Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Mad Enough to Chuck God Off the Cliff

Lectionary Reading: Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)

If I am to be honest with myself, anger is the sin I grapple with the most.  My hope is that this is a surprise to most people in that I believe (possibly erroneously) that I cope with it in public very well.  I try not to lead with anger and I try not to respond in anger when dealing with people.  

In private, I may let my frustrations show more easily.  I think this indicates that I have the ability to control my outbursts but I choose not to rein them in as much as I should.

Is anger in itself a sin?  The church labeled it as one of the seven deadly sins.

As an emotion, I can see how it can lead to sin but I have always had difficulty labeling our base feelings as sinful.  They are more like the storms or the stills that we encounter - they come about due to conditions that are ripe.  

Now what we do with it is something else entirely.  I can easily see how anger can lead one to sin.

Some of the most damaging words you ever said were likely said in a state of anger.

Even being around angry people can raise a person's temperature to where we also become tense.

If it is the response we observe as children, we are more likely to follow suit in times of stress as adults.

Is it ever okay to be angry with God?  I see a lot of fear surrounding this idea.  There can also be a lot of guilt.  Yet, if we are close with someone, we will become angry with them from time to time.  In order for a marriage to survive, the couple must figure out ways to dissipate the irritation that comes from time to time.
Sometimes we have a difficult time
letting others get close to us!
We may respond to God with anger if we experience tragedy that seems beyond our control.  I can remember being angry with God over some financial difficulty I had as a young man.  I thought, "Look, I'm trying to serve you - can you give me a break here?"

We often resist changes that come about and we may blame God.  In the scripture today, the people of Nazareth are not happy to have Jesus hold the mirror up to them.  They don't want to hear that God's grace may extend beyond them because that may change the way that we have to look at those we define as "the other."  I don't want to be put in the same boat with people that I have always thought of as inferior.

They try to shoot the messenger.  They are mad enough at Jesus so as to throw him off the cliff.  

Why didn't they?  We have a rather mysterious ending in that Jesus passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.  Maybe he doesn't feed their anger.  Maybe he stays calm in the midst of their aggression and is able to dull it to the point where they surrender their anger.  It may be that Jesus is wise enough know when to push it and when to let it go!  This reminds me of a leadership quote by Harvard guru Ronald Heifetz: "Leadership is disappointing your people at a rate they can absorb."

As we look at paradoxes of our faith, I think that vulnerability and strength are often seen at odds and yet I believe that you can't really have one without the other.  Jesus is vulnerable in his honest evaluation of his own people.  They are not ready to hear it.  And yet, we see his strength also on display in a more subtle way.

How can we embrace our own inner strength through vulnerability?

In Christ,


Photo by budgora via flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Biggest Winner

Lectionary Reading: Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

As I continue in my sermon series, "Juxtaposed: The Paradox of Faith" we will begin to look at Luke's Gospel lectionary readings starting with this Sunday.

We open with Luke's account of the onset of the ministry of Jesus among the people of Galilee.  He has been baptized and successfully withheld temptations.  Now he is ready to begin preaching, teaching, healing and embodying the mystery of God.  While John's Gospel begins with the miracle at Cana, Luke begins with teaching in the synagogue in his own hometown.

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 which is speaking to a people that have been exiled in Babylon and have returned home to Judah.  They are trying to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the time of their grandparents and great-grandparents.  

President Bush received flack from this banner which 
served as a backdrop to a speech in 2003.
Sometimes the narrative told is an attempt
to bind reality to the vision being cast.
Isaiah speaks of good news to the returned.  It would have been good to hear and yet many would have felt that it may have been a bit premature.  It was good to hear that the Lord had released them so that they may return home.  Yet there were now people occupying their ancestral lands.  Would these distant cousins make room for them once more?  

Or would they more likely see how Babylon had rubbed off too much on these exiles seeking to move in with them?

There is a paradox in that they were free and yet at the same time still captive to the culture they thought they had escaped.

Jesus reads this same word to a people bound by Rome.  They also longed to be free and longed for someone to free them.  

How does this message of Jesus set with the people of God?  Is it too soon to declare this?  Would the people accept it?  It may be especially difficult in that Jesus speaks this word to his hometown!

Today, we see Jesus speaking to the poor, the captives and the blind.  What does that mean to the rich, the free and the sighted?  It is also paradoxical to us today in that we are both at the same time: rich and poor, captive and free, blind and sighted.  How does our faith allow us to hold these things in tension?  How do we receive good news in a way that we can incorporate it?  

We'll continue to explore this on Sunday - I hope you'll join us in some fashion!

In Christ,


Photo used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Are We Missing the Point?

Lectionary Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

It is fascinating to me that the first miracle recorded in John's Gospel is where Jesus turns water into wine.  I find it interesting because while we have Jesus attending a wedding banquet, he keeps the party going when the wine runs out.  Not only that, but his mother is the one who asks him to intervene!

At some point in US history, many Protestant churches began to be associated with the temperance movement to curb the use of alcohol.  Within Methodism, founder John Wesley wrote about abstaining in his explanation of what it meant to "do no harm" saying that we should avoid 
"Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in the cases of extreme necessity."  (2016 Book of Discipline, 78)   
Of course the "unless" in this sentence leaves "extreme necessity" up for interpretation!  Later, Francis Willard, a famous Methodist laywoman, was the leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union which led the charge for prohibition.

Even today, the official United Methodist stance is
"We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God's liberating and redeeming love for persons." (2016 Book of Discipline, 124)
Yet today's text can be an interpretational hurdle for the stance of abstinence.  John's Gospel indicates that the wedding guests had already been drinking as they had consumed everything available!  So even moderation may take a hit here.  At least no one was driving home in that day.

For those who struggle with alcoholism, this may be a very difficult text indeed.

Jesus produced wine to the equivalent 
of about three of these barrels.
Maybe we get so stuck on our modern-day issues with the abuses of alcohol that we miss the point of the miracle.

In Jesus' day, the onset of the abundance of wine signaled the eschatological age - the end of time when God would step in and make all things right.

Amos 9:13 reads, "The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when...the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it." (NRSV) and Joel 3:18 mirrors Amos.

So if we shift the topic away from whether or not one should drink wine (and whether or not Jesus advocated either way with this miracle), we could shift toward the idea that in Jesus we find our abundance and joy.  The difficulty is that this is not any less controversial - just for different reasons.  If we celebrate God's abundance over scarcity, what does this mean for those that are going hungry?  Where is God's abundance for those who don't have enough to eat?

On Sunday, I will be starting a new sermon series for the season of Epiphany entitled, "Juxtaposition: The Paradox of Faith."  I hope to look at how sometimes our faith seems to hold or lift up two contrasting ideas.  For this week's text, how can we preach God's preferred abundance for humanity when there is measurable scarcity in the world?

I will wrestle with this on Sunday - I hope you'll join us if you are in town!

In Christ,


Photo by Christian Haugen via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, January 7, 2019


Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)

I like the sense of celebration that occurs following the Christmas season.  The Advent-Christmas cycle finishes with Epiphany and then moves into these wonderful Sundays of light, knowledge and revelation.  This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and as we are in Year C, we have Luke's account which kind of just mentions that it happened although it does give the detail of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation from God.

Our reading from the Hebrew Bible is a scene from Isaiah which grants the allusion of baptism in verse 2 when Isaiah speaks on God's behalf, saying, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you".  The actual text is speaking to a people in exile.  What do those in exile want?  To go home!

I've not experienced homesickness very often in my life.  I've seen it from children and youth at camp.  I would say that I'm not as sympathetic as I should be due to the fact that it doesn't effect me like it does some people.  But I do remember once when I had a wave of just wanting to be home wash over me.

I was in Houston over Labor Day weekend for the World Methodist Conference back in 2016.  I had a tooth ache come over me something fierce.  I can remember thinking that there wouldn't be anything available to me to provide relief.  I found the University of Texas Dental School that would see me.  Unfortunately, this meant that I would be seen by students while the instructor oversaw the treatment.  

At first, they thought I needed a root canal and deadened my mouth.  Then they discovered that it was a back molar that needed to be extracted.  Could I come back in the afternoon?  Since I had arrived by Uber, I decided to stick around and eat lunch on site.  Of course, my mouth was still numb so this was a little bit of an adventure!  

When they started in again after lunch, it took several hours with my jaw open just wider than what seemed possible for the tooth to come out - they said that I had really strong roots!  It seemed like a compliment but I would have traded my roots for some weaker ones at the time.  During the extraction, one of the students broke the molar.  The instructor demoted him and I thought, "Now he will show them how it's done and I can get out of here!"  But he simply put another one up to bat.  They started in with what sounded like some kind of buzz saw and eventually relieved me of the rest of my tooth.  I then walked over to a grocery store that had a pharmacy so that I could get some pain medication for the night as I was pretty sore.  

Most preachers don't need a device to keep their 
mouths open but sometimes life throws a curve ball!
After I got the prescription and some groceries, I went back to the motel.  Only my Uber app wouldn't take my credit card and I couldn't get a ride.  Eventually, I was able to get a cab and finally got back to my motel room.  I can remember just wanting to go home.  It had been a long day and I was exhausted.  I missed my own bed and a family that would help take care of me.  

When we are isolated, it takes more effort to get well.  When we are in exile, the world doesn't seem as friendly.  Since today's passage in Isaiah speaks to the theme of baptism, I would say that Christian baptism is like a homecoming of sorts.  It is through baptism that we are adopted into the family of God!  In baptism we find that we are home!  I've been at churches that are warm - even though I was a stranger - and I've been at churches where I felt pretty anonymous even in the midst of a crowd.  Perception means a lot and I would think that anything we can do to create a sense of warmth and home is helpful to what God would like for people to encounter when they worship.

This Sunday, we'll explore the theology of baptism - how do these sacramental waters help us to navigate the waters of life?

In Christ,


Photo by Scott Moore via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.