Monday, November 30, 2020

Is It Better to be Right or Righteous?

Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

Lectionary Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15a (NRSV)

As we wait for Christmas to come this year, we likely won't be going to office parties or school parties.  We won't be Christmas caroling or attending pageants.  Even our shopping may be subdued as we have to think twice about going to a crowded mall or store.  It may be easier to drop the item in a virtual cart and enter the credit card numbers.

This particular epistle has to do with waiting on the return of Jesus to the world.  Many in the early church thought the second coming would happen quickly.  Thus, we have the famous line in verse eight reading, "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day."

As we wait, now we are also waiting on a vaccine.  It seems that we are also waiting for a new earth but not in an eschatological sense.  When we do begin to share the vaccine, things will not go entirely back to normal, as much as we would wish for this to be so.  But whatever happens, I hope that we can make righteousness the norm as verse thirteen projects.

In order to make this happen, I think we have to make sure that we don't confuse righteousness with being right.  I know that I love to be right.  Who doesn't?  But sometimes we can choose to be right and not care about who we leave in our wake.  When this happens, being right becomes idolatrous and has very little to do with righteousness.  

The letter asks us to strive for peace.  As I think about being right or being righteousness, I find that the latter may have more to do with striving for peace than the former.  But as I think of peace, I think of Christmas and the peace we can all find no matter what has tried to disrupt it.  The peace of Christmas will come if we strive for it.

And as we think about gift giving, we must ask the question, "What are you getting Jesus this year?"  It is his birthday, after all.  This would not be a bad time to mention our pledge drive.  Making a financial commitment to Christ through the church can be an important part of righteousness because it means that I am putting my money where my belief is.  I am declaring to the world that our faith is important enough to fund significantly.  As we consider all the frivolous things we buy, a pledge to the church should be high on our list to get Jesus for his birthday!

But I also remember the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus asks us to leave our gift at the altar and first go and be reconciled with our brother or sister.  Then come and give the gift.  

So it seems that Jesus may consider striving for peace very important.

Maybe allowing Jesus to work in me, moving me toward peace with my neighbors - that is the gift he really wants.  Of course, I could always get him both!

This Sunday, we will continue to voluntarily restrict our worship to online only so that we do our part to lower the curve and allow the hospitals and medical staff to get a handle on the case load.  If you are ill or have a loved one who is ill, please email us and we'll include the names on our prayer list.  As we unfortunately see our prayer list growing, this may be a good time for reconciliation and peace in your life.  It is good to remember that Jesus will not abandon us to face this task alone.  Maybe that realization and task is more about Christmas than all the parties or shopping.

In Christ,


Photo by zalgon via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Traditions on Pause

First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Lectionary Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV) 

I love Thanksgiving!  As I remember Thanksgivings past, I think fondly of our trips to my grandmother's house on a small farm in Houston, Missouri.  One of my favorites growing up were her green beans.  That may sound odd for a child but these were definitely a southern recipe!  Sheryl found her recipe card - this was written down by my mother and I'm appreciative that Sheryl kept and found it.  If you try it out, you will thank me, but only if you have a sweet tooth!

This year, my guess is that your Thanksgiving will be the most sparsely attended celebration dinner of your life.  It certainly will be at our house.  The pandemic has brought a lot of restrictions to us and these have had mixed reactions among people.

Some are battening down the hatches and limiting contact.  Others are careful while continuing many of their activities.  Still others are trying to maintain their lives as close to how they were last year as possible. 

Most families have a mix of all of these types of people.  It will make for a different Thanksgiving for sure.  If you gather with extended family, it will only be the latter two categories getting together as those who are distancing the most will not be in attendance.

While this is sad for family traditions, I am thinking more along the lines of pausing rather than missing our traditions.  In the church, this will be the First Sunday of Advent.  This is always a time of excitement as we look toward Christmas.  Of course, it also has a lot of traditions.  We will continue to offer online worship even as we have paused worship in person.

This will allow us to consider what Christmas really means to us.  How do we understand incarnation in isolation?  I will be exploring the epistles from the lectionary during Advent as we adapt to a different environment for Christmas.  For this week, I focus on Paul's statement that God continues to be faithful to us and calls us to fellowship within the Body of Christ.  How do we make this work during a pandemic?

I hope you'll join us sometime online.  Our worship will be released on Sunday morning but you are welcome to engage anytime!

Blessings to you and have a Happy Thanksgiving and a contemplative First Sunday of Advent!

In Christ,


Monday, November 16, 2020

Does God Have a Preference?

Reign of Christ Sunday, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)

Maslow's Hierarchy of Need shows the basic needs
at the bottom.  Notice that hunger, thirst and clothing
occupy the first level.  Health is under Safety while
being a stranger would fall under Love and belonging.
Imprisonment would fall under Esteem.  All of these
must be addressed before we get to spirituality
which would fall under Self-actualization.

I have an older sister and brother in my family of origin.  Of course, there are a lot of similarities with each of us.  All three of us have a sense of humor and enjoy a good laugh.  We are all fairly tender-hearted when it comes to someone in need.  Each of us is fairly stubborn as well and tend to dig in if we feel that we are being pushed around.  

But we are each different from the others, too.  My sister is the most conservative theologically and politically (ironically, she lives in Washington state) while my brother is the most liberal with these areas.  That leaves me in the middle (no surprise, that I often had a peacemaker role in the family according to my psychological profile).

We were raised by the same parents who expressed the same values with each of us.  Birth order studies tend to show that we'll likely adopt varying personality traits depending on where we fall in the line-up.  Overall, I think my parents wanted us to make a difference in the world.  They wanted us to be happy but I always had the idea that we were to leave this world better than we found it.

As I think about what God wants from us, I would think that it is something similar.

Parents are not supposed to show a preference for their children.  Theologically, we also believe that God loves all of us equally.

But does God "like" some of us more than others?

This can get into dangerous ground in the sense that if I say I'm preferred over you, I can rationalize putting myself over you.  This was how the Nazis justified their genocidal behavior.  So we need to treat lightly here.

This Sunday, the church calendar ends up on the Reign of Christ Sunday.  This is the last Sunday of the Christian year before we begin the First Sunday of Advent the week after.  So we think about what Jesus would really want from his followers.  What does this ideal Christian world look like?  Does Jesus have a preference?

We see from the scripture reading that Jesus seems to be the most concerned about the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.  Of course, we can get philosophical and declare that all of us are hungry, naked and imprisoned in some form or fashion.  But he seems to be speaking temporally here.  

As a parent, if your child were any of these things, you would not be happy.  You might even give more of your resources to alleviate these conditions over the children who were doing well.  This doesn't mean that you love them more.  It means that there are certain conditions that are not part of your will for them.

So it is with God.  

And how will God alleviate these conditions?  It seems that we have no farther to look than a good mirror.  It doesn't even matter what your birth order is.

We'll continue to explore this passage on Sunday so I hope you'll check back with us.  I do love you all but my preference is for you to join us in some way for worship (preferably online if you are particularly vulnerable)!  I believe that aligns with God's preference as well!

In Christ,


The photo is used under the Creative Commons license referenced from the following:  McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.

Monday, November 9, 2020

He Was Kind of Right

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

To be cut off from others
is not a pleasant condition.

Here we have another troubling parable.  Large sums of money are divided to three servants to handle.  We are told that they are doled out by individual ability, and we see that the two with larger sums are able to double the money left in their care.  The servant with the least ability doesn't lose his charge but returns it whole to the boss.  

The two successful servants are rewarded.  The third servant is punished with an image of end-times harshness.  He is cut-off from his peers and dwells in outer darkness where there seems to be endless grief and remorse.  What would have happened if he had lost any of that money?

He did receive the lesser sum according to his ability.  But we also see that the servant thought pretty harshly of his master.

Is this a chicken and egg scenario?

Did he underperform because he was expected not to do as much?  Isn't that why he was given less?

Or did he underperform because he was afraid to take any risks due to his own prejudice of his boss's character?

Regardless of the reason, the servant was kind of right in his estimation of his master.  He is a harsh man and the servant was right to fear him.

Does Jesus intend for us to see the master in this parable as God?  The master's character doesn't fit with how Jesus describes God.  Within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives because God is watching out for us.  Jesus tells us to take our needs to God in prayer, reminding us that God will grant us good things.

So maybe we need to re-examine what the talents represent.  

What is it that if we don't multiply, we lose?

What is it that if we hide it away, it wanes and disappears?

Could Jesus have indicated that the talents represent love?

As we are free to love those around us, we find that the love we have increases.  The more we love others, the more we find love in abundance.

If we are unable to invest love in the world, if we hide it away, we may find that the little we have is gone.  Why do others seem so much happier when we are unable to love?

We'll continue to explore this on Sunday during worship.  I hope that you'll remember to invest some time in loving others this week - I bet you can think of someone who can use a kind word or action.

In Christ,


Photo by Morgan via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Is This the Time to Build Character?

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)

As Christians, our understanding is that
we open ourselves up to God working through
us to bless our country.

This week we may (or may not) find out the next president of the United States.  Will Donald Trump be re-elected?  Will Joe Biden prevail in his attempt to unseat the incumbent?

My guess is that you have a pretty strong preference between the two.

We have people on both sides of the aisle in our church membership.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ and yet it seems that the distinction between red and blue political orientation may be softening our love for one another.  This brings up a theological question, namely, is our loyalty to political party greater than our loyalty to Christ?  If so, isn't this idolatrous?  

Today's lectionary reading is the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  The lectionary was slated long before either candidate was running for president so this is not a cheap shot at your politics!  As we read the parable, it tends to make Christians uncomfortable.  After all, shouldn't the wise share their oil with the foolish?  That would be the compassionate thing to do.  And so we get a sense that Jesus is talking about something else entirely.

If the oil is representative of the good deeds you have done in your life, I can't take credit for what you have done as much as you might like to share it with me.  I will have to do my own good deeds.  This is not a works righteousness issue in that we find our salvation in Christ rather than in what we've accomplished (or not accomplished).  But there is a learning curve to doing good deeds.  The mere act of doing something selfless for someone else changes us in fundamental ways.  Spiritually, we move in a more Christ-like direction.

My parents would tell me that doing good deeds is character building.  And so the wise bridesmaids may have wanted to share their oil but they couldn't.  As much as I would like to, I can't build your character.  Only you can do that!

So as our country moves past the election, there will likely be a lot of anger from those who didn't prevail.  There will be a lot of resistance and my prayer is that it will remain nonviolent.  This may be an opportunity for character building on both sides!  How does the winning side listen to the concerns of those who didn't?  There is a lot of passion.  We've seen it in the massive voter turnout and that's during a pandemic!  So how do we channel this passion while reminding ourselves of our common values?  How do we hold together as a country?  

It starts with you (and me).  Each of us has responsibility to engage with dignity and respect.  If I do not, I lose my integrity as a Christian.  This begins at church when we see those who may have voted differently.  And before you make assumptions that someone sees it like you do, it may be better to assume the opposite.  After all, we want to be counted among the wise.  So walk gently with one another this week and in the weeks to come.  Even if your toes get stepped on.  

Character doesn't come cheap.

In Christ,


Photo by Lorie Shaull via  Used under the Creative Commons license.