Author's Posts

We are inundated with words today, and I suspect mine won’t add much to the mix.  These are the words I spoke this morning to my congregation as I reflected on the Gospel assigned this week—Matthew 18:21-35.  Once again providence shows in the readings assigned for the day.

Proper 19 Year A—Matthew 18:21-35 

            On that glorious Tuesday morning 10 years, I walked from my apartment to the Divinity School.  It was my second full week of studies as a new seminarian—I had left the corporate hi-tech world and was eager to be on my way toward my training to become a priest.  After saying Morning Prayer with classmates and sharing a cup of coffee with them, I headed off to an 8:30 am preaching class.  While I soaked up pearls of wisdom on how to bring the good news of Christ to a hurting world, four planes were hijacked, and three of them had been intentionally crashed.  I heard the news from some other students while checking email in the library, and I quickly scanned headlines on a news site to see if it was true.

I rushed back to my apartment, and I turned on NBC just as the South Tower fell.  I called family members not quite knowing what to say other than, “Are you watching TV?”  I watched in dismay as New Yorkers covered in that white dust ran from the horrific epicenter.  I waited as best I could for Melissa to return from her day of teaching, and when she came home I listened to her tell of the many students there in Southern Connecticut who called parents and others to learn the fate of loved ones.  I remember climbing into bed that night, holding tight to Melissa and praying that we would be safe, safe in this newly shattered world for us.

It impacted my preaching class significantly.  Fellow students in the weeks that followed preached at length about how our world had changed forever.  Innocence was lost.  Some weighed the demands for justice with a call for peace.  A few mentioned the homemade signs that had popped up around New Haven:  Nuke ‘Em, read one of the placards that I remember.  We heard about the ways we as Americans had let go of the divisiveness that appeared during the 2000 presidential election and how neighbors truly became neighbors.  Most of all, we wrestled with how to think theologically about September 11th.

You know what followed, of course.  The loss of nearly 3000 people on that day, stories of bravery and heroism, images of people rejoicing in Afghanistan, the Afghan War, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the war in Iraq, the hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction, the forming of Homeland Security, the capture of Sadaam Hussein, water boarding, airport screening, the infamous photos of Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, terror threat level Orange, the death of bin Laden, images of Americans rejoicing, and the loss of even more life: over 6000 American troops, hundreds of international troops from coalition forces, and over 100,000 Iraqi and Afghani civilians, never mind those maimed bodily or emotionally.

What we have learned most of all, I suspect, is that violence begets violence, which continues on and on like a never-ending game of ping pong.  We cite Just War and Self Protection, as do those labeled as America’s enemies, and the cycle never really ends.

We are justified, to be sure.  When we have been wronged, we long for retribution, for justice to be handed down.  You may remember that Presidential debate in the fall of 1988, when former Governor Dukakis was asked if his wife were brutally harmed would he want to enforce the death penalty.  He gave some lame answer, dodging the question entirely, when he should have answered honestly: “Absolutely!”  If he had, he could have gone on to say, “And I am glad that I don’t have that power, trusting in the courts and the rule of the commonwealth, recognizing that I wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind to make that decision.  I believe that death is not the answer.”  But he didn’t, and he sounded so shallow and hollow because of it.

But we desire justice; many of us instinctively want to throttle the one who harmed us.  Whether through the attacks of September 11th and its aftermath for which some here today may still be impacted, or maybe some other personal tragedy—a personal 9/11—that has turned your world upside down.  The infidelity of a spouse or abuse experienced in your life or the life of someone you love.  The constant belittling by a boss or co-worker.  The bullying experienced on a playground so long ago.  The betrayal of a close friend.  Whatever the tragedy, our initial response is that we want for things to be made right.

So when Jesus tells us that we need to be forgiving, we are right there with Peter.  How many times, Lord?  If we are wronged by someone, what’s the upper limit?  Two times?  Three?  Seven?  Surely not more than seven times.  “Seventy-seven times,” he says, “Or seventy times seven” in the ambiguous Greek.  In other words, “Too many to keep track of.”  Just forgive.  Vengeance belongs to God, we are reminded.  It is not up to us.  Forgive.

Before Peter or we can even respond with a “But, but…” Jesus tells a story.  A servant owed his lord an insane amount of money, all of his yearly wages for the next 150,000 years.  He would never, ever be able to pay it back.  Ever.  And the lord demands restitution.  Now.  And seeing that the slave can’t repay, the lord demands that he be sold, and his wife and kids as well.  The slave falls down on his knees pleading for time, if he just had enough time, he could make it all up.

He can’t, of course.  If it were today’s money, and assuming this person made only $25,000 a year, we’re talking 3 billion 750 thousand dollars.  The lord looks down on him and has compassion.  “Okay,” he says, “you’re forgiven.  All of it.  You don’t owe me a penny.”

The slave can’t believe his lucky stars and goes out on his way with that huge load removed from his back.  And the first person he runs into is a friend of his who borrowed some money from him.  A little under 10 grand, about the wages he’d make working for 4 and half months.  The debt-free slave grabs him by the neck and demands his money. The slave falls down on his knees pleading for time, if he just had enough time, he could make it all up.

Nothing doing.  There’s no mercy this time.  Even though this debt might be in reach in a few years time with some good budgeting, the slave is merciless to his friend.  He throws him into prison so he can squeeze every last cent out of him.

When the lord hears what has happened, he is stunned and furious and calls the first slave to him.  “You owed me nearly $4 billion and I forgave you, and this other slave owed you $10 grand and you couldn’t show mercy?” So he reneges on his debt forgiveness and tosses that slave in jail.  “So it is with my father if you don’t forgive a brother or sister,” Jesus tells us.

In other words, Jesus says to Peter and us, you may think that when someone wrongs you that there is a substantial debt owed to you.  You may want to harm that person, or torture them, or make them pay for what they did.  But you owe me even more.   You owe me for the ways in which you have been unfaithful to me.  It’s more than you could imagine.  It would take hundreds of years to repay.  And I forgive you.  No strings attached; I forgive all the ways that you have wronged me.

And then that line at the end, if we don’t forgive those who have wronged us, then God shackles us.  Actually, I think, God doesn’t even need to do it to us, we shackle ourselves.  I’ve seen it first hand.  Those who cannot forgive the one who wronged them.  They live with bitterness and cynicism.  They carry around this desire for revenge, for restitution and the life is being sucked right out of them.  The anger and hurt and depression pushes others away, and creates a living hell for them.  When we don’t forgive, we slowly die to the life we once had and never find peace again.

“But Jesus,” we say, “you don’t understand.  Innocence was lost.  Lives taken.  My childhood destroyed.  My marriage made a mockery.  You just don’t get it.”  And he looks down at us from that bloodied cross in silence.  Then looking toward heaven he says, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Read more

I’ve always liked Bill Murray in the film “Groundhog Day.”  He plays Phil Connors a weatherman who has made his way to Punxsutawney, PA to see if the groundhog—also named Phil—will see his shadow or not.  Phil the weatherman is not pleased about being there.  He’s covered this story for four years running and can think of a gazillion other places he’d rather be.  He covers the story, tries to get out of town but is unable to due to a blizzard, and can’t wait for February 3 to arrive when he climbs into bed that night.

Except it never does.  Phil Connors wakes up back at the morning of Feb 2, and the whole thing begins again.  For everyone else it’s as if the day is new.  For Phil, it’s a living hell.  He remembers the day fully, what happened, what people did or said.  He’s an automatic repeat.  And it keeps going. He wakes up the third day, and fourth and… you get the picture (or remember the film).

Early on he gets so depressed, he just does himself in at the beginning of the day so he doesn’t have to live through it again.  He wakes up the next morning back at Groundhog Day.  Then he tries to use his previous days’ experience to his benefit, trying to get his producer into bed with him or robbing the armored car.

He’s miserable.

Until he turns the corner, and starts realizing that if he is doomed to live this day over and over and over again , then he will make it the best day ever.  He saves the person who is choking. He shows up at the right time with a jack and a spare tire for the old woman who gets a flat. He is compassionate and merciful and exudes joy and care.  He’s in heaven.

I say all of this as a lead in to Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins because I think Bell is saying some of the same things.  His main thesis is that many of those in Christendom focus on getting to heaven, that faith is a ticket out of here for some place in the future, after our lives are over.  But they forget about today unless it’s about making conversions, helping others to get the ticket to heaven.  And today and what we do now is really, really important to Rob Bell.

Bell argues that we can make our own heaven and hell right here, right now, by the choices we make.  And often these choices seem disconnected to faith.  He writes, “Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death.”  Those hells on earth are places of famine, war, brokenness in our own lives, hatred, greed.  It is the stuff of individual and corporate sin, and it does create hell on earth.

Where Rob goes with this—and the point at which many of his detractors leave him (if they even read his book; I think many didn’t give him that courtesy)—is by saying that the creation of heaven and hell based on our actions and choices continues past our earthly death.  In other words, while many Christians say that this life is all you get to make a decision about being a follower of Jesus, Rob argues that God’s love is so expansive that there will still be time after death to respond to that love. (By they way, Bell gets this from that most beloved of Christian authors of the last century, C.S. Lewis (see The Great Divorce or even The Last Battle))  It helps him come to terms with the reality of untimely deaths (like a teenager killed in a car accident) or those who’ve been harmed by the church and cannot accept Christianity for whatever reason.

Rob Bell is full of compassion in this book.  And that might make some people edgy because many of us want to have clear definitions about who is in and who is out.  When you start muddying the waters like that, some want to get defensive (and they have), and some even claim Bell is destined to hell (ironic, given his book, but there you are).

There is a full chapter devoted to asking a simple but profound question: Does God get what God wants?  He asks this because Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  In other words, if God wants this, and God is all-powerful, does God get this desire?  Of course, Rob balances this with God’s biggest gift to us: our freedom to choose life or death.

Is Rob Bell a universalist?  Not really.  He even says as much when he writes, “As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.  Not true.  Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true” (155, emphasis mine).  Jesus does matter.  But, and this is where many get tripped up, maybe not Christianity.

Jesus the Son of God matters.  Christianity the institution and religion, not so much.

Do I agree with him? In some ways, yes. This work, while quick and written from a high and general level, gives some clarity for me.  And I would whole heartedly agree that Jesus is the way.  That he matters.  That through his work on the cross and by his resurrection life and love are extended to all.  Will that continue on past this life?  Rob makes a  biblical case that it does (again, C.S. Lewis says so too), but I need to chew on that one.

I think at the end I need to, as a professor of mine once said, put this in my theological pipe and smoke it for awhile.  This book and its emphasis on love will be a balm to many damaged by the church, by Christianity, by friends or relatives whose view of Christ has been dominated by anger.  And if that is what it does, then I believe Rob has done work for Christ in bringing healing to a broken world.  In other words, love does win.

I hope you’ll read it.  You can get a copy at Amazon or the local library (which is what I did).  And I’d love to talk more about this, so leave your comments.

Read more

In the midst of the debt talk and how we don’t have enough, Jesus tells us often that there is more than enough.

This poem is from Walter Brueggemann, theologian and altogether an amazing guy (and wicked funny to boot).  I used it in my sermon this morning.

 

On Generosity, by Walter Brueggemann

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money

of love
of grades

of publications
of sex

of beer
of members

of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbors’ goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness

you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles

you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead

you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight

the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed

the deaf hear
the dead are raised

the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and

life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and

families and neighbors who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season  you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits

quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see

the abundance………  mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,

without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise

without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..  all around us, toward us and by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

Read more

I think those of us who participate in the life of the Church often promote an unhealthy attitude about what God can accomplish.  We underestimate God’s ability to work in our lives, in the work of the kingdom, in transformation.  And so we set the bar accordingly.  In other words, low.

We have a tendency, I believe, to think that we know how all this works.  That people don’t change, or that our lives—collectively and individually—will not get better.

And that anemic view of God’s kingdom holds us back.  It limits what we hope for.  It makes us hamstrung.

That’s not to say that I am promoting a “health and wealth” understanding of the faith.  I don’t think that God’s desire for Jesus’ disciples is to be wealthy.  Jesus himself was homeless, so I just can’t buy into that belief that some Christians hold on to dearly (and more often than not they are getting that idea from charismatic leaders who have created a lifestyle that others desire—yes, I’m looking at you, Joel Osteen).

This past Sunday those of us reading from the Revised Common Lectionary heard two parables about the kingdom of heaven starting small—with a mustard seed or some yeast—and getting to be huge.  Jesus was saying that the kingdom is like the energizer bunny, it just keeps growing.  It may look like it’s insignificant or too small, but it doesn’t stop.  And then it becomes a place where the birds can come and nest.

If he were living in the US today, Jesus might say the kingdom is like kudzu—that ivy like plant that has grown over tress, signs, even houses, in the southeast.  It doesn’t stop once it grows.  In fact, even though it lies dormant in the winter, in the spring it picks up where it left off.  The kingdom is like that.

People in my denomination sometimes dole out statistics about the church’s impending doom.  That somehow we can see the end of the church.  Nope, Jesus says.  While we like to sometimes latch on to scarcity and the frailty of God’s work, God pays no attention to what we think and keeps on working.  God wants to use us in that work to be sure, but even if we don’t God’s work continues.  The kingdom just keeps on growing.

So what view do you take of the kingdom of God?  Do you think of it as a dying vine or a flourishing tree?  Is your view of how God can work in our world—in your life—limited or is it hopeful that God will bring life?

Read more

I haven’t been posting my sermons online this summer not because I haven’t been preaching, but because I’ve been going it without a net.  No text.  Extemporaneously.

And that means no texts to post.

Which isn’t really fair, I know.  Especially since summertime is upon us and some might not be making it to church and may want to hear snippets from the previous Sunday.  So that’s what I’m doing today.  Giving you the highlights, not the full sermon.  Kinda like the Red Sox in 2.  Except shorter.

This past Sunday the gospel text was from Matthew 13.  Read it here.

_________________________________________________

Once upon a time there was a farmer, and one day he awoke to find his only horse had gotten out of the stable and run off.  When the townspeople heard about they came to consul him, telling him how awful this was and that his horses fleeing must be so devastating.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later as he was out in his field, the farmer saw his horse racing back to the farm.  With him were three other wild horses.  When the townspeople heard, they came to him saying, “You must be so thrilled!  How amazing that your horse came back and brought these three other horses with him!  What a wonderful turn of events!”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

That weekend the man’s only son attempted to tame one of those new horses, and he fell and broke his leg.  Upon hearing the news, the townspeople rushed to him, “How dreadful!” they said.  “You must be so horrified to have your son injured this way.  Truly this is downright awful.”

“Maybe,” he said.

Later that week, civil authorities came into town looking to take all the young men of the town off to war.  The farmer’s son was left behind due to his broken leg.  When the townspeople hear, they came to him.  “You must be overjoyed that your son is not going off to war!  This is unbelievable news!”

“Maybe.”

 

Jesus tells us a parable this morning about a farmer and some wheat.  The farmer has done everything right, he’s planted the seeds, and is giving them lots of water and nutrients.  However, sometime during the planting season, an enemy has come in and sown the seeds of some weeds, and done so without anyone knowing about it.

Did you catch it in our reading? It wasn’t until the grain began to appear that the workers of the field noticed the weeds.  The Greek word is zizanion, and this type of weed looks exactly like wheat, that is until the grain head appears.  And by that time, the weeds would have had their roots all tangled with the weeds.  “Should we go and pull up all the weeds,” the servants ask.  “No,” said the farmer. “Let’s wait.”

We like to make determinations about people and their status as wheat or weeds almost upon meeting them.  We even use the same kind of language; “That girl over there, she’s a bad seed,” we’ll say.  We make distinctions and tend to root people out right away from the field.

But Jesus says that that isn’t our job.  We’re not called to judge.

A parishioner was telling me recently about a young man he met whose life had been turned around by Straight Ahead ministries.  He was a former gang member, and had been shot at and stabbed.  Through the ministry, he found Christ and his life was turned around.  And now he was hoping to begin something new.

And he was terrified.

The parishioner looked at him and asked why, since he had been in a gang, and injured and all that.  And he replied, “Because no one has ever believed in me.  I’m terrified of this not working out and letting people down.”

We aren’t called to judge, that’s God’s work that will happen at the end of the age, by the angels no less.  We “slaves” aren’t even inovlved in the process.

Instead, we’re called to tend the filed, to make conditions right for growing, and to go out and be wheat to the world.  Wheat brings nourishment, and we’re called to be the body of Christ to a hurting world, to bring nourishment to them.

God wants to wait it out.  God sees what we may think are weeds, and says, “Nope! That’s wheat.  Watch what happens!”  God is so patient with us.  And when we say surely this person is wheat and that other is a weed, God looks down and says, “Maybe.”

Read more

We got back this past weekend from some time in Acadia National Park. We camped for 8 days — almost perfect weather! — and spent time together as a family and were mostly unplugged.  8 days with no phone calls, emails, Facebook updates, twitter feeds, online news (save Red Sox scores), and the rest.

It was heavenly.

And we so needed it.  You know how it gets when you don’t get time to just be.  You get harried. Fried. Overwhelmed.  We were getting to that point since we’ve not had any time “away” since our arrival here in Southborough.

But part of the problem is that when we get away we still stay tethered to our electronics.  We still text or check email or whatever and that means that we aren’t present with the people we’re with.

I know it’s hard.  Some have jobs that mean they always need to be connected (as a priest, I know when I’m around, the on-call part is all the time).  But how can you get unplugged and away for just a bit because we need the time to rejuvenate.

Here are a few tips:

    1. Make a covenant with the people you’re with about technology usage.
    Take time before you leave to decide what the expectations are.  And be specific.  Saying, “No texting while we’re eating meals” or “I won’t check email more than once a day at Noon” can help a great deal.  In my case, I checked to see if I had voice mails once per day (when we got cell coverage while driving—no coverage at our campsite).

    2. Try to go technology free at least part of the time.
    Even if you are staying home for vacation this year, make plans to go technology free.  No calls, emails, texts.  I personally think we should try to do this once a week for Sabbath, but this is certainly a good idea, if not a necessity, while on vacation.

    3. Spend time with the people you love doing things you love.
    If the outdoors are your thing, go hiking.  If it’s reading, browse bookstores.  While you’re doing this you can engage in some great conversation—it doesn’t need to be “deep”—about life, or our dreams, or even what’s so great about the place you’re at.  We don’t spend enough time connecting in our hectic lives, so vacation can be a time to readjust this.

    4. Think about taking a vacation once a week.
    Imagine taking a true day off once a week.  No calls or emails.  No house work.  Just an opportunity to do what delights us.  I’ve written about Sabbath Keeping before and I know how hard it can be at times to keep this practice up in my own life, but being away reminded me that we can “get away” once a week — and God actually commands us to do this — if we’re intentional.

So I hope you are making plans this summer to get away, and maybe even considering getting away regularly by keeping a Sabbath. If so, tell me about and leave a comment below.

Read more

When Melissa and I were getting married, the minister who did our pre-marital counseling gave us a copy of the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.  The test—which can be taken online—asks if certain life events have happened in your life over the last year or so to see how stress can be wreaking havoc on your body.

So you simply checked a box if the situation applied.  Things like: marriage, divorce, death of parent, death of a spouse, move, work changes, change in finances, different sleep patterns, arguments, and 30+ other items.  Each is given a number, and if the total number is more than 300, you have a very good chance of becoming physically ill due to the stress.  If it was 150-299, you have a moderately good chance of getting ill.

In the past number of years, I don’t think I’ve scored lower than 200, most times pushing higher.  I suspect many of you might be in the same boat.  I’ve lived much of the last years with near constant stress.  Since my ordination 7 years ago I’ve relocated 3 times for church positions, experienced the birth of my two kids, dealt with the death of my mother, had major surgery, and the list goes on.  I’m not looking for sympathy as much as to say these things happen in life and often we are unaware of the long term impact of stress in our lives.

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that we have a tendency to isolate ourselves when things get rough.  We don’t want to talk about it either because we don’t want to admit that life is difficult right now or because the constant rehashing of our experiences is emotionally draining.  And not only do we pull away from friends and family members, we also have a tendency to stop doing things that give us life.  We stop engaging in activities that feed us.

One of the things I often ask people who come to see me about issues in their life is this: How are you taking care of yourself?  Often in stressful situations we get so bogged down by it all—the pain of divorce, the late nights with a newborn, planning for a new endeavor—that we don’t take the time to rejuvenate or to connect with God.

I wish I could say I’ve got it all figured out, but I too get caught up in the stress at times.  But these things have helped me.

1. Set aside a regular time for God. Yeah, I’m a priest and I get paid to say something like this, but it actually works. When I set aside a regular time each day to pray, read scripture, or just sit quietly I am able to recognize God’s deep love for me and that God cares for me and is with me in the stress.

2. Do something I love. This takes intentionality, but if I can go for a walk, do some cooking, see a movie or one of the other things I love to do (I have a lot of hobbies), then I’m able to be fed by those things. I met a person recently who said his thing was trying new beers, so this summer he’s doing just that. Each night he’ll try a single bottle of a new brew and then keep a list of the ones he likes.

3. Connect with a friend. Tell someone you love that you’d like to do something together. Grab a cup of coffee or a meal. Browse at a local bookstore. Whatever. Spend time with them and be honest about some of the stress you’re experiencing. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the Galatian church (Gal 6:2), “and in this way you’ll fulfill the law of Christ.” One sure way to reduce your stress is to talk with a trusted friend who can give you support.

I hope you’ll take time this next week to take an inventory of where your stress is at and also to become intentional about how to take care of yourself.  We don’t do ourselves any good if we just let the candle keep burning on both ends without becoming aware of how it might damage us or our relationships.

Read more

I love the opening from Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. He writes:

On Sunday mornings my brother, Paul, and I went to Sunday school and then to “morning services” to hear our father preach and in the evenings to Christian Endeavor and afterwards to “evening services” to hear our father preach again. In between on Sunday afternoons we had to study The Westminster Shorter Catechism for an hour and then recite before we could go to the hills with him while he unwound between services.  But he never asked us more than the first question in the catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”  And we answered together so one of us could carry on if the other forgot, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”  This always seemed to satisfy him, as indeed such a beautiful answer should have, and besides he was anxious to be on the hills, where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon.  His chief way of restoring himself was to recite to us from from the sermon that was coming, enriched here and there with selections from his most successful passages of his morning sermon.

The chief end of course, in this case, was to be outdoors to be recharged.  To hike the hills, to fish, to enjoy God’s creation.

And why not?  God has given us this beautiful creation to enjoy.  We heard it this past Sunday about how God made the world and everything in it was good, and that God asks us to both enjoy it and take care of it.

I think it’s in enjoying God’s creation that we also enjoy God.  Getting out to the Cape, enjoying the beach, being out on the water, hiking, biking, paddling.  It all brings us closer to God and restores our tanks.

Too many of us don’t take time to recharge.  We try to squeeze in a vacation that is nearly as jam-packed as our every day lives.  We rarely take time to be restored, to be filled again to overflowing, so we can be better for the work before us.

This idea drips with connection to Sabbath keeping.  We don’t do this much in our culture.  We stay busy to keep the balls in the air.  We go 60 or 90 or 200 miles an hour most, if not all, of the time.  And we don’t take any time to see the impact it has on us or our families until it’s nearly too late.

So, what is your chief end?  How do you “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”?  What recharges your batteries and gives you time to pause and know that you are doing what God desires for you?

For me that means hiking, cooking, being outdoors with my family, camping, biking, resting, reading, and a load of other things (I have lots of hobbies, all of which I do moderately well).  But those things restore me and make me better able to do the work I am called to do.

I hope you take some time this summer to do what recharges you and that you see it as a gift from God.  And maybe you will take a minute or two and comment on what you do to restore your soul.

Read more

I grew up in a pentecostal church, which meant that Pentecost was one of the few days on the liturgical calendar that we celebrated, although it often came out of nowhere and I wasn’t sure why we it was a big deal.  My church experience has changed a lot since then, and that change began while attending a UCC church during my time in college.  It was the minister there—Harold Bussell—who first preached about the idea of the Spirit controlling our tongues; that when the Spirit descended on Pentecost, the Spirit came in to our lives and began changing the way we speak.

That idea grabbed hold of me then and has never let go.

So this idea is not mine.  But it is a very intriguing way to think about Pentecost and the idea of proclamation.  With no further adieus….

Pentecost—Acts 2:1-21

I’ve heard of a marriage counselor that can predict in one session if a marriage will last or not.  When he sits down to chat with the couple—whether they are already married or if they are engaged—he pays relatively little attention to what issues they are talking about–be it finances, in-laws, the kids, work, intimacy, whatever—and homes in on the way they are talking to one another.  If there is any contempt in the exchange, he predicts that it will be an uphill battle at best for the relationship to last.  Whether or not you agree with him, he’s on to something given his track record of prediction.  How we talk to one another—how we make use of our tongues to communicate—is of vital importance to our relationships.

Tongues are funny things.  They are, we’ve been told, one of the strongest muscles in the body.  They control our speech, what we say, how we form our words.  With the words our tongues form, we can do amazing things.  And with other words formed by that same tongue we can destroy one another.

In his epistle, James writes about the tongue.  He says, “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!  My friends, this can’t go on.” (From James 3, The Message Bible)

In the movie “How to Train Your Own Dragon,” the protagonist, a teen aged Viking named Hiccup, tries desperately hard to fit in with the other Vikings of his village.  But he’s scrawny and weak, and while he tries his best to be a dragon hating person like them, he just can’t.  Instead, he befriends a dragon that has been hurt and takes care of him like a pet.  When his father, the chief of their village, learns that Hiccup’s been taking care of a dragon, he is overcome with rage.  At the end of an angry diatribe, he looks at Hiccup before storming out and says, “You are not my son.”

He is crushed, of course, this teen-aged boy who longs for the acceptance of his father.  As are any of us when someone spews angry words at us.  No matter how many times we may repeat that rhyme from childhood, words hurt a lot, and often more than sticks or stones, because the damage can last a lifetime.  I’m sure some of you can either recall words spoken to you, or words that you gave voice to, that you now wish you could remove from existence.

When the Spirit comes on Pentecost, isn’t it remarkable that after the rush of wind and the flames of fire alighting on the heads of all those there, the very next sign is that the disciples begin to speak in other languages as the Spirit prompted them.  The Spirit controls their tongues.  Immediately they begin to speak in other tongues, not unintelligible words, but they speak in the languages of each group gathered there, as the Spirit guided their tongues.  They proclaim the message of God and God’s work of salvation in the world.

Proclamation.  That’s what this day—this last day of the Great 50 Days of Easter —is about.  Proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  And that good news can be summed up in one word: transformation.

But we cannot make these proclamations about how Jesus Christ transforms us if our tongues aren’t under control.  We cannot be a messenger of Jesus’ good news if we are constantly spouting off at our mouths, saying why this person or group of people upsets us, or how ridiculous they are, or how that person is really just an idiot.

If we want to truly be a part of the kingdom, then we must allow the Spirit to control our tongues.  And that means major transformation on the inside as well.

A friend of mine a couple of years ago underwent significant change in his life.  He changed old habits and took on new ones.  When I spoke with him about this, he wondered why it had taken him so long.  “If I had known what a difference this would make in my life, I would have started so much earlier,” he said to me.

“Yes,” I replied.  “But thank God that you began now.”  What I was trying to say to him was this: Don’t shame and guilt yourself in the ways you have failed in the past.  Deal with them, yes.  Recognize why you did certain things.  Learn from the past.  But don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t have the courage to tackle them earlier, and didn’t ultimately trust then that God could bring about the change you so desperately needed.  Rather, relish in the fact that God is working now.  Take joy in the transformation that is going on now.  Be joyful for the years ahead, now that you are changed and continue to be changed.

Transformation.  That is the work of the Triune God.  To break down the barriers of sin, to offer forgiveness, to shower us with mercy and grace.  To help us become the people we are called to be, and to bring our tongues into alignment with that call as well.  People that share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world.   People who are about the work of the kingdom of God.

And the question is this: Do you want the Spirit to bring transformation to every part of your being—to your tongue, your heart and your mind? Do you want to be about the work of the kingdom of God?  Don’t worry about what you haven’t done up to this point, or how you might have been able to do more, or whatnot.  What can you do now?  How can you allow God to move in you?  How can you more faithfully become a disciple of Jesus Christ?

We cannot become those who have visions or prophesy or dream dreams if we are always spouting off at the mouth.  We cannot be the church unless we allow the Spirit to move in us and through us and to bring about change in us.  And I would argue that our tongues—the very first thing the Spirit takes over in those disciples on that Pentecost Day so long ago—are where many of us need the Spirit’s leading, transformation and healing.

Perhaps you need to make amends with a family member or a friend over something you said to them that you now regret.  Maybe you have hurt your spouse or children with words said out of spite.  Perhaps you need Jesus to bring healing to a wound inflicted long ago when someone hurt you with their words.  Possibly you’ve been feeling prompted by the Spirit to say something to a hurting co-worker or neighbor, but haven’t spoken to them because you are nervous about how they will respond.  Or maybe you need to seek forgiveness from God because your words have been filled with contempt, especially toward those you live with and love.

If we are to be a vital part of Jesus’ kingdom work, then we must invite the Spirit to work in us and through us.  To be counted among those of the kingdom, then we need to open ourselves up to the Spirit’s transformative power.  When we do so, when we become willing to the Spirit’s leading, then we too can be like Peter, James and Mary and all the rest on that day who shared the message of Jesus with all those gather there, so that these others might also call on the name of the Lord, and be saved.  That is the true gift of the Spirit.  May we be empowered to proclaim the good news.  Amen.

Read more

Melissa and I watched a wonderful and haunting film this week called “Like Dandelion Dust.”  Two very different couples have their lives intersect over a shared love for a 6 year-old boy.  One set gave him up for adoption, and the other became his new family.

Yet, the birth father didn’t know he had a son given the circumstances in his life and the troubled relationship he and his wife had at that time.  And now he wants the boy back.

And that’s where the turmoil comes.

Obviously, anyone who is a parent will react strongly to this whole struggle.  Who can blame a father for wanting his child back?  Who can blame a mother for wanting to hold on to the child she has called her own from his earliest days?  What would you do to keep your child?

While it’s definitely a tear-jerker, it’s not overly mellow-dramatic.  The characters have a real depth and no easy answers are presented.  Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper—the birth parents—play amazing roles, as shown in the number of awards this film picked up along the way at various film festivals.

I won’t tell you how it ends, where the title comes from or if redemption is found in this one.  I’ll just say that I bet it sticks with you like it’s done to me.  I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

Definitely queue-worthy.  Tell me what you think of this one.

Read more