Thursday, April 28, 2016

do not worry

Scripture: Matthew 6
 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

 Jesus contrasts human anxieties over bare essentials, food and clothing, with the birds and flowers.  They don't spend all of their time and energy to acquire food and clothes, yet they seem to have all that they need.  Jesus proposes that basic needs are not met by human toil, but by a graciously providing God.  And that if we focus on the kingdom of God, all these things will be added as well.  He goes on to suggest that we live in the present, dealing with one day at a time.  The future is not real.  Today is enough to handle.

It is hard to hear these words.  We are driven by anxiety and worry.  About the future.  About today.  About having enough.  We believe in scarcity and the possibility that what we have can be quickly lost.  Some of us have experienced such loss.  Others have seen its effects on loved ones, neighbors, friends.  Jesus' mockery of anxiety seems out of touch with reality in this world.
And yet, there is something beautiful and simple about his words.  We do get hung up on material things that don't matter.  There is an abundance of food and clothing around us.  Most of us have more than we need every day.  Yet we still worry.  Anxiety is, however, a serious matter.  That's why Jesus addresses it.  He knows its a part of the human condition.  He wants to free us from its paralyzing effects and make us aware of the simple gifts all around. I know when I am worried, I need to remember "the birds and the lilies".  Creation teaches us that we are valuable, precious, beloved by God. The creator has given us so many gifts.  Do I recognize them?  Do I know who and what truly matters and what doesn't? Sometimes I need to sit in nature and enjoy the birds, bees, flowers, and trees.  You know?  Martin Luther said that the Word of God is written there, too. I hear creation say "Life is good. Enjoy it. Share it.  Care for it. Trust me.  I've done all this for you."  

 Lord, give us faith to trust in your abundance, to live gratefully with what we have, and to be generous toward those in need.  Amen.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016


A reading from Acts
36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

 A reading from Luke
 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying…
 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.


These two stories take place at different times and places.  The healer and the patient are different people.  A child and an adult woman are raised from the dead by Jesus and by Peter.  Though Peter is present in the Luke story, Jesus is not "present" in the Acts story.  And yet there are many things similar about these stories. Both Jesus and Peter are summoned to a home of a faithful person.  There has been a death in both places.  Both of the deceased are female.  Both Peter and Jesus say to the dead person, "_____, get up." In Mark's version of the story, Jesus says to the girl "Talitha, Cum" or "Tabitha Cum".  (The ancient manuscripts differ on the words).  Essentially, we can say that Peter and Jesus say the same words.   Both men lift up the woman/girl as she gets up.

Why does Peter think he has the power to raise a dead woman?  Because Peter is audacious enough to believe that he is able to imitate his master.  Like an apprentice, Peter is learning how to act and live like his rabbi Jesus.  He has seen and heard Jesus do this before.  He is simply repeating what he has seen and heard!  And it works!  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  In this case, it is the practice of Jesus' disciples to do what Jesus did.  There are people whose lives are worth trying to emulate.  We can learn how to act, speak, react to failure, deal with stressors, celebrate, manage conflict, make healthy choices by watching and imitating good examples.  Jesus lived a life worth imitating.  Those of us who are learning his ways, hope to live that way too---developing habits, thoughts, and words worth repeating by others.  In this way we make disciples.  As we imitate Jesus and others imitate us, so Jesus' way is multiplied and the kingdom grows.  Wat are you doing in your life that is an imitation of something good you learned from someone?  In what ways are you seeking to imitate Jesus?  Ans what are you doing in your life that is worth imitating?

Jesus, you lived a life worth imitating.  Help me t learn yur ways and words and practice them for others to see and know you.  Amen. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What's love got to do with it?

Scripture John 13

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’


This takes place on the night when Jesus was arrested.  In the Gospel of John, just before his arrest, he begins a long monologue to his disciples.  It is four chapters in length and ends in a long prayer, chapter 17.  These chapters serve as Jesus' last will and testament.  He is saying goodbye, leaving them with instructions, resources, promises, words of affection and love.  And finally he prays for them, for their ongoing mission, and for the people they will encounter on the way.  As Jesus says goodbye, he gives them a glimpse of what's next.  Its clear that what he started isn't ending with his death.  Its only just beginning there.   


Notice Jesus does not say:  By this everyone will know you are my disciples, that you are a member of a congregation.  Or that you go to worship on Sundays.  Or that you give a tithe. Or that you wear certain clothes and avoid certain foods.  Christianity has developed criteria for belonging that Jesus himself did not require.  Discipleship is characterized by love.  They'll know we are Christians by our love. Not romantic love.  Not even brotherly love.  But agape love.  Jesus kind of love.  He commands them to "Love one another just as I have loved you."  So how did Jesus love them?  With grace.  Patience.  Consistency.  Presence.  Generosity.  He chose them.  He identified them as people with the potential to learn and carry on his mission. He chose them not because they were special but because he recruited people who were generally overlooked, under appreciated, or even disregarded.  He chose them because they represent this movement of anybodies.  He chose unlikely disciples to build a church.  Maybe you're one of those, an unlikely participant in the movement of God in the world.  Maybe you don't even see yourself as part of something greater yet.  But you are!  You have been chosen, called, selected, and recruited to continue the love revolution!  The quality of our IN relationships is important.  We are stronger and more capable when we actually love each other.  We are called to do hard things sometimes.  And we need supportive, sustaining love to do them.  The great news is the only job we have to do together is to learn and enact Jesus' way of love.  It's a lifelong endeavor and I have a long way to go to love like him.  But we're learning.  Daily I am placed in the lives of people who need Jesus' love--mercy, compassion, hope, joy, peace, friendship, personal investment in their lives.  I can only love as much as I have been loved. Because of you all, I am able to love far more people better. When we take the walk together, the walk gets easier and the burdens get lighter.  When we push in and show up, Jesus appears.  So how can we love one another better as disciples and friends?

Lord, with patience, grace, and presence you loved your disciples.  Help us to love one another, to care for each other, to be real with each other, to encourage and support each other, to bless and serve each other.  So that they might know we belong to you and thirst for the love we share.   Amen. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

the rules

Scripture:  Exodus 20
 hen God spoke all these words:
 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before* me.
 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation* of those who love me and keep my commandments.
 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
 You shall not murder.*
 You shall not commit adultery.
 You shall not steal.
 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid* and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’ Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

 These are the Ten Commandments.  God gives them to Moses and the people of Israel when they gather at the foot of Mt. Sinai, after the harrowing escape from Egypt.  The escape was a massive rescue operation performed by their God --Yahweh--who detested the cries of suffering God heard rising from the Israelites, who were treated brutally as slaves.  They were slaves for 400 years before rescue.  The rescue required bold advocacy, public nonviolent resistance, and powerful opposition to the rule of the Egyptian king.  Now the people are free at last!
But their freedom was won for them by their God, whose desire is to live in a covenant relationship with the people.  Therefore, their freedom includes responsibility and rules.  If they are going to live together as a household of faith, they will have rules to follow that define their character and identity. Will they obey the rules?  What will be the consequences for failure to comply?  Like any household, what discipline will be applied to establish authority and obedience?    

 With freedom comes responsibility.  There are rules.  If all of the rules are negative, what you cannot do, how do you know what you can or ought to do?  These rules mostly prohibit certain behaviors, including ancient customs around the crafting of idols for worship.  This God is not an object, but a person.  With language and presence and the ability to move and act.  The rules govern their relationship with God and with other people. Jesus says that the summary for all the rules is love. Love God, love the neighbor.  Love is to guide our action and our words.  
These are not suggestions.  They teach Israel how to live in relationship with their God. Israel will fail to comply.  There will be consequences.  But the relationship will remain intact.  In any household, good parents have rules.  But if a child breaks the rules, they still live together.  They still love one another.  There is forgiveness.  Some parents are harsh disciplinarians with limits to forgiveness.  But not God.  There is always forgiveness and mercy.  Think of a time when you broke the rules.  What were the consequences?  How was forgiveness or mercy shown? What can love do when someone fails? When guilt and shame are present, what provides hope?

Lord, you give us a certain amount of freedom to test our limits.  You give us boundaries and rules for protection and for identity as your people.  You command and we sometimes obey.  When we don't, there are consequences in our lives.  But with you there is mercy and forgiveness and love.  Help us to be loving toward others.  I pray for people who have been found guilty of a crime and await sentencing.  Amen.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Scripture:  Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


Jesus enters into the ongoing spiritual practice of John, the desert prophet calling God's people to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John's wilderness work reminded the people that their covenant relationship with God required an active pursuit of God's justice.  It reminded them of the exodus experience, in which they had to depend on God alone to live.  Baptism was a sign of covenant renewal and a washing away of the dead self enslaved to sin.  This is a new way of returning to God, receiving forgiveness, and renewing one's devotion to practice the faith.  John's way did not involve clergy, priests, temples, or sacrifices.  Only a heart of repentance and the Jordan river. 
Jesus came to be part of the liberation of Israel, God's holy people.  He came to set right a world turned upside down.  Jesus was not himself yet an innovator, but a follower and practitioner in this way of John.  Jesus was part of a longer narrative about God and people that goes back to the Genesis beginning story.  He stands in a tradition of prophets, priests, and kings.  And he participates in the narrative arc of Jewish teaching, customs, and rituals.  He does, however, also participate in this innovative practice of John the baptizer.   Jesus shows us that faithfulness includes both religious tradition and inspired innovation.  Both can draw us closer to God.   Jesus' identity as beloved son of God reminds us of Genesis 22 where Abraham is challenged by God to sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac.

This story is why Christians are baptized.  We follow Jesus into the water.  Jesus' baptism aligns him with the innovative and radical teaching of John the baptizer.  Even Jesus has a teacher.  And place is important too.  A return to wilderness and water, the borders and margins. These are places of subsistence and survival, of danger and detachment.  They are outliers, revolutionaries, spiritual radicals.  Baptism is entry into a relationship with Jesus the radical son of God.  His baptism signifies that Jesus is the son of God, the one who pleases God.  To align ourselves with his way of life is to live a life pleasing to God.  He has come to set right what is wrong in the world.  He will recruit others to work with him. Baptism is belonging to and learning the ways of Jesus---radical teacher of the God-centered life.   

Lord, baptism connects us to you and through you to God, who desires to love us like a parent loves a child.  Help us to accept that we are loved.  Help us to live as you lived, setting out to do what is right.  Amen.