No more alcoholism.
Don’t buy the liquor this Christmas. You might drink too much, get angry, hurt someone you love—even your child or your spouse. It’s not worth it. Drunk driving accidents go way up around the holidays. We don’t want anymore tragedy. Leave the alcohol alone.
6. True Peace. The biblical idea of peace is found in the Old Testament concept of shalom. Much more than an absence of war, this peace permeates into the very heart of humanity. It means more than serenity, more than calmness, more than safety. It is the idea of complete harmony between God and humanity that leads to complete harmony within oneself, with creation, and with others. As we continue to read the Bible, we find the only way to shalom is through God’s Christmas gift to the world, his Son Jesus Christ. If you search for this peace, ask Jesus to forgive you of all wrong and to come into your life. Contact a local pastor for spiritual guidance.
7. An optimism of grace. This optimism tells me that my list is not just idle wishes, it is the hope of Christmas, the desire of a God who sent his only begotten Son into the world to make all these wishes come true.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ordinary 28A Matthew 22:1-14 Violent Kingdom Parables AGAIN!

"Many are called but few are chosen" used to scare me to death as a kid. I had been called to preach at 10 but feared I would not be worthy of the call. I was scared that because I had been called that God held me up to some kind of impossible standard. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I was the first at the altar at every revival. I had to be the most spiritual. I had to be perfect. And I never was.
But let's go back to the beginning of the passage. The king invites everyone to a wedding banquet. They do not come. So he kills them. Then he invites the society's outcasts to the banquet. One does not have a wedding garment so he is killed too.
Power and violence thrown around in another parable.
Barbara Brown Taylor calls this parable one of the 'biblical tales of terror'
She talks about the real terror of obeying God and not knowing how it will turn out. Like Jesus heading to the Cross not knowing what would come on the other side.
Ugh. I don't like this passage AT ALL. As stated before, I don't like tales of violence. I can't watch violent movies because I feel the pain of every gunshot, gutpunch, or even dogbite.
Why do we have tales of a violent God included in the Bible? This is something I intend to explore this week.

Ordinary 27A Matthew 21:33-46

The parable of the vineyard owner hurts. I hate it when Jesus talks about violence. Usually the violence points to his own death, as this does. It is amazing the way he makes the listeners fall into their own trap. I wish I could tell stories as he did. What will God do with the slaves who kill the son? Take it away and give it to someone else. I think I have been guilty of saying, "boy am I glad I am not one of those slaves." Perhaps we are too quick to judge those who rejected Jesus.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Epiphany 8A Matthew 6:24-34 On Anxiety

Note: note this is a full formal exegetical paper and not a sermon.


"Do not be anxious," sounds easier than it is. The following is a detailed outline of Matthew 6:25-34

I. Do not worry about your life.

A. Do not worry about what you might eat.
B. Do not worry about what you might drink.
C. Do not worry about what you might wear.

II. Consider the birds of the air.

A. They do not sow.
B. They do not harvest crops.
C. The heavenly Father feeds them.
D. Are you not more valuable than the birds?

III. Can any of you by worrying add to his or her life a single hour?

IV. And why do you worry about clothing?

A. Consider the lilies of the field. They don't work.
B. But not even Solomon could match their clothing.
C. Now since God clothes the grass will he not clothe you?

V. Do not worry

A. Do not say "What are we to eat?'
B. Do not say "What are we to drink?"
C. Do not say "What are we to wear?"
D. For the people of the world are the ones who seek these things.

VI. You keep seeking the Kingdom and his righteousness and all these will be yours.

VII. So do not be filled with anxiety for tomorrow.

A. For tomorrow will have its own worries.
B. For each day has its own supply of evil.

Matthew the tax collector mentioned in the book is traditionally attributed with writing this gospel. However, some scholars say that a later Jewish Christian living in Antioch penned the book. He wrote for a church that was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. (Hare, 2). Most scholars think the writer of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark and a source called "Q" that many believe all the Synoptic Gospel writers used. (Anchor, 622)
The theme of this passage is quite obvious. If only all biblical passages had such an apparent theme. "Do not worry." This is pretty simple to say, but almost impossible to practice.
Throughout the Old Testament, there seems to be anxiety over the pressures of everyday life in mostly agricultural land. Drought and famines do come. Yet Jesus seems to preach that those in the Kingdom have the power to keep from this normal angst. (Craddock, 155)
The overall genre for this passage is Gospel. The passage is a teaching straight from the mouth of Jesus. Red-lettered authority, my friend. There are poetic elements to it, as Jesus taught using poetry. Some call this section of Matthew's Gospel "Jesus demands on Israel."
Matthew and the other Gospels are an extension of the keryma about the fulfillment of the kingdom brought by Jesus. Matthew and the other Gospels are an extension of the kerygma about the fulfillment brought by Jesus. This fulfillment is described as especially the death and resurrection. The saying "sufficient to the day as its evil" has a proverbial ring to it. There have been no exact parallels found to this "proverb" but Proverbs 27:5 is similar. (Hagner, 166).
Geographically, this is the "Sermon on the Mount." In Matthew 5:1, Jesus climbs to the top of a mountain to preach this message. In Luke the same passage is the "Sermon on the Plain." Does it matter where he preached it? I'm not sure. I think the mountaintop preaching may have been connecting him with Moses and the Jewish people in Matthew's audience will appreciate the connection.
The overall theme of Matthew is that Jesus preaches and brings the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is a large portion of the Gospel. This passage is included in that Sermon on the Mount. The passage shows the thoughts of Jesus on committing all worries to God. Jesus shows that even in his death he commits all to God and trust God to bring victory even out of his own death. (Hare, 3-5).
Matthew 6 is a message of Jesus that he preached at the beginning of his ministry. The storyline of the New Testament begins with Jesus' birth, continues with brief remarks on his childhood (Matthew 2:23, Luke 2:41-52). The story of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, continues with his being baptized by his cousin, John, known as the "Baptist." (Matthew 3:1-17).
Jesus then enters the wilderness to be tempted. (Matthew 4:1-11). The first preaching of Jesus is recorded in Matthew as "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17). He then calls his first disciples. In Matthew he calls two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. They are fishing and Jesus tells them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people" or in older translations, "I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:20). He then calls James and John, who also leave their fishing nets to follow Jesus.
Jesus begins healing in Matthew 4:23-25. It is a general statement about his healing. He heals the diseased, those in pain, and the paralyzed. This is all seen as signs of the Kingdom of God come to earth.
Matthew 5 begins with the Beatitudes. Jesus then gives a lengthy ethical discourse. Jesus discusses fasting, loving enemies, lust, and all kinds of practical instructions. Matthew 6:25-34 comes right in the middle of this long discourse. After he finishes this statement on worry, he goes into a statement on "Do not judge."
The Gospel continues with more accounts of sermons, healings, and finally ends with Jesus going "up to Jerusalem" to be crucified. He is buried in a borrowed tomb, but praise God he rises on the third day. The resurrection is the central event of the New Testament.

The economic conditions in Palestine in the first century were not good. Almost all of the famines that Josephus mentioned are in the first century. There were several natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, and famine. (Theissen, 37-38) Herod had taken over much of the land through confiscation. Some in the world today, yes even still in Palestine, struggle with the same issues. Personally I don't fear drought and famine because even when Oklahoma had a horrible drought in 1998, other people in the country brought in water and crops. Telling people not to worry about food and water is one thing when they are well-fed such as those in my church. Telling a homeless person who is glad to get one meal a day at the City Rescue Mission not to worry seems almost callous. Is it callous or is it asking them to seek something higher than food and clothing? But how can one say such things when their children are hungry? I don't fully understand, but I am trying. I talk to people who have lived in Africa who tell of Nazarene pastors' families who eat only once every four days. They are not bitter of ungrateful to God or the church. They are simply grateful that God has provided food every four days. I think those families understand and believe this passage. I'm not sure I do. I don't really want to worry about it. I will say there have been times in my life when there was very little food in my house as a child. We never went hungry. God did provide in the form of Christian friends who brought food or let my parents know of jobs.

Theological Analysis
Matthew uses the word basileia (Greek for "Kingdom) more frequently than any other of the Gospel writers, nearly three times as many as Mark. Everything in the Gospel somehow relates to this theme of the Kingdom (Hagner, 1x, 1xi, 1xiii). Matthew also uses the term dikaiosouna (righteousness) which is common only to this Gospel. The righteousness which Jesus teaches his disciples is a higher righteousness.
In Matthew, the ones who know God as their Father are the ones for whom the best in life is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom's righteousness. To strive after the Kingdom means to strive after the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33); and by receiving the Kingdom we receive the righteousness that comes with the Kingdom. Righteousness, the way the Jews perceived it, was a human activity. The rabbis taught the people that righteousness had to be a human work, including obedience to the Law and doing acts of mercy.
Jesus taught the people that righteousness was both God's demand and God's gift. Only a person whose righteousness exceeded those of the scribes and Pharisees was allowed entrance into the Kingdom. "Here is the very heart of Jesus' teaching, the renunciation of self-attained righteousness and the willingness to become like children who have nothing and must receive everything." (Ladd, 65, 79).
God is at work in the text through his own Son, Jesus Christ, come to earth to not only tell us that God loves us, but to show us. Jesus preaches that those who live inside this Kingdom of God do not need to worry about everyday things like food, clothing, and lifespan. Why is this so? There are Christians who go hungry. There are Christians who die young. The ultimate answer to these questions will not be found in this passage, but at the end of the Gospel when Jesus rises from the dead. If a follower of Jesus dies of starvation or of persecution, their hope is in the Resurrection, never in physical survival.
This passage seems full of grace. God is giving the gift of peace of mind. However, the passage immediately following says, "Do not judge lest you be judged." Biblical themes of trust, hope, and faith are also present. The birds and the lilies are not symbols of prosperity, but testimonies of God's care. The passage also assures that God cares for the poor and values them. He takes care of those the world abandons. Throughout the Old Testament, God condemns his people for abandoning the poor, the widow, the orphan and the sojourner. Jesus reminds the people of the same thing. (Hare, 74)
The human condition is all over this passage. We all worry. Some have more reasons than others. If one doesn't have the money for basic necessities one usually worries. Those in Christ long to live this way. We don't want to worry about our needs. Yet we do. Somehow Jesus wants us to get this message that the Kingdom of God is all that matters. How do we as humans even begin to grasp that? When we have empty bellies and our children go hungry? When disease, famine, and natural disasters threaten our existence? What really matters? Jesus says to human beings that the only thing that matters is faith in God. Being human means one has needs of food, shelter, clothing…basic, yes, but necessary for life. Jesus wants us to rise above that and trust in his resurrection hope.
As mentioned above, there is an indirect quote to Proverbs 27:5. Jesus refers to the Torah all over the Sermon on the Mount. He assumes his Jewish audience will know the Torah. Boys were required to memorize the Torah starting at the age of five.

Hermeneutical Analysis

"Anxiety and wordy need not govern the disciple who has known the grace of the Kingdom. This is not just sovereign care about the Father that should be trusted, but his fatherly grace and love." (Hagner, 167) When we read this passage, deep questions are brought to mind, including: "Droughts and many other catastrophes can shorten the lives of birds and flowers as well as that of humans who trust in God." (Hare, 74). We also ask, "Are we not supposed to care if we eat or have proper clothes to wear?" We ask, "Does this give permission to people to be lazy, and not work, since we are not supposed to be concerned about material possessions?"
These are difficult questions to answer. In a land filled with oppression and poverty the Galileans knew the harsh reality of wondering if they or their children would have enough to eat or proper clothing for the weather. The Romans controlled the economy with their own, and not the Jewish peoples' interests in mind. The Jews who had money usually got it by cheating other Jews, such as tax collectors.
How do we get away from everyday life to "seek the Kingdom?" Is it even possible?
Somehow, Jesus seems to be saying that worrying will not change things. He does not say, "Do not work so that you will not have enough food or clothing." He seems to be saying for us not to be so consumed by everyday living that we leave the Kingdom of God out of our thoughts.
It is easy to get caught up with everyday living. We don't leave time for the kingdom. Just yesterday I was faced with the dilemma of getting this paper done, grading done, housework finished, taking my kids to the orthodontist, and I had an opportunity to serve food to the homeless down at OKC Compassion.
Living as a part of the Kingdom requires strategy. We must give up some things. Greed. Desire to be the best, climb the corporate ladder, getting ahead, keeping up with the Joneses. We must leave some things in God's hands. We must do our best to feed and clothe ourselves and our children, but do we need as mush as we Americans think we do? We consume way too much of the world's resources. Perhaps one of the messages we must learn from this passage is "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle."
"Live simply so that others may simply live." Ouch.
In the Beatitudes, anxiety is simply a natural reaction to poverty, hunger, and the pressures of everyday life. Yet the Kingdom has the power to change natural reactions. The lilies Jesus mentions are probably not lilies at all, but a certain type of wildflower that blooms in the spring on the hills of Palestine. (Crawford, 562). Since they are wild, God is seen to be caretaker of them. Are we like the wildflowers, depending upon God for our needs? Growing where planted? Being content where we thrive? Or are we hothouse flowers that must have constant incoming worldly goods?
One of my colleagues is known for saying this at the beginning of every sermon. "I hate this passage." He always hates his passages. Because when we start "digging in" to the Word of God, we find it rips us up, convicts us, and makes us look at everyone around us as real people needing love and attention. How are we supposed to live in our own little safe places if Jesus keeps throwing these words at us? How are we supposed to seek to get rich if he tells us to quit worrying about money? How in the world will I ever get that new house if I am moved with compassion towards those who have no place to live?
The Kingdom enters our lives violently. The Kingdom changes the very reason for our existence. Instead of being concerned for food, drink, and clothing as the "nations of the world" are, we are concerned for the Kingdom. The Kingdom is our life.

Works Cited
Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Interpretation Commentary. Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990. 155-65.
Crawford, Patricia. "Lilies." Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. 1 vols. San Francisco, CA: Harpers, 1985. 562.
Hagner, Donald. Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word P, 1993.
Hare, Douglas R. Matthew. Interpretation Commentary. New York: John Knox, 1993. 1-86.
Ladd, George E. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Markquart, Edward F. "Thanksgiving: anxiety about money, food and clothing. A Gospel Analysis." Sermons from Seattle. 1 June 2007. 3 Oct. 2008 .
Tashjian, Jirair S. "Tax Collectors and Sinners." Christian Resource Institute: The Voice. 1 Jan. 2006. Christian Resource Institute. 3 Oct. 2008 .
Theissen, Gerd. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress P, 1979.
Waldrup, Jody. Holman Bible Dictionary. Ed. Trent C. Butler. New York: B&H Group, 1991.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ordinary 21A Matthew 16:13-20 Who is this guy anyway?

Well, I've said that many times. Who is this Jesus anyway? What in the world does he expect of me and how does his life lived 2000 years ago relate to mine.

In a class I've been teaching recently, my students decided that Jesus must have been killed because he was just too good. I agreed. That was one reason. As Plato said hundreds of years before Jesus, the world could not handle a truly righteous (good) man. We couldn't. What happens when we meet someone whose behavior makes ours look bad? We usually hate them.
When someOne came to earth long ago and behaved in a way that made everyone around him look bad, many around him decided he must die.

In this passage known as Peter's Confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples "Who do the people say that I am?" If Jesus was living today, he could just simply Google his name like the politicians do to see what people think of them. However, he asked for hearsay...didn't he? Or was he probing to see if his disciples had "gotten it" yet that he was more than just a good buddy to take fishing.

Peter's confession echoes throughout history: through the Basilicas to the Camp Meetings...from the priests to the baptized babies...from the mountains to the waters...from the prisons to the palaces..."YOU ARE THE CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD."

No other words have shaken the foundations of the world as these did. Yet if they shook the world and continue to shake them, then why is our world not changed?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Easter 3C John 21 Peter's Failure (again)

Yes, you've seen this Scripture before. That's because I preach it often. Mostly to remind myself what Jesus does with failure. Tonight I preached at City Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter.
Instead of preaching Doubting Thomas I preached Betraying Peter. Peter failed his best friend when he needed him the most.

Tonight I stood before a group of about 3o men who live in the homeless shelter and preached this message. I felt completely unworthy to speak...and completely filled with the Spirit. I have no question of God leading me to this place and this time. I am called to preach.

Last night I dreamed a dream I often dream before preaching. Something goes wrong and I can't. Usually it has something to do with me losing my notes (I preach without notes) or something stupid like that. Last night I dreamed I went to preach at a church and suddenly the people decided I could not preach for them and they would not tell me why. They politely asked me to sit in the back while they did some poor excuse for a sunday school lesson. In the dream I figured out they would not let me preach because I am a woman. I got mad and left.

Tonight I preached at a rescue mission. No one seemed to care I was a woman. I sang a few simple songs with my guitar and believe it or not I got my first encore!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Believing Thomas John 20:19-31 Easter 2A

So why isn't he called "Believing Thomas" rather than "Doubting Thomas?"
He believed in the end, right? Yet we remember the poor guy only for his doubts.

I am embarassed to say this: but for the first time I am preaching at an urban mission. I am not embarassed to be preaching there...only embarassed at the age of 35 after 15 years of ministry I have not done this yet.

Yes, I have this passage listed on this site already. I know I am to preach it to this crowd. Yes, it's not the lectionary passage for the week.

I read over what I have preached on this passage before...and now I am faced with listeners who absolutely are at their end of hope...and isn't that what the Gospel is for?

Talk about no hope: your best friend has been crucified and you think you are next and you are hiding in fear...and then Jesus appears and offers peace. I need to give this message. Help me, God. Help me to preach the hope of Christ.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Easter 4A Psalm 23 Letting God love me

"He sits me at the table in the presence of my enemies, he anoints my head with oil, my cup runs over."

He sits me down at a table and well, he waits on me basically. GOD WAITS ON YOU.

Sit down & let God love you. Quit trying to DO DEVOTIONS & just let GOD LOVE YOU. That's my message for today.

I'm sitting here with Pastor Tie Dye for those of you who click on the links next to my blogs! We are at a conference together.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Easter 3A John 20:1-18

Sunrise Service. A guitar playing. This song. My favorite Easter song by one of my favorite musicians of all time.
So I haven't figured out how to put a video connection here. Someone comment and tell me how. But here is the link to the song.

The whole Easter sermon is right there. Who needs to preach?

A friend said to me after the service, the phrase, "Every fear I ever had just melted into peace" is the best description of the resurrection she has ever heard.

"He raised me to my feet and as I looked into his eyes/love was shining out from them like sunlight from the skies/Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release/and every fear I ever had melted into peace"

As he said, "Peace I leave with you my peace I give you."

Good Friday John 18:1-19:42

The depths of despair
The bottom of the bottom of the bottom.
Could the disciples have thought, "Well, we can't go any further down, it has to go up from here?"
I don't think so. I think they were thinking what if we get arrested and killed?

Every raw emotion in the disciples was felt that day: the cutting uneven edge of fear, the aching emptiness of despair, the dashed hopes of a new kingdom and the grotesque execution of their dearest friend
The candle burns out. The doors are locked. The uneven breathing of a group hiding in terror. Nothing brings comfort. No one can eat. No one can sleep. Every movement outside and all jump.

What if the soldiers come for them next? What if? What if?

Hearts race. Waiting. Waiting for what? Resurrection? Did it even cross their minds? Did they remember him saying, "Three days and the son of man will rise?" I don't think so. Even if they heard him say it, did they understand? How could they?

Well, they had seen him raise Lazarus.

But who would raise Jesus?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday Holy Week Year A B C Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 71:1-14, I Corinthians 1:18-31, John 12:20-36

The Light to the nations for the salvation of the earth hanging on an execution stake beaten and bloody?
Foolishness to the wise and wisdom to the foolish?

Holy Week holds a basketful of parodoxes that we often overlook.

We get caught up in the beauty of Easter and forget the pain of Good Friday.
While shopping for Easter finery we overlook the homeless on the street corner with the sign that says, "Will work for food."

The cross is foolishness. A stumbling block/scandalon. We trip over it or we don't believe...
We find it in the path on the way through life. We can't believe a God would become human and allow himself to be killed by us. But he did.

May this Holy Week find you stumbling over the cross. You can't go around it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Monday of Holy Week Year A B C Psalm 36:5-11, Isaiah 42:1-9, John 12:1-11, Hebrews 9:11-15

“There is no single action that can be claimed as the exclusive embodiment of Christ in the world. Perhaps Christ becomes flesh in our world in a variety of ways as long as there are people who make themselves available to God for that purpose.” Jirair Tashjian at

In John 12, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with $12,000 worth of perfume. Judas Iscariot accuses her of wasting money that could have been given to the poor. Jesus affirms Mary’s gift to him instead of agreeing with Judas.

Being available for Jesus’ work is never boring, and usually we find he leads in ways we never imagined possible.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Palm Sunday/Liturgy of the Passion Year A Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 50-4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16

Today Jesus comes in riding on a donkey.

We waved our palm branches and sang our songs. We welcomed our king. Any king, senator, or prince who comes into Jerusalem gets the same welcome. Only VIPS. It’s like rolling out the red carpet for the president. It’s like being on your best behavior when the principal comes to visit your classroom. It’s like wearing your best suit to meet your boss. It’s common behavior, meant to impress and welcome the king. But is Jesus a king? All he has done up to now is hang around with poor folks and sinners. He sleeps in fields and doesn’t even own his own home. He is a homeless wanderer, sweaty and dirty.

Today I proclaim the liberation of the captives and the coming of the peace of Christ

Passing the Peace means just that. When we greet each other in the name of Christ we spread his peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is all of your children safe under one roof, with fresh clothes, clean sheets, open windows, full bellies, and the hope of a safe tomorrow. Peace is knowing you can take your kids to church in the morning without risking arrest. Peace is being right with God, no guilt, Romans says There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What does the story of holy week mean to me?
It means that I must be willing to be a servant. We have lost the meaning of this word. A servant is low, the bottom of the totem pole, the one everyone either spits on or ignores. Instead of understanding servants we go to fast food joints and expect great service. A fast food employee would probably be the closest we understand to a servant. Wash tables, minimum wage, scrub toilets, fry burgers, drop fries in grease, and deal with people all day who could care less who you are and what kind of person you are deep inside.
Jesus is asking me to be like that?
He is showing by example, riding on a donkey when he has every right to ride on a stallion…he’s driving a sputtering, stalling ford escort when he has every right to be driven in a luxury limousine. He’s refusing to place himself above anyone else.
He’s the last one home when the church has a potluck because he’s sweeping up the food on the floor and washing dishes at the sink, and carrying out trash. Jesus is mopping floors at the church when he has every right to sit in the new recliner watching TV on his new big screen. Jesus is the one who takes food to his neighbor who is laid up with a broken leg and may even be late to work because of his stop. Jesus is the one who invites people over after church and cooks a meal for them when he’d rather be eating out, being served, rather than serving, and then heading to bed for a nap.

Riding into Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a sputtering old car, leaving his limo behind, Jesus stops at every corner to give money to the homeless beggars with signs that say, “Will work for food.”

But while he’s driving that sputtering, stalling vehicle people get the idea that he is the presidential material and not just an average joe. So they start screaming out, “Jesus for President” “Run for office, we’ll elect you!” Jesus only smiles, the sweat pouring down his back because the air conditioner is broken. They get out their checkbooks and tell Jesus if he’ll just run for president, they’ll finance his campaign. If he could just straighten out this country that’s going you-know-where in a handbasket, and make these streets safe again, then everything would be a-ok. They’ve seen his power, they know he has healed that woman who had breast cancer, and that man who had colon cancer. They know Jesus has been hanging around the homosexuals with aids and curing them left and right. They know Jesus has even raised a child from the dead whose single mother was on welfare and didn’t have the money to take him to the hospital. And just before driving into Fayetteville, Jesus was in Pea Ridge at the little league field healing a child whose face was swollen from being slapped around by his stepfather. Day before yesterday he was at the Benton County women’s shelter healing all the bruises and the broken bones left by angry men.

So if Jesus will just become president then everything will be ok again. He’ll put prayer back in schools and give every teacher a copy of the Ten commandments to hang on the wall. He’ll make every principal go to Bible college and teach Sunday school lessons in the cafeteria. Why Jesus will make the hospitals stop fighting the insurance companies and give everyone better care. Why if Jesus has his way when he becomes president he will make science teachers teach creation instead of evolution. Why when Jesus becomes president all the violence will be taken off of TV and instead good, wholesome family entertainment will be shown every hour. Lassie will come home and leave it to beaver will say Yes, sir.

When Jesus comes driving into town in his sputtering, stalling car we will get out our checkbooks and finance his campaign. We will knock on every door with flyers and open voting booths at every church. We’ll get him out of the ripped up pair of ancient jeans and old ratty t-shirt and we’ll put Jesus in a 3 piece suit with a shirt and matching tie.

But the night of the national convention Jesus doesn’t show up in this three piece suit and Regis shirt and matching tie. We are all ready with our campaign posters waving and NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC cameras all fired up and waiting.
The crowd grew impatient and the leaders tried to calm them down but all of a sudden they started crying “assassinate him”
One of the messenger boys comes running in with a report that they’ve found him.
He’s down in a trailer in beaver hollow road
What those people don’t go to church. What’s he doing hanging around them. They got in their cars and ran down there…
They found the escort in the driveway. Jesus was in the trailer with a single mother. Her four children had the flu in various stages. Jesus sat next to the little girl’s bed and held her hand.
“What are you doing here when you could be out making a difference?” Asked his campaign leader. These people don’t vote! That child can’t even reach the voting booth.
I am making a difference Jesus replied.
Where’s the suit and tie? Where’s the clean shaven image? Jesus we told you to get rid of that beard!

By now all the reporters had crammed into the tiny room.

Why aren’t you at the convention?
I’m doing the work for which I was sent.

The child whimpered. Jesus reached for the cold cloth for her head.

One of the more hot-headed men began screeching! Give us back our campaign money.
This guy is a fraud!

The crowd crammed into the tiny trailer. It began to shake on its rusty rims.

Someone ran back to his fancy pickup and got the shotgun off the rack
He took aim through the tiny window.
How dare he take my campaign money and not show up to be nominated to my political party! He was going to take evolution out of the schools and put the 10 commandments back into the curriculum.

The kick of the gun knocked the man back into the ditch behind the trailer. The bullet went wild and hit the ceiling of the tiny trailer.

Jesus fell over the child. The bullet hit him instead.

Lent 5A John 11:1-45

The story of resurrection...if you have ever stood at a grave and wept like Mary & Martha you identify...

Rising again. What a concept. When my grandpa died in 1987 I prayed that he would rise out of that coffin until I heard they had already flushed his body fluids out and replaced them with formaldehyde. Only then did I think it was hopeless.

Imagine Mary & Martha who have been hopeless. His body stinketh already. And here comes Jesus saying "Roll away the stone."

One "Year A" I had just experienced the worst day of my life as I read this passage. My 20 month-old daughter had had a seizure and turned blue. I thought she was dead but she breathed again. I read this and started sobbing, sitting down to email a New Testament professor friend. If only I could find that email, but it is lost to cyberspace. I explained to him my experience of resurrection and sudden understanding of Mary & Martha.

Now, many of you may say, "But my child did not breathe again." I'm sure my response to the passage would have been different if that had been my case.

But at the bottom of the page I read, "I am the resurrection and the life, no one comes to the father except through me."

Our hope.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lent 4A Psalm 23

See Post April 22, 2007

Lent 3A John 4:5-42 Come and see

In the summer of 1997 in OKC we went eight weeks without rain. I have never seen such a drought. The last time we mowed our grass was June. It just shriveled and died. We got to a point where the city banned all lawn watering. Then on the news, they warned home owners to water their foundations because they would crack without moisture.
We need water to live. Without it we will do more than crack, we will die. Jesus offered this woman living water, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. She thought he meant ordinary everyday water, but she would find out that this water was more than she had ever imagined. She would also find out that a typical day at the well turned into the best day of her life.
Just an ordinary day…could anything be more ordinary than going to get water? But so many unordinary things happen. First of all a Jewish man asks her for a drink. Why is that so unusual? Why can’t you just ask for a drink if you are thirsty? Why must all these barriers get in the way?

Jesus using something very ordinary to break down barriers, to call this woman to believe in him.

She thinks he’s a Jew
She judges him based on his ethnic background, his religion. He takes her for what she is. Last week the lectionary talked about Jesus talking to Nicodemus, a ruler, a rich man, a prominent V.I.P. This week the Scripture describes conversation Jesus has with someone almost completely opposite of Nicodemus. A woman, no one would even speak to a woman in public. She is a nobody, of no importance to anyone. She is also a Samaritan, hated by the Jews. If you are from Oklahoma, she is from Texas. If you are from Michigan, she is from Ohio. If you are a white from 1960s Alabama, she is black.
She takes him literally when he offers her living water. She asks him if he’s better than Jacob.
Life is being offering to a Samaritan woman. John wants to show that Jesus did not come to just reach the rich and privileged, although the Gospel is open to them. Jesus offers this eternal life to the outcast. He then tells her to call her husband. But she has no husband. Do you notice that he doesn’t condemn her? He just states the fact of her lifestyle. She realizes he must be a prophet if he knows about her past. It sounds like she lives in Hollywood in today’s time, doesn’t it?

She thinks he’s a prophet
Then she draws him to a conversation about worship.
But he points out that the place doesn’t matter, that it’s the God being worshipped that matters. He draws the focus off of her and points her to God. She knows about the Messiah. He tells her he is the Messiah.

She thinks he’s the Messiah
The disciples come back but they know by now to keep their mouths shut when Jesus is doing something controversial even when he’s talking to a Samaritan woman. The woman leaves. She runs “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he?”
WHOA! Do you realize the significance of what happens here? Jesus empowers a beaten down immoral outcast of a woman to be a PREACHER OF the gospel! These men listen to her and follow her leadership to Jesus! And many believed because of her testimony.

She knows he’s the Savior
What is this gift of God? (verse 10)
When is the last time you ran, not walked to someone with only the excitement that Jesus gives and said, “COME WITH ME TO SEE HIM!”
What makes the transformation in this woman’s life possible? What makes the transformation in our lives possible?
GRACE OF GOD provides the life offered by the Savior
What is the grace of God?
We have a hard time understanding GRACE why?
Because in our place and time we don’t understand how anyone can offer a gift with no strings attached. When we receive something we wonder what is expected of us. When you receive a Christmas card you think OH I didn’t send them one.. When you receive a birthday gift you think oh you didn’t get them one….and on and on.
God offers us a free gift: his love. His life. No strings attached: oh but you say God Expects me to do such and such at church. I OWE him.
That is not what grace is about. It’s not about owing. Now you do respond to his grace but you don’t owe him anything. That would make it an obligatory gift and God doesn’t give to us with strings attached.
Let me relate this to the celebration of the LORD’s supper. It’s a feast. When you give a feast it costs money, etc., but you don’t lose anything because you gain so much by eating with the others (fellowship)
Is this why God created us?
Is this what Jesus offers this outcast, this adulterous woman? He offers her a free gift, with a new life thrown in! What changes her? HE DOES. Only an experience with Jesus Christ can truly change you.
Jesus moves from a dialogue about spiritual water to a conversation about spiritual worship. He goes from offering this woman living water to directing her to true worship, pointing away from herself to God. That is where salvation lies. Getting our focus off of ourselves and pointed to God in true worship. This is not worship just every Sunday morning: but every living breathing moment of our lives.
True worship is not “What I get out of it” It’s putting my focus completely on God. As Arleta has reminded the children in this church what prayer is: putting everything else out of your mind.
Jesus directs this woman away from her troubled life to God himself. She trusted him enough to do it. To get a glimpse of this LIFE he offered. She became so excited she had to run and tell.

If you only knew

If you only knew the gift of God
who is talking to you
you would ask me

If you only knew today what life is like fully trusting in the Messiah you wouldn’t refuse him. You would ask him into your life and he would tell you every thing you ever did.

"He knew everything about me he knew where I’d been and what I’d done come with me come with me to see the holy one." from "He knew everything about me" by Candy Hemphill

Lent 2A John 3:1-17 Ask a question and get a sermon

Dontcha love it when you ask a question and get a sermon?

Nicodemus was probably coming to talk theology with another rabbi. Instead of a nice intellectually stimulating theological conversation he gets a challenge to live a changed life.

He finds that Jesus is more than a teacher and Nicodemus needed to believe in more than signs and more than his religion. You see the Pharisees had constructed a system so precise that one didn’t really need God. He just needed to follow the laws, the rules, in order to be religious slash righteous. The Pharisees formed about 400 years before the opening of the NT. They decided that they need to make this Jewish religion something that could be practiced without a Jewish country or king since they lost all of that. So they constructed a system that could be followed whereever a Jew lived. They also accepted the prophetic writings as Scripture, something their Sadducee counterparts did not. The Pharisees are actually the open-minded ones of the day. They believed in miracles, angels, resurrection. The Sadduccees believed in none of the above, only the law, the first five books of the Bible.

Nicodemus has been living this lifestyle all of his life. He is so righteous, so squeaky clean, no one could find a thing wrong in his past to use against him. He could have run for president. He has worked hard to get to be where he is: one of the leading teachers of the Jews…and hear he finds this guy who has come from no where (Nazareth) and has flocks of followers and performs miracles! It’s like if you were a famous concert pianist and had worked all of your life to be the best and ran into a guy from the back woods who could play and charm audiences with no music training at all. How would you feel?

Nicodemus tells Jesus there is no way he could do what he does without God. A good observation…but see Nicodemus thinks Jesus is just a fine teacher. He doesn’t realize he’s sitting there talking to God himself. It didn’t even cross his mind.

Signs become quite the negative issue in John. Those who seek after signs have a serious lack of faith.
we think we have all the pieces put together and then we find someone like Jesus. He is unlearned, untrained and we have studied all of our lives to know the answers. How in the world does God use someone like him? And what about me?

If Nicodemus is not good enough for the kingdom of God, then who is?
It’s not enough. Then what is?
All of my righteousness is as filthy rags. It’s being born again. What in the world is that? You ask, like Nicodemus did. How can a person enter his mother’s womb and be born? Wesley said this of being born again, “Inwardly being changed from all sinfulness to all holiness.”