Sunday, September 29, 2019

There's Your Sign

*For the next few weeks, we will look at the lectionary passage from the previous week.

Lectionary Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 (NRSV)
Oklahoma got hit with a double whammy when we experienced the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression in the mid-1930's.  When drought set in and the dust storms were more common, the decreased prices for agriculture and livestock forced many Oklahomans to migrate west to California.

Land was not worth much and was often abandoned.

Even years after the drought had ended, dust storms were still common.

Sheryl's grandparents returned to Oklahoma after living in Vermont for a number of years in the 1940's.  They lived in the Panhandle in Guymon and her grandmother told about hanging wet sheets over the doors and windows when a dust storm blew through.  This would help them breath a little better but there were still layers of dust to be cleaned after it blew through.

Years later in the mid-1990's, when I was appointed to Drummond in the north central part of our state, I can remember dust storms blowing through the town.  We had clothes lines in the backyard and would sometimes hang sheets to dry.  Once the red dirt turned them pink!  You learned to bring them in if you didn't want to redo your wash.

In our scripture today, we see Jeremiah looking to redeem land.  His problem was not environmental but rather a foreign military power besieging their gates.  The effect on land price was the same.  It was worthless.

Yet Jeremiah is invited by God to redeem the land.  This was a family option instilled by the covenant to keep a family from losing their ability to make a living.  He has the option to buy his cousin's land.  He does so publicly with great show to make a statement.  This was a sign act.  It was done to indicate hope in a future that only God could provide.

It was a statement that God was still present even though appearances spoke to the contrary.

What kind of sign acts do we make today?

I would say that attending worship is one such sign act.  We gather together even when the culture at large is beginning to abandon Sunday morning worship.  We are declaring that God will have a future here after all.  In doing so, we offer encouragement to ourselves and to one another.

This Sunday, we'll continue to explore this passage as we celebrate World Communion Sunday together.  This is one of my favorite days of the year as we recognize our solidarity with other Christians around the globe.  I hope you'll join us as we embrace the hope that God gives us!

In Christ,


Photo by via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Adjusting to a New (Unpleasant) Reality

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 (NRSV)

When our son David was five years old, we were hosting an afterschool tutoring program at our church in Piedmont.  He was on the playground as the day was finishing, enjoying the older children for some unscheduled time together.

Unfortunately as he was standing atop the slide, getting ready to go down, another child pushed him in the back and he went off sideways.  His arm was obviously broken and we rushed him to the hospital.

It was a rather bad break that required surgery.  As Sheryl eventually took him home from the hospital, he was looking rather despondently at his new cast.  He asked his mother, "How many more minutes do I have to have this thing on?"

Sheryl said that it broke her heart to tell him that his expectations were off by a magnitude.

There are times in our lives when we must adjust to difficult circumstances.

While a broken arm is not ideal,
we often eventually recover from it.
Sometimes it has to do with our health.  There are diagnoses that we recover from and others that we must learn to live with.  Even worse are those that cause deterioration and are fatal.  Our attitudes in dealing with these new conditions may factor into our recovery or they may contribute to our demise.

In this week's reading, we see Jeremiah reporting on the perceived absence of God.  Times had turned and a tyrant was knocking on the door.  Independence would quickly change to suffering and subjugation.  This was a reality that the people of God couldn't quite grasp.  It seemed to them that God had abandoned them.

It is difficult to know in today's passage whether this is God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah or if it is the feeling of Jeremiah himself.  As the two voices are often intertwined, it may make no noticeable difference for us.  We see the lament.  We can almost feel the tears falling from eyes moist with heartache.  Jeremiah weeps for his people and so does God.

When David broke his arm, he suffered quite a bit of pain.  He was comforted somewhat by the presence of his parents who loved him and sought to alleviate his difficulty.  At the same time, as parents, we are stricken worse than if it had happened to us.  Love for a child is like that.

When we suffer with our own ailments, we turn to passages like this to remember God's love for us is akin to the love of a parent for a child - even when we may not perceive that love clearly.  When we cannot find a physician to give us comfort, we resonate with the frustration in verse 22.  Faith retains the belief that God is indeed on our side even when reality points to the contrary.

This Sunday, we'll explore this theme in worship together.  Join us in Edmond or Guthrie or online so that we may renew our faith together and stand up to the frustrations that are so common to the human life.

In Christ,


Photo by Sandor Weisz via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Sometimes I Need to Convince Myself

Lectionary Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14 (NRSV)

Christians often utilize the image of Jesus as the advocate for humanity standing in the way of an angry God that is all-too ready to smite us.  Within this view, our atonement comes because the mercy and faithfulness of Jesus off-sets and overcomes the wrath of God.

I don't personally hold to this view as I think that it pigeonholes God into someone who is one-dimensional.  The Hebrew scriptures reveal quite often the characteristics of love, mercy and compassion for God.  Christians also ascribe these to God but often from within the person of Jesus.  As Trinitarians, we often forget our own doctrine that no one person of the Trinity has characteristics that aren't shared by the other two! 

But in looking at today's text, I can see where the view of Jesus standing against the wrath of God might have emerged.

Moses stands up for the Hebrew people that have been freed from Egyptian slavery.  They have sinfully adopted idol-worship in making a golden calf.  The local Palestinian deities were influencing them as they would throughout the biblical witness.  God is understandably disgusted with them.  Moses feels that he must intervene.

It is not without precedence.  

Moses is adopting a similar stance of mercy for humanity that Abraham exhibited when God was set to destroy Sodom in Genesis 18:16-33.  

Both of these stories portray God as a judge ready to carry out a sentence.  Moses and Abraham operate as defense attorneys that seek to plea for leniency.  Moses doesn't dispute their guilt.  He doesn't try to explain it away.  Rather, he seeks to persuade God that genocide would be a public relations nightmare.  What will people say about you?
Moses by Michelangelo
San Pietro in Vincoli, Italy

God seems to be ready to start over with the line of Moses.  When presented with this idea, it may have been that Moses knew his own offspring weren't any better than the rest.  After all, Joshua was chosen as his successor to lead rather than one of his own sons.  Jewish Midrash gives explanation that the sons of Moses didn't give much time to their study of God's word.

If the line of Moses were used as a template, how long would it be before we were right back here with the people going astray?  

Could it be that Moses needed to work out his own issues with God?  It is possible that God didn't need a cooling off as much as Moses did.  If we continue in chapter 32, we see in verse 19 that "Moses' anger burned hot" which mirrors language written about God in verse 10.  As he continues in his anger, he calls the sons of Levi (of which tribe the priests would come) and orders them to kill those that we must assume were the greatest offenders.  About three thousand were put to death by the sword and while Moses speaks of ordaining themselves at the cost of a son or a brother, his own brother Aaron was spared even though he was in charge of the mess!

It may be that the conversation with God was God's design that Moses would curb his own wrath against his people.  Could this great slaughter have been restrained in comparison to his original desire?

When we pray with God, we are often seeking God's will.  Sometimes we pray for mercy in circumstances that do not favor us.  Even if we do not imagine God to be the author of our difficulty, we would like for God to take it away.  But sometimes we may need God's help to stay our own wrath.  We sometimes imagine that God mirror's our own anger so as to justify it.  Yet the longer we stay in conversation with God, the hope is that we will remind ourselves of the love, mercy and compassion of God.

And sometimes we may just need to bounce our thoughts and feelings off God until we come to what we know is right.

We'll continue to meditate on this passage in worship on Sunday.  You're always welcome to join us whether in person or online if that fits better with your schedule and location.

In Christ,


Photo by Patrick Rasenberg via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What is Shaping Me?

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11 (NRSV)

Our culture shapes is in lots of ways.

For a while, we were very body-conscious and the best-sellers all had to do with diets and exercise trends.  While there is still emphasis on being slim and trim, I'm not sure the subject carries the weight it once did (pun intended)!

Quite frankly, it is easier to be more conscious of our bodies than our spiritual lives.

We see our bodies in the mirror on a daily basis.

We know when we are having trouble catching our breath after the flight of stairs.

We encounter lots of advertising using men and women of particular body types.

But as pervasive as body-consciousness is, there may be a new sheriff in town with regards to what captures our attention.  This is because the way we process information today continues to change.  The use of screens has become obsessive for many people.  We gather and are exposed to more information than we were in the past.

While reading a novel written in the 1970's, I was surprised that the characters in the book were waiting for the 6:00 hour with anticipation so they could learn about the latest national disaster on the evening news.  We are so used to the 24-hour news cycle and its immediate consumption that it sounds strange to think that people used to make it a priority to watch the news at a specific time.

The average amount of screen time for Americans seems to vary widely depending on the study you read but the consensus is that the average continues to increase.  There is so much that we can do on our tablets or smart phones that it boggles the mind.

What are the likely consequences?
How does this shape us?  I don't think we can definitively say yet.  It is so new that it is difficult to process the good and the bad.

This Sunday, we will let Jeremiah remind us that God will shape us if we are willing.  But it clearly looks like our choice (God will not force our cooperation) in this week's scripture reading.  Our actions will bring consequences and Jeremiah seems to indicate that we should be more willing to count the cost.

Join us for worship either in Edmond or online and we'll continue to explore this important topic!

In Christ,


Photo by Malingering via  Used under the Creative Commons license.