Monday, January 25, 2021

Closer Every Day

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Lectionary Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (NRSV)

I feel like we are close to the finish line.

I’ve had people in our church ask me when we are going to re-open our doors again.  I wish I could give a more specific answer but the fact is that we are going to start gathering for in-person worship again when the hospitals in our area are not so over-loaded.

One good thing I’ve heard is that many of our church members have been all over the state to get their vaccinations.  It would be interesting to put a pin in a state map for all the places visited!  I wish the process was a little easier for us but I imagine that we will become more adept at how we handle it.  There’s usually a learning curve to everything and this is our first time to try to vaccinate an entire population in a short amount of time.  Throw in the fact that the shots must be kept on ice and we need to make sure people get a second one for it to be fully effective and it makes me think we could be doing worse!

So as more of our population gets vaccinated, we should begin to see the rates drop because there will be less people to infect.

We’ve had a lot of grief in our church lately.  Beloved members have died.  Our congregants have lost members of their family.  It has been difficult and frustrating because we are so close.  When someone loses a loved one from what is now a preventable disease, it makes me ache.

So if it seems like we are being too cautious to some, please know it is done out of compassion.

I ask for your patience and to pray for those families that are grieving.  If our patience can prevent further grief, it will be worth it.

This Sunday, we’ll look at this scripture from Deuteronomy.  This comes from the time when God’s people were wandering in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.  It speaks of death and change.  People are not sure about getting too close to God.  They feel like they will die.  But at the same time, they recognize that they need God’s protection so they don’t want to stray too far.  It becomes almost like a dance for us.  We move in and out of our awareness of God’s presence.

As the people wandered in the wilderness, it reminds me of our own time of isolation this last year.  We remember the people then were frustrated.  It wasn't easy.  But they made it.

Or maybe as 2 Timothy indicates, it is like a race.  
Sometimes this feels more like our pace.

We are getting closer to the end of it.  We will get there and when we arrive, I want to do so with as many of our people as we can.  I’m praying for you and look forward to the day when we will all worship together in our sanctuary again.  Until that time, I invite you to join us online as we worship together.

We are close!

In Christ,


Photo by 143d ESC via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Recovering God in the Old Testament

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Lectionary Reading: Jonah 3:1-10 (NRSV)

As a pastor, I am attuned to how people talk about God.  Sometimes, I hear people say that they prefer the God of the New Testament.  They characterize God as being very vengeful in the Hebrew Bible but forgiving and merciful in the New Testament.  This is pretty reductionist and doesn't allow for the grace in the Old Testament that is clearly evident (it also washes over the judgment we see in the New Testament but that is another blog).  

Jesus doesn't just invent the forgiveness and grace that he espouses but he emphasizes it from the teaching present in so much of the Bible of his day.  

This week's reading from Jonah is a perfect example.

If you thought Jonah was only a story about being swallowed by a whale that emphasizes why we should be obedient, then you haven't read it as an adult.  It's only four chapters.  You could easily read it right now.

But to summarize, the first chapter is about Jonah running.

The second chapter is about Jonah praying.

The third chapter (our subject for today) is about Jonah preaching.

The fourth chapter is about Jonah sulking.


Is this how God saw Jonah at the end
of chapter four?
It really is an odd way to end a book of the Bible.  Jonah is angry because God does what Jonah is afraid that God would do in the first place.  God forgives the people of Nineveh.

It turns out that this is why he ran in the first place.  He had no interest in the success of his preaching.  In fact, Jonah had a very New Testament understanding of God.  I write this very facetiously and as a way for us to realize how people had varying ideas about God prior to the first century of the common era.  

This brings us to the idea of the grace of God.  Specifically, who wouldn't God forgive?  The Assyrians (of which Nineveh was the capitol) were not very nice people.  They had already invaded and done some pretty awful things to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Jonah wouldn't have been interested in any mercy for them.  

Is there anyone you would sulk about if they got away with murder?  

I'm sure we all have our lists.

Which is what makes this such a challenging book.  Jonah may be my favorite book of the Hebrew Bible.  I find it raises my own bar higher than I think I can jump.

It's so high.  I can't possibly get over that, can I?

Not without some help.

I hope you'll join us for online worship on Sunday as we pursue this scripture together!

In Christ,


Photo by Mindaugas Danys via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Called to Hard Truth

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Lectionary Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-20 (NRSV)

On Wednesday, I watched the protests at the Capitol unfold.  It was a bizarre moment for me and seemed a bit surreal.  

Was this really happening?

Am I watching a movie?

The isolation we have experienced due to the pandemic has probably contributed to my doubt that this was really taking place.  Everything outside our house is muted somewhat because we are not regularly interacting with lots of different people.

But at the same time, it seemed all too real.  We have seen our country become more polarized during this same pandemic and largely, I believe, due to the bubble we unwittingly create for safety's sake.  As people choose their own news sources, the emphasis on which "side" you are on can become exaggerated. 

Unfortunately, this can create a variety of realities depending on your lens.  If you don't like the reality that is being presented, just change the channel.  It is likely you can find one more to your liking.  We are in a post-truth era where spin is king and any behavior can be justified.

As I read multiple accounts of what took place (from various perspectives), I am starting to see a picture of a great variety of people gathered to protest.  Some were from a variety of extremist groups.  Others were less radical and held public offices from various states.  As the protests intensified, the less radical were caught up to varying degrees with the more radical and breached the grounds.

I've done plenty of things that I was not proud of when I was caught up in the moment.  I've been influenced by people who acted in ways that upon cognizant reflection, were not the mature leaders that I should follow.  

But in the moment, you believe that the righteous cause justifies anything.

As I look at this Sunday's scripture reading, young Samuel's first call from God is one where he must rebuke his master Eli.  This would certainly be difficult and problematic.  Yet Samuel states what he was told.  He was probably scared of what Eli's reaction would be.  But Eli doesn't reprimand Samuel.  Instead, he acknowledges his own failure and states, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him."

As I consider the violence that erupted last week, the difficult thing is that some continue to justify it or defend it.  Whatever it may have been, it was not a Christian response.  But as some double down on violent uprising, I am gladdened to see even more make the stance that this moment was an aberration.  It does not represent who we are as a country or how we publicly disagree on issues.  

I have strong hope that we have turned a corner on unrest and division.  This may have been the moment when we move forward toward reminding ourselves of the values that we hold in common.  I still have some fear is that this was just the beginning and that more violence could ensue in the days to come.

Fortunately, hope is stronger than fear.

I hope that we will look at the example of Eli.  His response to Samuel showed a dignity that allows us to respect him.  If he had responded poorly and threatened his life - if Eli had thrown a fit and railed against Samuel - we would likely not find anything to admire.  

Can I adopt this sense of self-examination and recognize when I have been in the wrong?  It is fundamental to the Christian faith.  I hope that I can.  Fortunately, our hope is emboldened by the fact that we do not walk this life alone.  God helps us to become our better selves.

Go with God.

In Christ,


Photo by Blink O'fanaye 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, January 4, 2021

Mundane or Sacred?

Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Lectionary Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5 (NRSV)

I love water as it comes in its many forms.  Since we've been suspending in-person worship lately, I've even been able to enjoy snowfall on a Sunday morning for the first time in many years (I'm usually too worried about attendance to appreciate it).

As a very young child, I remember the fun of playing in the ocean waves - you learn the rhythm of the waves and then find out that a surprise big wave can always turn you upside-down!  It's only fun until it washes your sand pail away!  I remember standing in clear salt water up to my shoulders and peering with wonder at little fish nibbling on me.

Our neighbors had a pool and I almost drowned in it.  I was almost six years old and had gone next door to admire it.  My neighbor was younger and smaller than me.  When I told him I couldn't swim, he couldn't believe it because he knew how.  So he pushed this obvious liar into the deep end.  There were no other adults present.  I can remember looking at the surface and thrashing with panic.  Fortunately, he reached out and was able to grab my hand and pull me out.  My mother enrolled me in swimming lessons after hearing what happened.

I didn't mind and loved to swim.  I would do it at every opportunity.  I can remember swimming as a kid in motel pools even when it was cold outside.  Once in particular, we were in Wichita and I was swimming and shivering and my mother was not in the water but was watching me, fully clothed.  It was kind of windy and she was chilly too.  She kept asking me if I wanted to go inside.  "Are you done, yet?"

My dad always used to love to float on his back in the ocean.  It was very Zen for him and I enjoy doing it today when I get the chance.  It often allows me to feel connected to God in a way that connects me to the entire created order.

Water is a part of who we are.  We are made of water.  As an adult male, about 60% of my body consists of water.  It's kind of mundane, really.  Water is the free option at restaurants and many see it as meh.

But there is a sense of the sacred about water.  We've been washing our hands more than usual this last year with an effort to clean ourselves of deadly germs.  The washing for cleanliness is done symbolically within baptism.  Within the Christian Year, the more liturgical congregations will observe the Baptism of Jesus this Sunday (known as the Baptism of the Lord Sunday if you speak church geek).  The second verse in the whole Bible gives us the marvelous phrase, "a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."  Within Hebrew (the original language of Genesis), wind can also be translated as breath or spirit.

As we remember our baptisms, we see that this takes us back to the very beginning of creation.  In a sense, when we are baptized, it allows us to start a new life, as if we were starting from the very beginning ourselves.   The waters of baptism are sacred because in this moment, we recognize that God is the one blessing us.  We are not blessed because we have earned our place.  We are blessed because God loves life.  This is evident in the resurrection which defines us as Christians.  

This blessing connects us.  It allows us to see water, at least in the moment, not as mundane but as sacred.  And this connects us to God and to the entire created order.

Join us on Sunday (or sometime after) for our online worship service as we remember our baptism together.  I hope that it will be powerful for you.  

In Christ,


The picture is of Smith Falls State Park in Nebraska.  I love to hike to water falls and took this picture over the summer.  I thought it captured a sense of the sacred.

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.